Fermentations (Dundas, MN)

By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Star Tribune South
December 10, 2003

We're fond of charming little neighborhood restaurants that serve interesting food and have an interesting wine list as well as a nice dessert selection. We call them American bistros, after the similar French-style restaurants.

And there is something disarmingly appealing about finding an American bistro in a picturesque country town that, taken together, hardly matches the size of most city neighborhoods. In Rice County in the little town of Dundas, population just about 550, Fermentations is an oasis.

It's a small restaurant, with no more than a dozen tables, fewer if there are large parties. It's only open for dinner and only six days a week. The room feels comfortably upscale with its warm pumpkin paint job and French bistro art. A nice effect for a small budget, we think.

Fermentations is as much about the wine as the food. Everything except a few sparkling wines is available by the glass, giving you many options. You can also order wine in flights: small pours of three different related wines. The wine menu has a dozen and a half different flights available, priced from $7 to $20.

Seemingly on a mission to educate the palates of its patrons, Fermentations suggests wine flights for every menu item. Order the Chicken Wellington, for example, and the menu suggests a flight of sauvignon blancs, a flight of other French whites or a flight of Rieslings.

We love this idea. Wine can be such an intimidating thing. Not knowing which wines go with what can make someone feel downright stupid. That can't happen at Fermentations. The menu tells you which wines go with what and then gives you opportunities to learn which wines you prefer. We wish more restaurants would adopt this concept.

The food menu is small, and everything is competently done. Expect frequent changes as the kitchen's inspirations and the seasons change. We liked the various crostini and sheep's cheese combinations, especially the surprise of finding fresh figs in Dundas. The Coquille St. Jacques featured huge sea scallops, sweetly oniony from leeks and nicely complemented with Gruyère cheese. The crab cakes were the weakest of the appetizers; they were dry and flavorless.

One outstanding entree was the fettucine with red pepper cream sauce. This was generously flavored but not really hot, and the truffle oil added a complex note to a simple, truly delicious dish. The optional shrimp added nothing flavor-wise, and it was bothersome and messy to have to remove their tails.

The braised pork was also terrific; the rich veal stock and herbs made it a succulent and memorable dish.

The desserts were all quite good. The slice of spice cake was huge, though it suffered the frequent fault of being served cold. The chocolate pot de creme had a good strong chocolate flavor and a perfect smooth texture. We also liked the poached pear.

Given how strongly the other patrons reminded us of liberal arts professors, the word has spread to Northfield and beyond. We strongly recommend making a reservation. And prepare yourself for a leisurely dinner; service can be slow when it's busy.

earlier review: House of Wu (Burnsville, MN)
later review: Angelo's (St. Paul)
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