Number Four

Mankato, Minnesota

Braving the bitter cold, I walked into an office building in downtown Mankato, Minnesota. Within the lobby of the building, I was greeted by a friendly gaggle of servers who busily cleaned off a table to suit our small parties needs.

Shuffled into an oversized booth, the vibrant colors of the restaurants interior were striking. This is a stark contrast to most Mom & Pop establishments in this part of Minnesota known more for farming than high fashion.

Starving, mussels were ordered. If I am being honest I wanted the Duck Confit flatbread because fig jam speaks to the more sensual aspects of my soul. Before I could protest the crustaceans were ordered by a veteran visitor of the establishment. Ordering seafood in a land locked town sets a low bar for execution, I was disgruntled.

I was wrong.

The white wine and butter mussels were decadent. There was a well-mannered shoving match, as we all shoveled in the perfectly steamed and mildly meaty mussels into our gullets. The accompanying French bread made a risqué pairing, as the faux paus of double dipping was temporarily suspended. Niceties were forgotten, had no one been watching I would have drank the butter concoction with just the right hint of chives and oregano straight from the bowl.

Dinner arrived soon thereafter. The thick cut pork porterhouse was masked by a heavy smothering of cinnamon apples. A purist when it comes to meat the apples were overwhelming, disappointingly trying to add succulence and forgiveness to any perceived kitchen error. Its accompanying Brussel sprouts and bacon were an odd pairing. With such a heavy center of the plate offering a more refreshing, milder flavored side would have made a more appropriate accoutrement.

The Korean short rib had potential. The short rib was braised to a desired level of tenderness, the boiled egg was a promising touch, but the pickled kimchi was off-putting. Instead of fusing the flavors of the broth, beef and lo mein noodles together, it was a standout twang that went unbalanced. My palette sought out something fresh and was just met with a stark sour, brash texture and disappointing finish.

The winning plate was the blue cheese crusted strip steak. The steak was just meat covered in cheese. It was what I would expect from a mid $30 steak. I won’t wax poetic about its qualities, but the fried white truffle polenta fries—-those deserve an ovation. They were the savior of dinner. The outer shell fried golden and crisp, their center moist and smooth. They were an inspired twist on a classic favorite, and the notes of white truffle added a layer of decadence that worked seamlessly with the tartness of the blue cheese.

A dessert junkie and a crème brulee enthusiast, my thighs begged me to say no but my resolve withered and a crème brulee seasonal trio was sat down before me. Three flavors: original vanilla, hazelnut and elderberry. The vanilla ramekin had been kissed by the gods, the custard was the perfect consistency and the sugar shell torched to crushing perfection. The highlights ended there. The hazelnut should be left to Nutella and the elderberry was an overwhelmingly misguided direction. I am all for pushing the envelope toward the edge of culinary exceptions. However, leave elderberry to teas and tonics.

Overall, I give it a 4. (Pun intended.)

Number Four