A Rebours: Yeah, it’s still got it

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My crappy mood continuing last Friday—along with everyone else at the office, after everyone’s annual review during the week, then a company meeting to reinforce our direction (i.e. keep driving ad sales, editorial content is secondary), I felt like blowing my paltry “raise.” Yup, I could do it in one night, if I really tried. But I haven’t been to a strip club in a while, nor do I have a cocaine habit.

First, after work, I blew off the gym and went with Harold to Barley John’s in New Brighton (about 2 miles north of our office) to begin liquefying our doldrums with some of their Anniversary brew. For those of you that don’t know, Barley John’s brews their own beer, and it’s fantastic stuff. I haven’t been there enough to give an intelligent review; that might be an assignment for Harold, he frequents the joint—he’s got the liver to prove it—and he says the food is also excellent. Had a couple beers, drew up some great escape/get rich schemes, and left.

Got home, wanted my good cheer to continue, so I suggested to the lady friend that we head to A Rebours for dinner, a place I hadn’t been to since October. A crime, I tell you. Back then, we had a mind blowing evening (pops came along, too) that included martinis to start, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of wine, and some porto for dessert. Oh, and we ate with that, too. Fantastic gravlax appetizer, delicious salads, steak frites (au poivre for me and pops, the lady friend had the béarnaise sauce) and some sorta apple thing for dessert, but I was so hammered by that point, it might as well have been just a waft of vapor from a passing plate. One of those memorable not-so-memorable evenings, if you get my drift.

This time around, we would be considerably more subdued. With a limited bankroll and my clout in this town waning, copious amounts of alcohol would not be a part of the evening unless I actually paid for it—what fun is that?

Still. A Rebours. St. Paul has few places it can drop its shorts and wag its ass to Minneapolis and say, “We’ve got this and you don’t, fuckers!” There’s Mancini’s, Moscow on the Hill, Barbary Fig, and A Rebours, as far as bona-fide, unique places that that St. Paul SUBURB across the river can’t touch. Sure, W.A. Frost and The Lexington are great places to go for a guaranteed good—and potentially great—meal, but there are plenty in Minneapolis that are comparable in quality and price.

No, there are a select few that are truly “unique,” and A Rebours, for its authentic use of the word “bistro,” which has been overused to become almost meaninglessness.

A Rebours has had three chefs since it opened less than two years ago: Don Saunders (who left to open Fugaise in Northeast Minneapolis), a short tenure by Patrick Atanalian (best known for his time at The Vintage) and now Matt Kempf. Kempf was Atanalian’s sous chef, established himself as top dog in short order. Steering the ship is owner Doug Anderson and executive-chef-mostly-in-absentia Roger Johnson. They won’t let the quality dip.

Yup, it’s the real deal. And when the lady friend and I are feeling nostalgic for Paris, we go there. And it’s not just the food, there’s a good ambience—a high-end feel, but not pretentious, and it’s in a gorgeous spot in the old Hamm building. You wear a decent pair of jeans and a nice shirt, you’re good to go for A Rebours. And that’s how it is in Paris. Comfortable neighborhood joints you can stroll into without feeling like you need to doll up, and you will get some great food at a very reasonable price.

Yes, you can blow a lot of money at A Rebours if you like. But you can eat on a budget, too. You can order a $250 bottle of wine, or a $25 bottle. You can pay $35 for the filet mignon of the night, or you can pay $24 for the hangar steak, which I did—expertly prepared, the hangar steak is a tender, flavorful—much more flavorful than the filet—hunk o’meat. In the wrong hands, it’s one of the toughest things you’ll chew on. But in France, they’ve been cookin’ hangar steaks—and other unusual cuts—for centuries, and it’s nice to see it popping up more frequently on menus on this side of the Atlantic.

Oh, so now I’m actually at the “review” portion. I get to rambling, you know…

So, having a couple three beers in my system from Barley John’s, I immediately went for the Grey Goose martini with a twist at A Rebours—and another note here, we were able to walk in and get a table at about 8:30 Friday night. This is very cool; they do set aside tables for walk-ins. But the joint cleared out somewhat quickly; I’m hoping downtown St. Paul isn’t losing its appeal as a dining destination.

Anyhoo, downed the martini and ordered a bottle of something I don’t recall for about $28, recommended by our server as something that would go well with my hangar steak and the lady friend’s pork dish. I don’t remember what her meal was called. But, basically, from my sample of it, it was pork tenderloin pounded wafer thin, a piece of thin-sliced ham and gruyer cheese placed on it, then the tenderloin folded over, lightly breaded and pan fried. For it’s simplicity, it kicked ass, as did my hangar steak—cooked a perfect medium rare, any more and you get the chewing-gum effect. Vegetables were done very nicely, some carrots and something else for me (I was drunk, folks) and diced and roasted potatoes and something else for the lady friend, then for dessert some sort of chocolate bomb of a piece of cake and some port, and I discreetly handed my keys to the lady friend.

A Rebours
410 St. Peter St.
St. Paul
651-665-0656

3 comments for “A Rebours: Yeah, it’s still got it

  1. cK
    April 4, 2006 at 11:11 am

    How come I don’t know of this place? Oh, that’s right: I don’t try enough new (to me) restaurants. But I live right by Frost, Moscow, Vintage et al., so I think that’s understandable. Still, I need to pop about more. And I will definitely take on A Rebours.
    As for getting to the actual “review,” as you noted, I think the hallmark of good food writing is the anecdotes that lead into or inject themselves into the review. It’s sort of an umami thing, I think. Hey: Well done.
    -cK

  2. Elbee
    April 11, 2006 at 9:31 pm

    cK, what is wrong with you? I gained an easy five pounds while toiling at the historical society and trekking to A Rebours regularly for lunch. True, I couldn’t throw back a martini during the work week, but I had the most excellent beef bourgignon plat du jour, as well as a white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce and pepitas. Jesus. I’m salivating just thinking about it. And so very very far away from those pepitas now . . .

  3. May 8, 2006 at 7:23 pm

    Great review, but you missed one key aspect (because you were there in the evening): check out their brunch, only offered on the weekends. My wife and I went there a while back, so maybe it’s changed, but probably not. It is amazing. Rich velvety pastries, succulent unique omelets, and of course, good strong coffee. And much of it for under $10.

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