W. A. Frost
374 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-5715
Review published December 2005
W. A. FROST HAS BEEN NAMED Best Romantic Restaurant so many times that a Valentine’s Day dinner there has become as clichéd as a dozen red roses. “More romance than the Love Boat,” gushed one local critic (though we’re not sure if that’s a compliment). The restaurant is located in the 1889 Dacotah Building, a sandstone-and-brick beauty with stained glass and archways that exudes the elegance and sophistication of an era long gone. The bar, once the pharmacy of William A. Frost, features vintage wood, an original tin ceiling, and a twinkling street view. With roaring fireplaces, oil paintings, and Oriental rugs, the six dining rooms recall Cathedral Hill’s heyday: cobblestone streets, railroad barons, and luxurious Summit Avenue mansions. But Frost’s is more than just a pretty face; its kitchen turns out as much substance as style.
Chef Russell Klein’s rabbit confit strudel, for example, was like a European-style egg roll that elevated the crisp appetizer to an entirely new level. A thin pastry shell was stuffed with rich bits of rabbit meat, its greasiness cut by julienne carrots, then set atop a slice of sweet grilled peach and sprinkled with microgreens. It was an impressive pairing of textures and flavors. (Klein’s current menu features a duck version, served with spiced quince and a port wine reduction.)
Appetites aroused, we moved on to the Colorado lamb: four rib bones tented together, served with bright orange tinkerbell peppers that had been stuffed with tapioca-size Israeli couscous. The rare meat was butter-knife tender, and it paired perfectly with a ratatouille pavé (French for cobblestone), a layered stack of vegetables.
Then we faced the dessert dilemma: savory, sweet, or one of each? Klein’s meticulously sourced cheese menu is one of the most extensive in the state, and the variety we selected—a raw sheep’s milk from the Pyrenees—was certainly worthy of its museum-quality presentation: garnished with honey and balsamic vinegar, a few fresh raspberries, and Marcona almonds. We found the Upside Down Peach-Polenta Cake both complex and comforting. The fruit and cornmeal base—warm, barely sweet, and crisp on the edges—was presented in a pool of ginger-tinged cream, dotted with rich butterscotch, candied almonds, and a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream.
But food, like relationships, isn’t always perfect. The jumbo lump crab cocktail with mashed avocado set in a watermelon soup involved three milquetoast flavors and a whole lot of mush (green + red = icky brown juice). And sometimes the dining rooms can get shockingly loud, especially if cell phones start ringing or you’re seated (as we were) near giggly wine drinkers and boorish types whose convictions exceed their knowledge. Of course, this can happen anywhere.
But if you’re relaxing near the fireplace, pouring yourself some tea from an individually brewed pot (Frost’s serves more than a dozen TeaSource selections, with elegant names such as White Peony and Evening in Missoula) and canoodling with your valentine, it’s easy to forgive and forget.