Brix and Bouquets

When a Brazilian steak house fizzled in the ’burbs, a safe Italian bistro took its place

TWO RESTAURANTS originally anchored the Excelsior & Grand development in St. Louis Park: McCoy’s Public House (a casual, American crowd-pleaser) and Mojito (an upscale Brazilian steak house). A few years later, diners had voted with their pocketbooks—McCoy’s made it, Mojito didn’t. So, this fall, the owner of McCoy’s redeveloped the Mojito space into Brix Bistro & Wine Bar, a sprawling, tastefully taupe Italian restaurant. The space now looks like a conventional, upscale eatery: the kind that almost always delivers a good meal yet never a great one. But Brix isn’t Maggiano’s or Macaroni Grill. The kitchen consistently outperforms its standardized décor.

Brix takes its name from the term for the sugar content of wine grapes, so it’s fitting that Brix should offer some decent wine values. Their “20 bottles for $20” list is an eclectic selection of unfamiliar offerings from France, Spain, Chile, Argentina, and, of course, Italy. There’s not much on this list that would thrill a die-hard wine snob, but diners who just want a pleasant accompaniment for their dinner won’t be disappointed.

On a recent visit, we were looking for a light, versatile red that would go well with just about everything. Our server steered us away from the $20 list in favor of the Mattei Barbera, a limited-production Italian from the Piedmont region, which had a smooth, pleasing astringency.

An appetizer of three pan-seared jumbo scallops, butternut squash, pancetta, fried sage, and brown butter sauce was the unanimous favorite at our table. The goat-cheese truffles were so light and creamy, they almost didn’t need their crust of finely ground pecans and accompanying drizzle of rosemary honey. Not that we minded. A bruschetta trio—olive tapanade, grilled vegetable ragout, and tomato/mozzarella—was perfectly tasty, but it lacked the dazzle of the other appetizers we tried.

Photo by Eric Moore

The entrées were uniformly pleasing, starting with the pastas. The tagliatelle Bolognese, a strapping helping of homemade flat spaghetti with a meaty red sauce, would have made any Italian grandmother proud. The lobster strichetti—a tumble of black-and-white pasta with lobster, scallops, and crab in a voluptuously creamy vodka tomato sauce—was another winner.

We enjoyed both the pork tenderloin and the steak Toscana, though the New York strip was a trifle fatty. The special we tried, pan-seared skate over fingerling potatoes with leeks and caper beurre blanc, was our favorite dish. The leeks were perfectly sweet, the fingerling potatoes cooked just to the point of tenderness, and the skate moist and flaky.
Our heroic efforts to save room for dessert were rewarded handsomely. The cappuccino semifreddo, a frozen espresso custard, resembled a softer, sexier version of coffee ice cream, and the lemoncello cheesecake was light, tart, and smooth. The only disappointment was the tiramisu, which arrived with too much whipped cream, overwhelming the other flavors.

Brix Bistro & Wine Bar certainly isn’t as tiny and intimate as the name implies. But if the kitchen maintains the attentiveness you’d expect from a smaller place, we’ll never miss Mojito.

Brix Bistro & Wine Bar

4656 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park
Prices appetizers $5–$13,
entrées $10–$30

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