As you hopefully know by now, Chef Donald Gonzalez just won the $10,000 Minnesota Monthly Local Chef Challenge. After being part of the judging panel, I needed to know if Chef’s food at Forepaugh’s lived up to his performance at Mall of America.
So last weekend, my wife and I made reservations (for the first time!) at the beautiful St. Paul mansion. Clearly I should have made a reservation under a fake name, because we were treated to a tour of Chef Gonzalez’s menu hits. The benefit for you, dear reader, is that I get to tell you about far more dishes than I would have normally ordered. The caveat is that my experience may not parallel your experience.
Since we’ve got that out of the way: Chef Gonzalez is an extremely talented guy! I’m glad he won!
His menu doesn’t fit neatly into a box, and that makes Forepaugh’s a little bit of a nutty place. Do you like Beef Wellington? Perfect! 21-day aged rib eye? Forepaugh’s has the traditional steakhouse covered.
Head to the “composed plates” section of the menu and you’ll find the really fun stuff. The Pan-Seared Walleye ($30) was spectacular, not because of the walleye—which was perfectly seared—but because of the coconut curry, Thai herbs, and Fresno chiles. This would be a great curry even without the fish.
The Giant Dauphinois Potato Ravioli ($23) on first bite tasted almost too earthy, but both my wife and I felt the more we ate it, the more we loved it—three cheeses and potato inside a huge ravioli, with shallots and house-made marscapone in a parmesan tea. So interesting and delicious.
Chef Gonzalez has a more-is-more approach to flavors on a plate, so on paper some of his dishes sound crazy. The Chinese Scallion Flatbread had mediterranean and asian flavors—a tahini (the menu called it “toasted sesame seed puree”), with chiles, scallions, olives, tomatoes, herbs, and goat cheese on top of a wonton-type flatbread (shown above). Crazy, right? But really delicious.
There was a bone marrow dish that had the bone sawed in half, exposing the marrow, which was topped with charred thai basil. The freshness of the Asian herbs combined with the richness of the marrow was spectacular.
Forepaugh’s is such a cool setting. One bummer: when you walk in, you end up in a small hallway that at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night felt like the middle of Grand Central Station. Servers, food runners, cooks all criss-crossing while we waited for the host to get off the phone with a particularly particular customer making a reservation.
But the splendor of the home and the inventiveness of the food overwhelmed that minor irritation. Chef Gonzalez opened the restaurant in the Chambers Hotel for Jean Georges; he knows and excels at blending rich cooking with fresh Asian flavors. Ignore the Irish pub name, and whatever you thought you knew about the restaurant, and add Forepaugh’s to your list of restaurants to visit in St. Paul.
276 South Exchange St., St. Paul