Feeding Frenzy: Porter and Frye

When I saw that Porter & Frye had opened, on February 21, I started writing a blog post wondering if local critics would give Steven Brown and his crew the standard six weeks to get on their feet before reviewing them. Then I got sidelined wondering what I myself would do. On the one hand, it’s the most important restaurant to open in Minnesota since La Belle Vie, and readers are dying to know about it. On the other, I just about always stick to the six-week policy of letting a restaurant find itself before visiting. That’s what the Association of Food Journalist guidelines recommend, and I think that’s fair: After all, if you’d looked at a three-day old Albert Einstein, you’d have concluded: “turns red and yells; nothing special….”

Dang! I didn’t even have time to finish a blog post wondering what to do before the answers came streaming in: Kathie Jenkins, of the Pioneer Press, fired the opening salvo, panning the restaurant as a “train wreck” in a remarkably harsh “first-impressions” review. Rick Nelson, of the Star Tribune, volleyed back with a “now-open” rave. Then Andrew Zimmern weighed-in, calling Jenkins a “brain-dead moron” and cataloguing a Porter & Frye meal that sounded beyond dreamy. Holy cow! Now what do I do?

I can almost hear my mom asking: Just because Kathie, Rick, and Andrew decide to jump off a bridge, are you going to jump, too?

As much as that image undoubtedly delights any number of local cooks, don’t get your hopes up. I have too much to live for.

And yet, I am now going to weigh in with my own hyperbolic review based on a single visit, because, what, am I going to be the only girl at the slumber party without a Bratz sleeping bag? I don’t think so. So, without further adieu:

My One Dinner at Porter & Frye

by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

My one dinner at Porter & Frye happened on a cold and snowy day. I got to the restaurant through the skyways so I was not cold and snowy myself. The skyways smelled like new paint and carpet because they just got built. When I looked out the window of the skyways, I saw cars that were very wet and snowy and I was glad to be inside.

At the door of the restaurant I was met by many cute women in black pants. They seemed a little baffled with what to do with my date and I, even though we had a reservation. However, they were very excited to see us. They reminded me of a lot of volunteer chaperones at a junior prom—enthusiastic, but not really clear on where to put all their energy. This would be the pattern. They led us through the dead-empty basement dining room—which has a contemporary feel, not unlike the basement dining room at Chambers—but is lighter-seeming, quieter, and more serene.

We ordered a lot of food. Some of it was beautiful. For instance, the Berkshire pork terrine looked like a tiny birthday cake. It was formed into a cylinder and robed with a rich, buttery terrine coating. When I spread that terrine on the accompanying raisin-toast points, I thought, It doesn’t get any better than this. It was rich, complicated, humble, and perfect. Do note that it’s on the sharing menu; order it for yourself and you’ll never finish it.

The Wild Acres chicken ($20) with “corn-meal porridge” was basically chicken and grits—and marvelous. The chicken was crisp, salty, and savory, the grits creamy and devourable. Yet, the restaurant’s French onion soup ($8) seemed uncentered, and I found the entrée of blue prawns ($19) out of balance. The ravioli were too sweet, and the prawns tasted unpleasantly fishy. The desserts also were batting .500: A chèvre cheesecake was spectacular, the accompanying balls of poached pear arranged on a swipe of chèvre was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen outside a toy box, only much more avant-garde. Our server was very sweet and attentive, but unable to answer just about any question regarding wine, cocktails, or food, though he did have good strategies for overcoming his lack of training. Namely, he brought over samples of wine, and went to the kitchen to get the answer to a question. Overall, he was trying hard and I’m sure in a few weeks the whole eager-wanting-to-help thing will morph into an actually helping thing.

In conclusion, I concluded that Porter & Frye is a promising new restaurant. It was not a train wreck, but it wasn’t the ballet either. If I had a birthday in the next few weeks, I might try it because it’s fun to do something new and the energy is very high, but if I had to take the Queen of England to dinner, I’d take her to La Belle Vie.

So, take that! My real review will run in the magazine in May. In the meantime, anyone and everyone between La Crosse and Montevideo is hereby invited to spew invective this way because that’s what made America great. That, and a free press, I mean.