I’ve always been fond of Chez Colette, the French bistro in the Hotel Sofitel, along I-494 in Bloomington. I have my reasons. One is that, through thick and thin, for more than 30 years, they’ve been serving very good versions of all the French bistro classics: good French onion soup, garlicky escargots, steak frites. Another reason I like Colette, I suspect, derives purely from a sense of Minnesota boosterism: The first of the Hotel Sofitels, a European chain, was built in Minnesota and not Los Angeles or somewhere swankier, and thus Chez Colette was invented here by French and Minnesotan folks working hand in hand, and the Chez Colettes that now operate in Philadelphia and Chicago are modeled on our Minnesota Colette. Is this like rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers because they began here? Perhaps, but those are my reasons, and I’m sticking to them.
In any event, when I heard that Chez Colette had shut down for a full remodel and reopened snazzy and new as Colette Bar and Bistro, I had to check it out. Local restaurant-design firm Shea did a very nice job re-imagining the place. The velvet banquettes and Magritte-homage murals leave the place feeling cozy and smart. The menu has been tweaked—not only to keep the good, but also to add more good to it. The new cheeseboards, for instance, are just perfect for the restaurant. Order one—priced from $14 to $17 and sized to feed three or four—and you get a flight of three different cheeses selected from a particular theme (goat’s milk, for example, or French traditional). They’re thoughtfully presented with fresh fruit, spiced nuts, dried fruit, and other elements, such as honey or a balsamic-port reduction, meant to enhance the cheese’s flavors. I particularly liked the selection of “Chef’s Local Favorites,” which presented some great Minnesota and Wisconsin cheeses, like the beautiful Amablu Gorgonzola from the sandstone caves of Faribault. What makes more sense as an emblem of French and American creative fusion than cheese?
As much as I liked the cheeseboards, I think everyone else is going to flip over the restaurant’s new “Taste of Paris” prix-fixe meals. Order this and you get a sort of bento box of France’s greatest hits: Four small square plates arranged on a larger square, each holding your choice of three appetizers (the country pâté would seem the best choice after the onion soup); three salads (the crisp endives with blue cheese are wonderful); three entrées (steak frites, coq au vin, or salmon in pink-pepper sauce), and a dessert. Is there a better $21.75 meal on the I-494 strip? I don’t think so. Foodies will still prefer the more consistently excellent food offered at restaurants such as St. Paul’s Meritage or downtown Minneapolis’s Vincent, but if you’re in the neighborhood and feeling a need for a little joie de vivre, je ne sais quoi, and beaucoup fromage, Colette is better than ever.