Each month, in our “Restaurant Rumble” conversation, MnMo food critics Jason DeRusha and Joy Summers review two restaurants and pick a winner.
Joy: When you say “the Lexington,” to someone in St. Paul, very specific images come to mind: elegance, classic supper club fare, and a grandeur not often found in a neighborhood restaurant these days. It’s a lot of weight for a newly reopened restaurant to bear.
Jason: And it’s been a lot of wait for all of us for the opening. Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald (owners of Smack Shack) teamed up with chef Jack Riebel (formerly of Butcher & the Boar). One stunning, $5 million, three-year renovation later, they’ve brought the storied institution into its next era.
Joy: The grand entrance with the large coat room, elegant staircase, and ornate host stand immediately suggests a grand dining affair. The menu is full of classics, but each with a twist—many Hawaiian, including the spicy beef tartare with salted mango and the sticky-sweet Polynesian spare ribs.
Jason: That tartare is one of the best in the Twin Cities and it’s one of many terrific starters. The sweet onion bouillon is a French onion soup layered with the rich earthiness of black truffle and sage; the relish plate has a fantastic smoked whitefish and spreadable cheddar cheese that I wish they’d package and sell; and crispy soufflé potatoes are like puffed-up potato chip pillows. It’s approachable food elevated to match its sophisticated surroundings.
Joy: I agree. The pot pie is like a present from the comfort-food gods, a flaky crust containing tender chicken, vegetables, and creamy gravy.
Jason: The pot pie is only on the bar menu, but if you ask nicely you may be able to order one in the main dining room, too, and it’s definitely worth its $17 price. The kitchen is largely successful with refreshing classics. For example, the Lex Salad’s homemade riff on Russian dressing gives it a great tang that enhances the sweetness of poached, marinated tomatoes. Or the pepper-crusted top sirloin is surprisingly tender and infused with the flavor of a sweet, red-onion topping.
Joy: We were surprised that our favorite entrée was a light, fresh sea bass wrapped in parchment paper with just the right balance of briny olives, tart Meyer lemon, and springy artichokes.
Jason: The success of the Lex is also its biggest liability, as a jam-packed bar and restaurant means the cooks are working like crazy to keep up. Dinner can sometimes be more leisurely than you’d like and we encountered the occasional minor mistake, including underseasoned and overcooked pasta in the duck-and-foie meatballs stroganoff. Also, skip dessert: the crepe cake was a mess of mushy textures and muddled flavors, and the best part of the pineapple tart was the crust.
Joy: Outside of those rare mishaps, the Lex offers grand dining in St. Paul style.
The Lexington Quick Tips:
Parking: There’s a small lot in back, plus parking in the lot for the eyeglasses store across the street after 5:30.
Reservations: Often tight, but there are plenty of bar seats for walk-ins.
Cuisine: There’s a Polynesian thread throughout the menu with tiki drinks and tropical touches.
This month’s “Restaurant Rumble” pitted the newly reopened The Lexington against the locavore icon, Lucia’s. Find out which restaurant Jason and Joy chose as the winner in the June 2017 issue of MnMo.
1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-289-4990, thelexmn.com