Sunday, August 10, 2008

dining out

So yesterday was clearly Food Day for me, starting at the Farmer's Market and ending at Figlio in Uptown. Cathie and I went to dinner, to celebrate not being at work -- and to recognize all the things we've accomplished together this year. Here's to us.

Figlio has been a dining fixture in Uptown since forever -- since I used to date. Since they built the Calhoun Square shopping center where the restaurant is located, most likely, which makes it late-Eighties. The food has never sucked. There's always something really yummy on their over sized menu, which hasn't deviated much through the years -- great pastas, great pizzas, pretty basic meat entrees and sandwiches and salads but always with a twist. The Polla Mattone is a classic -- a pressed chicken breast cooked with 20 cloves of garlic served atop spaghettini. The Carpaccio is probably my Favorite Appetizer of all time -- thinly sliced raw beef with olive oil, a hard and fragrant cheese (I forget which, frankly, but it's something common), capers, and a little toast and lemon. MMM. I love raw stuff -- most of my other Favorite Appetizers are served at Origami, the Twin Cities' best Sushi restaurant.

Anyway -- we were headed for the Black Forest, a German place that neither of us has been to in a while, but Cathie's car had other ideas. After looking around for a parking spot for about fifteen minutes, we found a broken meter in an ideal location, a meter that turned out to be just pouty rather than broken -- we fed it an extra buck, and it relented, the "failed" display suddenly replaced by an increasing account of allowable minutes. We banked 2 hours 30, and still used it all up in our quest to be Utterly Fed.

Cathie had the Tagliatelle, and I had the Capellini. Carpaccio of course, and some sweet potato fries (calorie counters be damned, because if you're going to shell out $50 per person you may as well get your money's worth.) I had a Lake Street Lemonade, the only disappointment of the evening -- a weak-ass mixed drink. After dinner we refused the dessert menu (there simply wasn't space left inside us) and instead Cath had coffee and I had a glass of Port. I love Port. I suspect it's a Grandma drink, but I love it. And I love the little glasses it's served in, which display the drink the way a beautifully designed setting holds the gem in a ring. It wasn't a particularly special Port, a Cockburn in fact, but still a lovely end to a satisfying meal. It should be noted that our entrees were a bit speedy and arrived ahead of the appetizers -- and the service was just standard -- but none of that seemed egregious.

It occurs to me that two or three of the people who occasionally read this blog have probably been on dates with me at Figlio (oh such a long time ago), and that it might seem quaint and funny that I'd get so excited about a Figlio meal. What strikes me though is that here and now, we can't expect a restaurant to remain the institution such places once commonly were -- Minneapolis isn't a Chicago or a New York, with so many potential customers in a concentrated area that a good kitchen could conceivably lure generations of diners. There are only a handful of such places in this town, and I suspect most of them are steak-and-seafood joints. And I think I've found a number of them. But certainly not all, particularly in St. Paul where I never go. And I don't think any of these restaurants has outlived its founder. But I could be wrong.

My father knew where all of these places could be found, I think. He was a public accountant, a small businessman and a salesman of his services. He knew where the guys with the money ate and drank. He'd worked for a liquor importer for years at one point, and I imagine that's how he drew some of his clients when he struck out on his own -- club and restaurant owners. I remember visiting him on the weekends when he'd have to do the books at a big club -- 8am, the deserted back bar where I could filch marachino cherries and stack rolls of quarters while he counted out a deposit and paid bills, or whatever he did. Later on, when we did lunch a few times per year, he would always suggest a place in town that turned out to be frequented by men of a certain generation -- businessmen, retired businessmen, and their aging but elegant wives or young upwardly-mobile fiancees; and only a few times did we eat at a random "place" that I recall. Actually, one of our last meals together happened while I was pregnant, at an Indian place just up the road from me now. He'd been eating more vegetables I think, and watching his diet.

So when I dine out, which is rare, and I'm not eating Sushi (more rarely, as it were) I look for a few telltale signs: heavy stemware and coffee cups, wood paneling and deep cushioned booths, a certain age to the decor, a certain smell of stale cigar smoke left over from the days when men could and did smoke at the bar. Not so many windows, maybe; and the smell of steak cooking, liver and onions, wine in the glass. Figlio isn't all those things, true -- it's a restaurant of my generation, not my father's. But it has that peculiar endurance, and while the bar there is too trendy in its listings, the food will probably always be great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you are enjoying yourself.