Singing the blues

Here’s what happened when I was napping: The cute, freckle-faced girl next door morphed into a Vogue model. Well, not exactly. I’m talking about French Meadow, for decades in the vanguard of the tofu/ granola crusade — organic this, whole-grain that. Then, overnight, it birthed an annex — Bluestem Bar and Table — which would be right at home in swanky L.A., were it not for the Minnesota-born birch saplings lining the earth-toned walls of the minimalist-chic café. Butcherblock sprouts on the booths and way-cool turquoise tiles dress the curvy bar. Even if the food came from a Kraft truck, I’d love it.

But of course it doesn’t. The Meadowlarks remain true to their mission: healthy, good-for-you eats disguised as photos from Gourmet Magazine. And, let me add, as tasty as it is inventive, including dishes for vegans (if the rest of us don’t nab them first). Burgers, too.

We started our adventure with a trio of rustic tartines (apps $9–$12). Crispy toasts bolstered a creamy melange of hummus and avocado; artichokes, looking mild as that ubiquitous dip, but smuggling a cache of hit-me-again jalapenos; and a classic slice of Pacific smoked salmon with dill, unctuous as all get-out, and every bit as luscious as that which I gobbled throughout Scandinavia last week.

When asked our server’s opinion of the Wild Acres duck confit flatbread, she nearly swooned. I took that as a ‘yes,’ and she was not mistaken. The thinnest of crusts came laden with arugula, whose spicy bite balanced the rich fattiness of the duck, abetted by a drizzle of cream cheese hopping with horseradish and tendrils of (supposedly) pickled ramps (today, sweet-sour onions, and no complaint).

We should have called it quits after those two generous starters, but no. And I’m elated we abandoned any pretense at seemly restraint, for we’d have missed two terrific mains (entrees $10–$21). First, a pair of fish tacos to end all fish tacos: moist and tender, lightly-blackened tilapia glistening under heaps of slaw, radish rounds and cilantro, all sparked with a lively lime crema. (We used our extra limes to awaken a side dish of sautéed beet greens — on its own, simply dull and bland.)

But the star of the evening was the chicken and waffle plate, an edible work of art. The tender, full-bodied corn waffle supported a huge slab of chicken breast, juicy beneath its light jacket of cornmeal that sped it through the fryer, then topped with an scoop of creme fraiche, big as an ice cream cone, and a peppy  drizzle of chipotle hot sauce. But what makes this dish really click is a pink peppercorn syrup. As my companion gushed, “Do they sell it by the gallon?”

Already twice our original size, we decided to pass on dessert — until we read the menu ($6–$8). Who could resist a salted-caramel and Scotch whisky custard? Not us. And don’t you, either. The topping is almost too solid to pierce, thanks to its stay in the fridge, but beneath it, pure heaven. And that doesn’t count the bonus of icebox cookies and plate painting of chocolate. (Or order many of the fantasies that appear in the Meadow’s pastry case.) I sipped a crisp rose from the Langueduc, one of many fine wines by the glass — a swell toast to summer and the delightful  new café.

Bluestem Bar & Table
2610 Lyndale Ave. S.