The Normandy Kitchen’s been around longer than I have, and that’s saying something. When I was a kid growing up in St. Paul, my dad would undertake the trek to treat me to a Henry VIII burger and steaming popovers, a wondrous new food discovery which, in junior high Home Ec, I consistently failed to replicate. I’ve checked back at the hotel’s dining room occasionally over the years. That signature burger never left the kitchen. Nor have the popovers.
But the chef has. The under-the-radar turnaround occurred a while back, when Patrick Anatalian left the stove he’d helmed forever at Sanctuary (and, before forever, at the dearly departed Loring and New French cafes). He’s turned the Normandy Kitchen into perhaps the premier go-to for French culinary classics in town. Who knew? Not moi.
So, along with that famous burger, you’ll now find steak au poivre, French onion soup and salade nicoise. French olives and French cheeses as cocktail bites. Bistro staples like beef bourguignon, steak tartare, and moules (mussels) steamed in cider. There’s even roasted bone marrow, hard to find on the banks of the Mississippi rather than the Seine, but Patrick assured me that it sells well, here in the former home of meatloaf and roast turkey.
To start, we summoned the first item I seek when hitting the streets of Paris — a frisee salad studded with lardons and poached egg. The bacon-y cubes proved ideally moist and meaty, the soft-cooked egg just begging for a poke to dress the abundant greens. (Starters run $8–$15.) With it we shared (of course) a buttery, crunchy-crusted popover the size of a basketball ($3). Next, a pair of bruschette topped (a first for me) with escargot — bouncy, chewy, tasty snails. They rest on a painting of velvety goat-cheese mousse, sweetened with slices of pears poached in red wine. Unusual bedfellows (or, excuse me, breadfellows) but a marriage that works well.
We proceeded to share two entrees, starting with duck breast from Wild Acres, sliced to reveal a lovely pink center, flavored with a (too) sweet Calvados sauce — like pears on steroids — which moistened its cushion of milk-cooked rice. Good but not as intricate nor unique as our second choice, the fish special. Pearly halibut, timed to retain a moist and nubile texture, arrived on a bed of wild rice strewn with chewy chanterelles and translucent radish moons, all bathed in a luscious, lick-your-fingers basil cream (entrees $16 for aforementioned classics; $27–$44 for most others). Next time: scallops in lavender honey syrup and pureed parsnips; pork tenderloin in lobster veloute; or — who knows what Patrick will be up to? Trust him.
The dessert list ($7–$9) reads like a French cookbook (with the exception of shakes and malts, which sound good with that burger).
Try to decide between profiteroles, chocolate mousse, tarte tatin, beignets with dipping sauce or the item to which we eagerly succumbed, a champagne floating island. When’s the last time you saw that classic on a local menu? From a pond of wine-enhanced creme anglaise, smooth as liquid custard, rose that island of soft meringue. It’s enticingly light and delicious. With the bill came a plate of madeleines, chocolate truffles and macarons. C’est la vie, right?
405 S. 8th St.