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Continued: Lucia's and W.A. Frost: A look at classic restaurants

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 16, 2014 - 1:30 PM

Over the years, owners John and Stephanie Rupp have had their ups and downs, chef-wise. Right now they’ve got a keeper in the kitchen. He’s Wyatt Evans, and he climbed up the ranks to become executive chef in 2009.

Evans has clearly developed a firm grasp on pleasing — and frequently surprising — the Grand Canyon-wide demographic that the restaurant so ably serves. Global flavors are handled with aplomb, whether he’s suggesting North African (a silky, sushi-grade tuna), Vietnamese (velvety beef tartare) or Thai (plump, flavorful mussels).

A host of dishes are tailor-made for cold winter nights. Prodigiously juicy chicken, bearing a crisp, herb-packed skin, was served over creamy mashed parsnips and surrounded by an arc of intensely flavorful pan juices. Reordering elements of a classic pastrami-on-rye with smoked salmon proved to be a brilliant mash-up. Gloriously fatty and flavorful head cheese was expertly prepared and presented.

A cracker-crust flatbread was generously topped with earthy mushrooms balanced by delicately sweet caramelized onions. Other plus-size small plates (“micro entrees” in Frost menu-speak) offer a flurry of creative, $14-and-under options, starting with a maple sausage-pheasant cassoulet.

With the Lexington remaining dark, Evans seems to be luring in its old-school clientele with a fine shrimp cocktail and butter knife-tender steaks. Even basic bar fare — a classic burger, a toasted ciabatta roll piled high with lean, vinegar-teased pulled pork — was right on the money.

Based on what I’ve recently encountered, I can’t give a blanket endorsement to Evans’ sprawling menu. Some dishes were ill-conceived (greasy pork spring rolls), others poorly executed (fishy, over-fried tuna-crab cakes).

My visits were frequently plagued with inexplicable service lapses, although they’re often matched by a forceful comeback: an unmatched cheese selection, a tasting menu that manages to evoke both luxury and value, a lovely a la carte weekend brunch and an admirably deep selection of affordable wines, including more than 60 bottles in the $35-and-under range.

Then there’s the setting. Scratch that: Settings. The genteel dining rooms could have doubled as Ralph Lauren’s career lodestar. The bar remains one of the Twin Cities’ most appealing backdrops for developing an affinity for Scotch, whiskey and bourbon. The grotto-like basement lounge is an under-the-radar romantic destination.

In the winter, guests are greeted with the soothing scent wafting from one of the historic building’s many crackling fireplaces, and in the warm-weather months, nothing beats Frost’s landmark patio, still an enviable piece of leafy, urbane real estate, all these decades later.

It’s tough to remember when the restaurant wasn’t the dining-out anchor that it quickly became. Which is why imagining a Cathedral Hill without W.A. Frost is the equivalent of a Cathedral Hill without, well, the cathedral. Impossible.

374 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-224-5715, www.wafrost.com. Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. daily, for brunch 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Bar open 11 a.m. to midnight Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fri.-Sat.

Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

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