Here is your Twin Cities fine dining report for February. Borough, which opened last year, has received a lot of good press, locally and nationally, and after a good grounding dinner at Alma last month we were ready to once again try somewhere new. We had reservations at Borough for late dinner last Saturday with a group of friends and then a major storm hit southern Minnesota and snarled up the highways. It seemed at first that we would have to cancel–we have a 50-60 minute drive up to the cities, and there were reports all through Thursday and Friday of cars and semis crashed/spun out on the highway, and Saturday morning didn’t look promising either. Reports looked up in the afternoon, however, and we decided to chance it anyway (our friends live in the city). It probably wasn’t the smartest decision–the roads weren’t terrible the whole way but there were a few white-knuckle icy stretches. We arrived at the restaurant ready for some wine and hoping like hell that the meal would be worth it. Well, on the whole, it was.

The restaurant is a nice, large space. Noisy but not cramped and the six of us were seated at a very large table at the end of the restaurant that could probably have sat eight comfortably. One of our number is an artist who had a glass studio nearby before the neighbourhood, and this building, got a facelift in recent years and he was struck by the transformation. There’s also a popular bar, Parlour, downstairs which has a separate bar menu. We did not venture down there but the restaurant itself was full–we were clearly not the only ones not put off by the weather.

There were enough of us that it seemed likely we’d taste a fair amount of the menu and so I did not force anyone to eat anything they didn’t want to. As it turns out we ended up with a lot of repetitions–the next time I will not relax my iron grip (I am a very sought-after dinner companion for this reason, by the way).

A quick word about the menu: it is in the style current at a number of contemporary restaurants around the country whereby no descriptions of dishes are provided beyond a cursory listing of key ingredients. This makes for some minimalist chic but is a gigantic pain in the ass when you actually want to figure out what you want to eat. Our server was happy to describe everything for us but we didn’t really want to have a third of our evening taken up by detailed recitations of descriptions–not to mention it’s no fun straining to hear, over the din of a noisy restaurant, what’s being said at the other end of a large table. And so we mostly just asked about the things that caught our fancy most directly–in the process we doubtless overlooked some things that may be more interesting in actual preparation than as a list of ingredients. I can’t imagine anyone finds this approach to be useful.

Anyway, on to the food! In terms of approach, of the places we’ve visited recently, Borough is closer to Alma than Tilia or certainly Bachelor Farmer. While the setting is relatively informal, the food is more rigorous and formally inventive (if not always successful) in seeking to marry flavours and ingredients from across culinary traditions. And I would say this meal was superior to our meals at Tilia and especially at Bachelor Farmer.

I managed to get good bites of everything. Apologies, as always, for the photographs–though if you think these are poor you should look at the ones in my Tilia review that were taken with my previous camera. (Again, click on the thumbnails to launch a larger slideshow.)

(I contacted the restaurant a day or so later to confirm details on the dishes and the manager very patiently walked me through how everything we ate was prepared. As this phone conversation was going on while our boys were screaming in the background it is entirely possible that I may have missed or mistaken some key details–I hope not though.)

As you can see, there was nothing I did not like. There’s certainly a lot of technique in evidence but not of the overly mannered, twitchy kind. At the same time, however, with the exception of the duck very little really made me sit up in my chair or make me want to come back again right away for more. Of course, as is the way these days, the menu apparently shifts very often and perhaps I would find more things of that ilk in other iterations. If you were to go before this menu disappears, I would recommend starting with the tartare, and following with the quail and then the duck.

A bottle of Prosecco to start (Lamarca) and a bottle of Tenuta Langasco Barbera D’Alba Madonna di Como (2009) with the food. All of this plus tax and a not very generous tip brought us to about $516 for six people. Not a bargain but very much in line with similar places around town.

So, why the not very generous tip? A few reasons: our server was perfectly personable but there were a few annoying missteps. It took a long time for our first course to come out (more than 20 minutes)–this was not his fault but we received no bread until after the first course was on the table (follow-up bread likewise took forever). Two of our group who split the tortellini for their second course did not receive it until well after the rest of us got our food–he apparently forgot to place the order. We had to redirect some of the entrees after they arrived as they were put down in front of the wrong people. And while this is really not something unique to this server or this restaurant, it’s always annoying when wine glasses are refilled by servers who do not ask who wants a top up. All of this did not add up to a ruined meal but we didn’t want to reward it either.

Also: this is not something we penalized our server for but our table was right next to a service area in the back and a good chunk of the second half of our meal was eaten next to various people wiping and polishing cutlery. I expect that at Chili’s, not at a restaurant of this caliber.

On the whole, a very good meal (a solid B+) and we’ll be back once we’ve made our slow-motion rotation through the cities.

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