I wanted steak, a Caesar salad, a pedestrian Pinot, and to just be left the hell alone with that choice. I didn’t want my culinary palate expanded or a glass of wine with nuances that would prompt an oenology dialogue. Please, a sliver of solace: red meat and a slight wine buzz was all I asked.
I’m burnt out; everything is a grind. How did I end up so responsible for getting the not-so-fun stuff done? I used to be a girl once, but then I got older and some days that just sucks, because it was damn fun just to be a girl. Tea parties, prom dresses, wedding planning; mind mapping every detail even if it turns out only to be a dream. Those days slipped away and I find myself buying really ugly shoes because they don’t hurt my feet.
I had too much caffeine, too many emails, too many bales of laundry to dredge through; unable to summon the oomph to cook, I ended up at BLVD Kitchen & Bar due to its proximity to my house. Blah, Blah, Blah, Petters, Blah: I know people like to natter up Vlahos gossip. His Redstone restaurant at Ridgedale isn’t groundbreaking cuisine but it’s Minnesota at its best. The smell of the smoky wood fire out on the fairy-lit patio during these drafty autumn nights is a warm comfort before the coming avalanche of snow.
So with undersized expectations, I went to BLVD with it's 45-minute wait, but I was too depleted to turn on my heel, so gave in to the queue. As I negotiated the manicured full-retail-price crowd, slowly the beauty of the restaurant came alive to me. What I know about interior design could fit comfortably in a thimble but I have proxy knowledge of what’s chic (expensive) because, as the personal chef of The Ladies Of The House, I've been told. As in "Don’t use the good Neiman Marcus Irish linen tea towels they are for decoration" or "You cannot wear your shoes in the kitchen because it’s custom knotty pine.” I grew up without and am a curious study of this moneyed patois, this odd language of class.
Standing near the wait station in the back of the restaurant I am in awe. A tall wooden ice chest with iron levers housing frosted bottles of etched BLVD water, a bench upholstered in French flour sack muslin, a matte Wedgewood blue wall (a color that is catnip for those with a XX chromosome), a mounted miniature assemblage of antlers, filament lighting, tin ceiling, zinc bar with fresh limes tucked in the glass beer chillers, newspapers folded crisp, and ultimately, the pass and the kitchen.
I have a hard time taking in both areas at once. First the pass, where the food is set for final garnish, is a work of art. It seamlessly melts into the dining room with cascading marble countertops displaying an arrangement of hearth breads, country store pies and frilly glass-domed cakes. The woman working the pass is wearing an apron fraught with use and has hair without conscience. She is focused and in constant precise motion: she is also the partner of this heartbreakingly beautiful and detailed curio shop.
The kitchen, without hesitation, is my dream kitchen, save for the close circuit TVs. How many high-end, professional-grade, unique pieces of industrial kitchen equipment can you artfully arrange in a finite cubic area? At BLVD they have mastered it. If you gave me millions and a month of Sundays, I couldn’t come close to the Vlahos celebration of aesthetics and functionality.
Why should this matter? Here’s my thought bubble: Valentine’s Day at Jean-Georges’ in Minneapolis a few years back. Crowded banquet with a wobbly miniature two-top, cheap plastic bread basket, IKEA-esque design: too-cool-for-school minimalism in the heart and soul department. We were herded in, herded out, and for a $300 bill the food was excellent, but I never went back.
Conversely, I cannot say the food is this way or that at BLVD, because I don’t believe it will ever be the only defining factor of this venue. To those who say, "No, what about the food?" I say, "My bone-in rib eye steak was perfectly cooked with serious skill over one giant piece of wood, and it tasted amazing." To those who want the dish on Dean? The man was working the floor the entire night and not just "working" the who’s who at the bar, but rolled-up-sleeves-in-the-trenches working.
On grey days in my life, I don’t care about anything else, as long as you don’t make me regret spending my money and for an hour or so let me escape to a temporarily better place where I get to feel like a The Lady Of The House.