Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Saint Dinette in St. Paul, Minnesota
With the closure of La Belle Vie and Vincent came plenty of chatter about the state of fine dining in town. Most of the knee-jerk reactions were along the lines of, “Are we just not sophisticated enough to support such excellence in cooking? Are we really just a bunch of tater tot–lovin’ rubes who can’t handle having nice things?”
I think these notions are crap. All dining must evolve along with the expectations of the eaters. And so it has. McDonald’s now offers apples in Happy Meals because people expect healthier options. A lot of taverns have replaced Bud Light signs with Surly signs because drinkers expect local craft beer. The only thing that hasn’t changed, and never really will, is value. It’s the most important thing to diners, whether defined by price or quality (or both). To pick a Zeitgeist-y example: the eater looking for a great burger under $14, as well as the name of the right farm assigned to that burger.
So what of fine dining? Ultimately, fine dining, done well, is a restaurant that anticipates, feeds, and exceeds guest expectations with refined food. All these expectations are still being met in town, just at establishments that fit within a new value system. When we begin to value loud festivity over quiet elegance, we get Heyday. When we choose sophisticated warmth over formality, we get Spoon and Stable. When we want a flexible, diverse menu rather than a rigid culinary lineage, we get Saint Dinette.
All these places create plates and experiences in a way that fits and exceeds the expectations of our evolving eaters. You can still dine finely in town—all you have to do is let go of old-school ideas about haute cuisine and realize that you, the eater, are helping to set the tone for this brave new restaurant scene.