Dinner at John Alexander’s
I have often remarked to myself that there was no restaurant in the Fargo-Moorhead area that I thought was in completely in line my likes and dislikes. To be sure, there were restaurants that I enjoy in this area, namely, Grazies, Jade Dragon, Passage to India, Sammy’s Pizza, and Sushi Time. But while all of these restaurants have good food, they weren’t places that I really wanted to go to more than once or perhaps twice a month. I enjoyed them but there was not a true synergy between myself and the restaurant. That is, there wasn’t a place in town that I felt that if I were to open a restaurant, this is just how I would like it to be. I think this feeling is gone now that I’ve enjoyed John Alexander’s in downtown Moorhead.
John Alexaner’s is part of the burgeoning Fargo-Moorhead restaurant empire that includes Juano’s and a Latin themed bar. It has been open since January of ’08 and it has a delightfully small and focused menu. It offers a number of appetziers, a few saldas, some burgers, a couple of pastas, grilled cheese sandwiches, steaks, and a Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich. The idea, which I think is brilliant, is to take familiar dishes and elevate them slightly to the point where they become just about fine dining. In doing so, the restaurant manages to skirt the lines that separate fine dining and American casual dining.
The interior of the restaurant echoes this “skirting” theme by being sleek and cool enough to pass off as a nice dining destination while maintaining a casual atmosphere with details like paper napkins.
As far as the food quality goes, I thought it was spot on. The first thing I tried was the beer battered cheese curds. Here’s how they served them:
They were very, very good. The breading was crisp and just a bit bitter from the beer. The cheese inside was perfectly gooey and full-flavored. I really can’t think of having any better fried cheese curds in my life (and I’ve lived in Wisconsin before). The accompanying sauce was called a “white ketchup” which, to my palate, meant that they mixed ketchup with mayonnaise. The first bite seemed a bit odd because it tasted (unsurprisingly) a lot like tartar sauce but as I ate more of it, I began to see why the sauce was chosen. It was to be a milder ketchup as the cheese curds, while being pretty flavorful, just wouldn’t stand up to a full blast of tomatoey ketchup. Hence, the cutting it with a blander ingredient-mayonnaise. It was a very good idea and indicative of the care the restaurant takes in its dishes.
My entree was a duck breast covered in a port suace with dried cherries, apples, and mint. It was served with asparagus and mashed poatotes. Here’s a picture:
This was a very good but not quite perfect dish. The duck was nice and was served just under medium-well. One could have hoped for a bit more crisp on the skin. The sauce was a fascinating combination of flavors. The port reduction was nice match with the fruits but the mint was, well, a wow ingredient. At times, I loved it and at times, I really didn’t care about it. The chef placed full, fresh mint leaves in the sauce which presented a texture contrast (nothing is quite like chewy leaves) and a very big flavor punch whenever one of the mint leaves hit your mouth. It did finish the sauce intelligently as it balanced out the acidity and strong flavors of the port but it seemed to come at a pretty high cost. If anything, mint was too aggressive of a flavor for this dish, especially in the amount given. But, I really am nitpicking here. I really did enjoy the dish.
The sides were good and great. The mashed potatoes were the great part. Made of red potatoes, they were silky smooth and exceptionally buttery. Major kudos to the kitchen for that. The asparagus was just too crisp tender for my liking but not very far off the mark.
I really look forward to my next visit to John Alexander’s. The prices are great, it has a nice, affordable wine list, and the bartender’s are knowledgeable and helpful. Exactly the kind of place where I would be happy to spend some well-earned dollars.
John Alexander’s address is 315 Main Avenue, Moorhead, MN 56560. And it’s phone number is 218-287-5802.
ADDED: The Fargo Forum has an online review of this restaurant.