– A Forepaugh’s that refreshes

Steve Rice, Star Tribune

forepaughsForepaugh’s, in an 1870 mansion in St. Paul’s Irvine Park, has undergone a sumptuous renovation under new owner Bruce Taher

Rick Nelson’s first impressions of three new Twin Cities restaurants.

A new look for an Irvine Park landmark As we poked our heads into one sumptuously appointed room after another at the newly renewed Forepaugh’s, my friend summarized it best: “A lot of hot lunches went into dolling this place up.”

That’s because new owner Bruce Taher is the Taher in Taher Inc., the food-service management company that feeds schools, colleges, senior residences and corporations. The company jumped into the restaurant business in a big way during the past year, launching the Wayzata Eatery, the Alaska Eatery and Glacier Bar and the Nordeast Eatery.

And now Forepaugh’s. Taher has given Joseph Forepaugh’s ornate 1870 mansion what appears to be a spare-no-expenses once-over, its three floors of intimately scaled bars, lounges and dining rooms recast in romantic golds and reds and appointed with comfort-minded furniture. The basement boasts a wine storage area that doubles as a private dining room, and a second-story patio is downright magical, with downtown’s towers poking over the treetops and the splashy sounds of Irvine Park’s fountain wandering up the hill. Another charming draw: Our server told us that Molly, the house’s resident ghost and a former Forepaugh family servant, continues to haunt the Victorian manor.

Chef Donald Gonzalez, a Chambers Kitchen alum, manages to cover a lot of bases in his somewhat brief menu. Starters ($8 to $14) include battered-and-fried halibut, artichokes, plantains, eggplant and mushrooms finished in a lemon aioli; a smooth grilled corn soup and a bright cherry tomato soup; a stylish version of poutine, the French Canadian fries-cheese- curds-gravy delicacy, and heirloom tomatoes artfully matched with mozzarella and a pungent olive tapenade.

Entrees ($21 to $38) feature a rack of lamb with polenta, beef Wellington and a trio of beautifully presented seafood dishes: slow-roasted salmon, succulent striped bass in a vibrant basil-garlic broth and moist halibut dressed in a mellow coconut curry. Pastry chef Carrie Summer’s ingenious sweets ($8) include a deconstructivist riff on banana cream pie, an elegant and summery fruit soup and two luxurious variations on the chocolate theme. The too-short wine list could use some fleshing out, with 14 mostly-California choices, all sold by the glass (average price $12) and/or the bottle.

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