The Gravlax Project: Tongue in Cheek

It has been a while since I've posted a Gravlax Project blog describing our search for the best gravlax in the Twin Cities restaurant scene. Since my last gravlax review (Spoon and Stable) local food writer Mecca Bos proclaimed that house-cured salmon is one of "The 10 most overrated menu items of the moment." I read the piece with sorrow, hoping that the influence of City Pages doesn't reach too many unfortunate hipsters who might forgo the salmon after reading Bos's renouncement. Twin City diners, turn away from the naysayers and trust me, your friendly gravlax aficionado: House-cured salmon, when done well, is life changing.

Which brings us to Tongue in Cheek, a snappy East Side of St. Paul restaurant devoted to sustainability and the humane treatment of the animals we eat. T and I first set foot in the aptly named Tongue in Cheek this past winter when we hit the bar for a weekend happy hour specifically to taste the cured salmon teaser called Goldi-lox. Teasers are small but complete dishes billed on the menu as 2-bite wonders, and the Goldi-lox had great promise especially since I'd read that Chef/co-owner Leonard Anderson's resume includes stints with Chef Marcus Samuelsson at Restaurant Aquavit. We were anxious to see that Swedish-curing influence on a plate (or inside of a petite aquavit shot glass).

The Goldi-lox consists of delicate and smoky cured salmon curled inside of an aquavit glass. Pops of salty salmon roe balance the creaminess of avocado mousse and aromatic dill. Each bite (and there are more than the advertised two) is freckled with diminutive crackly garlic flakes that conjure memories of everything bagels. Chef Anderson has nailed the perfect companions for gravlax, and I am grateful that this teaser is more petite appetizer than amuse-bouche.

The rest of the menu is equally delightful and penned with a sense of humor and surprise. Aforementioned teasers include tiny but complex flavors and textures. A shareable menu includes salads and cheese plates. Last winter the cheese plate that had me simultaneously giggling and making that sort of half-moan, half-grunt noise of bliss (like Christopher Kimball on an episode of America's Test Kitchen when he dives into the world's greatest brisket or cheesecake). The plate offered both sliced and grated versions of the cheese (was it a white cheddar?), with polka-dots of fruit preserves. The current cheese choice is burrata, and we selected the teaser version with tomato powder and basil.

Main courses are varied enough to offer a something for everyone. We've devoured a few plates of cheeseburgers and fries, superb risotto, and pork belly. Last weekend I had the fish (opah) served with sea beans and radishes over a scallop and opah brandade. A word about scallop brandade: I've dabbled in the fish-potato puree both at home and out. I've had it with dried cod, fresh cod, coconut milk, and rolled into balls and deep-fried. But it never occurred to me to make it with something other than cod. Duh. A brilliant twist on one of my favorite courses and one I will be copying come winter.

Tongue in Cheek resides on an active block along Payne Avenue. Each time we visit we find street parking (free!) right in front of the restaurant; arrive ready to showoff your parallel skills or park in the lot in back just off Jenks Avenue. Even when the place gets busy there is ample seating at the wide marble bar and cozy tavern tables, in the dining room, and on the patio during warm months. Cocktails are clever (be sure to check out their flight options). Servers are friendly and smart. And the food? My goodness, the food.

Conclusion: Tongue in Cheek's Goldi-lox teaser ($2 and no that isn't a misprint) is a revelation in how to pack a whole lot of punch into a small dish. While I hope the Goldi-lox never disappears from the teaser menu, I'd sure love to see what Chef Anderson can do with a full serving of house-cured salmon.

Tongue in Cheek
989 Payne Avenue
St, Paul, MN 55130


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