Casual Obsessions

Barbette knows the disciplined craft behind informal bistro fare.

Bistro fare tends to be my own personal brand of comfort food. It’s a style of cooking that lets the soul of the ingredients shine through. I’ve been reminded of that simple pleasure by recent visits to Café Barbette, the funky Uptown mainstay where Kenwoodians and counterculturalists happily coexist.

A little over a year ago, the restaurant installed locally raised and New Orleans–seasoned Sarah Master as its executive chef, and when it comes to classic renditions of traditional bistro favorites, her recipes are as satisfying as you’ll find in these parts. Take, for instance, her superlative beef and lamb terrine: beef chunks and scraps of lamb marinated in mustard, shallots, garlic, and thyme, put through a coarse grinder, bound with a mixture of egg yolk and a homemade spice blend, then baked, chilled, and sliced. Served with toasted baguettes, cornichons, mustard, and a salad, this is an absolutely heavenly small-plate meal.

Then there’s Master’s flawless execution of Barbette’s deservedly legendary moules et frites. Because the restaurant moves so many heaping saucers of its Maine-sourced mussels, what you get is always impeccably fresh, and the chef is preparing them as the season and the spirit move her. This past summer, the steaming broth comprised garlic, shallots, lemon butter, and, sacré bleu!, some rosé wine! Come fall, that will likely change to the conventional white wine, and when winter winds blow, the popular Barbette curry potion of coconut milk and more than a dozen house-blended spices will be back on the menu.

As for the French fries, what makes them frites perfection is the kitchen’s refusal to take shortcuts. It starts with the proper potatoes—in this case, Wisconsin russets that have a low sugar content ideal for the frying process. The peeled spuds are julienned, soaked overnight to remove excess starch, blanched in the fryer, then set aside for a final plunge into hot oil before arriving steaming hot with a dip of addictive saffron aioli.

In short, what appears simple on the plate—some pâté, a bowl of mussels, and a mound of fries—involves a lot of work and attention to detail. And Barbette is a place where that shines.

Café Barbette
1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
Dinner entrées, $17–36