The new chef makes it worth a visit

WA Frost is more than just a nice restaurant.

The beauty of Cathedral Hill, known for its sprawling, meticulously landscaped, multi-level patio in the summer and a cozy bar with a fireplace in the winter, is a place where up-and-coming chefs hone their craft.

Do not believe me? Russell Klein of Meritage; Lenny Russo (unfortunately closed) Heartland; Wyatt Evans, formerly of Heirloom, now at PS Steak – the list goes on – have all led this kitchen at some point.

Now, Peter Drennan, of Brooklyn, New York, who has lived and worked in Buenos Aires for a decade, has taken charge of the kitchen, and his eclectic background shines through in the dishes I’ve tried over the past few weeks.

The small plates/appetizers section is probably where the most creative and delicious items lie.

Perhaps the best is a thin piece of creamy polenta, seared until crunchy and floating on a puddle of herb coconut sauce. It is topped with zucchini, pickled onions, a little juicy mango and some other sauces. In some cases, I’d say Drennan needs an editor, but in this case, everything works together harmoniously to create a delicious tropical gem for the dish.

There is plenty for vegetarians on the menu. Besides polenta, there are golden empanadas that are crunchy and stuffed with sweet corn, spices, pepper, and mozzarella. The restaurant’s classic spinach and artichoke dip; A great homemade vegan burger and a crunchy cauliflower entree with a light, lively mole looks like a shareable side dish for this carnivore, but might satisfy a vegan with little appetites. There is also fresh pasta with lemon.

As much as you need an editor, some ingredients for well-prepared and seasoned octopus can certainly be discarded. Do we really need romesco (almond and bell pepper sauce) and chermoula (a preserved lemon herb paste somewhat similar to pesto or chimichurri) on the same plate? I think there was perennial oil in there as well. So many competing items made it hard to taste any of them.

But back to the good and the good—if you’re a fan of ricotta, don’t miss the creamy Drinan (also vegan) version of the house made, topped with an obscene amount of basil and served with crunchy toast points, charred cherries and a balsamic tart sauce. It’s great for sharing on the patio with one of the restaurant’s delicious cocktails.

Speaking of those cocktails, we like the fact that there are whole sections of non-alcoholic drinks and low-resistance drinks. A light and crunchy Japanese martini made with shchucho lemon — a low-alcohol distillate typically made from rice — was my personal favorite.

Appetizers are mostly meat or fish, with the exception of the broccoli or pasta mentioned above. Salmon and chicken are well cooked and attractively coated.

Fish of the Day (Salmon) from WA Frost. (Jesse Fleming/Pioneer Press)

The chicken accompaniment – a puree of black beans and sweet peppers – is a wonderful departure from the usual potatoes and green vegetables. The fish of the day, salmon when we visited, is served with seasonally appropriate zucchini, yellow squash and crushed cherries, and a good black garlic sauce.

The pork and pineapple dish was a really good rice bowl, peppered with funky kimchi and a bright yellow curry sauce.

The only dessert we’ve tried features ube, the trendy purple sweet potato. It’s a Panna Cotta, but instead of the lighter pudding/gelatin we’re used to, it’s grainy and a bit lackluster.

However, overall, it’s nice to see WA Frost return to a place where diners can expect something exciting. Drennan is definitely a chef worth watching.

WA Frost

  • where: 374 Selby Ave, St Paul
  • Contact: 651-224-5715; wafrost.com
  • the prices: Prices for mini plates range from $7 to $20; sandwiches from $17 to $21; Starters $26-$56 and dessert $15-16
  • Good to know: There is parking but it is often full; Vegetarian and gluten-free options galore

Small bites are first looks – and are not meant to be final reviews – of new or changing restaurants.

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