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Monday, August 18, 2008

Fargo Restaurant Review: The VIP Room

624 Main Ave. (in the lower level of Block 6), Fargo

Cuisine: Bistro style lunches

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday

Reservations accepted: Yes

Alcohol: Wine and beer

Dress: As you like

Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express

There is a Maxfield Parrish pop-up book on the piano and books on the wall that came from someone’s personal collection.

There’s table linen, comfortable chairs and lighting that makes it easy to read. You can get a table for two that actually seats only two. There are pictures on the brick walls and, if there’s music, it certainly doesn’t get in the way of good conversation.

It has been said that style is being able to walk across a crowded room and have no one notice. In a world of themed restaurants – aggressively decorated American eateries with signature chicken dishes and menus a mile long in which seafood is described as having been “popcorned” – The VIP Room is best described as “very nice.”

The VIP Room, a lunch-only restaurant in the lower level of Block 6 in downtown Fargo, looks a little like a French Bistro and a little like a turn of the century American drawing room. It’s “lunch only,” not in the sense that it only serves lunches, although that’s true, but in the sense that the dining experience is the kind you are looking for when you need to squeeze all the relaxation you can out of the 50 minutes you have for lunch or when you need to make plans for an evening that’s still six hours away.

It’s surprisingly quiet for a small space. It’s warm and inviting. You can comfortably sit leaning forward over a pleasant lunch talking about last month’s sales figures, Tolstoy or clandestine autumn weekends at the lake, without feeling rushed. Or, if you haven’t the time, you can smile at the server, get your bill and leave in 45 minutes without feeling impolite.

It’s lunch like lunch might have been when Maxfield Parrish was taking a break from painting pictures of lute players in the forest.

The menu at the VIP Room changes daily. There is usually a choice among a feature dish, a salad, a daily quiche with a muffin and a soup-and-sandwich. At first, this seems like a fairly limited menu, but you have a choice of a number of soups and the quiche can be prepared with meat, seafood or vegetables expanding choices substantially. After all, it is lunch. Variety in a menu is only one consideration when choosing between stuffing down a burger and pickle with daytime TV droning in the background or taking a break from fluorescent lights and cubicle politics to enjoy a few minutes of civilization. That said, the menu is carefully thought out and provides enough variety that those preferring a traditional lunch and side dish, and those hoping for a quick sandwich, are both easily satisfied.

The tomato basil soup is sure to be a favorite and the quiches are substantial enough for a meal and light enough for a lunch. Beyond that, it’s hard to make recommendations because the menu changes. It’s safe to say that if the ham and turkey tetrazzini indicates the care put into the feature dish each day, it is bound to satisfy. Also, the scallop quiche included enough Mediterranean in it to qualify as a true seafood dish in its own right.

Each of the four menu items is priced between $6 and $7.25 making it a very reasonable option alongside the less urbane choices in Fargo for a midday meal.

You can enjoy your lunch with wine or beer but don’t expect an extensive wine list. The list is basic but complete with something for everyone, all under $20 a bottle. It’s like what might be found in a modest collection in your own home. The label selection is quite good. Lunch wines should be light enough to leave you sharp for the afternoon ahead of you. The house merlot bottled by Smoking Loon ($4) is a fruity, full and smooth wine, but light enough to go with the quiche.

The service is quick and the limited menu means your meal is on your table quickly so a lunch hour is plenty long enough to eat, relax and perhaps have the cup of coffee that the mug on your table has been begging you to enjoy, perhaps with a dessert.

Reasonably priced dessert choices include an ice-cold creme brulé and a Better-than-Sex Chocolate cake. While the promise of the cake’s name can’t be verified in a newspaper review, its merits as a dessert can be affirmed. Desserts will set you back less than $4, but will extend your lunch by 15 minutes or so.

Reservations are accepted. Ask to be seated in one of the front two rooms. The rear room feels like another restaurant and, although the food is the same, it tastes better on a well-dressed table in the company of good books.

The VIP Room also houses a catering business and is open for private dinners in the evening.


Fargo Restaurant Review

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