Fhima’s, Minneapolis Cafe, LoTo, Louis XIII — David Fhima’s been around the block once or twice. His much publicized rise — and subsequent fall — in the local restaurant scene has been the topic of many a conversation. As of this June, Fhima’s back — in a newer, subtler way.
His new digs, Faces Mears Park, comprise a new, more focused Fhima endeavor. Overextension in the LoTo days cost him the oversight necessary to ensure 100% quality in every plate the kitchen sent out, and Fhima is determined to regain that control this time around. Despite his contract with nearly two dozen Lifetime Fitness locations, he plans to reroute such operations through the new restaurant so he can better ensure the quality of each product. A few vestiges of his flashy former style do remain: a big, see-and-be-seen two-day party comprised the preview event (pictured), and the same large, sunny location Fhima held (and later sold) as LoTo reemerges as a sprawling, four-in-one-concept space. Between the bottle shop (a necessary addition to the liquor-store-lacking downtown St. Paul), espresso / wine bar, sprawling restaurant and chef’s table, and low-key market / deli, Fhima still wants to do it all.
Faces’ food options span the gamut of American fusion tradition using organic and sustainable ingredients when available. The complimentary Gougère (small popovers with the tang of gruyere) provide a light, pleasant introduction to a meal; homemade fries ($3) are accompanied by a nicely flavored aioli and sweet artisan ketchup. Rice Cakes ($11), unlike the air-crisped Quaker version available in a grocery store, carry some heft and provide a chewy vehicle for a caper-studded tuna tartare. The Burger Trio ($6) comprises three sliders with lightly grilled buns and plenty of juicy, meaty flavor — a toned-down sample of Fhima’s full-topping burger.
A Chicken Monte Cristo ($7.50) features a lemon thyme aioli, gruyere, and pulled organic chicken on crispy challah — a nicely flavored combination, if a bit salty. The pizzas sampled on the evening of the preview (one the five-cheese option, the other “Muffuletta-Style” with three cheeses and cold cuts) had a light, crispy crust, high-quality cheese, and flavorful toppings — though one sample was slightly salty and the other could best be described as a salt bomb. Turmeric and coconut produced a sweetly earthy flavor and beautiful color in the Seafood Linguini ($14), which offered plenty of seafood for the price, though both the linguini and sandwich could have benefited from more vegetables to complement the high starch / protein mix prevalent in both dishes. To Fhima’s credit, any dish served with fries is available with organic greens instead, a light and tasty salad far exceeding the Italian-dressed iceberg lettuce typically relegated to side salad substitutes by many restaurants.
Better bets were a simple, lightly dressed California Salad ($7.50) featuring vibrant, fresh-tasting sundried tomatoes, and “THE Burger” ($8.50), an impossibly tall sandwich which seems to challenge a diner to ingest each of the many flavors together in one bite. (Answer: The bun is light enough to squish to a biteable height). Though the “panko-breaded” onion slice on top was a bit heavier than one might expect, its sweetness combined with just-crispy-enough bacon, gruyere, lettuce, tomatoes, and a zippy Dijon mayo brought the whole thing together.
Three-dollar happy hour wine and beer provide good value — a basic red and white wine serve their purpose for the price, while a Leinie’s Honey Weiss is the happy hour beer list’s bright spot. The drinks we sampled, around nine dollars each, were tasty — a blueberry lemonade provided the refreshing sweetness of a step-above-Crystal Light beverage with Stoli Blueberry and fresh muddled blueberries; the “Heavenly Hibiscus” (hibiscus liqueur, a nicely spiced ginger ale, and lime) initially tasted of tart fruit and was followed by a warm, spiced finish.
If you’re downtown and looking for something particularly new and innovative, Fhima’s latest restaurant may not be your top choice — but if you seek a pleasing, reasonably priced meal with classic flavor combinations, Faces is the place to go. All options we sampled were tasty and affordable, and the sunny building and patio provide a nice view of Mears Park (and some much-needed vitamin D). Fhima’s back — and his new restaurant may be as sustainable as the food he’s starting to promote.
Faces Mears Park
American Cuisine in Mears Park
380 Jackson St
St. Paul, MN 55101
CHEF / OWNER: David Fhima
Sun-Wed: 11am – 1am (full menu until 10pm)
Thurs-Sat: 11am – 2am (full menu until 11pm)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $12-22