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Published May 15, 2012, 11:30 PM

Restaurant review | Daeuber dishes on 'The Gallery' at Holiday Inn

Hotel restaurants used to be the home of $6 orange juice, mediocre food and the captive clientele necessary to support that business model. They’ve tried to change that over the years, but it hasn’t been easy, and it takes a long time to get there.

By: Eric Daeuber, Special to the Forum, INFORUM

Fargo

Ratings:

Food: 3 out of 4 stars

Service: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars

Ambiance: 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

Hotel restaurants used to be the home of $6 orange juice, mediocre food and the captive clientele necessary to support that business model.

They’ve tried to change that over the years, but it hasn’t been easy, and it takes a long time to get there.

The Gallery in the Holiday Inn is a case in point. You could say it’s pretty good. It’s well on its way to being a fine dining establishment, but it’s hard to say that it has entirely arrived.

There is no doubt that you can put together one very impressive meal at the Gallery – a meal in which everything is just right, served as ordered and with flavors that complement each other beautifully. And this is both the strength and weakness of the Gallery.

It has an ambitious menu, one that’s not afraid of bold flavors. It’s full of hollandaise, Asian sauces and jambalaya. There’s tang and sweetness, pepper and salt.

For example, a dish worth the trip is the pan-fried walleye ($23) accompanied by a twice-baked potato that matches a subtle, sweet and nary-a-dry-spot-on-it-fillet with a side spiked with the smoky notes of bacon.

Something similar happens in the hot crab and artichoke dip ($9) rescued from blandness with a splash of spice that makes it less of an appetizer and more of a main dish.

Steaks are done exactly to order with uniform color to the edge and a perfect char.

Then there are those things that are just a little “too.”

The cream of asparagus soup is a little too thick, and the asparagus a little too soft. The side beans and onions are full of complex flavors, but a little too overdone to snap under your teeth and a little to underdone to be tender.

The garlic mashed potatoes put garlic in the center where it belongs and then follows on the tongue with just a little too much salt.

The steak Oscar ($31) matches a perfect piece of tenderloin with a hollandaise sauce that’s bright with just the right level of acid. But where is the tarragon, and why weren’t those beautifully prepared asparagus spears in my soup as well instead of the soft pale poached things that I’d eaten a half hour before?

None of this is enough to make someone stay away, but it’s enough to make someone wonder why? Do the chefs not talk to each other? Are the taste buds in the kitchen so wildly different from one another that really good dishes just find themselves pushed a little too far?

The atmosphere is what you’d expect in a hotel. It’s eclectic, or not very thoughtful, depending on your take, and the music doesn’t do much to pull it together.

But the service is much better than you’d expect. It’s quick, friendly and not too familiar. One never feels rushed. One never feels forgotten.

And dessert can be a nice surprise. There’s a deep-dish apple pie that’s more of compote with a bit of crust floating on the top. It’s not pastry genius, but at less than $4 in the hotel world of $8 desserts, it’s a bargain. The apples are left with a satisfying crunch but it’s just a bit, you guessed it, too sweet.

The wine list is basic but includes enough variety to match the menu.

It’s hard to rate a restaurant like this because a dinner made up of crab dip followed by the walleye and a twice baked potato would beg for a near perfect score of four stars. Our server deserved close to that as well. But bold flavors take a deft hand and a thoughtful palate if they’re to share the same plate, and at more than $30 for steak Oscar, the sides need to be pampered a bit more.

Dining details

Holiday Inn,

3803 13th Ave. S., Fargo

Cuisine: American

Hours: Fine Dining available Monday through Sunday 5:30

to 10 p.m. Other dining options available.

Phone: (701) 282-2700

Reservations accepted: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Dress: As you like

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

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

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