WEST FARGO — As a general rule of thumb in the dining world, the price point determines a lot when it comes to expectations and, when you are looking at $35 for a steak and $5 or more for a side dish, you can have reasonably high expectations.
West Fargo's Tru Blu Social Club meets those expectations some of the time. At other times, it seems to miss the nuances of fine dining.
The menu is expansive and traditional and can deliver something for everyone. Sides are ordered separately and can be shared, which really adds to the fun of ordering and comes with a taste of family style dining.
Mussels ($10.99) were a highlight. Tru Blu avoids offering their own interpretation of this dish, something restaurants have a hard time doing, and steams them in a white wine sauce served with bread. The mussels are firm, uniform and the sauce worthy of spooning directly.
On the main menu, the flat iron steak ($21.99), done rare, was excellent. Cut from the shoulder, it keeps the heavy beefy flavor of a hot grilled chuck steak but, done rare, retains the tenderness that makes it so suited to the grill in the first place.
Some other dishes didn’t fare so well, and this may have had to do with processes and service more than the dishes themselves. Our server didn’t know the menu well and made four trips to the kitchen to find answers to some pretty basic questions. How were the mussels prepared? How was the lobster served? What is a cipollini onion?
Mistakes in the order did some damage to the meal. The lobster arrived a little overdone, already cool and without the drawn butter. It took a little while to find our server, and then the butter came unheated. The butter warmer took another five minutes to heat the butter. Lobster can’t handle the cold and, at $32, it deserved better.
The beef ribs ($18.99 for a half rack) were heavily sauced and resting on a layer of fat that could have been trimmed to make the dish a little less greasy. Salads are basic, but fresh.
There is a good selection of desserts, but be sure to ask what might be made in-house. This makes such a difference in desserts. Our white chocolate raspberry cake ($8) was pleasant enough but still cold from the freezer, and a more carefully prepared in-house creation would have been a better end to the meal.
The dining space is large and looks much like a differently decorated version of its sister diner in Fargo, Lucky’s 13 Pub. This can make it noisy, especially since the dining area isn’t separated from the bar. Larger groups are easily accommodated, but it may not be well-suited for a romantic dinner for two.
A trip to the bar to ask if something fun and fancy could be mixed for an 11-year-old was met with a cheerful and helpful bartender who was friendly and accommodating. And perhaps this is where Tru Blu finds its stride: It’s an upscale meeting place for casual and friendly gatherings rather than a fine dining restaurant that pays attention to the substyles of dining that seem best expressed in smaller restaurants.
The table linens are covered with paper on which the server cheerfully writes his or her name upside down. The plates come with food less than carefully placed and the edges left unwiped.
Some things are just not carefully done. Melted butter was spilled, for example, and grease on the handle of the knife served with the ribs needed to be wiped off before it could be used.
None of this may matter, in which case it’s not a unpleasant way to spend an evening. But one needs to be certain that the price is in keeping with one’s expectations.
Tru Blu Social Club
Address: 915 19th Ave. E., West Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday
Alcohol: Full bar
Ratings (out of 4 stars)
Food: 2 stars
Service: 1 1/2 stars
Ambiance: 2 1/2 stars
Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.