Instead of going directly home after the annual CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis this past September, I was asked to squire around Jean-Philippe Fontaine, the International Sales and Export Manager for Focal Loudspeakers for a few days. J.P. and I had both left our homes on September 3rd and we both weren't due to be back home until the 14th. Only his trip was a little more arduous. He started off in France, flew to China for a couple days, then flew all the way to Indy from Shanghai via Detroit. After the Expo ended, we took off on Sunday afternoon, first stopping at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a tour of the museum and track (something J.P. wanted to do and I was glad to oblige), then up to Chicago and a couple days of meetings with dealers. Given that we're doing a lot of business up in North Dakota, my boss suggested that we fly up there for a couple three days seeing our dealers in Fargo and Dickinson. It's a four hour drive from Fargo to Dickinson with not a lot to see. I told J.P. before we left, "We're either going to be best of friends at the end of this trip, or we're gonna hate each others guts." On our way back from Dickinson, we stopped in Bismarck to have dinner at the Toasted Frog.
I had wanted to eat lunch at the Toasted Frog earlier this summer with my dealer in Bismarck, but it turned out the restaurant is closed for lunch. We ended up eating at the Blarney Stone (click here to see that entry) and that was exactly where J.P. and I dined for lunch on our way out to Dickinson earlier in the day. I had eaten at the Pirogue Grill in Bismarck in the past (click here to see that entry), but wanted to try the Toasted Frog location in Bismarck. I've eaten at the Toasted Frog in Grand Forks (click here to see that entry) and wanted to try their Bismarck location that opened in December of 2010. Owners Jon Holth and Shawn Clapp bought the building on the southwest corner of Broadway and 4th Street (see map) in the heart of Bismarck's downtown core district. Previous tenants of the nearly century old building included a couple of department stores and a cosmetology academy.
Since it was the height of the dinner hour, we had to park in a public ramp behind the Toasted Frog. (Getting out of the garage was pure Upper Midwest small-town Americana - there was no attendant on duty after 6 p.m., so you were on the honor system to place your money into a slot in the exit booth.) We walked in and a hostess was in deep discussion with a man who had evidently got a dinner to go, but was bringing it back because he was less than thrilled with how it turned out. It was an awkward moment for us and the hostess as the guy DEMANDED to see the manager and wanted his money back. Fortunately, another young lady came up to greet us and seated us at a table opposite the bar.
The Toasted Frog is situated in a long narrow building with high exposed ceilings with massive air ducts just below. The tables and chairs are sort of a contemporary metal styling that were somewhat high, but actually pretty comfortable to sit in. Our waiter came over to greet us and we ordered up a couple beers as we looked through the menu which is virtually identical with the Toasted Frog location up in Grand Forks.
We had eaten eclectic Italian the night before, the night before that we had steak and seafood, and the night prior to that we had steak at Morton's near O'Hare (click here to see my entry on my visit to Morton's). J.P. was sort of in a quandary as to what to get. They don't have the same beef in France as they get in the U.S., so J.P. is always a little more prone to order steaks when he's in the states. But at Toasted Frog, they only have a tenderloin filet and a New York strip on their menu. I told J.P., "You know, the Midwest is also famous for their pork," pointing out the grilled pork tenderloin topped with a port wine craisin demiglace and served with your choice of potato and the vegetable of the day.
He said, "That's it! That is what I'll have!" He got the French fries for his potato and fried zucchini was the veggie du jour.
At the top of the menu, something caught my eye right off the bat. They had grilled mahi mahi fish tacos served with a sour cream cabbage slaw, avocado slices, tomato and mango salsas, with chopped green onions and flour tortillas. If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you know that I'm a sucker for grilled fish tacos, even in a land-locked location such as Bismarck. I didn't even consider anything else on the menu.
It took about 20 minutes for our food to reach the table, time enough for another glass of beer from the list of beers the Toasted Frog had to offer. J.P.'s grilled pork chop was swimming in the port demiglace sauce. He took one bite of it and had this look of astonishment on his face. "Oh, my God," he exclaimed. "This is so good!" Midwestern pork won over another visitor to our country.
My fish tacos came on two separate plates - one with the grilled mahi mahi filet on it with all the fixin's, and a small plate with the tortilla shells. They grilled the tortilla shells to make them pliable and tender, giving them a nice charred taste, as well. Putting a little bit of everything on to the top of the tortilla shell took a little while, but the time it took was worth it. The mahi mahi was fresh in taste and not fishy in the least. The sour cream cabbage slaw was a nice taste along with the salsas and fresh avocado slices. The fish tacos were very good - surprisingly good for Bismarck, ND.
J.P. ate up every last bit of the grilled pork tenderloin and swirled the last two pieces in the port demiglace. He said, "Yes, we have pork in France. But like your beef, the pork isn't as good as it is here. This is some of the best pork I've ever had in my life." And this is coming from a guy who travels all over the world for Focal.
I know it's sort of hard to screw up fish tacos, but the salsas and the sour cream cabbage slaw were a wonderful complement to the mahi mahi. Let's say I've had worse grilled fish tacos in much larger cities. And J.P. was more than happy with his grill pork tenderloin entree. We were best of friends when we got back to the hotel in the Fargo area around 10:30 that evening, having spent over 8 hours in the car that day. And I have to think that dining at the Toasted Frog in Bismarck helped.