I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: we are remarkably lucky to have such a lively, creative, and truly amazing food scene here in the Twin Cities. And part of what makes it so wonderful is that every restaurant seems to try to be in a healthy, friendly competition with some other restaurant (or restaurants) in down, which makes everybody strive to be better and more creative.

The result of this wonderful atmosphere and competition is that we get restaurants like Meritage, which deserve a strong mention as one of the best in town for doing both some traditional foods and expanding their horizons to embrace unique combinations.

Meritage offers French-inspired food with that midwestern accent that a few of the high end restaurants here went for back in the ’90s. But Meritage does things differently, forming a wonderful marriage of styles that lead to wonderful meals like the one I had earlier this month, featuring a miniature tuna tartare taco, escargots, and an exquisite lamb chop?

If you check out their website, you may be drawn in by the extensive offering of oysters. But I decided to skip the oysters, even though that was top of mind initially. I was just drawn to the escargots, probably because I hadn’t had them in ages. And they did not disappoint at all: perfectly cooked, flavored wonderfully by a good amount of garlic and butter, and a nice restraint on the salt in the butter.

The lamb chop was amazing, and surprisingly simple. There was no obvious fuss over it or its accompaniment: the couscous was simple but flavorful. The sausage-stuffed pat-a-pan squash was surprisingly light and tasty. And the lamb was perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned with just a touch of a beefy, earthy sauce on the side.

The only drawback (and perhaps this is my age speaking) is that Meritage, like so many of these new restaurants, is overwhelmingly noisy. They’re large, reflective spaces that just seem to amplify all sound, making dinner conversation practically a yell, and hearing the server a challenge sometimes. Meritage’s space is beautiful and reflects well on the building it’s in (the historic Hamm Building in downtown St. Paul), but it really could use some fabric in some places to kill the noise.

But it’s the food that will bring me back, so I can forgive some of the atmosphere.