The New Restaurant Scene
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The Indian- and Pakistani-expat communities in Minnesota have proved to be devoted restaurant-goers, so much so that the Twin Cities have been blessed by a number of Indian restaurants that cater almost exclusively to those homesick connoisseurs. However, these restaurants tend to be functional, not big-splash destination, see-and-be-seen nightclubs. Does that expat community want a big Indian-accented nightclub? Does anyone? That seems to be the question Om was designed to answer. It’s a multi-level space built inside the shell of the old Nate’s Clothing spot in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District, near the Central Library.
Walk in and you’re confronted with low couches, saffron- and lapis-colored accents, the general sense of dark wood and deep shadows, and the chance to order small plates and mango martinis. Trail down a giant open staircase arranged around an enormous crystal chandelier and you’ll find the main dining room—yes, in the basement, even after that idea failed at the Chambers and at Porter & Frye.
No matter. This deep dining room is prettily appointed in dark wood and features a menu that takes the typical Western way of building a fancy entrée (glamorous protein plus starch plus vegetable) and gives it an Indian twist. The generous fillet of wild-caught Alaskan salmon is seared with turmeric, rendering it a deep burnished orange, and then poached in a coconut milk and malt-vinegar sauce, all of it served with poached grape tomatoes and a pretty disk of spinach basmati rice. Instead of Tandoori chicken, Om serves Tandoori cornish game hen, with a roasted-cashew sauce and a crisp and cheerful side of two sorts of green beans.
The brains behind this creative cuisine is Raghavan Iyer, a Bombay native, longtime Minnesota resident, and one of America’s leading Indian-cookbook authors. And the food is fascinating stuff. I particularly liked the fenugreek lamb-chop appetizer, in which lamb chops were marinated with fragrant ginger, fennel, cardamom, and garlic, and then seared and served rare beneath an herbal and zesty sauce of fenugreek and cream. The green chili and potato naan bread was another must-try, while some of the vegetarian dishes, like the puff-pastry crowned casserole of layered vegetable curry and basmati rice, have never been seen in town before and are a welcome addition.
Sound good? It is, though if this sort of thing sounds appealing to you, my advice is to go sooner rather than later to ensure that Om thrives. People around here have gotten awfully accustomed to paying rock-bottom prices for Indian food, and since the place is smack-dab in the heart of the twentysomething nightclub zone, it’s hard to imagine the restaurant getting a lot of drop-in traffic. (Om does have valet parking, for those familiar with the parking difficulties in that neck of the woods.) When you go, be sure to save room for dessert. You may think you know everything there is to know about molten-chocolate cakes until you taste Om’s, infused as it is with a true cayenne kick and hauntingly fragrant spices. Om, 401 First Ave. N., Mpls., 612-338-1510, omminneapolis.com
No restaurant closing last year was more shocking than the shuttering of the Bayport Cookery. Chef Jim Kyndberg was a pioneer in transforming the St. Croix Valley into a fine-dining destination with his multi-course menus centered on a star ingredient (morels, chocolate, and garlic were the most famous themes). And a nice, nice, nice guy—one of those chefs young cooks clamor to work for for free and whose praises they go on to sing forevermore. So it was particularly thrilling when Kyndberg was quickly appointed chef of the Kitchen, the new restaurant that took over the former Stone’s space in Stillwater, the one with the exquisite, enormous back patio and the interior that seemed like a showroom for the most expensive wood and stone finishes known to contemporary design.
How is this new smash-up of esteemed cooking and richly cozy environment? Splendid. Neither too fancy—the $9 burger with classic Minnesota ice-box pickles is just right next to a tap beer after a long day antiquing—nor too plain. The cold-cut plate is actually an ambitious assemblage of house-made charcuterie of chicken-liver pâté enhanced with chopped bacon, slippery and silky headcheese, and ham to rival any artisan-made one from the South. Farm accents like creamed corn cut straight from a cob that came straight from the farm that morning give the place soul. And a daytime menu with easy-to-love options like homemade biscuits with sausage gravy and eggs give it a casual, village-center utility. Service is young, but eager and well-trained. In short, it’s a great restaurant for our times: Just foodie enough for the foodies, just non-foodie enough for everyone else, and a lovely excuse to head to Stillwater. The Kitchen, 324 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-342-1556, thekitchenstillwater.com
This new northeast Minneapolis restaurant, in the old Times Bar & Café space across from Nye’s Polonaise Room, is something new to Minnesota: date-destination, budget-friendly, beer-focused Asian fusion. If that sounds like a confused concept, the place actually comes across as remarkably unified. The main dining room is chic and trimmed out with big fans and gently aged shutters, as if you’ve stepped on to some French Colonial veranda in hot old Vietnam. Of course, there’s one other Minneapolis restaurant with French Colonial accents: Chiang Mai Thai. No surprise, then, that Ginger Hop (the ginger refers to the Asian influences, hop to the hops in the beer list) is the second restaurant from the Chiang Mai Thai crew.
They’ve really thought this one out. The beverage service offers a tipple for every palate, but especially for beer lovers. Check out all the spicy-food-friendly IPAs! With plenty of options under $10, the food is wallet-friendly and often quite good: Try the creamy green curry or the tangy Key lime pie (from the Birchwood Café). Oddly enough, Ginger Hop reminds this critic most of the great beer palaces of a hundred years ago: pleasantly escapist and classy to behold, easy to afford, with simple and appealing food, and plenty of beer for all. Ginger Hop, 201 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-746-0304, gingerhop.com