IT’S 6:15 ON A MONDAY NIGHT, and Cafe Ena is humming. Word seems to have spread fast about this new southwest Minneapolis restaurant. One friend recognizes another and remarks, “This place is just what the neighborhood needed.”
Any locale would be happy to have the kind of elegantly conceived and artfully executed Latin-fusion fare that Ena’s dishing up. Already, the restaurant has the finely tuned menu and professional service that you would expect from a more established place.
It helps, no doubt, that chef Hector Ruiz owns El Meson, a Lyndale Avenue eatery with a strong reputation for its Caribbean-influenced Spanish cooking. But where El Meson’s dining room has a dark, tavern-like hominess, Ena’s feels sophisticated and airy. And the menu mirrors the venues: El Meson’s dishes lean on earthy power while Ena’s fare feels more finely calibrated. On El Meson’s menu, you’ll find traditional Spanish paella. On Ena’s, you’ll see a more expansive take on Mexican and South American flavors, exemplified by dishes like the coriander-crusted tuna, accented with serrano mashers, bell-pepper cream sauce, and green-apple fennel slaw.
Ena’s blue-cornmeal cakes, known as arepas, are typical of the south-of-the-border soul food that Ena elevates. Topped with smoky, shredded chicken and a dollop of sour cream, the dish seems a risky combination that could easily be too moist or too heavy. In practice, it was perfectly balanced—both addictive and inhalable.
Across the board, entrÃ©es and appetizers at Ena pop with vibrant flavors and fresh combinations, as do the desserts. A remarkable treat known as the Carlota combines ladyfingers, fresh strawberries, and a Central American eggnog cream known as rompope. It should be served with two words of advice that might apply to the rest of the restaurant’s menu: Pace yourself. Cafe Ena is likely to be around for quite a while.
4601 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-824-4441 Â» Lunch and dinner served daily. $$ [w]
What To Drink Now
> New Zealand Pinot Noir
September is a time of transitions: from hot to cold, from frivolous to serious, and—for many wine drinkers—from white to red. But there’s no need to rush into things. You could tie your tongue in a knot going directly from the light, bright whites of summer to the dark, brooding winter reds.
To bridge the gap, consider Pinot Noir. Neither heavy nor light, it’s a red wine that commands attention without requiring you to sit up straight to appreciate it. And its soft, sensuous personality seems tailor-made for this mellow time of year.
Pinot Noir is positioned to be the next big breakthrough grape for New Zealand. Wil Bailey, of the Wine Company (a St. Paul—based importer and distributor), recommends the Delta Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir, made from grapes grown in the same region that put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map, but in the more Pinot-friendly clay soils of Marlborough’s higher ground. It’s lively yet supple—just the ticket for easing your way out of summer.
Delta Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006, $17.45, at Hennepin-Lake Liquor Store, 1200 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-4411