YOU’D THINK the restaurant opening I was anticipating most this year would have involved a multi-million dollar renovation, a superstar chef, or at least foreign waiters in gaucho pants. Instead, it was a modest Vietnamese restaurant called Jasmine 26, whose owners opened it around the corner from their other restaurant, Jasmine Deli. The nine-table deli may not be the best restaurant in Minneapolis, but it’s my favorite: It’s close to home, the food is quick and delicious—plump spring rolls, steaming bowls of soup, crusty baguettes stuffed with mock duck and onions—and all my friends love it. You can dine simply for $4, and eat like a king for $10.
The new Jasmine 26 looks more like the chic, sexy Azia across the street than the original deli. It has a contemporary feel, with charcoal walls, sleek lines, ambient lighting, and a bar, decorated with an enormous hand-carved Buddha, where bartenders mix fruity cocktails. The menu is fancier than the deli’s, but equally delicious: Vietnamese crÃªpes, tamarind hot pot, lightly fried tilapia with tomato and cabbage, and peanut curry with roast duck, eggplant, and pineapple.
In contrast to the formality of the space and the food, however, the service at 26 felt slapdash: Dishes were forgotten or dispensed at random times, a simple request was rebuffed as being “too much work for the cook.” At the deli, these quirks are part of the charm. But at 26, where dinner cost twice as much, it was irritating.
During my second meal, I ignored these things and focused on the food: My belly was nearly as puffed out as Buddha’s, stuffed with a carnivore’s delight of fatty, caramelized lemongrass ribs. When my guest ordered an alcoholic bubble tea without the booze, our server teased, “Have a little fun tonight.” I brightened—it was just like the deli. I then excused myself to the restroom—which had a broken stall door handle—and wished 26 could balance its family-run friendliness with a bit more polish.
8 E. 26th St., Mpls., 612-870-3800 Â» Dinner daily. $ [w]