I’ve been to America’s most esteemed Vietnamese restaurants, San Francisco’s Slanted Door and Chicago’s Le Colonial, but both left me underwhelmed: What did they have that Minnesota’s great Vietnamese spot, Jasmine Deli, didn’t? I mean, aside from wineglasses, wine lists, and lighting more appropriate to dining than to operating rooms. Well, call that conundrum solved: Minnesota finally has a fine-dining Vietnamese restaurant worthy of national consideration, and it’s in fact an outgrowth of that Eat Street favorite, Jasmine Deli.
Jasmine 26 is just around the corner from Jasmine Deli, but the ambience and ambition are leagues apart. The room itself is disco-dark, the better to enjoy an unusual sparkling sake or sip playful cocktails, like a rum-spiked bubble tea. The food, however, can stand up to the brightest lights. The lettuce rolls, for instance, have a sushi roll’s complex architecture, with tender poached shrimp butterflied and tied with scallion-ribbons around lettuce leaves, stuffed with a thin, sweet omelet which itself cradles a filling of cellophane noodles and pork. However, all those ingredients fail to make the dish taste busy, each bite tastes as light and bright as a garden. Fresh tofu cubes are flash-fried with paper-thin slices of garlic, Thai chilies, and sweet bell peppers in such a way that the tofu becomes as crisp as a potato chip on the outside, creamy as custard inside. The lemongrass short ribs are fragrant and tangy, though the traditional Vietnamese pork-sparerib preparation here is applied to long-braised, spoon-tender beef. The sour tamarind hot pot is made with lots of real tamarind, not mere vinegar (as it is in most of our local Vietnamese joints).
Jasmine 26 is already legendary for having the longest soft-opening in history (the doors opened last fall but the operation was immediately hobbled by a death in the family). Now that they’ve finally had their official grand opening, I predict that they’ll become legendary in other ways—perhaps as the Vietnamese restaurant that put Minneapolis on the national map.