Kinsen is the newest place to grab dinner and a drink in Uptown. It’s steps from the Lagoon movie theater; it’s Thai; it’s terrifically stylish, all glossy sand-colored surfaces, mirrors, flattering lighting, and first-date framing; and it’s one of those restaurants where your first impression (So stylish! But rather expensive….) is exactly what you retain upon deeper immersion. I liked everything I had at Kinsen—light calamari, chubby spring rolls, a brisk and lemony tom yum soup, fresh and light pad Thai—but nothing was so flavorful that it peeked it’s head up from the plateaus of “good enough” to see greatness. And, at just good enough, the prices for noodles (most $10 to $14) begin to seem high. Well, high-ish: not so high that you’d notice if the food was great, but high enough that for food this plain, you want to pay less. The good wine list also feels overly expensive, full of a lot of well known, albeit excellent, local budget-stars like Boomtown Pinot Gris, offered by the glass at $9, which is nearly the same price you would pay for a bottle.
Kinsen is the sister restaurant to downtown Minneapolis’s Kindee, which always struck me as a success mainly because it’s stylish and the cheapest restaurant within steps of the Guthrie Theater. But Kinsen has gone into a very different universe, the galaxy of Uptown’s hyper-competitive restaurants (Chiang Mai Thai, Chino Latino) and very cheap bars (if you can’t find them, I doubt I can help you, but maybe start at Williams Peanut Bar? Yes, it’s still there). Will anyone care when it’s 20-degrees below zero, you crave food that’s steps from the theater, and you want to look great eating it? Perhaps. But even the most jaded critic would do well to remember that looking good in Uptown isn’t such a bad business plan. Kinsen Noodles & Bar, 1300 Lagoon Ave., Mpls., 612-367-4595, kinsennoodles.com