When is a new restaurant not a new restaurant? When fresh talent makes over the menu.
A restaurant’s chef can typically be compared to a nation’s president: The direction for everything flows from the top, from the biggest details (steak house or Indian?) to the littlest (will the salad greens be microscopic, medium, or large?). Of course, there are restaurants where that top slot is filled by an owner or a corporation, but at chef-driven restaurants, the chefs drive everything. So what happens when a chef-driven restaurant gets a new chef? Sometimes miracles. The following is your guide to the brand-new Twin Cities restaurants hiding inside the old favorites.
Who’s New? Chef J. P. Samuelson
Inside scoop: When J. P. took over the well-regarded tapas bar, he introduced an all-American accent that’s made the place fresh again.
When J. P. Samuelson’s eponymous American Bistro closed, legions of fans were bereft. J.P. couldn’t leave town could he? So when it was announced that Samuelson was taking over the kitchen at Solera, local restaurant hounds greeted the news with excitement.
Little did they know their taste buds would be as pleased as their wallets. Thrifty gourmets are directed to the $29 nine-course tasting menu of tapas nuevas (new tapas). You’ll start with a chilled oxtail terrine with bits of fried preserved lemon and move on to a signature Samuelson preparation of wild-caught roasted sea bass—the fillet spoon-tender, the crust seared crisp as a potato chip. Next come planked scallops, trembling and fresh but nicely smoky from the cedar plank and a bit of saffron. Then coriander-crusted pork, as subtly spiced as a veil. Followed by three more courses.
Die-hard Samuelson fans will, of course, recommend his famous calamari, here served with a hot-pepper-and-tomato aioli, and perhaps even his smoked black cod, each silky bite so tasty it’s almost emotionally difficult to consume: Must this ever end? That the restaurant has one of the biggest bargain wine lists in the city only adds to the thrifty pleasure. Solera, 900 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-338-0062, solera-restaurant.com