It is the most highly anticipated Twin Cities restaurant of recent memory: When and what would Ann Kim open in Uptown? For months on Instagram, we’d see her in Mexico, learning about corn and nixtamal tortillas. Was the James Beard Award-winning chef behind Young Joni and Pizzeria Lola opening a fine-dining taco joint? During a pandemic?
We have some answers. No, it’s not a taco joint. Yes, it is fine dining. In the former Lucia’s. During a pandemic. After telling the world to “f*** fear” when she accepted the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Midwest,” Kim appears to be doing just that with Sooki & Mimi.
At a time when everyone’s opening pizza and chicken sandwich to-go spots, Kim has launched an elegant, sit-down restaurant. For 10 courses, she priced it at $120 a person—not far from Gavin Kaysen’s Demi, which is $135—and opened with an all-vegetarian menu. Retail and restaurants have closed on Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street nearby, but Sooki & Mimi is open. Forget fear, to say the least.
The menu is bold, courageous, and pure Ann Kim. Just as she used pizza dough as a foundation for creative flavor mash-ups, like the kimchi of her childhood with Italian red sauce, she’s using tortillas made with native corn and alkalization as a base for new flavor exploration.
Fusion-style cooking hasn’t always worked—either as a dining experience or a cultural statement. Some chefs of 25 years ago built Frankenstein monsters from well-known dishes. Asian and Italian cuisine? Bam! It’s a kung pao calzone! Kim’s approach is different. Like the best kind of marriage, the sum of the individual flavors makes the entire dish better. The broth dishes excel at that: the pozole crossed with a Korean doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) is ridiculously good. The aguachile is spicy, funky, and earthy with raw cauliflower, avocado, mango, daikon, and carrot.
The sheer force of imagination to crown a rich mole blanco with a ribbon of shaved jicama, all atop a tortilla made from heirloom Oaxacan corn, is astonishing. Her nod to birria, the hottest trend in tacos, leans on maitake mushrooms and shiitake crema. The dish’s rich earthiness conceals the fact that you’re not eating meat. A pile of Korean radish is fried tempura-style on a Mexican leaf called hoja santa. One dish after the next surprised and delighted.
From a design perspective, it’s another absolute knockout. If Young Joni is the dark, moody, Los Angeles-style teenager, Sooki & Mimi is her light, confident, more-grown-up big sister. Big windows, light wood, and wide open sight lines—because this is the spot in Minneapolis to see and be seen. It’s hard to imagine that this used to be Lucia’s: Part of why it took so long to open is because Kim’s team blew out the wall separating the bakery from the dining room, and they had to add support to hold up the rest of the building.
The wine pairings were the greatest value of the night. Thoughtful glasses of unusual varietals complemented the bold flavors dancing across our tongues, all for just $50. Service was equally thoughtful; we learned the story of each dish but also got simple instruction on the recommended way to eat it. Knife and fork. Pick it up. Small touches made the evening special.
Sooki & Mimi asks a lot of questions about where we are going as a dining community. Changing tastes, combined with a loss of group outings and expense-account dinners, wiped out almost all of our four-star restaurants (Bachelor Farmer, Burch Steak, In Bloom, Bellecour). Are we ready to return to Uptown? Are we interested in a two-hour, $125 10-course dinner? Ultimately, Sooki & Mimi is taking a more permanent form with an a la carte menu. If the inventive flavors we experienced are any indication, we’d be smart to go in whatever direction Ann Kim decides to lead us.