When a guy opens his very first restaurant and puts his name on the door, it’s time for some questions. Ex-Cargill executive Jim Ringo is either crazy or brilliant, I’m not quite sure which.
Ringo is right next to Crave in the new West End development of St. Louis Park (at 394 and Xenia). I went to an invitation-only grand opening on Monday night, where I ate small bites of food prepared by General Manager and Chef Ryan Aberle and his staff.
The concept is gutsy. Or nutso. Jim and his wife Stefanie told me they love to travel to adventurous locations—but they like to do it in an upscale, comfortable way. That’s the idea behind Ringo. “It’s like going to Guatemala and staying in a Westin,” Jim said.
Every month, the international destination will change. Right now it’s Jim’s native South Korea. In June it’ll be Belgium (Belgium?), then South Africa in July. The menu will have some standards on it, but diners will get an extra menu with the “Cuisine Destination” on it.
What I liked
• The Korean Pork BBQ Ribs were awesome. They were spicy, smoky, and delicious ($18).
• On the main menu, the Lamb Lollipops rocked. Oh goodness. So tender, so packed with flavor, yum. The Moroccan spiced with apricot-mint sauce was my favorite. The small plate order comes with three of them—you can mix and match the Moroccan with rosemary-crusted and curry-rubbed for $15.
• Table-side Lemon Caesar Salad. The freshly shaved Parmesan and the shavings of preserved lemon on top of this salad really made it sing. Delicious. $9 for a starter; $14 entree.
• Chef-driven. Ryan Aberle is talented (used to be at North Coast in Wayzata), and everything here is made in-house. Jim Ringo kept telling me that he hired six chefs at his restaurant—”the most chefs within a five-mile radius.”
• The room is warm and beautiful. Reclaimed wood is everywhere, including the tabletops. There’s a section for private dining and meetings. The bar is laid out in a really cool way—the bar top extends, so there’s room for people to sit on both sides of it. Great for conversation.
Wine and booze
• The cocktail menu will immediately take the place among the city’s best. The Garden will make a gin-hater love gin. Freshly squeezed cucumber explodes in this bad boy. The Bacon Old Fashioned is also delicious: the whiskey barrel bitters really make it work. But $14? Really? They hired Alicia Brown to manage the bar. She cut her teeth at Bradstreet Crafthouse (where all the cocktails are $10, incidentally) and she’s quite talented.
• The wine list is fantastic. I was drinking an awesome 2007 Piattelli Premium Malbec, and that’s just $29 a bottle. Lots of great choices in the $20’s, including two of my favorite Chilean varietals, Carmenere.
What I didn’t like
• Crab Cakes trio small plate ($15). Some of the other diners I talked to loved the crab cakes, so maybe I’m wrong here. But I wanted more crab in my cakes.
• Tiramisu dessert ($7). Stuffed into a giant martini glass, it was too sweet.
• The main menu price points seem high to me. On the main menu, the Cedar Plank Salmon with a blueberry compote is $25. The Caramel Apple Pork Chop is $22. The Valencian Paella is $24. Order one small plate, two appetizers, and two cocktails, and you’re going to be close to $90 before tax and tip.
• The cocktails are mostly in the $10-$13 range. Good luck with that. In some cases, these are priced higher than cocktail legend Johnny Michaels’ concoctions at La Belle Vie. Granted, the customer considering Ringo is probably not considering going to LBV. Still. These are aggressive prices.
The big question
Will people get the concept? “World Flavors-Local Comfort” is the message. Jim Ringo told me that on a test run, 60% ordered off the world Korean menu, and he was surprised. He shouldn’t be. The Korean cocktails and entrees are delicious, and they’re priced right (entrees around $18, cocktails are all $9). But if you loved that Beef in a Stone Pot (Bidimbap), are you going to be mad when it’s gone in May and you’re eating Belgian fondue? Or will you love the adventure of it and go along for the ride?
Update: The answer
It seems that the answer to the big question has been found: no. Ringo closed in December 2010.