For many of us, salad is our meal starter because, well, that’s how we think it’s supposed to be. We shovel down several forkfuls of lettuce and raw veggies so we can indulge in a richer main course. And while choosing such a strategy at the Uptown mainstay Barbette makes sense — especially when your meal includes the hearty (and salty) steak frites — chef Sarah Master provides an excellent reason to appreciate the salad course on its own merits. Case in point: a generous plate of field greens ($7.50).
It may be hard to imagine why a dish featuring just four ingredients — a toss of greens, pickled onions, celery hearts, and a dill vermouth vinaigrette – is worth mentioning beyond a sentence or two. There’s nothing fancy about this salad: no crumbly cheese, no pieces of prosciutto, no vegetables that have been roasted, grilled, or otherwise coaxed into lending the salad the ubiquitous umami flavor invading menus everywhere these days. But what it does offer works to such a degree that you’ll be thinking about this dish the next time you run through the cafeteria salad bar, hoping to capture the same satisfaction that Master achieves in her simple and sublime starter.
While that dressing, which walks the line between the sweetness of vermouth and the more savory, grassy dill, is key to the overall success of the salad, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the dish. The vinaigrette needs the kind of green that readily absorbs, and doesn’t fight against, the dressing’s strong flavors, and the choice of light, curly lettuces is much more suitable than thicker spinach or iceberg. The pickled onions pack a subtly briny punch to temper the vinaigrette’s sweetness, and the celery hearts ensure that any greens that may have received a extra dousing of dressing are balanced with the crunch and neutrality of an often-overlooked vegetable.
It may not be as sexy as the salmon Niçoise or lardon-laden frisée options at Barbette, but don’t miss a chance to savor the field greens the next time you find yourself seated at one of Barbette’s cozy tables. Appreciate the simple, sweet flavors of a plate of greens, and get your umami fix elsewhere. That steak will wait for you.
Barbette, 1600 W Lake St, Minneapolis; 612.827.5710
It’s almost October and the farmers markets are beginning to wind down. Zucchini and tomatoes are on the wane. Who would expect to see a vibrant, new food at the stands of three producers at the Mill City Farmers Market?
Meet fresh ginger in all its fragrant, magenta-tinged glory. This ginger is tender, virtually without fibers, and very hot. You can find it at the Stone’s Throw and Seven Songs booths for the next few weeks ($15-$16/lb), and Stone’s Throw expects to have enough to sell at the Mill City indoor markets this winter.
Melissa Driscoll of Seven Songs Farm in Kenyon, MN (above) is the pioneer of local ginger. She first learned that the spicy rhizome could be a cold-climate crop in 2011, while reading Growing for Market, a magazine she swears by. The article was written by the owners of Old Friends Farm in Amherst, Mass. It detailed the successful growing method they devised with the help of a Federal Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant.
This is Seven Songs’ third year growing ginger, but their first year selling it at Mill City.
Driscoll explains that growing ginger in the Upper Midwest is not easy. Even receiving the seed is a challenge. Seed ginger is shipped from Hawaii or North Carolina in February. It has to be specially packaged because it can’t survive at temperatures below 50°F. Any ginger can be broken into pieces and sprouted, but as with potatoes, having stock that is certified to be disease free gives the farmer greater certainty of success.
We’re spoiled in the Twin Cities. There are so many excellent South and Southeast Asian restaurants dotting the landscape that one couldn’t be blamed for feeling a little “ho hum” about green curry and tikka masala. If you find yourself seeking a cure for the same-old-curry blues, head to Friends Cafe, located in a strip mall at the intersection of Rice and Larpenteur. Sandwiched between a medical supply store and a pawnshop, this restaurant — with its welcoming but completely uninformative name — is the only place in town we’ve found serving Burmese cuisine. (Its “exotic food in far-flung metro location” profile reminds us of our visits to the Sri Lankan House of Curry in Rosemount.)
Friends Cafe is an inviting little room with clean, green walls and sparse decor that whispers, “Asian restaurant.” The tables are plain and decorated only with a bottle of fish sauce or soy sauce, if anything at all. It’s the kind of unstylish space that leaves the food with nothing to hide behind.
The cafe serves both Thai and Burmese food, and our server was quick to differentiate between the two. Burmese cuisine, she explained, is similar to Thai in that it is built around seafood and fish sauce, but it frequently contains bittersweet tamarind, and it isn’t spicy like Thai cuisine.
We skipped right past the familiar Thai dishes to the Burmese section of the menu and ordered shrimp and eggplant curry ($11). The dish was refreshingly simple. There were no surprise ingredients — just those on the marquee. The large, butterflied shrimp were expertly prepared: tender, yet firm. The succulent eggplant, heavy with oil, was a long, thin, purple-striped variety quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch sections. The oil-based sauce was heavy on garlic, with a taste of sweet chili and umami to spare. We ordered the stock version, but spice warriors can dial up the heat. Served with jasmine rice, the portion was generous, and the shrimp were almost as plentiful as the eggplant.
Steel Toe Brewing’s newest release, or rather re-release, Douglas, is as delicious as it is elusive. While listed on Steel Toe’s website as a “seasonal beer [that] will sneak into our line up occasionally and will disappear quickly,” the season itself is relatively undefined — it is pretty much when they want to brew it. But like your grandma’s chocolate cake, it’s not an all-the-time thing, despite how much your 12-year-old self may want it as an every-meal replacement. Because Grandma knows best, treats should be reserved for special occasions, even if you don’t know what they are, and that makes them all the more special.
Like all Steel Toe brews, Douglas, at a solid 7.5 percent ABV, is sold in bombers for $5. Pitch black, with a thick, frothy head the color of almond cream, the beer’s mouthfeel is full and robust. Douglas is so steeped in roasted chocolate notes, it’s almost in the breakfast beer category, if you wanted to eat brownies for breakfast. A piney hop texture runs through the backbone of the beer — into, and even past, the finish — resting slightly on your tongue as it slides down your throat.
The hop levels, however, are balanced by the dry but heavy malt character; a sip of this dark beer doesn’t overwhelm the palate, at least not right away. Throughout a pint the hop intensity increases, but so does your mouth’s tolerance for it, making it taste deeper and richer, rather than more astringent, as hop-forward India Pale Ale’s (IPAs) often do.
But what is a Cascadian Dark Ale? Although the name is different, the style is almost identical to a Black IPA or and India Black Ale (IBA). First recognized in 2010 by the American Brewer’s Association under the blanket name “American-style India Black Ale,” Cascadian Dark Ales originated in the Pacific Northwest. Hence the name: it refers to the Cascade mountain range that encompasses the area in which much of America’s hop supply is grown. But Minnesota is no stranger to the style; Indeed’s Midnight Ryder, Third Street’s Bitter Neighbor and Surly’s more intense double IPA BLAKKR are in this category as well.
Our first sip at Insight Brewing is an English-style bitter. It tastes like toffee, bread yeast, and biscuits. It’s 4.1 percent ABV. Called Lamb & Flag, it’s as soft as the former and as breezy as the latter.
Insight Brewing’s man on the mash is Ilan Klages-Mundt, whom you’d expect to have a fine handle on brewing in the English bitter style. His sudsy CV contains time at Fuller’s, makers of the world’s finest English bitter, London Pride. “It’s similar,” he says, “but I’m not trying to copy them. I tried to learn from them and take my own angle.”
The bitter is made from two kinds of malt, and the hops don’t demand attention. Like Pilsner, it’s a simple style that relies on striking an understated balance. Leading into this ever-crowded local beer market with a flagship session bitter might be a timely play. They’re hoping that a Metro hyper-tuned to hoppy IPAs is getting ready to settle down with something more easily repeatable.
The public can get their first taste of Insight Brewing at an open house this Friday from 5-9pm. You’ll be able to sample six beers, including Lamb & Flag, a cognac-barrel-aged imperial stout, and a saison brewed with wine grapes. They have about 600 pints’ worth to sample out, so get there early. Insight is looking at another month of build-out before their grand opening in late October or early November.
Klages-Mundt was a cello major studying at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. in 2007. It was the taste of a Westvleteren 12 on a trip to Denmark that sent him down the rabbit hole of home brewing and beer research. Later, he left for Europe with $3,400 and no return ticket, asking breweries to put him up in exchange for spare brewing labor. He farmed hops in West Kent, U.K. before brewing at Fuller’s, and then went on to stints in at Kiuchi Brewing in Japan (which involved sake brewing as well as distilling) and a few smaller operations in Denmark.
“I learned the brewing techniques that allow me to take my beer to the next level,” he says, “but I also discovered ingredients. Yuzu, for example, when I tasted it for the first time, hops came to mind. I love citrus hops and this unique fruit blends perfectly. We’ll have the yuzu pale ale for the open house. I’m trying not to drink it all beforehand.”
Since returning to Minnesota, Klages-Mundt joined forces with friends and fellow homebrewers Kevin Hilliard, Eric Schmidt, and Brian Berge. They’ve established Insight Brewing in a former boiler manufacturing plant on the industrial stretch of Hennepin Ave. just west of Highway 280. Their 30-barrel brewhouse with a 5,400 barrel capacity puts them on the mid-to-large side of local startups.
They propose to stand out with a mix of globally inspired recipes and the promotion of less appreciated styles. But they’ve also taken care to construct their brewery with an eye to long-term quality.
“All of our beer is naturally carbonated in the tanks, and unfiltered, even though it’s very clear,” Klages-Mundt explains. Their brewery is stocked with twice as many brite tanks (also called conditioning, or secondary tanks) as the number of primary fermenting tanks. This allows them to hold the finished beer longer, while it develops a balance and subtle carbonation.”If you go with what tried-and-true breweries are doing, you have to allow for more aging,” he continues. “Lagers are going to be held longer, but ales are still cold while you’re aging them. This allows the proteins and haze to precipitate out, and [you] get a nice looking beer without the off flavors. It takes a while, and you need to buy a lot of tanks.”
Future plans at Insight call for a push into retail accounts sometime in mid-2015. They’ll likely can Lamb & Flag and a few other mainstays, based on public response. They’ll reserve a bottling line for 750ml bottles of small-batch seasonals.