Kinsen Noodles and Bar in Uptown
Uptown’s appetite for Southeast Asian cuisine is apparently limitless. Is Pad Thai magically exempt from the laws of market saturation? Not that it’s a bad thing – far from it. Better too much Thai than not enough. Heck, if ShopHouse needs a Midwest test market, I bet they could snag a space in Calhoun Square.
So far, each of Uptown’s Indo-Chinese outposts has shown an ability to carve out a niche, like Kinh Do cornering the vegetarian crowd and Roat Osha claiming a sizable late-night set. Where does relative newcomer Kinsen Noodles and Bar fit in? Well, a tasty set of homemade broths seems to be their calling card. For this brief look, we decided to survey their broth noodles specifically, in lieu of their stir-fry and rice bowl options (most of which seem somewhat common to the area’s other locales).
Open for about two months now, Kinsen has a menu that touches on a range of cuisines. It feels like a more expansive take on the flavors at Kindee Thai, its companion restaurant where they serve up some pretty terrific curries. The first thing Kinsen has going for it is a great look. It’s fresh, sleek, and modern with an open kitchen and a good number of high-tops near the bar, making it a compelling addition to Uptown’s happy hour scene. They offer some very standard starters, such as fine wontons and tasty, lightly fried gyoza.
But the can’t-miss appetizer is the Curry Triangle ($5) – crispy, fried spring roll wrappers filled with a curry-spiced yam puree. The curry is hardly noticeable but the filling is nonetheless a winner. It’s rich and hearty, with a pleasant baking-spice aftertaste. With the thick and not-too-sweet mango chutney, it tastes like Thanksgiving in a little pocket.
All the broth noodles we sampled had very nice base flavors. Many of them are bold, expressive combinations as opposed to, say, the traditional, beautifully austere noodles at Tanpopo. A very basic compilation where the broth has a starring role is the Boat Noodle ($12) – wonderfully textured angel hair rice noodles in a sweet broth with just enough spice to complement the meatballs, beef brisket, and tenderloin. The brisket is tasty, but the meatballs resemble the texture of a well-cooked sausage. Not altogether bad, but not really a meatball either.
The Guay Jab ($14) seems to be one of their more popular dishes since opening, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a savory and comforting five-spice broth with wide, toothsome rolled rice noodles and braised pork. A section of crisped pork belly adds a nice textural contrast. A strange downside to the dish is an unnecessary tea-poached hard-boiled egg. It detracts from the otherwise great dish when flecks of the grey yolk begin floating in the broth. I’d say poach the egg or 86 it — either would be just fine.
Another solid choice is the Shrimp Tom Yum ($14), one of the better renditions you’ll find in the neighborhood. It’s a stark, cleaner-tasting Tom Yum than many in town, very citrus forward, well balanced, with a nice chile afterburn. The udon are a very nice al dente and the shrimp perfectly tender. Really, the only problem with the shrimp and mushrooms is that there aren’t more of them. A slightly less successful choice is the Sen Beef Brisket Curry ($13) – thin egg noodles in a weighty curry with smaller slices of beef brisket. The flavors were spot on, though the dish overall seemed a little dense, or maybe just in need of a high-note flavor for a little better balance.
When your restaurant’s hallmark is scratch-made broth, Chinese-style soup spoons are a must. We’ve been brought spoons of various sizes during our multiple visits; they need to ditch the little ones immediately. Trying to get at a large bowl of their terrific broths one teaspoon at a time is completely maddening. Our server agreed and hopefully passed along the recommendation. We’ve found the service overall to be helpful and prompt.
Kinsen has laid a solid foundation for success. The vibe is unlike anywhere on the Hennepin-Lake block, the appetizers are solid, and it offers good deals most days (head there on Sundays or Tuesdays for noodles on the cheap). The flavors are all well constructed, save for some slight, and totally fixable, miscues. It may be just a few technical adjustments away from one of the better noodle destinations in town.
Best Bet: The Guay Jab (minus the egg), with its wide, hearty noodles and delicious broth, is well balanced and extremely satisfying.
Pan-Asian Noodles, Stir-Fry and Rice Bowls
1300 Lagoon Ave, Ste 150
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNERS: Nuntanit Charoensit and Kong Tiyawat
HOURS: Daily, 12pm to 12am
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes, and gluten-free options
ENTREE RANGE: $11-14