Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Balinese Chicken Thigh at Hai Hai
The Balinese chicken thigh at Northeast Minneapolis’ Hai Hai was perfectly cooked, with a good sear on the outside but with incredible tenderness and juiciness on the inside. It was served over creamy coconut rice with crispy fried shallots and a velvety sauteed kale side dish. There’s nothing overwhelmingly spicy here, just good ingredients coaxed into shining on their own without being smothered.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea in advance of a review on Monday]
Quesadilla Asada at La Poblanita
There’s something about a place that makes your quesadilla tortilla for you while you wait — it reflects care; it reflects seriousness; it reflects dedication to sharing something lovely with friends, family, and strangers alike. La Poblanita’s scratch tortillas are toothsome and fully flavored, the perfect cradle for fresh, chewy cheese and savory little chunks of carne asada.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton in advance of the next East Lake Checklist]
Torta Ahogada at La Tapatia
A good sandwich is like a good friend — you can relax around it, pour your heart out to it, make yourself comfortable around it. The tender pork and chewy bread of La Tapatia’s Torta Ahogada is warm and comforting by itself, but when dressed with the accompanying hot salsa and tomato sauce dip, it becomes something entirely more complex and compelling.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton from a recent review]
Soft Gingerbread Tiles with Rum Butter Glaze
My husband asked me what makes these cookies from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh so good. I said I thought it was the intensity of the cocoa, pepper, and dark molasses in the dough, and the rum in the barely crunchy glaze. The cookies are originally from Tartine in San Francisco, but they didn’t go viral until they found their way to London and were published in Sweet last September. The recipe is all over the internet, but here’s an accurate version.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Jane Rosemarin]
Water Fern Cakes at Hai Hai
Something akin to an open-faced dumpling, the Water Fern Cakes at Hai Hai bring together the earthy warmth of pork, the crunchiness of scallons, the chewiness of a steamed rice cake, and the depth of nuoc cham. It’s an intoxicating mix of flavors and textures, and while it comes in a charming little teeny-tiny bowl, it contains a universe of experiences.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Kahlua has given coffee liqueur a bad name. You can’t really blame the brand for its massive and lucrative success. It’s a staple of college bars everywhere, and it does in fact make a fine White Russian — but it’s syrupy and lacks the depth and complexity that makes coffee a miraculous gift from heaven.
There’s no reason a coffee liqueur can’t capture some of coffee’s bewitching depth while still offering enough sweetness to play a crucial supporting role in dessertlike cocktails. And that balance between complexity and a honeylike sweetness makes Lac Coeur by Loon Liquor ($20 for 375 milliliters) pleasant enough to sip by itself as a digestif.
The fact that Lac Coeur is made with Peace Coffee’s Yeti Cold Press goes a long way toward explaining its quality. The depth of the coffee is fully expressed rather than being squashed by sugar.
If you’re planning to build a White Russian around Lac Coeur, prepare to experiment — you may miss Kahlua’s sugar in this context. That said, this is a marvelously tasteful product with a local provenance, and a lot of potential for mixing … or for drinking straight out of a glass after dinner.
Here’s the moral of the story, right up front: Always try the sauce. Whenever you sample a new food, make sure you get the sauce involved; you might otherwise miss a vital chunk of the experience.
Roseville’s newly opened La Tapatia takeout counter has an extremely short menu, a commendable virtue. Customers can choose from tacos ($5.75 for two), burritos ($8), nachos ($9), or quesadillas ($8) topped with one of ten meats including asada, pollo, cabeza, lengua, tripa, fried cod, carnitas, chorizo, al pastor, or ground beef.
And then there’s the featured entree, the top of the menu, and the heart of the restaurant: the Torta Ahogada ($10) a Guadalajaran specialty that is, roughly speaking, a submarine sandwich served with a mildly spicy tomato sauce.
By itself, the sandwich is fairly bland. It’s a mix of avocado slices, shredded pork, onions, and refried beans on chewy bread. But once it has been liberally dosed up with the accompanying medium hot salsa and dunked, bite-by-bite, in earthy, spiced tomato sauce, it comes alive. The mellow, soothing flavors of the meat, beans, and avocado are boosted by the depth of the tomato sauce and the fire of the salsa, and the bread is robust enough to hold together what might otherwise be a messy dining prospect.
La Tapatia’s tacos are solid, classic renditions of the form. They’re not so good that you need to divert from Lake Street or Central Avenue to order them, but not a bad choice if you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood. But the Torta Ahogada is something special. The only thing we’ve seen close to it is the Pambazo at Los Portales (above). The Pambazo was potato-focused and more soothing in cold weather, but the Torta Ahogada has the advantage of being dippable bite-by-bite instead of arriving pre-soaked.
If you head out to La Tapatia, keep your eye on the addresses. There’s no external sign for the restaurant. There’s a massive statue of a gold eagle on top of the tiny strip mall that holds La Tapatia, and that should help you get there. (The gold eagle helps identify the location of a laundromat called — wait for it — Gold Eagle.)
The La Tapatia takeout shop functions as the kitchen for the El Tapatio food truck, and it’s not equipped for in-house dining; be prepared to take your food with you and eat elsewhere.
La Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave W, St. Paul, MN, 651.253.6175
This week in The Tap: Some thoughts on getting to “one in, one out” in terms of restaurants and taproom openings and closings, plus a look ahead at upcoming restaurants in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.
The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at email@example.com.
The New Equilibrium
The Twin Cities region has seen an unrelenting growth in the number of restaurants over the past 10 years. And the rate of growth of taprooms and cocktail rooms has been almost incalculably greater.
This growth isn’t a mere counting of numbers. It’s also an expansion of culinary horizons. We’ve seen everything from a gourmet bagelry to a $160-a-plate kaiseki restaurant to a brewery/wurstery to an Asian-influenced pizzeria open in recent years, and that just scratches the surface. Food halls are opening left and right. Surly’s massive brewery complex is a destination for food as well as beer, and Fulton has its own food truck at its taproom. Minnesotans are eating more adventurously and more seriously than we have at any time in the state’s history. The shift is part of a nationwide trend. It’s less a question of going out for dinner and a show than going out for a dinner that is the show. Dining is entertainment, and appetites for it have become greater and greater.
That said, the party is going to end, whether through a slow braking of growth or a hard collision with an economic slowdown. We track restaurant openings and closings here on The Tap, and over the past five years, the ratio of openings to closings has swung (roughly speaking) from about 2:1 to 3:2.
There was a boom in taprooms that seemed relentless and permanent, but that’s also beginning to taper off. We’ve seen highly trained and highly passionate brewers swoop into the market to brew prestige beer, and we’ve seen well-leveraged beer entrepreneurs snap up market opportunities (be it in suburbs or neighborhoods lacking taprooms, or in styles and/or price points ready to be populated). A segment of the beverage world that used to be small and collegial is full of new faces and increasingly competitive. There’s always been limited room at the top when it comes to fine dining, but the recent closures of high-profile projects with star chefs (the 510 Lounge and Upton 43, for example) point up the challenges inherent in catering to the upper crust.
As we drift toward a new rule of “one in, one out” (my best guess: an arrival in 2020 or thereabouts), we also approach a glorious condition known as “saturation.” In theory, a competitive market will weed out weak spots quickly, and fussy consumers with lots of choices will reward quality, hospitality, value, and novelty. We’ve seen this work (when we lived in New York City, where great value prospects could be had up and down the price ladder), and from a diner’s perspective, it’s a great place for a metro area to be. Here’s to a glorious 2018 and beyond. — James Norton
- Hamburguesas el Gordo, 4157 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis (second location)
- Ramen Kazama, 1510 Como Ave. SE, Minneapolis (second location)
- Bull’s Horn, 4563 34th Ave S, Minneapolis | Doug Flicker’s meaty, burger-forward revamp and reinvention of the former Sunrise Inn space. Review here.
- The Hasty Tasty, 701 W Lake St, Minneapolis | New American with an emphasis on wood-fired food.
- La Familia Tapatia, 1237 Larpenteur Ave W, St. Paul
- Book Club, 5411 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis | A Kim Bartmann California fusion eatery, helmed by Asher Miller, in the former Cafe Maude space.
- Sift Gluten-Free Bakery, 4557 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis
- Hai Hai, 2121 University Ave NE, Minneapolis | New Southeast Asian restaurant at the former Double Deuce location. By the team behind Hola Arepa.
- Lucky Oven Bakery, 5401 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis | Scratch-made baked goods from a former Red Wagon pizza employee. Review here.
- Loulou Sweet & Savory, 2839 Emerson Ave S, Minneapolis | Yet another rolled ice cream spot; we’ve gone from 0 to 3 in a few months.
- Martina, 4312 Upton Ave S, Minneapolis | The former Upton 43 space has become an Argentine- and Italian-inspired spot by Daniel del Prado, formerly of Burch. Review here.
Grand Cafe’s Instagram page is amazing — curated by chef/owner Jamie Malone and her crew, the feed features quirky, often hilarious clips urging followers to get to the Grand. Sometimes, it’s just a PSA: our favorite, a llama poking its head out a car window, saying only, “We are closed today. You will have to take your llama on a dinner date elsewhere.” Many of the clips come from a file Malone amassed over a period of years, awaiting the day her own restaurant could, well, speak for itself. Dogs shake cocktails, Joan Rivers messes with meatheads, and a barely velvet-clad Grace Jones wields a champagne glass, with nary a damn to spare. As Malone might say, the Grand Cafe has personality.
Talking with her, it’s clear that she is bringing her eclectic and carefully detailed vision to the service, menu, music, branding, and atmosphere into the art and soul of her thriving restaurant (including a majestic portrait of her winsome Italian greyhounds). Grand Cafe is the vision.
In 2016, Malone began to implement her vision as the chef of the old Grand Cafe, then owned by Mary and Dan Hunter. When the Hunters decided to sell in 2017, Malone and fellow chef Erik Anderson became the eager buyers. Since then, co-owner Anderson has left to helm the kitchen at Michelin-starred Coi in San Francisco, and Malone has continued to transform the new Grand Cafe into one of the best restaurants in Minnesota. Glowing reviews have been pouring in.
Recently, we sat down with Malone and chef de cuisine Alan Hlebaen.
HEAVY TABLE: How are things going with the restaurant so far?
JAMIE MALONE: We just hit six months. I think we’re really finally coming into who I want us to be. The idea has been the same from the beginning. But we’re finally starting to see all of these things … come to fruition. And it’s awesome.
HEAVY TABLE: What is the idea?
MALONE: So, you have these culminations through your whole cooking career, of these things that you want to make yours. And then certain parts change, as your tastes change. But there’s always those cores that are really important — what matters. And I started to become really interested in food that wasn’t new — food that was really old and just more genuine. I think it means more if you take a recipe that has been created by a culture that’s had hundreds of years to either refine it or change it out of necessity. To me, that’s so much more meaningful than putting five different flavors on the plate with five different techniques. So that had been in my brain in the last few years. I’ve also been interested in different regions of France and different regions of French food and getting into craftsmanship — the producers behind the food.
HEAVY TABLE: What do you do with the old recipes?
MALONE: I pragmatically look at the part of it that we love. I try to distill what’s great about it and then update the things that can be updated. If you take the pike [quenelle in crayfish sauce] — if we cooked that straight recipe, it probably would be kind of disgusting [laughs]. Like a pike mousse. So, we find ways to add depth of flavor and lighten it and make it ours. We’re taking these things that have been around for a while and just making it kind of exciting, fun.
HEAVY TABLE: Is there a thread connecting the food to everything else, like service and atmosphere?
MALONE: For me, the connecting thread is “Where do I want to go? What do I want to eat? What’s my dream experience?” Service has always been super important to me. If people are coming to your restaurant and they’re spending money, I consider that a pretty big honor. It’s like, “Don’t fuck it up.” Eating out, for me, is like a sacred thing; it’s really, really important in my life. And so when people choose to come and eat at our restaurant, I want to deliver.
HEAVY TABLE: What about the style of service?
MALONE: Our steps of service are very outlined. When you come here, I want your service to be the same all the time. There has to be some warmth to it, obviously. So we try to take away the rigidness. [When I dine out] I don’t always want someone in my space. When people are here, they’re having intimate experiences. … So, you’re getting taken care of in this detailed way, but it’s not look at me service. It’s like, we got you, but we’re going to let you have your space. We’ll keep getting better and better at it, but we just — the devil is in the details.
HEAVY TABLE: You mentioned taking inspiration from different regions of France. Is all of the food French-inspired?
MALONE: Mostly. We try to either have French or historical context in some way on everything on the menu. One little variant we allow ourselves is some Japanese stuff, which makes sense to us and has been in the concept from the very beginning. So, we take a little liberty.