Sapor Cafe and Bar in Minneapolis’ North Loop
For those of us who live and / or work in Minneapolis’ North Loop, the past few years have yielded some tasty and much-needed additions to the dining scene, such as Be’wiched Deli and Black Sheep Pizza. But among the hype that often accompanies the opening of new restaurants, Sapor Cafe has remained a neighborhood stalwart since it first welcomed diners in 2000, quietly churning out a combination of Latin, Asian, and Italian flavors. And though not without its flaws, the restaurant is a reliable choice for lunch or dinner if you find yourself on or near the north end of Washington Avenue.
The restaurant’s salads, soups, and appetizers showcase the skill of executive chef (and co-owner, along with Julie Steenerson) Tanya Siebenaler at balancing intense flavors without overpowering the palate. The orange essence of the citrus vinaigrette that coated a mixed green salad could have easily taken the dish over the top, but the dressing offered just enough tang along with the sweetness to make the salad a refreshing start to the meal. A romaine salad featuring a creamy garlic dressing, parmesan, and croutons may at first sound like a wimpy version of a Caesar, but the crunchy lettuce and light, pleasantly peppery dressing were a nice change from the goopy heap you often get when ordering the traditional salad.
Soups change daily at Sapor, and if the beet and fennel variety is on the menu during your visit, it’s a safe bet for a starter. Served cold on a warm day and hot on a blustery one, the soup’s dark purple hue reflects the sweet depth of the beets, while a swirl of crÃ¨me fraÃ®che adds a delightful creaminess. Seafood fans will enjoy the hoisin barbecue shrimp, which featured a zesty sauce along with a perfectly cooked texture.
Many of Sapor’s main dishes are available in half-orders, making them the perfect size for a tapas-style meal or pairing with a couple of appetizers. Sweet pea and mascarpone ravioli, cooked to the proper tenderness, were a winner when matched with a tomato salad and sherry vinaigrette. The vivid color of the tomatoes ensured the diner that they were not those mealy, midwinter fruits that can ruin many a dish. The rosemary-potato-ricotta salata crepe provided just the right amount of creamy, lemony bites, and the flavor was carried over to the pile of greens with lemon-caper dressing. A long-time fish offering, miso-baked salmon with gingered vegetables, is currently on hiatus, but its delicate miso flavor and flaky consistency make it a delicious option if it reappears on the menu.
Not all entrees are top-notch, however. The falafel platter accurately reflected the cumin-driven flavors of the Middle Eastern staple, but the overly thick crust of each ball made the dish seem overcooked, and the accompanying fries needed to be a tad crispier to really sing. The southern-style macaroni cheese with bacon lacked the creaminess many find necessary to make a superior bowl of the classic comfort food. Instead, the curds in the cheese sauce lent the dish an eggy flavor and texture for which even the smoky bacon could not compensate. And like the french fries, a side dish of tempura green beans with soy dipping sauce didn’t reach optimal crispiness.
Sapor’s short dessert list provides diners with interesting choices, but none stood out as must-order sweets. The churros with Nutella dipping sauce had a tasty sugary coating but were much softer than the traditional crunchy variety. Combined with the watered-down sauce that only vaguely tasted like Nutella, the churros were ultimately forgettable. A cheesecake custard with pineapple semifreddo came together much better, but you might be better off ordering another glass of wine from the extensive list to end your meal.
Sapor may not necessarily be a destination restaurant, but it’s an elegant option for those looking for a satisfying meal in the North Loop. The seasonally based menu keeps diners interested with new dishes popping up frequently, and the range of small and large plates and flavors makes it easy to customize the meal to your appetite. That’s something that everyone — not just North Loop residents — can appreciate.
428 Washington Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55401
OWNERS / CHEF: Julie Steenerson and Tanya Siebenaler
Monday-Thursday 11:30am-2pm (lunch), 5-10pm (dinner)
Friday 11:30am-2pm (lunch), 5-11pm (dinner)
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Weekends only
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-12 for lunch, $13-23 for dinner (full plates)