The Tap: Questionable Concepts

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This week in The Tap: A couple of new restaurants are based on iffy propositions, 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 editor@heavytable.com.

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Questionable Concepts

The name of the game in food writing is keeping an open mind. Even if you don’t like tripe, you keep trying it in case there’s a method of preparation that wins you over (to date, I’m batting .000, but I’ll keep trying). Even if you’re skeptical of anything at the Mall of America, you keep trying restaurants there when they look plausible. And even if you’ve had a lot of problems with hotel restaurants, you allow for the fact that there are some great chefs who thrive in a hotel environment (which is how we met Timothy Fischer).

But keeping an open mind should not preclude being skeptical, and there have been a couple of concepts that have popped up recently that have us narrowing our eyes in suspicion. We’ll check them out when they’re open, and we’ll give them a fair shot, but in the interim we have to ask: why?

The first is Prime Six, the new spot going into the former Rosa Mexicano in downtown Minneapolis. The Star Tribune reports on the spot, which is being opened by “soccer mogul” Youssef Darbaki:

“That concept: basically a mish-mash of the other restaurants of which he’s been a part. So think steak and sushi, Caribbean, French, seafood and Italian foods. ‘It’s going to be the Pangea of food,’ said Darbaki … ‘Everything is going to be connected.’”

But IS everything going to be connected? Sure, steak is expensive, and sushi is expensive. And Italy and France both communicate using Romance languages. People from Italy … like to visit the Caribbean? And some island resorts have sushi restaurants?

Kelly Hailstone / Heavy Table

Upon further consideration: This is a mercenary, shotgun approach to food that we’d expect to find at a hotel located near a mid-sized airport. We’ve all seen the menu before: It’s high-priced bites of everywhere, done tolerably well (or tolerably badly) for a steep premium, and sold to business travelers too tired and too well-heeled to really care that they’re paying $25 for a mediocre scallop dish after spending $17 for a gummy, inside-out roll wrapped in three kinds of non-local fish.

This is a long way from saying that the concept will fail. Seven (which Darbaki helped open) has been hawking a similar pastiche of global luxury for years and has done well with it, even getting a recent refresh from Chef Sameh Wadi (as talented a culture-jammer as we have around here, which is saying something). But for those of us who skip over downtown Minneapolis in order to get to the North Loop (or the neighborhoods, or just about anywhere else), it’s a depressing development — confirmation that the heart of Minneapolis food is feeble and corrupt, even as the rest of the body thrives.

The second concept that seems worthy of a metric ton of side-eye is Nye’s 2.0, which will be sharing space with other retail including the bar and restaurant Sonder Shaker. Stephanie March did a good job of summing up the inherent problems with returning a legendary bar and restaurant to the spot of its own destruction:

Screenshot from Twitter

Seriously, what the hell? The 2016 closing of Nye’s was a long, drawn-out, at times moving, and at times maudlin burial for a legendary nightspot that had run its course and met a dignified end. Trying to resurrect the brand (in the same spot, no less) seems heretical, and the tap-dancing done by owner Ron Jacob in the City Pages article about the revival gets to the heart of it quickly:

“It’s not the same old Nye’s. And yet: We’re calling it Nye’s! And it’ll have the same stuff that you liked! But it’s very different. But it’s not!”

This seems calculated to irritate everyone. You KNOW you’re raising expectations by using the name and location and concept (minus the food) — own that. Say you’ll live up to the old Nye’s and you’re bringing it back for real, and stand behind it. Or call it something else and make a fresh honest start of it. As it is, the new Nye’s owners seem to be custom crafting an artifact that grumpy loyalists can tee off on, and clueless newbies can thoroughly misunderstand.

Shaun Liboon / Heavy Table

From Minnesota to Japan, by Way of Tanpopo

Koshiki Yonemura and Benjamin Smith, the owners of the recently shuttered and much beloved Tanpopo in St. Paul, have founded a new venture called Tanpopo Studio. Its business model includes chef-lead tours of Japan:

In Culinary Guide to Japan, we will get to know Japan’s history, landscapes and culinary traditions not only modern Tokyo, but also in the countryside and mountain towns. This tour will start in Ginza – Tokyo’s most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district.  From there, we visit Tsukiji Fish Market, the world’s largest fish market, to learn how to make delicious sushi using fresh fish from the market.  The next day, we will take a bullet train to Nagano prefecture for an intimate cultural and zen experience.  We will be staying at a Dortor, where buddhist monks have onced stayed, and enjoy traditional vegetarian meals near the spectacular Zenkoji Temple. From there we will visit the Suntory Distillery, make hand-made soba and visit wasabi farm, and stay in an rustic, old Japanese farmhouse to harvest and savor food.

Tokyo Ramen Crash Course, guided by ramen chef and afficionado Benjamin Smith, is for the ramen enthusiast and you will learn all aspects of ramen making from professionals in Japan.  This tour will start in Yokohama, where we will attend ramen school, and learn about ramen history by visiting the Ramen Museum and Cup of Noodle Museum. Once in Tokyo, we will attend another ramen course, this time in a famous ramen shop, and then visit the shopping district of  Kappabashi in Tokyo, which is  almost entirely populated with shops supplying kitchen gadgets to restaurant owners and professional chefs. Warning: We will be tasting a lot of ramen in this trip.

The tours host a maximum of 12 guests and seem reasonably priced – it’s $2950 for the Culinary Guide to Japan (includes hotels, local transportation, bullet train, soba class, translator/guide and eight meals) and $1800 for the Tokyo Ramen Crash Course (includes hotels, local transportation, tour guide, course fees and two lunches). — James Norton

NOW OPEN:

  • Bull’s Horn, 4563 34th Ave S, Minneapolis | Doug Flicker’s meaty, burger-forward revamp and reinvention of the former Sunrise Inn space.
  • 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.
  • Urban Forage Taproom, 3016 E Lake Street, Minneapolis
  • NOLO’s Kitchen and Bar and The Basement Bar, 515 Washington Ave N, Minneapolis
  • Sisters’ Sludge (relocated), 3746 23rd Ave S, Minneapolis | A fresh start for the popular Minneapolis cafe, including beer and wine.
  • Benedict’s, 845 E Lake St, Wayzata | A “modern diner” focused on breakfast fare.
  • Twin Cities 400 Tavern, 1330 Industrial Blvd NE, Minneapolis | A new collaboration between Scalzo Hospitality and Parasole.

James Norton / Heavy Table

  • Five Watt Northeast, 861 E Hennepin Ave | A second location for the popular Eat Street coffeehouse and roastery, including an expanded food menu. As featured in the Hot Five.
  • Rebel Donut Bar, 1226 2nd St NE, Minneapolis | More action within the “fancy doughnut” sphere, but in this case, miniaturized.
  • The Market House Collaborative, 289 5th St E, St Paul | Now open: OctoFish Bar. As per the Shea designers: “The space will include a seafood market, a casual seafood restaurant, a boutique butcher shop, and a bakery, and we can’t wait to kick off.” Vendors are reported to include The Salty Tart bakery, a Peterson Meats full-service butcher shop, Almanac Fish Market.

CLOSED / CLOSING:

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • Puperseria la Palmera (reopening as a Hamburguesas el Gordo). Our visit to Pupuseria la Palmera here; our visit to the Payne Avenue Hamburguesas el Gordo here.
  • Obento-Ya (will be replaced with a second Ramen Kazama location).
  • Triple Rock Social Club (closing Nov. 22 — details here).
  • Pepitos (up for sale; likely to close).

COMING UP:

Minneapolis

  • Fig + Farro,  3001 Hennepin Ave S, Minneapolis | Late winter | Vegetarian food in the semi-cursed former Figlio’s space.
  • The Hasty Tasty, 701 W Lake S, Minneapolis | November | New American with an emphasis on wood-fired food.
  • Loulou Sweet & Savory, 2839 Emerson Ave S, Minneapolis | November 18 | Yet another rolled ice cream spot; we’ve gone from 0 to 3 in a few months.
  • Prime Six, 609 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | Mid-December | A mishmash of everything upscale from around the world, plus a dance floor.
  • Nye’s, 112 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | 2018 | A reboot of the legendary Nye’s Polonaise, in a new space at the same location, renovated and sans food.
  • Cafe Limón, 3500 Bloomington Ave, Minneapolis | likely soon | Going into the old La Ceiba space, possibly a reboot of Hector Ruiz’s old Cafe Limón at Lyn-Lake.
  • Sonder Shaker, 130 E Hennepin, Minneapolis | Early 2018 | A new restaurant and cocktail bar on the site of the old Nye’s Polonaise.
  • Popol Vuh and Centro | Fall | A two-restaurants-in-one (a la Birdie and Nighthawks) high-concept/street-food purveyor with a Mexican emphasis. From the team behind the successful Lyn65 in Richfield.
  • Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Ave, Minneapolis | Early winter | The current bookstore is moving two blocks and will expand its offerings to include beer, wine, and food.
  • Diamond BBQ, 5400 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis | End of 2017 | Barbecue, escargot, beef tartare, and more. By Daniel del Prado of the just-opened Martina.
  • Lucky Oven Bakery, 5401 Penn Avenue S, Minneapolis | December-ish | Scratch-made baked goods from a former Red Wagon pizza employee.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

  • The Sioux Chef Restaurant at Water Works (on the Mississippi, behind the Mill City Museum) | 2019
  • Sift Gluten-Free Bakery, 4557 Bloomington Ave, Minneapolis | Soon
  • Book Club, 5411 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis | Fall | A Kim Bartmann California fusion eatery, helmed by Asher Miller, in the former Cafe Maude space.
  • Hai Hai, 2121 University Ave NE, Minneapolis | Fall | New Southeast Asian restaurant at the former Double Deuce location by the team behind Hola Arepa.
  • Minnesota Barbecue Company, 816 Lowry Ave NE, Minneapolis | 2017 | A Kansas-City-style barbecue place to be led by Chef Kale Thome of the Travail team (and a Kansas native). Doing pop-ups around town until the official opening.
  • Funky Grits, 805 E 38th St, Minneapolis | Fall | A soul food spot in the home of the short-lived Hell’s Chicken and Fish.
  • Malcolm Yards Market, 501 30th Ave SE, Minneapolis | 2018 | A food market that will capitalize on its proximity to Surly’s massive brewery/restaurant complex.

St. Paul

  • Eureka Compass Vegan Food, 629 Aldine St, St. Paul | 2017 | Now open a few days each week for lunch and dinner in the space the owners will renovate now that their Kickstarter campaign has succeeded.
  • Keg and Case revitalization of the Schmidt Brewery, 928 W 7th St, St. Paul | 2018 | Featuring restaurants by the teams behind Corner Table, and Five Watt, plus Sweet Science ice cream.
  • Parlour Bar, 271 W 7th St, St. Paul | Early 2018 | The popular Minneapolis Warehouse District bar-restaurant is branching out into St. Paul.

Greater Twin Cities Area and Beyond

  • Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery, Midway Township | Late 2017 | Brewer Caleb Levar expects to be brewing in a month or two, pending a final inspection.
  • Sound, 132 East Superior Street, Duluth | Jan. 2018 | An ambitious new spot by Chef Patrick Moore, formerly of Silos at Pier B.

The Tap is the Heavy Table’s guide to area restaurant openings, closings, and other major events. The Tap is compiled and published biweekly by the Heavy Table. If you have tips for The Tap, please email James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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