Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Case You are Wondering...

In case anybody is wondering why I haven't been posting any new reviews recently, here's the explanation.
Mainly, it's because I am going to start blogging soon for The Rake. Look for more details in this space in the next week or two. But in the meantime, I am saving up reviews for the launch of the new website. I figure that if I write about all the new restaurants in town - like Fogo de Chao, and Shiraz Fireroasted Cuisine, and Cafe BanXai and Amazing Thailand - for this blog - then I won't have anything fresh and new to write about when I start blogging for pay.
So I have been racking my brains trying to come up with interesting places to write about that I won't want to review for the new publication. And that's not as easy as it sounds.

First I went with a couple of friends to try the parillada at El Paraiso, the Mexican restaurant at 35th and Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis. A little conjunto of drums, guitar and accordion was playing Norteno music inside at decibel levels that precluded conversation, so we moved to the outdoor deck. The parillada is a tabletop grill piled high with your choice of meats, seafood or a combination. They're priced around $45 and are big enough to feed 3-4. We opted for the combination, which included thinly sliced steak and beef ribs, and ample quantities of shrimp, squid, mussels and oysters, plus imitation crab and lots of grilled peppers and onions. The presentation was impressive, and portions were generous, but the reviews were mixed: it was just a little too greasy. One of my companions pointed out that on a really hot day, with a lot of beer, we probably would have been a lot more enthusiastic. True enough.

Otherwise, our recent dining has been a little nibble here, a little nibble there. On Thursday, Carol and I had a farewell lunch at Saffron, 123 N 3rd St., Minneapolis, with our friend Sami Rasouli, former owner of Sinbad's Deli and Market, before he flies back to his native Iraq. I don't think the owners Saad and Sameh Wadi knew who I was, but it turned out that Sami was a friend of the family, and so what was supposed to be a simple lunch turned into something more elaborate. Chef Sameh sent a whole series of mezze (small appetizer plates) to the table, ranging from lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce, and green olives with cracked black pepper, to chickpeas with feta and a delightful little salad of carrots and raisins in a dressing of saffron and rosewater. (The mezze aren't on the lunch menu, but they are on the dinner menu, and available for lunch on request. ) After all of that, I could barely finish the lunch entree I had ordered - the frittata of the day, oven baked with lamb confit, feta cheese and oyster mushrooms.
Sunday through Wednesday, all Saffron's wines by the bottle are half-priced.

By the way, Sinbad Deli & Market is still going strong - with a new owner, Freddy Jiryis, but the same talented chef, Hayat Jermanous. Hayat prepares a sprawling and savory lunch buffet($7.99) Monday through Friday, featuring gyros, chicken dishes, plus a variety of traditional Middle Eastern fare: olives, feta, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, homemade pita, and much more. A variety of Sinbad's prepared foods are now available at Cub Foods and local food coops. of salads and vegetarian dishes.

Today for lunch, Carol and I walked over to Tin Fish on Lake Calhoun. The line at the counter moved quickly, and our order was ready in about ten minutes: the Tin Fish Combo, of four pieces of fish, three shrimp, to jumbo scallops, and a sprinkling of calamari rings with fries and coleslaw for $14.95 - easily big enough for two. It took a little effort to persuade Carol to order a fried entree, but the cornmeal breaded seafood and fries weren't the least bit greasy, and the scallops were the sweetest I have tasted in a long time.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

First Look: Cafe Ena

Photos by Aaron Fenster
Fans of El Meson will be delighted to discover Cafe Ena, which opened last week at 46th and Grand in south Minneapolis. It's owned by Hector Ruiz and Erin Ungerman, who also own El Meson, and named after the couple's young daughter. The family resemblance is undeniable, but there are differences. Prices are just a notch higher at Cafe Ena, and while El Meson concentrates on the Caribbean, Ena looks to Mexico and South America for inspiration.
Ena has all the same charms as its sister: lively flavors, imaginative preparation, colorful presentation. The congrito salad is typical: ample quantities of crab, tossed with fresh romaine, diced mango and cucumber. I was less impressed with the queso fundido: it's a sort of Mexican saganiki without the flames and opa, but I enjoyed everything else we sampled. Other starters range from arepas, the traditional corn cakes from Venezuela and Colombia, prepared either with shredded chicken or chili con crema; to chile en hogada, a roasted poblano pepper filled with ground beef, raisins and almonds, and served with a walnut apple sauce.
Entree prices range from $15.95 for the lomo (stuffed pork loin), chicken Negril (chicken breast in Jamaican habanero sauce), or pabellon criollo (Venezuelan-style beef stew), to a five-peppercorn crusted filet mignon ($25.95). An ample assortment of seafood dishes (most priced at $17.95) is also offered, including oven-roasted halibut over a mofongo of yucca, and atun, coriander-crusted tuna served over a hominy red pepper cake. Garlic lovers will be pleased with the camarones al Ajillo, a generous serving of large shrimp in a spicy cascabel garlic sauce. I also liked the corvina, a firm-fleshed white fish steamed in a banana leaf wrapper, which seals in much of the moistness. For dessert, don't miss the flan, a classic version done to perfection. There's not much on the menu for vegetarians, but a note promises that the chef will be happy to prepare vegetarian entrees on request.
Except for a couple of Spanish cavas, the wine list is all from the Mexico and South America, including a good selection of Argentine and Chilean wines, and some unusual Mexican reds from L.A. Cetto.
Cafe Ena, 4601 Grand Ave, Minneapolis,. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday; open for lunch starting Wednesday, May 16..