Dim Sum at Yangtze
Dim sum is the kind of “brunch” that has always remained antithetical to “wellness-driven” brunches, even if you choose to believe that açai bowls and smoothies are not more sugar-laden than the Froot Loops cereal I enjoyed as a child.
Yes, dim sum is mostly refined carbs. But dim sum never pretended to be anything else than a comforting Sunday lunch that induces a hangover that will persist until evening. It’s glorious.
Yangtze, the St. Louis Park institution, will sate your dim sum need with nearly anything on the menu. The smallish space can get crowded even during off-peak hours, but it pales in comparison with the bigger and more raucous Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington.
At Yangtze there’s less variety, but more care: Silky rice rolls are terrific either with barbecue pork or shrimp; turnip cakes have that malt-colored sear and don’t disintegrate to mush, like the ones at haphazard dim sum parlors often do. I loved their sticky rice, wrapped snugly in lotus leaf and steamed until the flavors of pork and Chinese sausage slowly envelop. Don’t leave the restaurant without ordering pineapple buns. This week, when I was in, every table ordered them. The table next to ours ordered 16. (Jon Cheng)
5625 Wayzata Blvd. W., St. Louis Park, 952-541-9469, yangtzemn.com.
Brussels sprouts at Pajarito
The sole reason to wish for an extended cold season is to eat the Brussels sprouts at Pajarito just a bit longer. The Mexican restaurant, with locations in St. Paul and Edina, is the work of two fine-dining chefs, Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse. When the W. 7th spot opened, it was expected that people would fall for the tacos filled with slow-roasted meats or the fresh salsas — particularly a cashew and chile de arbol combo — but no one expected the breakout dish to be this humble vegetable side.
Trimmed Brussels are deep-fried until the outer leaves pick up a shatter-crisp texture and the interiors have a juicy, slow-chew crunch. The whole business is tossed with an elotes-style aioli, crumby cotija cheese and finished with a hearty sprinkling of Tajin. Each bite is salty, crispy and creamy with a splash of tart from the fresh lime wedges served alongside. For $11 it’s billed as a side dish, but I’ve been known to make a meal out of them.
Nelson says they’re likely to stay on the menu until May, when the preparation changes. When pressed on why their most popular dish isn’t available, Hesse once said that the Brussels just aren’t as good in the early parts of the growing season. So, for now, we savor the crispy sweater-weather goodies while we can. (Joy Summers)
3910 W. 50th St., Edina, 612-268-4770 (now open for lunch, too); 605 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-340-9545; pajaritorestaurant.com.
Semlor at Fika
It’s always tough to walk by the pastry case at the American Swedish Institute’s Fika without picking up a pastry or six. But this time of year, when pastry chef Brenna Morrison’s beautiful semlor are standing sentry, it’s impossible.
The traditional Scandinavian cardamom-laced yeast bun is filled with almond paste and topped with a sturdy dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. They’re more the texture of a dinner roll than a pastry, and they are as tasty as they are beautiful.
Nadya Goncharova, Fika’s food and beverage director, said the semlor (semla if you’re just eating one) were traditionally served in a bowl with warm milk poured over them, causing the bun and almond paste to further soften and the whipped cream to get even creamier. Sounds dreamy.
Alas, the semlor are only available through Easter. To avoid the disappointment of an empty spot in the pastry case, preorder them online ($5 each, six for $25) for pickup at the cafe.
Since one cannot live on sweets alone, order the braised lamb gnocchi ($21) while you’re there. In part of chef Blake Meier’s new spring offerings, tender lamb, peas and bits of pickled onions, broccoli and cauliflower are mixed with pillowy housemade gnocchi and treated to a swirl of goat cheese for a dish you’ll still be thinking about the next day. Trust me on that. (Nicole Hvidsten)
2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-524-5108, asimn.org/visit/fika-cafe.
McMahi Sandwich at Ono Hawaiian Plates
For a spin on the Friday fish fry, I stopped by Ono Hawaiian Plates’ stand at the North Loop Galley food hall. Their McMahi sandwich ($13.50) began as a special a couple of years, and turned into one of their most popular lunch menu items. This time of year, Fridays are the sandwich’s biggest day.
Chef Warren Seta begins with two pieces of fresh mahi mahi straight from Hawaii, which he crusts in panko. He shmears the bun with a kicky tartar sauce made with housemade cucumber kimchi and Sriracha. There’s a slice of white cheddar, shredded lettuce and a quick pickle on a spear holding together this fancified Filet-O-Fish, which comes with a big pile of crinkle fries.
“We wanted to come up with something simple, something that reflected Hawaii and our culture back there, and mahi came up,” Seta said. Upon brainstorming the name with his business partner and wife Jessie Kelley, “Jessie goes, ‘Let’s do a spinoff of McDonald’s and call it McMahi.’ ” Which works perfectly, since Ono’s ethos is “Hawaiian fast food.”
The rest of the menu reflects the homestyle plate lunches Seta grew up with in Hawaii, to which he brings a hint of his fine-dining culinary background. He’s hoping to launch a cultural series soon that celebrates the different cuisines that make up the Hawaiian food landscape, starting with Filipino and Korean specials.
“This is the first time I’m doing the real simplistic food I like to eat,” Seta said. “I took for granted that the whole world ate like this. And how all of that made Hawaii what is Hawaii, the mixed cultures and all the idiosyncrasies.” (Sharyn Jackson)
729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 808-365-8802, onohawaiianplates.com.
Wild Mushroom Frittata at The Hen & The Hog
This gem of a restaurant, off the beaten path in Albertville, Minn., has been on my to-do list since a colleague tried to visit last summer but found it unexpectedly closed. His loss is my gain.
The relative newcomer, which opened in late 2020 by locals Becky and Matt Taus and Ben and Amanda Frank, bills itself as a place that serves “comfort food … elevated.” And it does just that. Our visit was on a Sunday, a day reserved for brunch only. And while that might sound limiting, it’s not. (There’s non-brunch fare, too.)
Starting off with a caramel pecan roll — a steal at $5 — is a must. They’re plenty big, so consider it a shareable appetizer. From there, things get difficult. Crêpes? Eggs Benedict? Country Fried Pork Tenderloin? A pulled pork sandwich with bacon jam? Decisions, decisions. In the end, the Wild Mushroom Frittata ($12) won. Plenty of meaty mushrooms are tossed with spinach, egg whites and a healthy dose of garlic and Parmesan and served with a snappy mixed green salad. It was a deliciously light (and gluten-free) brunch. Be sure someone at the table orders the cheesy hash browns ($3). Crispy on the outside and chewy and cheesy on the inside, they are perfection.
Regret: Not going for lunch or dinner, when dishes like the Minnesota Wontons — pickles, pastrami and cream cheese nestled in a wonton wrapper and fried — are on the menu. Definitely next time. (N.H.)
5262 Kyler Av. NE., Albertville, 763-276-1744, thehenandthehog.com.
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