The Chino Syndrome

Chino Latino
2916 Hennepin Ave. S. Mpls.; (612) 824-7878
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4:30 p.m.-1:00 a.m.; Friday 4:30 p.m.-2:00 a.m.; Saturday 11:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m.; Sunday 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m.

 

I dare you to drink at Chino Latino and not get drunk. In fact, I double-dare you, I triple-dog-dare you. It can't be done, it defies the laws of physics, physiology, anthropology. For proof, witness my own strenuous efforts.

On my first visit to the stunning new bi-level Uptown bar and restaurant, I put the name of my party on the list at the door, then repaired to the bar to try some of the signature "hot zone cocktails," figuring that they were a significant part of the Chino shtickino. I settled in at one of the high tables that ring the open area above the dining room and ordered a Shanghai Express ($6.75)--a tall, delicious, fruity drink that comes in a curvy glass topped with an umbrella and a plastic animal.

Michael Dvorak

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Chino Latino

2916 Hennepin Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

So I'm sipping my drink and admiring the gorgeous surroundings--the shimmering wall of red votive candles, the glamorous backlit bar, the tables like tie-dyed op-art targets, the endless opportunities for people-scoping, er, watching. And everything looks marvelous, and I feel like I've been magically transported to Las Vegas or maybe the set of some red-toned Blade Runner sequel. To celebrate, I order a golden, citrusy Kama Sutra Mama ($6.50). Soon I collect another paper umbrella, another plastic animal, and, somehow, the phone number of a stranger with a neck like an oak stump.

On my next visit I resolve to stay the hell away from signature cocktails and repair to the bar to try instead a signature martini. I opt for an Uncle Phô ($6.50), a variation on a Cosmopolitan made with Absolut Citron, fresh watermelon juice, and lime juice. Virtuous, I resolve not to drink the whole oversize thing and instead nurse it halfway down to a warm puddle. But alas, my kind, considerate server notices and offers to remove the drink from my bill and replace it with another. Well, far be it from me to obstruct quality service, so I decide to try the margarita ($6.50). I mean, a margarita. What is a margarita to me? A little itsy-bitsy margarita? But of course, Chino Latino's margarita comes in a pint glass, and presto-change-o, I'm receiving feedback from a panel in the coed sink area as to whether I am more devastating in pink lip gloss or red lipstick.

Visit three: I endeavor to have one, and only one, selection from the comprehensive list of "hot zone" beers. As my waitress advises me that they are out of my first choice--Cuban-recipe, Miami-made Hatuey ($3.75)--I scan the list for another rarity, settling on Japanese Yebisu ($5.75). The waitress hands me a giant bottle of malt liquor, and scant minutes later the woman next to me on the banquette in the tuffet bar is clutching my knee and chattering on about how she's really too old to be there, but they let her in anyway, and ever since her divorce she's never known what to wear. And I don't mind one bit. For I'm here to report that waiting for a table at Chino Latino is about four times as entertaining as eating an entire meal at nearly any other restaurant in town. If you haven't been yet, speed yourself to the most artful bit of interior theater to hit town since--well, since I've been on this beat.

And this isn't just the alcohol talking. I've been back to Chino Latino a number of times, sometimes actually skipping the booze and contenting myself with one of the excellent teas--$2.50 for a little cast-iron pot, $4.50 for a big one--and I've sampled widely from a menu composed mostly of items from the equatorial regions of Asia, Central America, and South America.

And I am impressed. So impressed, I'm almost unnerved: Not only do they have breathtaking architecture and design, an excellent tea selection, an exemplary tequila list, fine rums, great beers, an admirable sake list, a better wine list than I would ever have expected, reasonable prices, late hours, and good service, but the food ain't bad either: In a word, this is that rarest of commodities, a fun destination restaurant. Is there something weird in those drinks besides plastic animals?

A few of the dishes I had really were excellent--most notably the Acapulco salmon ceviche ($9), a toss of cubes of salmon briefly cooked in lime juice and combined with diced red onions, diced tomato, slices of green olive, cilantro, and a bit of fresh jalapeño. The combination was salty, spicy, and fresh, and the salmon was buttery in the way only the freshest fish is: It was a magnificent dish, and the portion was large enough for six people to share comfortably as an appetizer. Another appetizer, the tuna tataki ($9)--thin slices of seared red tuna with a bit of soy-sesame-oil dressing and a nest of shredded kaiware (radish shoots)--was equally impressive, as were the coconut-curry mussels ($9), a generous heap of perfectly done mollusks served in a salty, spicy, creamy coconut broth brightened with specks of cilantro.

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