Flamenco Finger Food

Value seekers should also keep in mind that the more expensive segments of La Bodega's menus tend to hold the best bargains. At $9 the cheese plate is the most expensive thing offered, but I'd invariably get it in the future, for it held three good-size chunks of rather expensive imported Spanish cheese, including an excellent Cabrales--the creamy blue cheese made from a mixture of cow's, sheep's, and goat's milk--aged Manchego drizzled with honey, and once even a piece of nutty, aged, smoked Parmigiano-like ahumado de Aliva. Meanwhile, the cheapest dish, $3.75 for a cold slice of potato omelet--or rather, Spanish, olive-oil-glazed tortilla--produced a sigh of "is that all there is?"

The same principle holds true for the Italian-heavy, surprisingly Spanish-light, wine list, where the cheap drinks are pricier than the expensive ones: For example, the popular Spanish red wine Sangre de Toro, from the Torres winery, usually retails for less than $10, so it's no bargain here at $28 a bottle. Conversely, the strong, dark Brunello di Montalcino by Argiano, at $49, is a good value, considering it's been hard to find a Brunello di Montalcino for less than $40 ever since the wines from this small, prestigious region in Tuscany had their recent run of highly regarded vintages. One of the lures to ordering a bottle of wine is the fact that bottles come with true wine glasses--wines by the glass come in stumpy tumblers.

But if you stick to the house-made sangria, a fruity blend of three wines served with cubes of green apple, and you won't mind the stemless glasses. At $5 a glass or $25 for a large ceramic pitcher, it's so juicy, thirst-slaking, slurpable, and otherwise possessed of all the attractive aspects of Kool-Aid (without the leering spokes-pitcher) that it's utterly impossible to let the stuff warm in your hands. Gulp this down as the summer humidity beads on the outside of the glass and the flamenco guitarist stirs up the room, and you've got one of the newest joys of Minneapolis summertime: All hail and salud for this summer of footless glasses in a tapas bar.

Daniel Corrigan

Location Info

Map

La Bodega Restaurant And Lounge

3001-3005 Lyndale Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > European

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

TABLEHOPPING:

CUTE CHEF ALERT SPARKS STORMS: My comments a couple of weeks ago that the California Cafe and Napa Valley Grille were off their game caused something of a firestorm on Steve Vranian's phone: "It was ringing off the hook--everyone was saying, 'Did you see it? Did you see it? How could she say that?' And I was like, 'Yeah, you got in a couple of good shots--but they were true.'" It turns out that Vranian, current Midwest regional chef for the California Cafes and Napa Valley Grilles (and former chef for the Mall of America California Cafe), is in the middle of a campaign to fix what ails these enormous restaurants: "We settled into a safe niche here and got too cautious. The food was turning into more of an assembly-line concept than what it's supposed to be: handmade art. We got bought a few weeks ago [by Constellation Concepts], and the new president came in and the first thing he said was: Where's the energy? Where's the innovation? We've got to bring back that sparkle--otherwise we're doomed."

Vranian, who knows sparkle, having hung out or worked with the most brightly shining stars of the California cuisine revolution--including Mark Miller, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, M.F.K. Fisher, and Jeremiah Tower--says that the plan to rehabilitate the restaurants is threefold. First they're bringing in new talent, e.g., Tim Anderson, the chef who opened Goodfellow's, is heading the NVG, and Chuck Venables, late of Manny's, is the new general manager for the Cafe. (Anderson's menus should debut at the end of this month.) Next, this summer will see physical renovations of both restaurants. Then, by the time fall rolls around--and that's when these restaurants hit their busiest season, with the mall's holiday traffic--they hope to have the restaurants up to the old standards: Wine-friendly, highly polished seasonal wine-country cuisine at the NVG; energetic, globally influenced, seasonal food at the Cafe. "The restaurants are teenagers now, in restaurant years, and we've got to change to match our growth, so we're changing physically in the front of the house, and emotionally and spiritually in the back. Then we take the new energy, and get the standards back up."

Emotional and spiritual change in a restaurant--by golly, isn't that awfully Californian? Yup, agrees Vranian. "That's the challenge, You've got to walk the walk, talk the talk, be fresh, be local, be innovative, satisfy the guy who wants a cup of coffee and a well-done steak, satisfy the other guy who wants rare ahi tuna and a $200 bottle of wine, and then you've got to put out 500 [meals] a day in the mall while the kids on the roller coaster scream." I hope that was a clause in Anderson's contract.

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