Fun with Food

A Reborn Favorite Offers Kitschy Dishes for Generation Y

1310 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis

If you are bored with the new menu at Dish, you must be bored with life. Dish, the new restaurant that the Table of Contents folks have debuted to replace ToC, serves risotto tater tots and escargots with fried prosciutto in Japanese lacquered Bento boxes. Take that!

Can't find anything amusing at Dish? Sure you still have a pulse?
Kathy Easthagen
Can't find anything amusing at Dish? Sure you still have a pulse?

And if you are bored with the cocktails at Dish, life is bored with you. My heavens, the cocktails at Dish! There are eight champagne cocktails, like the soda-pop-red Scarlet Letter ($7), served in a Sixties sort of retro squat goblet/saucer thing--so festive. There are almost two dozen novelty cocktails, like the remarkable Kristini ($7), a potent blend of vodka, Kahlua, and espresso. If Red Bull runs in your veins, here's how to up the ante.

The last two times I was at Dish, the bar was absolutely thronged with members of Generation Y, all of whom were putting away amusing cocktails as fast as the staff could blend them, which warmed the cockles of my heart, wherever those might be. Me, I hate being this old and easily hung-over. I love to see the kids going at it. I think one day I might roll my bed up to the plate glass and just watch them all from the outside, like the seniors do with the parakeet cages at Our Lady of the Perpetual Catheter.

Dish is a good place to frolic. The décor is playful, with big beanbag-cloud things that hover near the ceiling, tables that look candy-coated, and dim, sexy lighting. The service is all old-pro and entirely competent. Most of the appetizers I tried were really quite good. Calamari ($7.75) were better than just about any I can remember, the coating particularly crisp and textured, the squid itself tender, and the plate was an equal balance of tasty little baby-squid bodies and those bland rings. (Three cheers for baby-squid leg bundles! They're the best.) Mu shu duck, available as either an appetizer ($7.50) or an entrée ($14) is also very good. Vinegar-laced, tea-smoked duck is served with sautéed red bell peppers and carrots. The combination of the vinegar and smoking renders the duck not at all greasy, but entirely tender. Accompanying French crêpes work even better than traditional mu shu pancakes, as they don't get as brittle, and a trio of accompaniments, balsamic hoisin sauce, chile sauce, and cinnamon-pickled jalapeños, make it possible for every bite to be different.

But the very best appetizer has to be the remarkable lobster cocktail. It costs a steep $13, but I had it twice and once it came with about half a lobster's worth of meat, and the other time a whole lobster's worth. Imagine red roses of tender out-of-the-shell Maine lobster served on skewers arranged around the rim of a cocktail glass of incredibly tasty, emerald-green wasabi-laced cocktail sauce. The cool, sweet lobster meets the hot and zesty sauce, and the plate is adorned with salty flying-fish roe that can be stuck to a skewer of lobster dipped in sauce, yielding hot-cool-sweet-fiery-salty...holy cow. Escar-a-go-go ($8) is escargots made with lots of garlic, big strips of prosciutto fried in such a way that they taste like bacon, and fresh slivers of basil. It's a ridiculously assertive dish that's sort of fun, but it's even more fun if you order it as part of the "TV Dinners"; multi-sectioned lacquered Japanese Bento boxes filled with four items ($17) or five ($20). The $20 box comes with a ladle of coconut tuna tartare, those escargots, a small kebab of a perfectly done scallop, a shrimp, a bit of grilled pineapple, rice, and a small piece of the fish of the day and its accompaniment. This all feels very deluxe and fancy--something you'd never, ever, in a million years make at home. And even if I didn't think that each part was successful (I think the tuna tartare with fresh ground coconut is too sweet and the coconut gives it a weird texture), I thought it was successful as a fun thing to do at a table, as every other forkful brought new sensations and amusements. In fact, those boxes are so entertaining I don't know why you'd get any of the regular entrées, over which I found much to bitch about, except maybe the gargantuan pork chop ($15) stuffed with spinach and dried cherries, or one of the steaks ($20-$29), which come with an addictively cheesy and buttery side of potatoes gratin made with smoked Cheddar--rich for my personal taste, but if I know Minnesotans, I'm calling this another nominee for a hall of fame.

So, the troubles: There was something slightly wrong with just about every entrée I tried. The freestyle lasagna ($14.50) was strangely gamey and off-putting. Venison osso bucco ($18) was served as dry as a steak and far too salty. The roasted chicken ($13) was very close to being good. The bird itself was fine, but then the whole thing was thrown off by a ladleful of "spicy-honey-lavender jus" which didn't taste like spice, honey, or lavender, but just strangely salty and metallic, like it was made with commercial stock or in a really problematic pan or something.

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