Lyn-Lake Conquers the World

A long-awaited mom-and-pop shop redefines Minnesota highbrow

As my second piece of evidence, I present the beef short ribs: Marinated in tamarind, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and pickled mango, further flavored with black peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, and Szechuan peppercorns and then braised, the resulting giant fists of meat served on those luxurious, silky restaurant mashed potatoes you love so much, with a little pile of briefly pickled fresh ripe mango, the overall impression is of a big, deep, complicated, slightly spicy something you already know and like--it's very fancy, and it's very Minnesotan, and thus I think it's pretty darn triumphant.

Triumphant too was a vegetable of the day one week that had grilled asparagus tossed with bits of house-cured lemon preserves, the weedy green qualities of the asparagus were darkened by a bit of char, and then the whole thing twisted with the salt, piquant, bitter, and sour of the tart lemon peels. Asparagus, in a completely new way!

I can tell you nothing about the desserts: I mean, I tried six of them on three visits, and most were competent but not actually good, except for the fresh mango tarte Tatin, which was ill-conceived, stale-tasting, and slid apart on the plate. And yet, suddenly, on my last visit they produced a fresh strawberry-rhubarb crumble that was sweet and innocent and charming in every way. In sum, when considering the desserts at jP's, I can confidently say: Who knows?

That might well be a sign that the restaurant, which opened in early April, is still finding its legs. That's what I'd like to think about the few dishes that hit the table with a dull thud: An elaborate salad in which half a head of baby romaine with chipotle dressing was presented with a few grilled shrimp and a charred half of a grilled avocado tasted like any lesser restaurant's Southwest Caesar, except, whoops: an avocado. Bouillabaisse was overcooked and rubbery. And a bowl of Thai shrimp in red curry was so utterly forgettable, except for the $19 price tag, that I began to long for Chiang Mai Thai.

That feeling actually might have been influenced by the wine list, which is my one real issue with the place: Bottles are priced at the standard two-and-a-half to three times retail, which I think will be a real barrier to jP's ever becoming a true neighborhood destination. Cristalino Cava, which retails usually for $7 to $9, sells here for $28. Marc Bredif Vouvray, which I stocked up on last winter at $12 a bottle, sells here for $33. There isn't a single decent full bottle of bubbly for under $70, and when one knows that right down Lake Street Café Barbette is selling the light and lemony Col Vetoraz Prosecco for $17 a bottle, well, it gives one pause.

I'd like to think that one of the reasons Aquavit closed was because of their wine list of mass-market mediocrities at exorbitant prices, and even the wine list at Cosmos, the new super-duper high-end restaurant in Le Meridien, the new hotel downtown, is shockingly budget-friendly. Wouldn't it be amazing if the whole wide world gave to Minnesota their ingredients and techniques, and we in turn led them to cheapskate-sensitive wine lists in five-star hotels? The mind wobbles.

And you thought we were just going to have our minds a-wobbling over Thai calamari, the way that impeccably pedigreed chefs are just on a rampage lately of opening fancy, expensive new restaurants in formerly dingy nowhere bits of Minneapolis streetscape, and the bountiful fullness of every every everything that now makes up American cuisine. No! There's more! As 2003 totters and teeters forward, please note that you now have no idea at all where you'll be dining next Valentine's Day, or what the menu could possibly contain--Thai callalloo? Hindustani paprikash? Throw off the blankets and shoo away the cat, because I have seen the future world, and it is very complicated, but awfully good.

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