Core Competencies

New Via and Gangchen Have Little in Common, Except That They're Serving the Needs of Their Diverse Communities Uncommonly Well

The house burger ($13) is another winner: Tender Kobe beef is well seared, paired with your choice of cheese, stuffed into a perfectly tender bun, and served beside a generous pile of French fries that seem to be cut from uncommonly long potatoes that are fried till they're dark and caramel-tinged. The lunch-only house club sandwich ($12) was, oddly enough, one of my favorite things at Via: The kitchen takes fresh turkey, chops it up, dresses it, and stuffs gobs of the resulting moist turkey salad into a double-decker stack of wheat bread with lots of good bacon. It's not that there's anything flashy or pioneering about this turkey club, but it's comfort food with integrity, which I both respect, and, like anyone, crave.

At dinner the kitchen aims a little higher, and doesn't always hit the mark: A halibut fillet with lemon marmalade ($26) was jarringly sweet, though the accompanying haricots verts, fingerling potatoes, and little golden tomatoes were nicely fresh, and seasoned with refreshing restraint. Still, the majority of Via's entrees are solid, likable standbys like roast chicken ($18), a New York strip steak served with a red wine reduction ($32), and baked rigatoni with meatballs ($13), all of which are remarkably difficult to find in Edina at this price point.

The desserts are cheery and well made: A disc of mint ice cream enrobed in dark chocolate ganache ($8) is friendly as a child's smile and as unpolluted with ambition. An apple cinnamon brioche pudding ($8) tastes homemade and good.

The great outdoors: Very likable Via boasts Edina's nicest patio
Alma Guzman
The great outdoors: Very likable Via boasts Edina's nicest patio

Location Info

Map

Gangchen Bar and Restaurant

1833 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Add a bouquet of amenities to this affable array of foods, and you have a restaurant you'd have to be incredibly crabby not to like. Amenities like what? Like a beautiful wine list featuring some of America's best producers. Like servers who are well trained, friendly, and quick. Like a $4.95 kids'-meal menu of scratch-cooking classics paired with fresh fruit juice or milk. Like a bunch of chef-made nonalcoholic drinks including house-brewed ginger ale. Like a killer-looking brunch menu (I didn't try it, and am so sad). Like the nicest patio in Edina, replete with multiple outdoor fire pits, fountains, patio warmers, a bar, and even complimentary cozy lap throws. Oh, did I mention acres of parking and a sexy, but civilized, bar scene? Sheesh. So you see why beautiful blondes are blocking the exits—Via is simply everything you want in a restaurant, minus the center-cut halibut belly, which I think we have established few people really want anyway.

Back in the city, new Gangchen is delivering a similarly likable, affordable package, although in a completely different idiom, at a completely different price point, to a completely different community.

The first few times I went to Gangchen I thought it was a Tibetan restaurant; after all, that's what the menu says, and the restaurant is the second project from the people who brought us the short-lived Uptown restaurant Tibet's Corner. However, if you thought as I did, you would be wrong: The 60-something-item menu has only a very few Tibetan dishes, and otherwise serves a hodge-podge of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai home cooking.

Even more difficult for anyone seeking to characterize Gangchen: It seems to take strong drinks of inspiration from neighborhood booze-heavy successes Red Dragon (Gangchen offers super-potent cocktails and frequent two-for-one happy hours) and Azia (Gangchen has Azia's signature cranberry curry and cranberry cream-cheese puffs). So what is this place: fish, fowl, Thai, neighborhood mimic, or what? After a bunch of visits, I decided that it really is a rare bird: It's a home-cooking, small-town kind of good, unassuming restaurant that happens to make tom yum and sweet-and-sour soup instead of chicken-and-dumpling and beer-cheese soup. Does that make any sense? I hope so.

The idiosyncrasy in Gangchen's offerings stems from the fact that the chef at Gangchen is not the old one from Tibet's Corner, but was hired away from Azia's sister restaurant Kinh-Do. Which means that the cranberry curry ($8.99 with tofu or mock duck; $9.99 with shrimp, scallops, squid, or chicken) is a standup version—sweet, tart, a little fiery, and, next to some two-for-one beers (before 7:00 p.m. every night, or after 10:00 p.m.), a complete crowd-pleaser.

I usually don't care too much about generic Chinese food, but I thought certain versions of certain dishes at Gangchen were very good: The egg drop soup, for instance ($2.99 for a dinner-sized bowl, $4.99 for a tureen), was fresh and almost ethereally light, brightened with fresh scallions, and deepened with a bit of ground chicken. I've already instructed my loved ones that the next time I get sick, that's the takeout for me.

The Chinese hot-and-sour soup ($2.99/$4.99) is made with lots of fresh and dried mushrooms and plenty of tofu; when I had it, it tasted homemade, robust, and not at all too tart or fiery. I really, really wished I knew how to make it. A chicken tom yum soup ($3.99/$6.99) was likewise fresh, clean, and good; it lacked the subtlety of the greatest versions in Minneapolis, but it also costs less, and is served in such a mellow, unhurried, chill neighborhood spot that I'm sure it's going to become a favorite of everyone in Stevens Square and Loring Heights.

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