Go Get Sauced

The upscale North Side restaurant shows how the neighborhood is changing

Overall, there were few complaints. I liked the sweet-hot interplay of the strawberries and spicy candied walnuts in the fennel chicken salad, but the caramelized fennel had lost its licorice flavor and instead tasted mostly of the vinaigrette. Nor was the short list of sweets very compelling. The made-to-order peach-strawberry tart sounded lovely, but some of the fruit tasted woody and unripe, and it could have used a little more of the Jameson caramel sauce. The truffles, rolled in nuts and served with strawberry-mint sauce, tasted fine, but their golf-ball size was awkward. Portioning the chocolate into three or four smaller truffles might make the plate look more elegant—and worthy of its $8 price tag. At half that price, the sorbet duo is the best bet of the three desserts.

One of my guests found the presentation of the beef tenderloin less than decorous—"I think it's kind of goofy to pay $20 for an entrée and have it served in a bowl"—but being from a generation that doesn't see the point of registering for wedding china, I didn't have a problem with it. Another issue due to Sauced's small space, albeit one largely out of the restaurant's control, is that it's possible for one table's merriment—say, a flamboyant foursome on a girls' night out, dishing bawdy banter like a Brooklyn Center-based Sex and the City—to overtake an entire restaurant. Fortunately, during nice weather, the patio can double as a quarantine zone.

None of these things would stop me from coming again, and, in fact, one of the nicest things about Sauced is how versatile it is, considering its short menu. It's as great for a workday lunch as it is for a nice dinner date, a beer and a burger, or a glass of wine and an appetizer. As Conklin's menus change with the seasons, he says he wants to add duck and lamb dishes—and hopes his clientele will follow. "Whether that's kicking and screaming remains to be seen," he says. Conklin has lived in the neighborhood with his family for two years and says he'd rather hold back on luxury ingredients than alienate his neighbors. "I don't think I'll ever get to the point of doing foie gras," he says, "though," he admits, "I'd want to." He is careful to check his ambitions with cues from his customers, something he says he learned from McKay: "You're cooking the restaurant's way," Conklin says. "It's not necessarily what my palate is looking for, but what my people are looking for."

A taste of things to come? Chicken skewers in coffee mole and orange-cilantro butter sauces
Bill Kelley
A taste of things to come? Chicken skewers in coffee mole and orange-cilantro butter sauces

It's a delicate challenge to introduce change to a neighborhood without altering its character. Eventually, perhaps, the condo developers will spread their plans out on the tables at Sauced, with dreams that 44th and Penn might be spoken in the same breath as tony 50th and France or hip Lake and Hennepin. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the fact that I can sip a nice glass of cabernet at Sauced and still feel the bass of a passing car stereo vibrating through the banquette.

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