Raku and Pairings fit right in in western suburbs

One is Japanese and the other favors a "total meal concept"

The idea fits with the growing demand for what food-industry analysts call "home meal replacement": ready-to-eat fare that looks like what buyers might cook for themselves, if they had the time or skill to prepare food from scratch. (Think fresh salads and rotisserie chicken vs. fast food's KFC and Big Macs.) While Pairings fits into the same mid-priced, casual, and family-friendly category as places like Ruby Tuesday's or Cheesecake Factory, it offers more flexibility and less time commitment. And it's as welcoming to the solo diner as it is to a large group.

The counter-service setup means diners have to place their own orders and refill their own coffee mugs—but it also means they'll save on a gratuity. Even though the service is casual, the open, airy space makes Pairings feel more modern and sophisticated than most of the staid chain restaurants nearby. You won't see any of the staff wearing 37 pieces of flair or breaking into song—though Pairings did recently host a dog-friendly "yappy hour" on its patio.

The wraparound deli case starts with a selection of gourmet olives, cured meats from noted purveyors such as Fra'Mani and Columbus, and upscale cheeses, including local faves St. Pete's Select and Pleasant Ridge Reserve. You can build your own snacking plate, or take it home, or make it part of a picnic meal—Pairings will provide the basket, and Bryant Lake Park is just a mile down the road.

Does that come with cheesy bread? The tuna pizza at Raku
Daniel Corrigan
Does that come with cheesy bread? The tuna pizza at Raku

Location Info

Map

Raku Resaurant

3939 W. 50th St.
Edina, MN 55424

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Edina

Details

Raku
3939 W. 50th St., Edina
952.358.2589; www.rakumn.comappetizers $5-$14; entrées $13-$28

Pairings Food & Wine Market
6001 Shady Oak Rd., Minnetonka
952.426.0522; www.pairingsfoodandwine.comappetizers priced per pound; entrées $7-$20

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The menu ranges from lowbrow to highbrow, familiar to funky: pancakes, curry, New York strip steak, and more. While only a few items I sampled stood out as worth a special trip, all that I sampled—from a four-inch-high wedge of vegetable quiche to a slice of chocolate layer cake—was uniformly good.

The pre-made deli items weren't as impressive as dishes ordered off the menu. A hearty, sauce-slathered meatball was fine but nothing special, and the Greek-style salad was served undressed, with tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta cheese that couldn't quite pull off their nakedness.

A duck confit pizza with goat cheese, butternut squash, arugula, and tart cherries from Door County tastes like eating an entire Thanksgiving feast, plate and all. (Like the salads, the pizzas come in a few suggested combinations, or you can choose your own.). The Cuban sandwich is like a meat cigar stuffed into a baguette: shredded pork that's wrapped in ham, then griddled to take on a crust and accented with pickles and Swiss cheese. The roll is crusty enough to replicate stuffing your sandwich with potato chips—crispy but not tooth-cracking, as some baguette heels can be. But if you still want to stuff your sandwich, it comes with house-made potato chips. A couple of them were oddly soft, but otherwise they tasted like real potatoes, bubbly yet sturdy.

The one thing that's a little awkward about Pairings, oddly enough, is the wine-and-beer pairing component. Part of the problem is due to the state law that requires the retail bottles to be sold in a separate, adjacent shop. First-time visitors might find themselves confused about the process: Do you buy a bottle first, then go next door and order food, or the other way around? Or do you just order a drink by the pint or the glass in the restaurant? Any and all of those options will work: Pairings is not a place for the indecisive. Or the shy. If you'd like a recommendation of what to drink with your dinner, you won't find any on the signage, except for a few items in the cheese case.

But when you shrug off your Minnesotan reserve and get up the gumption to ask for help, you'll find the staff to be both eager and knowledgeable. I carried a few boxes of takeout pasta Bolognaise and fish tacos—both impressive renditions considering that Parings doesn't specialize in either Italian or Mexican fare—into the liquor shop in search of a wine to go with the former and a beer to go with the latter. I left with a $12 Tuscan Sangiovese and a $2 Belgian-style Saison, which both made a lot of sense with their respective meals. If I had desired, I could have taken them into the restaurant to drink without having to pay a corkage fee. To save on alcohol's typically hefty restaurant markup, I'd say it's well worth the extra shuffling.

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