Ringo offers worldly menu

From South Korea to South Africa

These are the days of the shallows, not the deep, in which everybody seems more interested in doing a lot than in doing any of it well. We—the dilettantes, the amateurs, the dabblers—scan instead of read, because we tweet instead of essay. Give a guy a video camera and he fancies himself a television star. And everyone's too exhausted to distinguish the Emmy-worthy from the crap.

Out of this crucible, somewhat unsurprisingly, comes Ringo, a restaurant that supplements its core offerings with a new menu from a different international destination each month: South Korea in May, Belgium in June, South Africa in July, and so on. The restaurant has nothing to do with Ringo Starr (a fact that seems to disappoint everyone who asks about it); its namesake is first-time restaurateur Jim Ringo, who also opened the Forum in downtown Minneapolis shortly after Ringo's mid-spring debut.

The global-meets-local concept makes sense from a cover-all-your bases approach, as it accommodates both adventurous and conservative diners. It struck me as interesting, ambitious, and perhaps a little foolhardy—a lot to pull off, let alone pull off well. What are the ingredients, exactly, in a recipe for disaster?

Ringo's not yet a star, but it is a bright light
Mike Dvorak
Ringo's not yet a star, but it is a bright light

Location Info



5331 W. 16th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Golden Valley


5331 W. 16th St., St. Louis Park
952.303.5574; www.ringorestaurant.com
appetizers $3-$11; entrées $16-$25

But Ringo made a smart pick in recruiting Ryan Ablere, one of those chefs who seems to have more energy than a toddler babysat by a case of Mountain Dew. Aberle's most recent job was overseeing the kitchen at NorthCoast in Wayzata, where he spent summers sending hundreds of burgers and walleye out to a jam-packed patio each night, and winters cooking complex, molecular gastronomy-based tasting menus. Ringo, who formerly managed Cargill's malt division, developed a relationship with Aberle when he took clients, including Boston Beer and Modelo executives, to NorthCoast for beer-pairing dinners. Through his work at Cargill, Ringo traveled extensively, pretty much everywhere in the world where beer is brewed. "His passport is the envy of everyone I know," Abele says.

Ringo, in St. Louis Park's new West End Mall, looks lovely. Created by the design firm Shea, it suggests an upscale hotel lobby crossed with a beach cabana. Sliding glass doors let the breezes in, gorgeous reclaimed barn wood lines the walls, and a stretchy fabric canopy spans the ceiling. Global souvenirs and travel photographs submitted by those involved with the project (look for the shot of David Shea riding a bicycle) personalize the room. And a couple of "kissing booths" shrouded in filmy curtains look fit to seat a Japanese emperor.

A voyage with Ringo is not one of squat toilets and Purell—the restaurant's bathrooms are stocked with posh Caldrea products and cloth towels. This is travel for those who stay in five-star hotels, not hostels, and tour via cruise ship and charter bus, not burro and rickshaw.

The restaurant's base menu is part American chophouse, part global tour. That means steak, wedge salads, and meatloaf sliders with the former; Peruvian snapper ceviche, Vietnamese pho, and Alsatian chicken with the latter. Several of the more straightforward dishes are terrific, such as the summery mixed greens salad tossed with fresh raspberries and blackberries, sweet onions, candied pecans, fried goat cheese, mint leaves, and a light balsamic vinaigrette. If hot-stone cooking seems a little passé for 2010, Aberle's tuna and beef antipasti lends the technique a little gravitas. The protein slices cook with an enticing sizzle and pair well with their accompaniments, particularly the addictive sunchoke-garlic puree.

Several of the core menu's ethnic forays are equally successful, such as the Moroccan-style lamb sloppy Joe. The ground lamb is less greasy than beef and gives the sandwich a gamey boost. It's also a lot less sloppy than the childhood version, as the tomato sauce highlights the meat, rather than masking it. Topped with goat cheese, hot peppers, grilled radicchio, and rosemary—which we watched a staffer pluck from a patio pot—the hand-held snack possesses an entrée-like sophistication. Extra bonus: The Joe comes with a side of onion rings, crusted in a light, bubbly batter, with a hint of malty Guinness.

The international dishes at Ringo are an exercise in trust: Why should a diner order a dish prepared by a chef who has limited experience with its particulars? The question gets raised each time a Chinese sushi chef slices fish at a Japanese restaurant or Caucasian guys cook Caribbean barbecue, but Ringo replays the authenticity debate every month. Would we feel more comfortable ordering from Aberle's Korean menu if he were Korean, or had traveled to Korea, or had worked in a Korean restaurant?

But perhaps Aberle's outsider status is an advantage. Consider how two chefs, each focusing on a particular cuisine style, might be like two musicians, each with a different expertise in a musical genre. A folk guitarist may not have the jazz chops of a jazz guitarist, yet many of his core skills transfer—and what he lacks in familiarity he might make up for with fresh perspective.

Before creating his menu, Aberle dined at the half-dozen Korean restaurants in the Twin Cities and discussed the cuisine with their proprietors. The result, I think, is quite admirable. The stone pot bibimbap (a.k.a. "mixed rice" topped with thin-sliced meat, vegetables, and egg) wasn't as good as some I've had in Korean restaurants—I kept picking around the dish, in vain, for the characteristic crisp bits of rice stuck to the sides of the pot—but it still captured the essence of what makes the dish successful.

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