Carlos Pinos was studying at university in his native Ecuador in the the late 1990s when a devastating financial crisis erupted.
Banks failed. The sucre, Ecuador’s then-currency, wildly inflated and then collapsed. The government froze bank accounts valued at over $500. When the American dollar became official currency in 2000, many citizens saw their life savings vanish.
“Our bank accounts were frozen. My parents couldn’t pay tuition,” Pinos recounted on a recent Monday afternoon at Cahill Bistro, the restaurant he and his brothers, Alberto and Cristian, just opened late last year. “And so, we came here to Minnesota.”
The Pinos brothers were among an estimated 200,000 Ecuadorians who left the country during this period, and they’ve become a steady presence in Twin Cities restaurants since. Cristian, the head chef, has cooked at La Fresca, Rincón 38, and the beloved (now-shuttered) La Chaya, while Carlos worked at the FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar at the Radisson Blu Minneapolis.
Cahill Bistro is the culmination not only of the years spent paying their proverbial dues in back- and front-of-house positions across the Twin Cities, but of the recipes from their native region that, even more than 3,000 miles away, they’ve kept alive.
The exuberant friendliness of the siblings is matched by the bright flavors of their dishes. Each colorful plate exudes freshness and simplicity, like the kind of elevated home cooking you might seek when traveling––you know, wandering for hours searching for a hastily scrawled address from a word-of-mouth recommendation. The ceviche. The guacamole. The handmade beef and vegetable empanadas. The salmon tacos with purple cabbage slaw and pineapple salsa. The impossible choice between the addictive tomatillo chicken soup and the rotating daily soup. (On a recent visit it was aguado de pollo, a light, fragrant chicken soup with yucca, rice, veggies, and cilantro that was comforting enough to sate that midwinter “there’s two feet of snow out and I need some chicken soup” craving.)
One slight misstep? A pollo apanado overcooked in its panko crust, served with veggies cooked not quite long enough.
With the exception of a flourless chocolate torte that comes from a nearby bakery, the brothers make their own desserts in house, like a rich Mexican tres leches cake topped with roasted coconut, and a flan with a deep, rich caramel flavor.
We stopped in for weekday lunch, and plan to return in the evening to try out a few of the elegant Latin fusion dishes. Specifically, we’ve got our eye on the pan-seared rack of lamb in chimichurri sauce, the filet de lomo, and the pan-seared scallops in chipotle cream sauce (served with bacon mashed potatoes--the brothers aren’t afraid to wander into the culinary terrain of Midwest fusion, either). Lunch entrees go for around $7-$12, while dinner entrees primarily range from $20-$27. There’s beer and wine for now; eventually they might be able to add tequila to their margaritas.
There’s weekend brunch, too: Along with steak and eggs, pancakes, and a veggie omelet, Ecuadorian influences shine in the Eggs Benedict, served with fresh avocado and roasted tomatillo salsa, and the choice of llapingachos––similar to Colombian arepas, except with potatoes instead of corn––in lieu of the more traditional roasted potatoes.
These days, it’s a fairly unforgivable cliche to describe a restaurant as an off-the-beaten-path gem; in this case the phrase applies. Unless you’re currently learning to parallel park from the folks at Edina’s Esse School of Driving, or you are the one person in Edina who actually picks up their pizza in person from that Domino’s in the strip mall on Amundson Avenue, there’s a good chance you’ve never laid eyes on the little delight that is the Cahill Bistro.
A new restaurant that launches in a lackluster strip mall immediately has a lot to prove. It’s like performing a Broadway musical in a parking lot: The singing and tap dancing had better be pretty good to distract from the fact that you’re sitting, well, in a parking lot. Except that if you’ve ever even momentarily considered using the timeworn term “foodie” to describe yourself, you know better. A strip mall can be like a genie’s cave hiding a secret treasure for those who dare to explore. We dare you.
7078 Amundson Ave., Edina