If you’ve ever wanted to walk into a restaurant and order one of everything on the menu, you can live out that fantasy at the Friday night pop-up dinners at Cook St. Paul. The restaurant is usually open only for breakfast and lunch, but on Friday nights from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., owner Eddie Wu and chef Taelyn Lang (and perhaps some guest chefs, you never know) take turns serving the food they like to cook and eat.
The pop-ups started in August and menus have included a Korean night, an all-dumpling dinner, and a Korean soup evening. The menus are short and the choices few, so if you’re the planning, cautious type, make sure you check the theme of the day on Cook’s Facebook page before heading over. But don’t be put off by unfamiliar foods that might be a bit outside your comfort zone. You can rest assured that whatever is on the menu will be delicious.
On a recent Friday, the focus was on Mediterranean flavors, particularly Middle Eastern dishes. The meal started with fried chickpeas and dates. The subtly spicy, salty chickpeas were a crunchy contrast to the richness of the dates, and somehow managed to be both crispy and melt-in-your-mouth airy at the same time. They were addictive. If you served these at a party, they’d be gone before all the guests arrived.
The main course was goat sausages served on a bed of curried black lentils and house-made yogurt and cucumber salad. The sausages were a mix of half goat, 25 percent pork, and 25 percent beef, so they had the earthiness of goat without veering into the gamy flavor that can make goat an acquired taste. Shawarma seasoning added some warm spiciness to the sausage, and the baby beluga lentils contributed texture to the dish. The yogurt cucumber sauce provided a cool contrast and pulled the plate together.
There were three side dishes on the menu, a deliciously creamy and garlic-spiked hummus served with warm pita and oil-cured black olives, a silky baba ganoush that highlighted the smoky eggplant, and a tabbouleh salad full of bright flavors. Each side dish had a distinct flavor profile and personality. Ordering one of everything cost $41 and provided plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch. There’s a short, all local selection of beers and some sake cocktails to go with your dinner.
Cook St. Paul is small, with 13 tables. The vibe is informal, but the staff is excited and proud of the food coming out of the kitchen. Our server sat down next to us on the banquette and walked us through the menu like a knowledgeable best friend would talk to you about the food at her favorite restaurant. Lang worked the room, going from table to table talking with diners, answering questions about the food, and checking in with the regulars. Chances are after trying one of these pop-ups, you’ll fall into that category.