Copper Pot's adventurous eats
Copper Pot specializes in high-end, inventive food and excellent service. Take the tour...
E. Katie Holm
There's a scene in an episode of Girls in which Hannah, the protagonist, makes a speech to her two besties about the individual qualities that make them each so amazing. "When I look at both of you, a Coldplay song plays in my heart," she concludes. This statement resonates with anyone who has experienced that sort of spontaneous soundtrack-of-your-life moment, and for me that happens most often when I'm getting intimate with my dinner. It's true. Once I ate a whole fresh avocado stuffed with Dungeness crabmeat, grapefruit, and serrano pepper, and when I bit into it "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys starting playing. Another time, after demolishing a huge, still-warm square of Italian focaccia topped with oil-cured olives, a whole montage played out in my mind wherein the focaccia and I went for a ride together on a tandem bike while singing a duet from La Bohème. And the first time I ate Indian food, which was during a period when I was growing increasingly cynical and disillusioned about everything — savory ice creams, deconstructed presentations, roasted red pepper aioli — it was like the first time I ever heard Björk: strange and hypnotically inviting all at once. It was a transcendent experience, both intoxicating and adrenaline-inducing. I had never had anything like it (the food or the music) before, and for the next several months I didn't really want anything else.
Now jumping forward a decade or so, after consuming at least triple my weight in biryani and rogan josh, I thought I might be creeping back into that disillusioned territory regarding Indian food. It seems that even when new places open in the Twin Cities, the menus are identical and the overall experience is generally the same. While I understand that serving chicken tikka masala is probably necessary for the survival of a new Indian restaurant around these parts, I don't think I was alone in the hope that someone would come along and breathe some new life into this particular cuisine scene. Enter Copper Pot Indian Grill, a new restaurant in the Lumber Exchange building that's doing high-end, inventive Indian food with (mostly) sterling service.
They aren't the first to try this concept in downtown Minneapolis: Bombay Bistro and Dancing Ganesha are both well regarded, and of course there was the award-winning but ultimately ill-fated Om. Right now Copper Pot is very obviously in its early stages of development. Signage is almost nonexistent, the website is incomplete, and the interior still seems to be almost exactly the same as when it was a Mexican restaurant. When you're in the midst of your meal, it's easy to see the high standard of table service (marking with proper silverware for each diner's meal, scraping crumbs between courses, and diligent checkups once we had gotten our food) and the finesse with which the food is prepared, but that's very hard to tell from the outside. Copper Pot is definitely facing a challenge in terms of location. Window seats are usually a sought-after commodity by customers in a fine-dining establishment, but when your views are a boarded-up old smoke shop and the neon lights from Augie's and the Brass Rail, you might actually prefer the two-top near the kitchen.
The management team needs to work out some kinks, like having a full-time bartender during dinner if they are going to make good use of their full bar, but the food was consistently good (if a little underwhelming in terms of bringing the heat) and introduced us to a handful of dishes unlike any we had eaten before, like the elegant appetizer of jumbo lump blue crab cooked in coconut milk with curry leaves, ginger, and other aromatics. It's pricey at $16 for a starter, but well worth it for the delicate textures juxtaposed against the intense flavors. Spread it over the complimentary peppercorn pappadums if you really want to stretch it between four people.
We also enjoyed the palak pakorak, a small plate of individually fried leaves of baby spinach dusted with chickpea flour to create a sort of Indian tempura batter. The dish is doused with a sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce that helps to balance out the salt, which was a little heavy-handed in this dish as well as a few others. Tangri chicken wings were surprisingly delicious, with their crackling charred skin, tangy finish, and super-moist meat thanks to the yogurt-based marinade. Other familiar appetizers, like the vegetable samosas, were satisfactory, but this is definitely the place to branch out and be adventurous.
Whole spices, including mustard seed, intact sticks of cinnamon, threads of saffron, and crushed pods of cardamom, were not only helpful in producing bold yet well-blended flavors in the entrees, they were also visually appealing. Goat and lamb dishes proved to be some of the most successful, with the rich, gamey flavors of the meat adding interest to some of the otherwise mild sauces, as in the coconut saag, a spinach-based dish with a cumin-scented sauce, fresh coconut, and tender chunks of lamb. The dum puck, which is served with a variety of proteins, was creamy and comforting. Continuing in the less-familiar arena of wild game prepared Indian-style, the Tellicherry duck breast, served with roasted tomato, was also a standout. Copper Pot prides itself on offering an array of seafood dishes, and maybe we just didn't order the right ones, but most were not memorable. The fish tikka was dry, and the accompaniment of beans, corn, and carrots felt more like a school lunch side than anything you'd expect to find in an Indian restaurant. Vegetarian dishes also showcased some new and exciting options like bagara baigan, whole baby eggplants roasted and served in a sauce of peanuts, red chiles, sesame, and poppy seeds.
If you're not willing to shell out for a three-course dinner, then skip dessert. Everything was homemade and sounded intriguing, like the mango cheesecake and the avocado-pecan ice cream, but failed to deliver. "I really want to like this," my dining companion declared about her fresh orange ice cream. "But it just tastes like freezer burn." If you must have something sweet, stick to the traditional kheer or fried milk balls in syrup.
Even if it's just for the lunch buffet or a couple of shared entrees, Copper Pot is worth trying, especially if you like the flavors of south Indian food. And if you try something you've never had before, just see what song plays in your heart.
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