When the term gastropub first started floating around the foodie-verse about a decade ago, it indicated a drinking place that had upped its food game beyond afterthought. A place where a chef could do chefly things, but the bartender was still doing bartendery things, and you know — you'd go there for a drink, but stay for the food. Anthony Bourdain famously poked fun of it:
"A gastropub is an idiotic term coined by those who somehow thought a properly poured pint couldn't, or shouldn't, coexist with fine quality food. I, to tell you the truth, used to be just such an idiot."
Of course, none of us is such an idiot anymore because a properly poured pint or a properly mixed cocktail are a matter of course, coexisting with fine quality food of today. Rare is the place that doesn't mash them up together. In these new and enlightened days, "gastropub" is hardly necessary.
But after a first visit, I think Domo Gastro is wise to have kept the moniker. The northernmost end of Central Avenue Northeast gets all the love when it comes to diners' hearts— Maya, El Taco Riendo, Holy Land, Sen Yai Sen Lek, the list goes on, especially for some of the most solid ethnic fare in the cities. But the stretch of road that gets you there, between Brasa Northeast and Maya, is not so flush with good eats. If you want to drink you can put down some shots and belt out some tunes at Vegas Lounge, but for dinner, you're heading north.
Domo is changing all that. The southernmost edge of Central Avenue is not just for drinking anymore — it's for eating, too. Or rather, it's for drinking first, and then eating.
Domo's space is handsome, with soft light and lots of wood and stainless steel. It feels a bit larger than it needs to be, which detracts somewhat from its potential coziness, but the casual and friendly vibe is stylish, and makes it easily the best thing to happen to this stretch of road since Central Sauna Bath.
We liked the cocktail selection a lot. They're using local Tattersall and Two Gingers spirits to excellent effect: The Gunslinger was a righteous balance of heady whiskey, fiery ginger, tart lemon and the syrup of honey. They're also toying around with unusual elements like maple and pickled things. The beer list is all local and the wine list offers a tight selection of inexpensive but drinkable labels — not the usual throwaway stuff.
The kitchen is producing things that go very well when drinking is foremost on your mind — a tureen of kimchi fries for instance, which looks like an intimidating pile until you've somehow magically hit bottom. The fries are heavily seasoned and doused in obscene amounts of spiced aioli, not overly assertive kimchi (we'd like to see it get funkier), and a runny egg.
The Domo chicken/pork broth ramen, while not made of the heady, layered broth that Ramen Kazama has already become famous for, works well as a vehicle for slurping noodles into your face. It's nicely finished with traditional garnishes, a runny egg, and properly cooked noodles, though the pork belly within was tough and difficult to navigate with a chopstick.
One of our favorite bites was pork belly steamed bun, this time tender, and once again — right at home plopped next to a beer.
If you're a denizen of this sometimes desolate stretch of Northeast, then congrats, your life just got a lot better. Domo Gastro is going to function really well as the neighborhood bar you wish existed in your own.
As a destination spot, they might have a tougher go of things. 2016 is poised to be the year of ramen locally, and not only that but the year of Korean, Korean fusion, and even Hmong. So Domo, with its Asian-fusion menu, is bound to have competition. They're wise to focus on the buoyant fun of bar snacks (soy and mirin deviled eggs, honey-scallion wings, an Asian-style fried chicken sandwich).
As a diner, release any death grip you may have on "authenticity" when it comes to this menu, and you can relax and enjoy. And if you're having trouble, order up another drink, then snack, and push repeat.
1032 Third Ave. NE, Minneapolis