Notes from an Underground Restaurant


This weekend, a friend of mine brought me to a non-descript house in South Minneapolis. He'd called ahead; the mistress of the house (working in concert with a partner) runs what is effectively a restaurant out of her small dining room. The music was Mexican pop played from a CD stereo, and the ambiance was a small boy running around the living room with rock 'em sock 'em Transformers toys.

There were no menus, and the specials of the day were determined by an ongoing schedule designed as a test run for a future Mexican restaurant, name and location to be determined. Orders were placed in Spanish, and while I'm fleetingly familiar with the language, figuring out what was going on was an entertaining strain on my feeble abilities.

We started our meal with forkably tender chicken drumsticks and strips of cactus flesh and other vegetables cocooned in packets of tin foil. The beauty of the presentation was the opening of the packet; as you peel back the foil, steam emerges, revealing a perfect-looking chunk of meat and the vibrant reds and greens of the surrounding vegetables. Masa could learn a thing or two from this presentation. On the side were rice and a surprisingly delicate velveteen slurry of refried beans.

Next up (for three of us) were whole grilled tilapia, each about 9 or 10 inches long and gazing vacantly across the table at one another. The flesh was tender and flavorful, kissed with just enough blackened skin to have a nice back-and-forth between mild and carbon-y.

I'd opted for the seafood soup, which turned out to be about a liter of reddish broth swimming with potatoes, carrots, raw onions, cilantro and eight or nine large whole unpeeled shrimp. The next half hour was an ongoing battle to decapitate, de-tail, and peel each shrimp before returning the savory bits to the broth and spending a few minutes actually eating the meal. Tasty, but involved.

The bill (which we'd expected to be light, seeing as how the situation was improvised) turned out to be around $15 a person, before tip, a sad state of affairs we chalked up to multiple orders per person and the high price of good seafood. Still: we'd had a memorable meal, made all the more enjoyable by the nature of the experience. Will we ever get invited back to that house? Will the restaurant ever open? No telling. If it does, you can be sure that it'll appear in these pages.