Thomas Kim and Kat Melgaard are challenging preconceived notions about what a stand inside Midtown Global Market is capable of creating. Bearing no resemblance to most other grab-and-go spots in the city, it will soon be opening what's best described as a micro-restaurant. Fine-dining quality, comfort-food dishes with a tiny counter space, lit by a chandelier, and what's likely the first chef's table ever to grace the space.
Last night the duo threw a preview party, and we were there to nab a first taste.
The guest list touted everyone from Mayor R.T. Rybak to Sue Zelickson to chef Doug Flicker. They sipped wine from personalized glasses beneath suspended Mason jars filled with flowers. A red carpet led from the restaurant (the former La Sirena Gorda stand) to Kitchen in the Market, where the wine was shared and workers passed appetizers.
Early bites included a tender tuna poke topped with citrus tendrils and caramelized brussels sprouts studded with bits of smoky bacon.
Kim is the cook and is indeed left-handed. The name of the restaurant comes from a nickname Melgaard bestowed on him. His kitchen experience comes from over 15 years in the business, working his way up from dishwasher to cooking with James Beard, Award-winning chef Roy Yamaguchi, and Michelin Bib Gourmand winner Jin Suzuki. Kim's background has mainly been working as a sushi chef.
Melgaard describes herself as the chef's right hand, doing the books and taking orders, or as Kim said, "the pretty face. People would rather talk to a pretty girl than have me." A Korean adoptee, she grew up on a farm in North Dakota. She attended the Aveda institute. When she and Kim considered relocating from L.A., she was the one who knew that Minneapolis might be a good fit for their rock 'n' roll sensibilities.
The food is a combination of all their loves: homey comfort foods given chefy makeovers with Asian influences. The pork belly is slowly cooked until it's transformed into an unctuous bit of glory, spiked with just a bit of Gochu sauce (sweet Korean chili sauce) and wrapped inside a crispy green lettuce leaf.
The one dish that will likely have devotees singing arias of praise is the 21 Spiced Fried Chicken. Fried chicken is a fickle dish that spans foodie opinion from dismal, soggy disappointment to Buddha-on-a-Mountaintop. The small piece I tasted and the second one I stole when no one was looking were of the latter variety. Highly flavorful, wonderfully crispy with a juicy interior, this is the fried
chicken I've been waiting for. Served alongside some tender collard greens, it's delightfully homey and comforting.
Both Kim and Melgaard are incredibly creative. The space is done up with all kinds of little cool-kid touches. Tiny monkeys climb the light fixtures. Food-loving quotes like "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world," adorn the wall. Indeed, Midtown Global Market just became a wee bit tastier and merrier.
Look for their lights to be on full time beginning next week.