The Isaac Becker at Sanjusan
If Daniel del Prado thinks enough of fellow chef Isaac Becker to name a pizza after him, we figured we owed it to both of them to taste it. Wise choice on our part.
The wood-fired pizza ($18), a hallmark of del Prado's restaurants, is topped with spicy raw tuna, chopped endive, cilantro and chile-lime sauce. The result? A sassy, spicy pizza that's heavy on flavor but doesn't weigh you down. In other words, an ideal warm-weather pizza that's quite literally a feast for the senses. If the topping combination isn't enough to sway you (and it should be), the crust alone is perfection — light and pillowy with the right amount of char. You'll never go wrong ordering a del Prado pizza.
But why call it the Isaac Becker?
Turns out Becker is del Prado's mentor, and the two worked together to open Becker's Bar La Grassa and the now-closed Burch. "I always wanted to make my food, but at Burch I would use his food at other restaurants as inspiration," del Prado said. For this pizza, the inspiration came from the Calamarata with Raw Tuna pasta at Bar La Grassa, which is close to Sanjusan. "That pasta is great because it has the contrast of the buttery chilled raw tuna with starchy, toothy pasta," said del Prado. "I started with that base, and then everybody that knows me would tell you that I used lime and chili on all of my food." The endive adds a refreshing crunch, and cilantro cuts the sweetness with herbal tones.
Plus, del Prado has a genuine fondness for Becker.
"I was opening a restaurant close to his, and Burch was not reopening," he said. "So it was my way to say 'Hi, neighbor, remember this pizza that ties us together.' " (Nicole Hvidsten)
33 1st Av. N., Mpls., 612-354-7763, sanjusanrestaurant.com. Open 5-10 p.m. daily.
Cold sesame noodles at Rainbow Chinese Restaurant & Bar
Owner Tammy Wong, the reigning monarch of Eat Street, is a successful chef and restaurateur, but she probably could have had a thriving practice as a therapist. I know this because when my anxiety levels reach a certain threshold, I can count on her cold sesame noodles ($10) to help regain a sense of calm.
Rainbow opened in 1987 — it relocated to its present location 10 years later — which means that I've been self-medicating with this particular comfort-food classic for more than three decades.
Wong utilizes long, skinny ropes of wheat-flour noodles, cooks them al dente and dresses them with crushed peanuts and chopped green onions. Stir the noodles and they become coated in a thick, fragrant and slightly tangy sauce that's the color of dark butterscotch and is carefully fashioned from sesame oil, chunky peanut butter, ginger and soy sauce. (Right now, in this world of takeout, the stirring happens inside a white paper carton; in the dining room, the big bowl of tangled noodles is stirred tableside by the serving staff.)
Describing the unassuming results as "bland" is inaccurate, although they're nowhere near "feisty," either. For that reason, some Rainbow regulars ask for a jolt of the chile-fueled condiment that jazzes up the some of kitchen's fried rice dishes.
An astute therapist might observe that, because my mother packed a peanut butter sandwich for my brown-bag lunch on a daily basis during my six-year tenure at Palmer Lake Elementary School, I prefer the as-is version of Rainbow's cold sesame noodles. They're soothing. Uncomplicated. Easy.
"People always say to me, 'Tammy, you make everything look easy,' " said Wong. "But it's really not easy. It's not simple. It takes a lot." (Rick Nelson)
2739 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-870-7084, rainbowrestaurant.com. Open for takeout 3-8:30 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Wild rice pancakes at Stepchld
Chef Jessica Cak loves pancakes.
"When I was growing up, Dad would make them for dinner," she said. "They didn't feel like a breakfast thing."
Who knows? That childhood experience may have contributed to her clear role as a pancake connoisseur, because the versions she's preparing at this northeast Minneapolis newcomer are right on the money: beautifully browned, barely sweet and thickish but not so fluffy that they greedily absorb all of the essential maple syrup and melted butter.
They're also freckled with wild rice — overcooked so it's not too chewy — and that taste of Minnesota inserts a slightly nutty flavor that's gently counterbalanced by a hint of lemon zest.
Wild rice isn't the only local treasure on this plate. Reaching back several generations, Cak's family has been producing maple syrup in north central Wisconsin, and the phrase "liquid gold" applies.
"Mom just came by with four five-gallon jugs," she said. "The staff puts it in their coffee for sweetener."
Unlike her father, Cak isn't serving them at dinner, at least not yet ("We might do a savory version at some point," she said), but these superb pancakes ($12) are popular items on the lunch and weekend brunch menus, and there's a semi-secret option: Instead of a two-cake short stack, there's an unadvertised single flapjack option.
"Some people order it for dessert," said Cak.
Now, why didn't I think of that? (R.N.)
24 University Av. NE., Mpls., 612-354-7409, stepchld.com. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
The Shoebill at Tattersall Distilling
Tattersall might have been temporarily closed during the pandemic, but they didn't slow down. In addition to pivoting to make 120,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, co-owner and cocktail connoisseur Dan Oskey spent time fine-tuning the distillery's carefully crafted menu. The result is a very tasty summer checklist.
Start — and maybe end — with the Shoebill ($9.50), which highlights the barreled rum. Add hints of coffee, bitter orange, hazelnut, pineapple and lime for a fruity (but not too fruity) and sweet (but not too sweet) drink that goes down smoooooth. Non-coffee drinkers should not be deterred, as the flavor is not overwhelming or even prevalent; it just lets you know it's there on the finish.
But I would be remiss to not also recommend the Mango Southside ($10), made with the distillery's gin as well as mint, mango and Tattersall's habañero bitters (also available in the retail shop). I loved the surprise of the habañero, which played well with the fruit and mint flavors. I couldn't stop sipping this one, and I'm not usually drawn to spicy flavors. That particular combo led me to wonder just how one goes about crafting an entire cocktail menu.
"We try to hit different tastes — dry, sweet — and have drinks for all palates," Oskey said. "We want to make it approachable, but nuanced."
His new favorites? The gin fizz and the passion fruit daiquiri. Two more to add to the list. (N.H.)
1600 Central Av. NE., Mpls., 612-584-4152, tattersalldistilling.com. Open 4 -10 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 2-10 p.m. Sat. Bar and patio are first-come, first-served; indoor tables are reservation only.
Charcuterie and cheese plate at the Butcher's Tale
With a name like the Butcher's Tale, you might wonder "is this too heavy for summer?" That's a big no. Sure, you can get all the steak, ribs and sausages you want — and you should, they're fantastic — but we went to check out the restaurant's lighter side.
Enter the charcuterie board ($32), which showcases the "butcher" part of chef Paul Botcher's skill set. Housemade wild boar Tasso ham, pork belly-olive terrine and smoked trout rillette are accompanied by a rotating selection of Minnesota cheeses and an array of condiments — pickles, red onions, kumquat spread and onion jam among them.
There's not one thing on the plate we didn't enjoy. But my favorite was the smoked trout rillette, which held my attention long enough to mentally circle the Campfire Minnesota Trout appetizer ($16) for my next visit. The smoky taste was evident from the start (it's their specialty, after all), but the spicy kick was a nice surprise. It's tasty all on its own, but adding a sweet touch of the kumquat spread gives it another dimension.
The icing on the cake was pastry chef Elsbeth Young-Haug's crackers. They may look fragile, but looks are definitely deceiving — they more than stand up to the task of cheese and charcuterie vessel.
We meant for the plate to be a light supper, but were so tempted by the seared scallops and pork belly burnt ends ($37) that we ended up boxing up some of it up to save room for a main course. Which means it's tonight's light supper instead. (N.H.)
1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-236-4075, butcherstale.com. Main dining room open 5-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat., beer garden open 4-10 p.m. Tue.-Sat.