Crasqui is an island off the coast of Venezuela surrounded by Caribbean waters so blue it's almost an assault on the senses. It's a place Soleil Ramirez can see with crystal clarity in her memory.
Ramirez is currently hard at work building an homage to the island — and the home country she was forced to flee — in the form of a restaurant called Crasqui.
"I'm going back to my roots" said Ramirez, who said her latest project will be upscale, but not stuffy. "No white tablecloths." Ramirez emigrated to this country in 2016 and spent years working at The Lexington under the late Jack Riebel.
Her first Twin Cities restaurant was Arepa Bar, a stand inside Midtown Global Market that sells corn cakes. She's also been hosting special dinners and pop-ups, flexing her more refined cooking muscles. Now, she's getting ready to open the restaurant she's always hoped to create.
Crasqui is taking over the former Catrina's space at 84 Wabasha St., just over the bridge from downtown St. Paul.
"The idea of the menu is to walk the people through all the very old food from Venezuela," said Ramirez. "Take the native ingredients combined with Spanish influence and a little molecular gastronomy."
One dish will be a tribute to her grandmother, who prepared beets with warm notes of clove with jellies along with goat cheese, a popular and important ingredient in Venezuelan cuisine. The menu will evolve with the seasons.
She expects there will be a learning curve for diners who haven't encountered the Latin country's cuisine. Venezuelan food doesn't use that many chilis, so the spice level is usually Midwestern moderate.
The restaurant design will take advantage of the sun that pours through the floor to ceiling windows at the front of the room, with seating for about 76. There also will be seasonal seating outside.
Because city banks and large investors aren't lining up to back this immigrant woman, she will soon launch a Kickstarter to help bring the project to fruition, and give diners the opportunity to feel a sense of ownership in her dream.
She's currently waiting for permits from the city to come through and then construction can begin in earnest. With any luck, customers will be sipping cocktails on that patio before State Fair time.