Two longtime Twin Cities dining scene power players met while working at the Walker Art Center's Esker Grove. Now chef Denny Leaf-Smith (Cafe Lurcat, 112 Eatery, Eastside) and front-of-house whiz Kim Tong (Borough/Parlour, Piccolo, Masu) are collaborating to create this polished take on the neighborhood restaurant.
Location: 222 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-259-7507, allsaintsmpls.com. Open 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
The vibe: Memories of the building's predecessors — which include Bobino, Rachel's and Bardo — have been wiped away in a thoughtful overhaul (directed by Wittkamper Studio in Minneapolis) of the intimately scaled space, which expanded the rectangular dining room, preserved a number of handsome arches, relocated the bar to a more central location and inserted a timeless ivory-and-bronze color palette. "We wanted to modernize it, but also make it feel more casual," said Tong. The former bar's marble counter has been repurposed into some pretty tabletops, the spacious patio's great-looking furniture was purchased at Ikea (and must have involved some serious assembly duties) and the front portion of the dining room has been painted a moody blue-gray that occasionally reveals echoes of green; it's called "Saturday on Sunday" by Backdrop, and if it isn't named Pantone's Color of the Year, then something is seriously off-kilter.
The food: Leaf-Smith divides his menu into three sections that seem to scale up as they progress, although "shareable" is a theme throughout. Catering to the growing neighborhood, he's targeting a wide demographic while emphasizing his kitchen's showiest toy, a wood-burning grill. For those craving chicken, there's a half-bird portion that gets the brined-seared-roasted treatment — the skin is marvelously crispy, the plentiful meat is gloriously tender and juicy — before Leaf-Smith finishes it on the grill, inserting just a tease of smoke from burning red oak. A garlic- and onion-fortified sauce, brimming with ginger and hints of tamari, is a crave-inducing finishing touch; ditto the blackened sweet potatoes, cut into the shape of fat coins. But sometimes the use is simple, and highly effective; witness the quick (and delicious) toast that wedges of housemade focaccia get on that hot grill.
An off-grill delight is velvety, thinly sliced hamachi, cured in a tart and deeply fragrant ponzu sauce and dressed with snappy Fresno chilies and dashes of cool basil-infused oil. Or plump, skillfully seared scallops, served over a teasingly sweet bed of carrot hummus. Or a superb burger. The patty sports the tantalizingly charred crust of the skinny, diner-style versions that continue to be all the rage. But Leaf-Smith does them one better, thickening the patty so the pink interior exudes beefy juices. It's topped with a perky Dijonnaise and a slice of white American cheese, and it pairs like nobody's business with expertly made fries.
Other highlights include roasted beets dressed with tangy Greek yogurt and sweet golden raisins; wide pappardelle ribbons tossed with a mushroom-centric Bolognese; and a sizzling New York strip steak, hot off the grill and crowned with chermoula. Several vegetarian dishes can be modified for vegans.
Drinks: Barkeep Scott Weller offers eight imaginative cocktails ($10-$13) that range from a gin Collins with grapefruit and cardamom notes to a Scotch-fueled punch that marries tart apples and spiced chai with other autumnal staples. A tightly edited, around-the-world wine list includes 14 choices by both the glass ($8-$15) and the bottle ($32-$60), with several bargain-adjacent inclusions.
Prices: Small plates $4-$16, medium plates $10-$18, large plates $16-$28.Desserts $7.
Looking ahead: Weekend brunch service will materialize sometime next year. "That patio screams 'brunch,' doesn't it?" said Leaf-Smith.