Là cháng slider from Saturday Dumpling Club

I still had a pack of Peter Bian's irresistible Saturday Dumpling Club dumplings in my freezer, but had to throw one more in the cart when I heard that for the first time he'd be offering hot food at last weekend's dumpling pickup in north Minneapolis.

It's a spin on one of his new dumpling flavors, là cháng sausage. The cured Chinese sausage, traditionally eaten in winter months, is a blend of pork, five spice, sugar and baijiu sorghum liquor. To make the dumpling filling, Bian grinds the air-dried là cháng and adds it to ground pork shoulder, housemade chicken stock, white onions, white pepper, light and dark soy and oyster sauce. Last week, he also formed the mix into patties, topped them with melty American cheese and crunchy onions and served them on a King's Hawaiian roll for a $5 blast of sweet-and-savory goodness.

"It was totally impromptu, we were just messing around in the kitchen and came up with these sliders, and they were too good not to share with everyone," Bian said. "The pop-up was so fun and a change of pace." They were so well received that he's going to do it again this weekend, and might even add another hot menu item. (That'd be Rou Jia Mo, "kind of like a Chinese version of a Philly cheese without the cheese," he said.) I might just need another pack of dumplings. (Sharyn Jackson)

Dumplings go on sale Wednesdays at 10 a.m. at saturdaydumplingclub.com and sliders are available only to those with dumpling orders. Follow @saturdaydumplingclub on Instagram to find out whether sliders or other food will be available and where to pick up.

Zucchini at Hyacinth

Zucchini is often like the awkward kid at the middle-school dance: on the sidelines, always available and never the first one clamoring for attention. As we're skidding into the time of year when everyone is trying to pawn off this wrongfully maligned vegetable, I'd like to argue that with the right care, zucchini is a beautifully subtle and wonderfully versatile vegetable.

This is where Rikki Giambruno comes in. The chef/owner of Hyacinth is a master at preparing scrumptious vegetables, and his zucchini salad ($12) is a stunner. The chef dips back into his days at Franny's in Brooklyn, using a flavor combination his former boss used on pasta. Here, it brings the zucchini's subtle, verdant notes and creamy crisp flesh front and center by surrounding it with different kinds of flavor enhancers. Chopped almonds, olive oil and a scratch-made saffron-spiked aioli are accented by giant basil leaves and a snappy bagna càuda, delivering a salty anchovy backbone with each bite. The plate is purposely plated to share; two diners can dig in and get a bite composed of every element.

Astoundingly, this isn't even the only dish that highlights the gorgeous zucchini from Waxwing Farm near Webster. On the dessert menu is a zucchini cake ($10) that flies in the face of quick-bread expectations. Giambruno and chef Ethan Johnson have concocted a white cake with a moist, fluffy crumb and flecks of light green zucchini, and they top it all with a luscious, Fernet-spiked whipped cream. The gentle wafts of anise accentuate the summery brightness of the zucchini, ending the meal on a very sweet note.

Thanks to the kitchen staff at Hyacinth, who smartly asked this summer veggie to the dance. (Joy Summers)

790 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-478-1822, hyacinthstpaul.com

Pan-seared gnocchi at the Better Half

The best part about dining out is that it's a chance to have something I wouldn't normally make at home, or indulge in foods that I enjoy but my family doesn't. On a beautiful summer night at this downtown Lakeville newcomer, I did both.

There are options galore at this enjoyable breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant. To start, it was all about mushrooms. The Truffle and Mushroom Flatbread ($13) paired a meaty mix of wild shiitake, yellow trumpet and baby bella mushrooms with truffle oil, mozzarella, Parmigiano reggiano and a healthy dose of garlic atop crispy flatbread. (I'm eyeing the housemade cream of mushroom soup for next time.)

Main dishes were a tougher choice. We went with the corned beef melt ($15; the house-smoked meat was perfection) and the gnocchi ($22). I love gnocchi and think it's sadly underrated; members of my household disagree. (They are wrong.) Pan searing the pillowy pasta dumplings gives them a delightful crispiness that helps make the dish a medley of flavors and textures, also thanks to the additions of burst cherry tomatoes, fork-tender butternut squash, smoked pancetta, basil and a light Parmesan cream sauce. Some pastas can be heavy — this wasn't. Even eating outside on a warm evening, it hit the spot. (Vegetarians: The dish would be equally tasty without the pancetta.)

Speaking of hit the spot, don't sleep on the cocktails. The Better Half Mule — Bravo vodka with blueberry Tattersall liqueur and housemade ginger beer — is on tap and worth the trip alone. (Nicole Hvidsten)

20851 Holyoke Av., Lakeville, 952-214-7402, thebetterhalfmn.com

Casarecce with asparagus pesto at Martina

It's hard to go to Martina and not get the spicy spaghetti fra diavolo with lobster. But on one of the hottest nights this summer, my spouse and I were craving something lighter and garden-fresh. We found it in the casarecce ($27), a springtime addition to the Martina menu that'll remain throughout the summer.

The dish features a thick, swooping noodle coated in bright green asparagus pesto. A slight heat from sliced serrano peppers, toasted with garlic in olive oil, was immediately cooled by nubs of burrata buried in a Medusa-like nest of pasta and charred asparagus. Crunchy pistachio bits and basil leaves were sprinkled on top. It was the best kind of pasta dish in that it tricked us into believing we were simply eating our greens. (S.J.)

4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., 612-992-9913, martinarestaurant.com

Caesar salad at Tosca

I worry that we've lost appreciation for the Caesar salad. It's hard not to with the convenience of being able to find one just about anywhere that serves or sells food. By the bag with croutons and sauce separated by packets, or by clamshell, often buried in finger-sized shaves of sweaty cheese, it's a salad that's become so attainable that it's lost all sense of occasion.

But still, I love it. When prepared well, the Caesar salad is a symphony of textures and flavors. It was my first meal of triumph after the emotional roller coaster of my first kid's birth and it's a dish I crave when the summer temperatures turn tropical.

So I ordered the Caesar salad ($12) at the just reopened Tosca, where chef Adam Vickerman has returned to the charming Linden Hills restaurant with a focused, fresh Italian menu. The salad is a perfect example of what it ought to be. Crisp romaine is coated with creamy, eggy dressing that's perked up by lemon tang. A hearty backbone of flavor is provided by the Worcestershire, rounded out with robust garlic punchiness. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese and crunchy breadcrumbs are tossed in at the last moment, giving every bite a creamy, crusty texture. The whole business is then topped with a mild white anchovy fillet — and if that isn't your thing, it's easily handed off to a dining partner who appreciates the briny things in life. (J.S.)

3415 W. 44th St., Mpls., 612-924-1900, toscampls.com