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Phillips/Powderhorn
Nokomis
Riverside
 
 
  The Queen of Cuisine & Her Food Court  

 


Lettuce. Spinach Mushrooms.
Beets. Asparagus. Arugula.
Potatoes.


No, it's not my Whole Foods shopping list, it's the small-plates menu offered Sunday evenings at Corner Table, each served in single ($5) or sharing ($8) portions. So leave the shopping, chopping and fussing to chef/owner Scott Pampuch and head on down; it's a swell way to wrap up a lazy weekend…to kick back with a couple of buds, listening to the vintage LPs Scott spins on Sundays and see what's on his mind and in his kitchen.

 

Because he's a devout member of the Seasonal Regional synod of culinary faiths, it's likely to be whatever our local artisinal farmers have just pulled from the earth. Like asparagus.

That dish was the highlight of this balmy May evening. A logpile of long, soda straw-thin stalks came our way, gently massaged with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, dusted with a shower of toasted bread crumbs and topped with a succulent, sunny-side-up egg. Coax that golden yolk to slither over all those crisp, green spears beneath it, then prepare to swoon. "Why doesn't asparagus taste this good at home?" my companion moaned. Because you don't live at Scott's house, I guess.

We next shared a mighty tasty salad of arugula leaves, whose innate spiciness played counterpoint to a fan of sweet poached pear slices, so slender you could almost read the paper through them. Nuggets of walnuts added a savory note to complete the simple plate.

Continue, if you wish, with small plates like mushrooms laced with tarragon and shallots, spinach dressed with whole-grain mustard and goat cheese, and potatoes whipped with olive oil.

A trio of mid-meal plates comes next, $7 for one, $18 for the table: Minnesota beef with morels, halibut in grilled ramp sauce, and spaghetti carbonara. We settled on the pasta—a basic reading of the classic Roman recipe, composed of noodles twirled with olive oil, bits of pancetta (overcooked and super-salty) and Parmesan, only modestly represented. This kitchen's version proved forgettable, not nearly as balanced and satisfying as it is in a Roman piazza or, as a matter of fact, my own dining room.

Moving on to mains ($15-22), just in case hunger lingers, we considered the fisherman's stew assembled of halibut, clams and veggies, and the chicken in a coq au vin treatment, then voted for the risotto and the pork.

Good choices. The rice dish could have been creamier and chewier both, as if the ultimate, long-stirred risotto of Italian rice, but we savored every bite, mined with mushrooms, more asparagus and quality Parmesan. Yum. However, the pork showed off the kitchen's flair most successfully. A pearly-pink square of shoulder meat came sliced across a bed of orzo (the pasta shape that masquerades as rice) tangled with snippets of sauteed spinach, along with a color guard of baby beets, sweet as candy, and strands of spring's first ramps, with their soft scent of garlic—a real winner.

Desserts ($7) are not designed for sharing, so states the list of sweets. Well, who'd want to, anyway? I challenge anyone but a masochist to sneak a fork into my little sliver of chocolate tarte. Sure, yet another dense chocolate slice, I was thinking—why can't chefs get over it?—until a mouthful convinced me this is perhaps the very best one on the planet. Rich, rich, rich and not sweet in the least, but super-chocolaty and mined with a strong message of espresso. It comes with an equally addictive scooplet of coconut ice cream on the side.
Overruling the advice of our easygoing and adept server, who nominated the pear upside-down cake in rum sauce as her personal fave, we ordered the shortbread instead and nearly licked the plate it was so tasty. A shortcake square, jeweled with tangy bits of sweet-tart rhubarb and hints of rum, arrived crowned with a generous snowcap of whipped cream. The combination is enough to make grown men cry—well, cry for more.

If only the wine list were as user-friendly as the menu. It's small and select (fine) but hardly priced for corner-café dining—mighty few bottles under $30 and some in three digits—unless, perhaps, that was the ransom money sought to release its maker? The evening's special wine flight—three tastes for $19—offered some fiscal relief.

The place is tiny indeed—maybe eight tables and a few more on the sunny sidewalk, plus a couple of stools at the miniscule bar, so make a reservation or be prepared to exercise heavy breathing till someone gets the hint and leaves.

4257 Nicollet Ave. S., Mpls. 612-823-0011
cornertablerestaurant.com


Mercado Central 1515 E Lake St # 5 Minneapolis, MN 55407 (612) 728-5401 (612) 728-5400


 

 

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