Lettuce. Spinach Mushrooms.
Beets. Asparagus. Arugula.
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
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
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
Mercado Central 1515 E Lake St # 5 Minneapolis,
MN 55407 (612) 728-5401 (612) 728-5400