07 November 2007

Dinner with a bunch of friends at Café Ena, Minneapolis

Earlier this year, my wife and I ‘discovered’ a new neighborhood restaurant. I had read about Café Ena and it sounded intriguing. It’s a sister restaurant to El Meson, which is one of our favorites for Caribbean and Spanish cuisine. We agreed that it would be fun to try it, but we didn’t have a specific date for doing it.

One evening, after seeing a movie, we decided to just drive by and take a look. It looked intriguing. On a whim, we decided to see if they had a table, and surprisingly they did.

Well, we loved it. The food was creatively prepared and attractively presented. The prices were reasonable. The décor is casual, the service is friendly. We returned a couple of more times, just the two of us, once with our daughter.

Here are a few highlights that we tried in those earlier visits:

Corriander-crusted ahi tuna served over serano mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, in an orange bell pepper cream sauce, garnished with a green apple fennel slaw.

Pan seared scallops served with a cauliflower and broccoli croquet, sautéed julienned vegetables, in a pomegranate plum sauce garnished with a jicama fennel slaw.

A braised lamb shank drizzled with adobo sauce, served with vegetables, beans and white rice.

So in early November, as we planned an evening out with a group of friends, we suggested Café Ena, and it was agreed we would go there.

We had a 7:30 reservation. When we arrived, our table wasn’t ready. With a group of 8, there’s not much to do but wait until the space clears. We opened a bottle of wine, and by the time we’d finished it, our table was ready.

When our group goes out, we usually have a lot of fun. Even so, we were hoping people would agree with our recommendation. A bad experience can put a damper on the evening, and though we’d had good experiences on your previous visits, we’d never been there with a large group.

Well, no worries. We had a blast.

We started by sharing some appetizers. Ena has a ‘ceviche duo,’ which is a creative combination of a traditional Mexican ceviche served with tortillas and a South American ceviche served with a plaintain fritter. We ordered a couple of those. Another unique specialty was the ‘queso fundido,’ which is a South American cheese that is fried and served with salsa. The third appetizer was fried calamari. They were very tender and tasty and was served with an avocado aioli.

For dinner, at our end of the table, we had the evening specials.

I had sea bass, seared and served over a mound of coconut risotto. It’s probably the most unusual meal I’ve had at Ena. The risotto was very rich and the coconut flavor gave the dish much more of a Caribbean flavor. My wife had duck breast. It was fantastic – very rich, flavorful, and tender. Our friend across the table had rack of lamb which was a half dozen nicely prepared lamb chops. I don’t know what everyone had at the other end of the table. But there wasn’t very much left on their plates.

Café Ena charges a corkage fee of $15/bottle if you bring your own wine. That’s what we did. It was fun to bring one of our favorite wines to share with the group, and our friends also brought some very nice wines. But one of the things I like about ordering wine at the restaurant is that’s how I discover new kinds that I like. Café Ena has a great wine list with lots of South American varieties. On our previous visits, we ordered off the wine list, and had great experiences.

This remains one of our favorite restaurants, and I would happily recommend it.

No comments: