17 December 2007

Otho: New Pan-Asian restaurant in Minneapolis

I don’t often try a new restaurant until it’s been in business for a while. We’ve had a few disastrous experiences of eating at a new place before they have things running smoothly.

But in mid-December, a group of us decided to try Otho even though it had been open for less than a month. We picked the place because the son of one of the couples works there.

“Otho” is Otho Phanthavong, the executive chef. According to the restaurant’s web site, he has a respectable list of other good Minnesota restaurants where he’s cooked. Another of the partners, and the executive pastry chef at Otho, is Kristina Schubert. More about her later.

The physical setting for Otho is very attractive. It’s on the corner of a new high-rise condo complex. Elliot Park is an area of renovated brownstones and new construction at the edge of Minneapolis’ downtown. You walk in past a well-stocked bar. An attractive lounge area with tall windows and high ceilings occupies the corner providing an impressive view of an urbane setting. The dining room is comfortable and utilitarian, if somewhat sparse.

There were 9 of us in the group. Between us, we ordered most of the appetizers and entrées and all of the desserts. It’s a friendly group, so we passed the plates and shared.

Starters: We ordered chicken & mushroom eggrolls, duck confit fried dim sum, black tiger shrimp toasts, goat cheese puffs, and rice paper rolls. My favorites were the duck confit dim sum and the rice paper rolls. I thought the dim sum was more like an empanada, but I don’t often eat dim sum, so maybe it’s always like that. The duck confit filling was very moist and flavorful. We ordered a second round of these. The rice paper rolls were very light and delicate. We ordered a shrimp & basil roll; the flavors were great. I didn’t get a chance to taste the goat cheese puff, but it got good reviews around the table.

Entrées: We ordered chicken pad Thai, shrimp pad Thai, Cantonese braised short ribs, mock duck Wellington, rainbow trout en croute, seared Atlantic salmon, and black tiger shrimp green curry. The short ribs were fantastic – very tender and flavorful. They were served on a black bean puree with peppers and mushrooms. The server said it was a little spicy; I didn’t think it had much heat at all. As good as the ribs were, I thought the mock duck Wellington was the best entrée. It was unique and very flavorful. The shrimp curry also was very good. By the time it got to me, I mostly had the coconut milk sauce on rice, but the flavors were very good. I only had one bite of the salmon, but I really liked that as well. My least favorites were the pad Thais. There was nothing wrong with them, but I didn’t think they were as flavorful as the other dishes, nor were they in any way unique. I didn’t get to try the trout, but others around the table said it was great.

The desserts were flan, banana fritters, ice cream, and something else. I mentioned that one of the partners was the executive pastry chef. I assume she was responsible for the desserts. I only tasted the fritters, and I thought they were outstanding. I hope you can see from this photo the creative plating of the flan; the curly decoration is spun sugar.

At the beginning of the post, I mentioned the bar. We thought the drinks were very reasonably priced. All the guys in our group drank scotch and the prices for single malts were very affordable.

It’s not easy for a server to handle a group as big as ours. But if I were to quibble with anything, it would be that the service was a little slow. If the place had been busy, slow service would have been more understandable. And it wasn’t that the service was intolerable. It’s just that between the appetizers and the entrées, the delay was noticeable. Not that we minded much. We were having a fun time talking.

Otho is a fun, creative, and attractive restaurant. They plan to have sidewalk dining when the weather permits. That’s several months away for us in Minnesota. It would be fun to come back then and see how things are going.