22 March 2011

Dinner with friends at El Meson, Minneapolis

Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge.

We had a coupon lying around for El Meson – $10 off. “Wanna go this Saturday?” I asked my wife. “I don’t think the coupon is good on Saturday night,” she replied. But the idea had started to percolate, and the next evening she suggested I get a reservation.

The thing is, we don’t really need a coupon to want to go to El Meson. It is one of our reliably good restaurants that we willingly return to. We have been there often. I can’t believe that I haven’t written about it on Krik’s Picks.

I have, however, written about El Meson’s sister restaurant, Café Ena. Like sisters, there are certain family resemblances. Both feature Latin cuisine. Ena is more South American. They call it Latin fusion – Peru, Argentina, Brazil. El Meson is more Spanish and Caribbean. Both feature a lot of fish and seafood, fresh ingredients, and artful preparation.

We were all set, then a couple of our friends called up wanting to know if we had plans for Saturday. We invited them to join us at El Meson. With a slight adjustment to the reservation time, we became a foursome.ElMeson

El Meson lived up to our expectations. The food was fantastic. We started with a couple of small plates to share at the table. Off the tapas menu, we ordered ‘zetas.’ The menu describes these as “roasted baby mushrooms stuffed with gorgonzola, asparagus, roasted red peppers in a yellow tomato sauce.” The pungent gorgonzola cheese made a delightful complement to the earthy mushrooms. And the vegetables and sauce blended the whole dish together nicely. The other starter was ceviche. The menu described El Meson’s ceviche as Caribbean style. It featured shrimp, scallops, calamari, and fish. These are marinated in lime juice with habanero and cilantro. Normally my wife can’t handle cilantro, and she doesn’t like a lot of heat. But this ceviche was nicely balanced so that neither the cilantro nor the habanero caused her any problems.

For entrées our friends decided to split ‘Casarola de Mariscos.’ I’ve had that dish on previous visits. It features fish and seafood in a flavorful saffron sauce. It comes with white rice on the side, perfect for soaking up the sauce. My wife had her favorite – conchas. These are seared scallops served with very creative risotto with coconut, mango, and spinach. It’s all served in a lemon butter sauce and topped with a pineapple salsa.

In my original description, I said that they have a lot of fish and seafood on the menu. But I think for the first time, I ordered beef. My entrée was called ‘Carne a la Brava.’ It consisted of beautiful beef medallions coated in smoked paprika and sautéed to order. (Mine actually was done a little more than I ordered.) The beef comes with Valencia rice and a medley of roasted vegetables including fingerling potatoes, artichoke hearts, and little pieces of chorizo sausage. The sauce on this dish is a tempranillo demi glaze.

One of the things I’ve always liked about El Meson (and Café Ena) is the wine list. All the wines are reasonably priced, and the selection trends heavily toward Spanish and South American wines. We’ve had several that were memorable, including the one we had on Saturday night. It was a blend of syrah and grenache called Mas Donis Barrica from a Spanish winery called Bodega Capcanes. The only frustrating thing about the great wine that they have at El Meson is that I can’t find them for sale in wine shops!

So I’ve pretty much raved about the food and the wine, but there’s one more thing that my wife and I love about El Meson. They have a flamenco dancer and guitar player who perform most Fridays and Saturdays. It adds a little authenticity and flare that makes the evening so enjoyable.

Oh, by the way – that coupon that I mentioned at the beginning? Turns out it was good on Saturday after all. But we didn’t bring it. Oh well. The evening was well worth it.

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