26 December 2014

Neighborhood ambiance, creative cooking at Sparks Mpls.

This is the second post on neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. The first post was about a special wine dinner at Victory 44. It was a really great experience, but not the typical experience at V44. This review of Sparks, on the other hand, is very typical of what you can expect for the restaurant.

According to Sparks web site, the owner decided to open the restaurant when he moved to the neighborhood, which is Bryn Mawr. (He also owns Rinata, an Italian restaurant in south Minneapolis.)

We’ve eaten at Sparks twice. The first time (several months ago) was with friends. We ordered and shared several small plates from the menu. The menu for small plates, pizzas and salads offers a lot of variety. We liked that experience very much, but never found an opportunity to return.

Until, that is, a Saturday night in mid-December. We just wanted a casual, no-fuss meal and thought of Sparks. So glad we did.

Sparks has expanded since our first visit. We were seated in the expansion space. While you can tell the difference from the original dining room, they did a good job of joining the two rooms and making them feel seamless. There’s a huge mural on one of the walls featuring a stylized painting of the Minneapolis skyline. (I guess one of the significant differences between Sparks and Victory 44 is that the Sparks neighborhood is very close to downtown Minneapolis and so is sort of downtown oriented. Victory 44 is more of a destination in and of itself.)IMG_0975

We had a great server. She was friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. Her recommendations on the menu were right on. She also was very patient and accommodating as we tried to decide on a bottle of wine. Sparks offers a fun wine list (as well as a nice selection of local beer on tap.) And the wine prices are very reasonable. We picked a Spanish red wine and loved it.

We started our meal with a couple of small plates. The cauliflower au gratin was excellent. The cheeses were smoked gouda and cheddar, and it was seasoned with paprika. It was a nice variation from roasted Brussels sprouts (which we often order as a starter, and was on the menu at Sparks as well). Our second starter was Cuban black beans. I would normally expect that Cuban black beans would be flavored with ham or bacon. But this was a vegetarian version served with cheesy tomato sauce and scallions. Delicious.

For my entrée, I ordered Madras lamb shank. The lamb was braised, moist and fork-tender. It was seasoned with curry, mint chutney and yogurt. A very unusual preparation of one of my favorite meats, and I loved it. My wife had Amish roasted chicken seasoned with herbs and lemon juice.

It was a great meal and one that showed the creativity that’s evident in some of the neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. We’ll definitely be back.

No comments: