18 October 2015

La Fresca is a breath of fresh air in S. Mpls.

There are so many good restaurants in the Twin Cities. Yet I still get excited when I find another one that’s truly delightful. As my wife and I walked out of La Fresca with a couple of friends, we were already talking about when we could plan a return visit.

Not that we should have been surprised. La Fresca is the self-described ‘nouveau Mexican’ iteration of Chef Hector Ruiz family of restaurants. ‘Family’ is a good term to use. Each of the restaurants in his small group (now numbering 4) shares familiar similarities – Latin influences and creative combinations in generally small neighborhood locations that appeal to local residents and, yes, families. But like a family, each individual member has it’s own distinctive features.

Café Ena, where we have enjoyed many delicious meals, is ‘Latin fusion’ with influences from South America and Central America. Click here for a previous blog post.

Rincon 38 features Spanish and Latin small plates, tapas if you will. We’ve enjoyed dropping in to enjoy its exciting variety by sharing several items on the menu with a glass of wine. Click here for a previous review.

El Meson, now sadly closed, was the grand dame of the family. But a newcomer, La Ceiba, that opened early in 2015 promises to satisfy fans of El Meson’s Caribbean inspired dishes. We haven’t been there yet, but it seems like we should.

I can’t really explain why we haven’t eaten at La Fresca sooner. It’s been open for a year and a half. But we just hadn’t gotten there yet. But after last Saturday’s meal, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite of the group (while reserving the right to change my mind whenever we try La Ceiba.) 20151018_014603004_iOS

Like the others, La Fresca does take reservations. (Thank you for that courtesy.) We arrived on time and had a very short wait for our table to clear. The dining room is smaller than Café Ena, maybe about the same size as Rincon 38. But the tables are not crowded, just comfortably cozy. There also are a few seats available around the bar where wine and beer are served.

For a starter, my wife and I split a small plate called Puerto Morelos. It was a lobster and shrimp medley on a block of avocado polenta and topped with roasted corn cream sauce, jicama and cucumber slaw, and fried leeks. It was small, but delicious. Our friends split a salad from the ‘segundos’ part of the menu. It was roasted squash and beets with mixed greens, a light dressing, and crumbled goat cheese.

The entrées from the Terceros part of the menu run heavily toward fish and seafood. There are beef and pork and chicken and vegetarian choices. But we all opted for seafood.

My wife ordered Aguascalientes, pictured above. It was pistachio crusted halibut on potato gratin and served with roasted king oyster mushrooms, baby spinach, cauliflower puree sauce, and fried leeks. It was fantastic.

Across the table, one of our friends ordered Yucateco, which was sea bass with a Mayan sauce, zucchini, squash, charred corn, leeks, radishes, scallions, and onion. I didn’t get a taste, but it looked great.

Our other friend ended up with the most fantastic meal of the evening, the Mariscada. It was a fish and seafood soup with red snapper, shrimp, calamari, scallops, potatoes, onion, carrots and celery all swimming in a flavorful pepper broth. First of all, it was a very generous serving; he couldn’t finish it all. But he was surprised that it didn’t come with bread to soak up the wonderful juices. However, our resourceful server managed to find a baguette and brought it to the table.

I chose the evening fish special. It was coconut crusted grouper also served on a block of avocado polenta. It was accompanied by roasted zucchini, corn, onions and tomatoes. Excellent!20151018_014607549_iOS

If I had one quibble about the evening, it would be timing. We ordered a round of drinks (sangria, wine, and a beer). Our appetizers came very quickly after the drinks were served. But then it seemed like we had a long wait for our meals to come out of the kitchen. We were having a nice conversation and were not in any rush. So we didn't complain. But the wait was noticeable.

So once again, Chef Ruiz has provided delightful neighborhood restaurant that was thoroughly enjoyable. We do have to plan a return visit soon.

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