Wednesday night after a meeting of Ladies Who Launch at Aster Café, I was walking to my car, and my stomach growled just as I passed by Picosa, the Latin American restaurant newly opened in the former Sophia space. Naturally, my stomach and I made a U-turn.
Also lining up to nosh were Chef Andrew Zimmern and his accountant. That told me the place would be affordable. Nobody takes their accountant to a pricey place, as there will be no chance of ordering any wine over $10.
Until they caught me scribbling in my notebook, I didn’t feel the need to explain I would be writing about my Picosa experience. I figured the ubiquitous CAZ would get all of the “critic in the house” attention—he’s on national TV. So while the Famous One and Mr. Numbers took a booth inside, I chose a veranda seat where I could watch the glistening bodies of Aquatennial Torchlight runners coming in for the finish.
In Spanish, Picosa means “the spicy one,” so I chose my wine accordingly—a Cape Mentelle Sauvignon/Semillon blend from Australia ($8). Served chilled in the heat of the night, it was just the quaff to match my grilled octopus salad with roasted red peppers, corn salsa and greens ($9).
Here’s the deal, though. The baby octopi (three of them) were served whole. They looked beautiful, nestled all snug in their beds of crisp Romaine with roasted pepper blankies, but I could only bring myself to carve up one of them. Especially since the littlest one clearly had a face. It was a Man in the Moon face made from char-marks, but a face nevertheless. Within about 10 minutes, we had a relationship going.
I must say that the charred flavor and the cumin made the whole thing taste amazingly authentic, but I prefer the tenderness of fresh-caught pulpo that I’ve had at beachside restaurants in Mexico. I like to have it cut up for me, too. Amputating little purple tentacles with a table knife seems slightly barbaric. (I guess that means I need to go to Foodie School like Andrew, who told me that he also had the eight-legger salad and didn’t seem bothered in the slightest.)
Somehow, in the context of a Latin American bistro, I wasn’t surprised when a hefty-looking spider made a daring leap from the hanging flower basket above my head and onto a lettuce leaf, slipped and slid across an octopus, and jumped into my water glass before fishing herself out and hopping onto a passing web-strand for a swift climb back up to the awning. Impressive. (Is that you, Charlotte?)
Next I tried the shrimp stuffed with crab and queso blanco in a crisp masa crust, served with ancho cream and guacamole ($7.50). This pretty little dish from the platos chicos section of the menu tasted fresh and not too rich, and the texture was perfect.
Shrimp is tricky to prepare. Most of what you find in lesser restaurants is overdone by about double the recommended cooking time, and therefore tasteless. Not so here—my trio of rock shrimp had that slightly squeaky texture that I love in a crustacean, and the variety of textures—flaky crab, creamy cheese and thin-and-crispy corn crust—made each bite satisfying. I couldn’t taste any ancho chile flavor in the sauce, plus I am eating more gluten-free foods these days, so I left that on the plate.
I had intended to try a dessert, but my cell phone vibrated and it was a call I’d been waiting for, so I just got the check. But it was nice that Chef Lindell Mendoza stopped by to meet and greet his outdoor patrons. He’s a first-generation American, which probably explains why everything looks, smells and tastes pretty much home made.
As I sipped the last of my wine, I was joined on the veranda by porcelain-skinned Paige of piano bar fame (she has a fabulous voice) and her friend Mike, who pronounced the chicken tortilla soup ($5) to be “out of this world.” They had ordered the Veracruz-style pan-fried, masa-crusted corvino ($14) as well, but it hadn’t yet arrived when I left. That’s the fish I tried at Café Ena a couple of weeks ago and it was great.
Although the dining room still has that in-transition look, I’ll visit Picosa again soon. The food was enjoyable if not outstanding, the prices are reasonable, and (muy importante!) the service was both prompt and friendly.
Perhaps I will return to Picosa for brunch. I’ve got to try the tomatillo braised pork on sweet potato masa cakes topped with poached eggs and chipotle hollandaise ($9.50)—a mouthful in every respect.
Star-spotting: In addition to Chef Andrew Zimmern at Picosa, I chatted with Minneapolis Convention Center muralist and painter-to-the-stars Tony Whelihan at Café Maude on Friday night. I love to see a neighborhood restaurant filled to capacity in the first place, and celebrity diners only add to the buzz!
Picosa is at 65 Main Street SE, Minneapolis. Call 612-746-3970 or visit picosarestaurant.com.