A couple of talented Mexican-born chefs have opened new restaurants in south Minneapolis that raise the local standards for Mexican cuisine.
Hector Ruiz, who trained with Alain Senderens at Lucas Carton in Paris, has added a third Latin restaurant to his collection: first El Meson, which features the flavors of the Latin Caribbean, then last year, Café Ena, which has a more South American lilt, and now Indio Mexican Cuisine (web site under development), which highlights the flavors of Ruiz’s native Mexico. And elsewhere in south Minneapolis, Juan Juarez Garcia has opened La Chaya, “featuring the flavors of the Mediterranean and Mexico.”
When they announced plans for Café Indio last fall, Ruiz and his wife/partner Erin Ungerman made it sound like they were going to open a very modest taqueria, with tacos, tortas, tamales and a few traditional dishes like pork in tomatillo sauce, and chicken adobo, but no wine, beer or alcohol, and everything priced at $10 or less.
Instead, they have transformed the former Pizza Nea space at 1221 W. Lake St. into a very stylish new bistro, decorated in vibrant colors with a full bar and an ambitious Nuevo Mexicano menu. Starters range from guacamole made to order ($8) and taquitos (small tacos filled with beef, pork or wild mushrooms, served with onions, cilantro and salsa ($9) to a Oaxacan-style tamal filled with chicken, and served wrapped in a banana leaf, accompanied by a mole sauce. Entrees range from duck-filled flautas in guajillo sauce ($16) and pork ribs in green mole sauce ($17) up to seared rack of lamb with roased poblano salsa ($23) , and huachinango, oven-roasted red snapper served with a tomato cucumber salad ($25).
I have been a big fan of Ruiz’s cuisine over the years, but I must admit that I got a bit of sticker shock when I first glanced at the menu.Prices are markedly higher than at Ruiz and Ungerman’s other restaurants, though the ambience is actually more casual.
I have only sampled a few dishes so far, including the guacamole, which was fresh and lively, and the ceviche sampler, three tasting portions of marinated seafood that included corvine soaked in lime and tequila; raw tuna with fresh avocado, and chopped shrimp and salad with onion, tomato, Serrano peppers and cilantro. I was underwhelmed by the pollo de olla, chicken stewed in a tomato and hominy broth, but really enjoyed the camarones a la diabla ($18), an assertively spicy preparation of shrimp in a sauce of morita (chipotle) peppers, lime and tequila.
There is a lot more that I would like to try, including the lechon (marinated pork tenderloin) and the ling cod, served in a roasted red pepper flauta with a huitlacoche sauce ($18). Huitlacoche, prized in Mexico as a delicacy, is a fungus better known in the the U.S. as corn smut.
Indio Mexican Cuisine, 1221 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-821-9451.