Rice Paper Restaurant. . .another neighborhood gem in Linden Hills

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Every neighborhood in the Twin Cities has its own special atmosphere and Linden Hills is like a cozy small town in Middle America. Nestled in the hills just west of Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, it was once a major stop on the streetcar line going from downtown Minneapolis to Morningside. It boasted a grade school (torn down to make way for town homes), a florist (still there), a drugstore with a soda fountain (long gone), and a variety of shops. Today, it is a cozy conclave of small businesses, food markets and restaurants.

Evening Community Education Classes for adults are in full swing at Minneapolis High Schools. Among them are a variety of cooking classes including Szechwan Stir Fry on May 13 at Roosevelt High School; Asian Cooking: Vegetarian Asian Style Cooking at Northeast HS on May 13; Chinese Killer Potstickers at Lake Harriet HS on May 19; and Southeast Asian Cuisine at Southwest HS on four Tuesdays May 6 – 27. Registration fees range from $18 – $40 per class. For information and registration go to www.mplscommunityed.com.

Although Rice Paper restaurant is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood (opened in 2002) it fits nicely into the mix with a different slant on Southeast Asian food. It may be described as offering creative fusion food, but the fusion isn’t Asian/American, it’s Chinese/Thai, Vietnamese/Indian, Malaysian/New Zealander, or a combination of them all.

Rice Paper teams the freshness of crisp garden vegetables with a variety of partners such as scallion pancakes, rice paper wraps, rice noodles, rice, tofu, meat, or fish. It adds a variety of homemade sauces, and suddenly Linden Hills seems closer to the China Sea than to Lake Harriet.

Take Monsoon Dumplings, for example. The crunchy minced vegetables are encased in a dumpling wrapper tied with Chinese chive blossoms then grilled until slightly charred for a distinctly charcoal flavor… much like the ones offered by street vendors in Asia. The dumplings are served with a vinegary dipping sauce for a flavorful chewy treat.

The restaurant’s Tofu Puffs are another happy surprise. Here cubes of creamy tofu are deep fried until crisp on the outside and still soft and creamy inside. Then they are topped with a sweet, tangy Thai and scallion sauce and sprinkled with fresh roasted peanuts and crisp shallots.

While Rice Paper offers vegetarians a most creative assortment of dishes, it also features meat and seafood with a fusion flair created by owner An Nguyen who is constantly trying new combinations until she finds a winner. Grapefruit Festivity is an example. Here Nguyen combines grapefruit bits with shrimp, pac peo, and coriander then tops them with an original Thai sauce. Her Delta Soup with its lemongrass and shrimp broth, offers a few surprises with pineapple and tomato bits and is chock full of flavor.

In fact, there is really nothing on the menu that can be described as “that same old thing.” From the Southeast Asian paella to grilled beef marinated in lemongrass to chicken in tamarind sauce, Rice Paper offers some very interesting dining.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner Rice Paper offers a selection of Asian drinks plus wine and beer. The restaurant is small and cozy so you may want to call ahead for large parties. Parking on the street is limited but there are parking lots within a block of the restaurant located at 2726 West 43rd Street (just east of Upton Avenue on 43rd.) For information call 612-926-8650.

Phyllis Louise Harris is a cookbook author, food writer and cooking teacher specializing in Asian foods. She is founder of the Asian Culinary Arts Institutes Ltd. dedicated to the preservation, understanding and enjoyment of the culinary arts of the Asia Pacific Rim. For information about ACAI’s programs call 612-813-1757 or visit the website at www.asianculinaryarts.com.