Monday, July 27, 2009

Conga Latin Bistro – Minneapolis, MN

My friend, RPM, from my first Master’s program was in town visiting his mother (who lives right down the street from me – which is waaaay “small world”), and since Trash and I went to school with RPM, we thought we’d take him and his partner, LutherLover, out to dinner. To preface this dinner, RPM and LutherLover are from Arizona and love Mexican food. Since Minnesota has terrible Mexican food, I suggested half a million other ethnicities for us to try. They’ve eaten Mexican food all over the world and they assured me, it could not possibly be as bad as the Mexican food they had in Iceland (which consisted of jalapeno peppers on a pizza), or some of the other exotic countries they visit regularly. So I was stuck finding them a palatable Mexican food option.

[Note: Trash and I REALLY wanted to go to King and I Thai, but RPM hates peanut sauces and Southeastern Asian food, so we were stuck. Plus, I will do anything to keep RPM happy. He’s one of the most fun people in the world.]

I did a couple of things at this point. I looked up Mexican food in Minneapolis on Google. I went through previous blog posts on YouCareWhatWeThink. I asked some friends which Mexican food places aren’t embarrassing. I consulted the list of restaurants that Gerd and I compiled and use as a checklist of places we need to try (I still keep this list updated, even though Gerd isn’t here to add 50 new places per week like she used to). I checked to see if they had any ideas. One place in particular kept coming up.

Conga in Northeast Minneapolis.

Gerd talked about this place all the time and threatened to go there for her lunch break (she worked very near Conga), but I guilted her into NOT going unless she took me. I did a quick scan of the menu to make sure Trash could eat something there (she’s vegetarian). Yup, they have rice, so Trash is good to go (she’s going to punch me for that one). The rest of the menu had some unique but appetizing-sounding things on it, so I booked us a table.

After driving to the wrong hotel to pick up RPM and LutherLover (don’t ask)(it was totally my fault though), we headed downtown and parked directly in front of the restaurant – clearly, I’m a rock star. The place is brightly painted, but the lights are really low, so it still looks happy, but a restrained happy. And, there are two 10-foot-tall congas on either side of the entrance to the dining room.

We had a really cool waitress that put up with all kinds of our harassment and she took it all with a smile. And then would come back to chat with us when she had some down time with other tables. She was relatively new to the restaurant, but she was SURPRISINGLY knowledgeable about all of the questions we had about food. She hadn’t tried all the wines on the menu, which we gave her crap about, but she was willing to help us out in any way possible.

Trash ordered the Tilapia (apparently, Tilapia is vegetarian in Trash’s bizarro world) (maybe if she doesn’t know the animal’s parents, she can be in denial that the animal did in fact have parents), against my suggestion to go with the rice. I ordered the Parrillada Argentina. We enjoyed an empanada sampler with cheese, beef, and chicken empanadas and started with a bottle of wine. I think it was a White Temperillo, but it was very good. The empanadas were very good – all of them in fact. Trash got to eat her cheese ones and the rest of us cut up the others and shared like civil people.

Trash’s Tilapia came out and actually looked pretty tasty. My apologies for the photo – it was very low lighting.

The tilapia came with lime juice, lemon pepper and was sautéed in curry and coconut sauce. Oddly, it was served with a scoop of mashed potatoes and some veggies. Trash was less than thrilled with this dish than she had hoped and agreed that she should have gone with the rice as I suggested (I LOVE being right). The fish was slightly overcooked and dried out and not as flaky as she would have liked. She ate it, but I was really surprised.

The Parrillada Argentina was really really good though.

The menu said it is for meat lovers. Guess what? I love the meat (twss). It was beef tenderloin, chicken, port loin, and Spanish sausage all charcoal grilled. What’s not to like about this. Of course, when the dish came out and we all saw the sausage, we all turned into jr. high boys and made comments (yes, even Trash was a jr. high boy – in fact she made the first comment). But honestly, it was REALLY a good dish, especially paired with the Tostones, which (despite sounding like male anatomy) are fried green plantains.

RPM ordered the Churasco Argentino, which he said was good, but not what he expected. It kind of sounded like a stew, but ended up being a long piece of steak on a plate. This was after he haggled with our waitress about the “correct” pronunciation of Yuca – the Arizona pronunciation or the Spanish pronunciation. They agreed to disagree. And sadly, I can’t remember if LutherLover got the steak and scallops or just talked about it. I should have written this review right after dinner, but I was busy NOT studying for a midterm. Ha ha ha.

And of course we needed another bottle of wine, since we drank the first one pretty quickly. We sat around for another hour or so telling stories, talking politics, laughing loudly, and getting caught up on our lives. We seriously had a fantastic evening. If I could go to dinner with RPM and LutherLover every weekend, I would do it in a second. I haven’t been down to Phoenix to see them in 6 or 7 years and now I’m looking at my calendar to see if I can reset that clock!

All in all, I liked Conga, but I’m not sure Trash did. I think it probably depends on what dish you get there. They have a pretty unique menu and not a lot of standard Mexican fare on it. I think RPM and LutherLover liked there’s but they didn’t rave about it, so I expect it was just ok (which is high praise in Minnesota, I’ll remind you). And we won’t discuss how lost I got trying to drive back home from downtown… ha ha ha

Top 5 things about Conga Latin Bistro
1. Got to have dinner with RPM and LutherLover, who are the best people in the world, truly
2. Parrillada Argentina
3. Tostones
4. Awesome waitress – if I remembered her name, I would tell you to ask for her
5. There are quite a few other things on the menu I’d like to try, including the conga drinks

Bottom 5 things
1. I felt terribly guilty eating here without Gerd since I had talked her out of eating here so many times. I think she would have liked it but not been overwhelmed
2. Trash wouldn’t let me order any girly conga drinks
3. Trash’s Tilapia was not as good as it should have been
4. One man band in the other room got louder and louder
5. Still embarrassed by any food south of the border served in Minnesota, especially to expert Mexican food eaters

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