Tuesday, February 7, 2012

El Meson – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I like to celebrate things with nice food. It was our anniversary, so I planned a nice evening of fun for us. She has been talking about trying paella for months now (she’s never had it), so I thought it might be nice to eat at El Meson – they have amazing paella. She was totally down for a nice night on the town.

We arrived at our reservation time and got seated right away. The place is dark inside, and there was a decent crowd of people inside – not packed, but there was a nice buzz in the room. D.Rough had looked at the website before we left and noticed it was happy hour. There were all kinds of specials on appetizers and cheap wines. And we had made it to the restaurant just in time to capitalize on the happy hour deals.

We started with a bottle of Pacific Peak Cab-Sav (not something we usually get, but sounded good for some reason), and some delicious sounding appetizers. We got the Aceitunas (a Spanish olive sampler) and the Cantapalitos (grilled mini chorizo sausages with artichoke hearts and onions in a sherry vinaigrette). It took us a little bit longer to decide on the food, so we just took our time and waited for that food to come out.

Thankfully, they bring out a really nice toasted bread with butter on it for you to snack on. By the way, this bread is super addictive. We tried to stop eating it a few times and ended up going through multiple baskets of it… whoops.

I’m not an olive person – I never have been. That being said, I’ve found that if I don’t get the traditional olives, I can eat them and enjoy eating them, for the most part. I think of it like Budweiser – lots of people drink it, but the snooty people with taste think it’s terrible. Fancy beers make cultured people happy. Maybe it’s the same way with olives for me. The olive plate was delicious. Yes, there were pits in the olives you have to eat around, but the flavors of the different varieties of olives were really awesome. They were served in a sort of vinegar-y celery bed which may have also included lemon rinds. We aren’t even sure, but we ate it right up. The balsamic reduction they had put over the top of it all just made the things taste even better.

The Cantapalitos weren’t at all what we had expected. It’s basically a sort of sautéed onion salad. Onions do bad things to me, so I eat around them. Fortunately, the sausages themselves were awesome. These things aren’t cocktail weenies, they’re quality chorizo sausages, just tiny versions of them. The artichoke hearts were sautéed in the sherry vinaigrette and D.Rough and I ended up fighting over them. They were also great. So aside from the huge amount of onions (which D.Rough didn’t mind), the dish was fantastic.

We had finally decided what we wanted to eat. I was determined to get the paella, but so many other things on the menu sounded too delicious. We decided to save the paella night for when we go out with TheDoctor and HB for our double date night. I opted for the Carne a la Brava and D. Rough got the Pescado Caribe. Again, we turned to the bread to carry us through to the entrees. Eventually we just had to push it away from us – it is really quite good.

The food arrived just as the place got REALLY busy – not much of a wait time, which was nice since we were starving. The Pescado Caribe is explained like this: A pan-seared filet of grouper encrusted in Jamaican seasonings, served with a mofongo of yucca with Chicaron (smoked bacon) in a lemon butter sauce, topped with mango salsa. It was a really nice piece of fish. Not hugely flavorful on its own, but when combined with the mango salsa and the lemon butter sauce that was very simply poured into the middle of the plate, it really popped. Nice and light and the pan-searing gave it some nice crunch. The mofongo on the side of the plate was also brilliant. Sort of like mashed potatoes with much more texture (mashed fried plantains, actually) with brilliant pieces of bacon in it. I could eat this all day. The greens were simply prepared and good, so nothing to complain about on this plate at all.

The Carne a la Brava is explained like this on the menu: Piementon crusted beef medallions serves with a Valencia saffron rice, braised fingerling potatoes, sautéed artichoke hearts and chorizo, in a tempranillo demi glaze. The rice was this really creamy and almost cheesy side dish. If you could turn the best fancy macaroni and cheese into a rice dish, you would create this. Really rich and heavy and rib-sticking. Perfect, in other words. I assumed this would be the best thing I ate this evening. I was wrong. The fingerling potatoes were perfectly sautéed with artichoke hearts and chorizo sausage. Again, D.Rough and I fought over this dish. I will make the prediction that she and I will have many years of fighting over sausages. This moved slightly above the saffron rice, but both were stellar.

The meat I had on this plate was some of the best meat I’ve ever had. I didn’t know you could make meat this soft and still not chewy. It was … uh… luscious. I can’t even explain how melty this beef was. It was like someone had soaked the meat in butter and it was dissolving the meat in your mouth before you even chewed it. Even D.Rough thought this was a game-changing piece of beef. It was perfectly cooked medium, so you could see the pink insides without it being bloody and the outside has a nice sear on it without being charred at all. I would recommend this to anyone who loves steak or chops. It’s fantastic.

Overall, this was an amazing meal. We commented on the old-school presentation of the food. We’ve been to a lot of places with flashy modern plating techniques, which are nice, but this rustic feel works well with the ambience and the food. I sound super snooty talking about plating, but it’s true – we did discuss it like a couple of d-bags. You should really go here as soon as you can. They have happy hour every day and also flamenco music and dancers on Saturday nights. If you come for the paella, be prepared to wait while they cook it (about 45 minutes). But if you get there in time for happy hour, you’ll be able to much on delicious appetizers and drink cheap wine.

We wanted dessert, but we were in the mood to move around a bit. So we hopped in the car and headed to another destination. It’s our anniversary – time to live a little.

Top 5 things about El Meson
1. Pork medallions
2. Fingerling potatoes, artichoke hearts, and chorizo
3. Pan-seared grouper
4. Saffron rice
5. Happy hour specials are REALLY amazing

Bottom 5 things
1. Aside from my own personal issues with onions, this place doesn’t have a single thing wrong with it. Truly.


No comments: