Sunday, October 14, 2007

Cafe Ena, Ditto

My friend Pamela posted a brief retort to Dara Moskowitz's odd review of my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Cafe Ena, and I have to underscore her comments as well as our utter disbelief at the City Pages review, which ran about a month ago. I don't expect everyone to like what I like in food any more than in music. But I rarely read such a diatribe in the press. And usually I have either agreed or at least understood Dara's restaurant reviews. Not this time. Not only was she dissatistifed with most of the offerings at what she reported to be multiple visits, she closed her review with a sarcastic putdown of the huge following this new restaurant has acquired over its first six months, noting that "if you think you are going to have a good time at Cafe Ena, you probably will." Well, Dara, if you think you are going to have a BAD experience at Cafe Ena, you probably will. Something must have been amiss on her first visit and the rest were doomed by attitude.

I am not a four-star chef although I like to think of myself as a discerning, four-star eater. I get around and I get out (too often!), in the Twin Cities, in Chicago, in New York, in New Orleans, in San Francisco..... this Iowa Girl is not a slave to hot dish and beanie weanie. Cafe Ena opened two blocks from my house but convenience would not keep me returning. After all, I am also in walking distance to Corner Table and the Grand Cafe, and only 5 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. I am not in need of such enticement down the street. But since opening week last spring, I think I have had dinner at Ena at least a dozen times and lunch at least as often. Consistency, as well as great ingredients and interesting combinations of tastes, marks an outstanding restaurant, and Ena is not only outstanding in those respects, it is very reasonable. Most of the entrees at dinner are under $20. And as much as I am trying to work my way through the menu, the specials keep derailing my progress.

I could wax eloquently about the tasty, smoky chicken arapas (thin little corn cakes smothered in mildly spicy ambrosia) or the sweet salmon croquettes or the always zippy ceviche on the appetizer list, or any of the pork and seafood dishes that grace the entrees. But let me just mention that the coriander crusted salmon atop a bed of artichoke hearts surrounded by crispy slightly sweet plantains with a sauce I can only swoon over is the single best seafood dish I have had in the Twin Cities, and maybe anywhere else save some fresh-from-the-water oysters I once enjoyed on Willapa Bay in Washington. My waiter that night confided that he always orders this dish when he is working at Ena. So would I.

And the key lime pie? You have to understand how hard it is to live only two blocks away and know that every day, every night, I am that close to heaven.....

Dara, put on a happy face and try again.