We were originally supposed to eat at Petite Leon (in Minneapolis’ Kingfield neighbourhood) in early September. We’d made those reservations in July before Delta took off. By the time September approached we were too wary about eating indoors and so cancelled the reservation. Now, of course, Omicron is the variant of concern—and Minnesota’s infection rates are still nothing to be happy about—but we still made Petite Leon our first indoor meal in the Twin Cities since our dinner at Estelle in late July. The missus and I have both received our boosters—as have the friends we dined with—and both kids are now fully vaccinated as well. As such, we are loosening some of our previous caution. Did the food at Petite Leon justify this change? Yes, it did. We thought it was very good indeed.
Petite Leon opened during the pandemic and for a good chunk of its first year operated a takeout business. The executive chef is Jorge Guzman who came to renown at Surly’s Brewer’s Table, which had been on our radar before it unceremoniously and unexpectedly shut down. Guzman bounced around a little while after that but at Petite Leon seems to have landed squarely on his feet. He is of part-Mexican background and part of his childhood was spent in the Yucatan. Petite Leon itself has been described in the local press as a Mexican restaurant but you might wonder about that when you look at their menu—and even more so when you eat a chunk of it.
Yes, there are some dishes whose conception and execution speak centrally to Mexican traditions—duck with mole poblano and blue corn tortillas, for example. Most of the others incorporate Mexican ingredients and components as well but these are often mixed and hybridized with ingredients and components from all over the globe: labneh and dukkah, miso and nori, idiazabal cheese and Spanish chorizo and so on. It might be more accurate to describe the food as contemporary global cosmopolitan cooking with strong Mexican accents. Indeed, the food at Colita looks more obviously Mexican than did most of our meal at Petite Leon. In fact, some of the most obviously Mexican things we consumed might have been the two cocktails I drank (more on this below).
I don’t note the above as a criticism, merely as description. The really important thing is that the meal was very good. The friends we dined with had also eaten with us on Colita’s patio last month and we all thought this was easily the superior meal.
What did we eat and drink?
We had to wait about 15 minutes for our table to become available and our first order of business was to order cocktails. The missus got the Pisco, Love & Understanding (Grapefruit, Dragon fruit, Lemon, Egg White); one of our friends got the Moon Dog (Mezcal, Green Chartreuse, Tamarind, Lime); another friend got the non-alcoholic Penicillin (Lapang Tea, Burnt Honey, Ginger, Lemon); and I got the Brawndo (Tequila, Orange, Avocado, Lime, Habanero). All were very good. I fully admit I got the Brawndo only to see how the avocado would be incorporated—I was expecting it to be a garnish but instead it had been blended into the drink which effectively was a take on a Margarita.
To the food. We decided to split everything and ordered six of the small plates and two of the large (there are only three large plates on the menu). First the small:
- Cauliflower chiltomate, queso, condiment de picadillo
- Broccolini mole verde, miso vinaigrette, pistachio dukkah
- Roasted Beets pilpelchuma, labna, cashew, quinoa
- Escabeche pickled veg, grilled bread, creamy garbanzo, white fish
- Roasted Squash chile butter, mushroom conserva, hazelnuts, herbs
- Mussels PEI mussels, Spanish chorizo, white beans, country bread
Two things to note about the small plates (which are not billed as such on the menu): first, they are not very small. If you were making an appetizer-main meal and got any of what we ordered as an appetizer you’d be feeling pretty full before the main showed up. Second, they were all very good and a few were rather excellent. In this latter category in my view were the cauliflower (my pick for the dish of the night), the broccolini and the beets. The mix of textures and flavours in all of these dishes was great and we were really impressed by how well the vegetables were handled. The escabeche—served as a sort-of fish salad on bread—was also very tasty as was the roasted squash but both fell a little on the heavy side. The mussels were done very well in a very tasty broth with large white beans and chorizo. A little more bread to mop up the broth and also some of the other sauces would have been nice but that is as close as we came to a complaint.
A couple of us re-upped on drinks at this point. One of our friends got the Yellow Jacket Special (basically beer and a bump—I believe his bump was mezcal) and I got the Verde (Mezcal, Aquavit, Tomatillo, Pineapple, Lime, Cava) which I might have liked even more than the Brawndo. Both my drinks, as I said, were among the most obviously Mexican in flavour of everything we had.
Two big plates followed. We passed on the nightly fish special of scallops and went instead with the two meats on the menu:
- Duck mole poblano, Hawaiian chocolate, heirloom tortillas
- Steak Bavette black garlic adobo, piquillo steak sauce
The duck was done very well, a leg quarter both crispy and tender served atop a tasty mole poblano with excellent blue corn tortillas. The steak was fine but did less for me. Though my companions disagreed, I thought the piquillo steak sauce’s acidity threw the dish off balance (though I did very much enjoy the avocado with the crumbly bits on it).
Dessert to end. The menu only has two things on it and we got both of them along with a special:
- Arroz con Leche cardamom, toasted coconut, pistachios
- Tarta de Queso basque-style cheesecake, sesame-vanilla wafer crumble
- Chocolate Cake I apologize but I had some bombshell news coming through on my phone as our server was describing this special and all I caught was that there was sea salt and spicy (?) cacao powder on the cake
The tarta de queso was sensational and the chocolate cake was very good too. The arroz con leche was also very tasty but perhaps suffered by juxtaposition.
For a look at the restaurant and the food launch the slideshow below. I apologize also for the quality of the photos—the restaurant is not flooded with light. Scroll down for thoughts on service, to see how much the meal cost and to see what’s coming next.
Service was very good: friendly and present without being obtrusive. I should note here that Petite Leon too is on the 20% included service charge train which makes settling up the bill very easy indeed. The bill on the night came to just about $280 or $70/head. This was a bit cheaper than we paid at Colita, where we had one less drink, but the difference is not really worth noting. What is worth noting is that the food at Petite Leon is very good and well-priced and the drinks are also excellent. I would very much recommend them. I hope they will weather their rough first year and become a fixture in the local scene.
Okay, what’s next? Another new restaurant: we are scheduled to dine in at Sooki & Mimi this coming weekend. If those plans hold that write-up will show up in a week. Before that, a couple more reviews of whiskies from Talisker this week and a recipe on Thursday and then more whisky next Monday.
[Oh, I almost forgot to ask: does anyone have any intel on Cocina Latina Restaurant located across the street from Petite Leon?]