As you probably know, Sooki & Mimi is the new restaurant from Ann Kim of Young Joni fame (she won a Beard award for her food there). You probably also know that it is one of the buzziest restaurants to have opened recently in the Twin Cities. The buzz really picked up two months or so ago when the New York Times included it in a list of the most exciting restaurants in the country or some such. You see, here in Minnesota we are so confident in our identity that we manage to both tell the New York Times they know nothing when they say things about us we don’t like and to fall all over ourselves in excitement when they offer the slightest bit of praise. Well, we are famously a very emotional people here in the upper midwest and it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that we can be so volatile.
Sooki & Mimi—which opened in February during the high tide of the pandemic—is yet another of the high-end Mexican restaurants to have opened in the Twin Cities in the last few years. Well, I probably shouldn’t say that it’s a Mexican restaurant as I think the restaurant describes itself differently—as an expression of the executive chef Ann Kim’s love of masa and whatnot. But one look at the menu, and then the food when it arrives at your table, will tell you that this is in fact a restaurant serving Mexican food and that this food is more obviously Mexican in form than that at a place like Petite Leon which the local media has no difficulty as identifying as a Mexican restaurant. There are a lot of creative, cheffy twists and flourishes, some amount of culinary cross-pollination (especially with East Asian flavours and forms) but the current menu is essentially Mexican in form, if not traditionally so.
This menu—which has gone through a couple of iterations—is currently offered in the main dining room as a three course prix fixe plus a few family-style supplements and dessert. There’s a more edited menu available at the bar and different dishes still in the separate basement bar. Each course in the prix fixe has four options. As we were a party of four this means we ate almost all of the current menu (we added on one of the two large supplements plus both dessert options). What did we think of it? Well, we thought it all looked very beautiful and was very creative but almost none of it made more than a fleeting impression on us; and there was really nothing that we left wanting to come back soon to eat again. Which is not to say that it was a bad meal—far from it; only that our experience of the food didn’t quite match the buzz.
We arrived at 9 pm on a Saturday and our table was ready just a few minutes later. The restaurant is large and quite attractive and in the spring, summer and fall must have a lot of light streaming in through the floor to ceiling glass in the front. We sat down, ordered some drinks and got to work on negotiations on the menu. Well, we got all of it, as I said above; the negotiations were over who would have primary ownership of which dishes on the prix fixe (we all took tastes of everything).
Here is what we ate.
- aguachile naranja carrot, red pepper, brassicas, avocado, beech mushroom. I ate most of this and it was…okay. I liked the idea in theory of centering the dish on vegetables and mushrooms but in practice I couldn’t help wishing there was shrimp or scallops or fish in there. It’s not a vegetarian dish though, garnished as it is with little curls of shaved pork belly (or was it bacon?).
- frida salad grilled radicchio, seasonal greens, cucumber, smoked labneh, cashew tahini, dukkah, soft egg. This salad, on the other hand, was probably our pick of this round despite not reading as very interesting. A very good mix of textures and flavours.
- gravlax tostada charred scallion cream cheese, everything bagel spice, capers, pico verde. The tostada itself was very nice but the toppings, as the missus (who ate most of it) noted, were too muddled: a bit too much of everything. By the way, gravlax might lead you to expect salmon but this came with smoked white fish of some kind.
- smoked lengua sope sauerkraut, morita aioli*, celery, pickled mustard seeds. Again, the sope itself was very nice, as was almost everything else on it, but the main event, the lengua/tongue had the texture (and look) of summer sausage.
- mole almendrado, smoked celery root, black beans, infladita, marcona almonds. This was the missus’ and I got a bit whack at it. We both thought the infladitas (little puffed tortillas filled with refried beans) were very good and we also liked the almond-based mole. But somehow the whole did not come together as more than the sum of its parts and we didn’t end up wishing we had more tortillas to mop every last bit of it up.
- tamal, yellow squash, pipián, queso fresco, gremolata, salsa morita. This was mine and was also very striking to look at. Alas, as at Colita, the tamal itself was over-cooked. Well, maybe they intend it to be as it was served but what was served was a bit too dry and hard. Everything else on the plate was very good though.
- hominy grits and prawns, new caledonia blue prawns, salsa macha, fennel. This was easily the pick of this round. The grits were done perfectly as were the prawns, served with their delicious crispy heads in the bowl.
- green chorizo potstickers, black vinegar, fermented black beans, crispy ginger. This read interestingly and the potstickers were done well but we couldn’t quite tell what the chorizo brought to the party. This felt a bit forced as a concept.
- ssamjang & salsa verde whole fish, corn tortillas, cabbage, avocado, cilantro, habanero pickled onions, salsas. This arrived between the second and third courses. A large, perfectly cooked rainbow trout, split in two and dressed on one side with ssamjang (a Korean chilli and bean-based seasoning) and on the other with salsa verde, It was served with a plethora of toppings and salsas and more of the excellent tortillas which we used to construct wraps—a clever play on both tacos and the Korean bo ssam.
- squash tacos, sikil p’ak, brussels sprouts, apple, pickled red onion, toasted pepitas. The friend who’d scored with the salad in the first round and the grits and prawns in the second got this as her main event in the third and her streak finally came to an end. The tortillas in the tacos were very good again but the toppings left us all cold.
- mushroom birria tacos, confit maitake, queso chihuahua, shiitake crema, vegetable consommé. This was mine. The mushrooms were dynamite but the tortillas were over-fried and so couldn’t be folded to dip in the birria (and the birria/vegetable consomme itself was not very charismatic). But eaten as something between a taco and a tostada this was very tasty. Is it meant to be this way or was it poor execution?
- carnitas tacos, roasted salsa taquera, fresno chiles, onion, cilantro. This was the star of this round, I thought. This was the missus’ and by this point she was very full and so I got a lot of it. The carnitas were done perfectly and everything worked together well.
- beef bulgogi tacos, flour tortillas, pickled cucumbers & carrots, kimchi crema, scallion, sesame. These were good too even with a little too much going on—the bulgogi would have been good served just as bulgogi (which coming from our household is high praise).
As noted, there were only two options on the night and we got them both.
- bosc pear bar, brown butter almond crumble, whipped cream. This took a bite or two to grow on me but then I really liked it. Not sure how it fits with the rest of the stuff on the menu though.
- korean sweet potato mochi donuts, dulce de leche, chocolate mousse. We all liked the mousse and the dulce de leche; we all thought the mochi donuts were more interesting than good.
Ah yes, the drinks. Three of us got cocktails to start (one member of the party was not drinking). The missus got and enjoyed the Shochu 75 (shochu, green tea, honey, sparkling wine). One of our friends liked his Tepache with mezcal. And I quite enjoyed my Cantaro (basically a Negroni with mezcal in place of the gin). The night getting on and all of us being olds we stopped with one drink each.
For a look at the restaurant and the food and drink launch the excessive slideshow below. Scroll down for a few more thoughts on the whole experience, on the service and to see how much it all cost.
So our overall score: the fish was very good as were the salad in the first round, the grits in the second, and the carnitas and bulgogi tacos in the third. A number of other dishes could have been very good but were let down by one or more elements or by execution (and by a general curse of there often being just too many things on the plate). If I were to recommend a path through the prix fixe it would be the salad followed by the grits/prawns and the carnitas tacos. And if you’re in a large group (or in a group of four very hungry people) the fish as well. The desserts I think I could take or leave.
One other note about the menu. Given the three course prix fixe plus supplements structure we expected that taken together the prix fixe plus the fish would be the right amount of food for four adults. We checked with our server and he agreed. In practice, however, it turned out to be a lot of food. The prix fixe by itself is quite filling (we were not expecting to get two tacos each in the third course). We would have been perfectly sated if we’d eaten just the prix fixe plus dessert. Of course, we’re very glad we ate the fish—as that was our favourite dish on the night—but it’s just something to bear in mind. I’d suggest that perhaps the fish supplement works best if shared by a larger group of people. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for parties of two (which our server indicated it would also be appropriate for). And remember you can’t substitute the fish for anything on the prix fixe or order it separately in place of the prix fixe.
Oh yes, service was very good at least to begin—our server was friendly and able to describe the dishes well. We were, however, a late seating and as the meal went on and the restaurant emptied out he became a little harder to find when we needed water, wanted to order dessert or when we were looking for the check. Price? With tax and a set service charge of 21% the total came to just short of $396 or just about $99 each. Quite a bit more than we paid at Petite Leon ($70/head with more drinks) for a meal we liked quite a bit more.
Well, we are in Los Angeles now through the end of the month (and I am looking forward to some excellent aguachile at Holbox tomorrow). Which means this is my last Twin Cities restaurant review of the year. By no means a bad meal but not quite the year-ending high note I’d hoped it might be. Who knows, perhaps if our expectations had not been raised by the coverage, both local and national, and then the breathless response of the local to the national, we might not have expected as much and been more satisfied. As it is, however. we found the meal to not be as exciting as we hoped it would be. We are, however, obviously outliers in our response and your mileage may well vary.
While I’m done with Twin Cities restaurant reviews for the year, I do still have a Twin Cities food post to come before the year is out. So come back on the weekend if that is your primary interest in the blog.