Rice Paper (Minneapolis, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
There's something really special about hole-in-the-wall restaurants. When we find a tiny place with a handful of tables and a tempting menu, we think we've stolen a march on the food scene. But in the case of Rice Paper, we want everybody to know how great the place is. This month, they're expanding from just eight tables into the storefront next door; we're not the only ones who've noticed that chef/owner An Nguyen is doing something very right indeed.
The dishes at Rice Paper evoke flavors from all over Southeast Asia. "I was a little tired of Vietnamese food," Nguyen said, "but I liked the repertoire of the spices. And I always felt Thai cooking to be too aggressive. These dishes are my own fusion creations that have the flavors without the aggressiveness of the spice."
It's a vision we're happy to share.
We liked every appetizer on the menu. Our favorite was the pomelo and grapefruit festivity -- a cold salad of grapefruit, shrimp, peanuts, crispy shallots, mint, cilantro and a tangy Thai sauce. Delicious. The tofu puffs are bite-sized cubes of tofu quick-fried and not greasy, also served with peanuts and shallots and the same Thai sauce. And the spring rolls are as good as you'll find anywhere: your choice of chicken, shrimp or tofu with lettuce, bean sprouts, rice noodles and herbs. The Indochine salad is also delicious. It's slivers of cabbage and carrots with onion, cilantro, fried slices of garlic, a touch of hot pepper, and a peanut dressing. Choose your entrée before ordering it, though, as anything served with a "Rice Paper salad" already comes with this.
We can also recommend the Delta soup, a hot-and-sour-style soup with shrimp, lemongrass, pineapple, celery, tomato, bean sprouts and herbs. A bowl of this and an order of spring rolls is a perfect light meal. Nothing disappointed us on the entree menu, either. Most fun is the tamarind rice trio. First, choose either chicken or tofu in a delicious tamarind and lemongrass sauce. This comes with three little piles of rice with three different sauces: green onion oil, peanuts and peanut sauce, and coconut flakes and coconut sauce. And, finally, you get a lettuce, carrot and cilantro salad. The chance to taste so many vivid flavors in a single dish felt downright party-like. The Song Huong beef is marinated in a lemongrass sauce and served with lime, green onion oil, peanuts, mint and Thai basil. You can order it in two different ways, but we recommend the presentation with lettuce, rice noodles, mint and cilantro.
The roadside smoky plate consists of grilled tofu in a lemongrass, ginger, mint and cilantro sauce, served with rice and salad. Very tasty, but the seven pieces of tofu were much too small a portion for dinner. According to the menu, this dish is inspired by roadside food vendors in Southeast Asia, and that suggests a snack rather than a dinner to us. Much better were the green-onion Chinese pancake wraps, available with either chicken or tofu. Both were excellent. These came with three dipping sauces: peanut sauce, Thai sauce and fish sauce.
The pad thai is not traditional, and we suggest not ordering it here. It was served cold and without egg and with a very mild peanut flavor. You can order it with chicken, tofu puffs or shrimp -- and that comes on the side. We suggest getting a bottle of their homemade peanut sauce to take home.
2726 W. 43rd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55410
Monday -- Saturday
11:00 a.m. -- 2:00 p.m., lunch
5:00 -- 9:00 p.m., dinner
Reservations recommended. Closed Sunday.
A perfect choice for vegetarians, vegans and those with almost any other dietary restriction.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
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