Pop!! (St. Paul, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
Pop!! -- yes, the exclamation points are part of the name -- is probably the best thing to happen to downtown St. Paul dining since the Great Waters Brewery. Situated in the old Fhima's space, Pop!! has one of those eclectic Latin menus that takes you south of the border and keeps on going.
You'll discover fish tacos from the Baja California peninsula and chicken posole soup, in the style of the pre-Colombian corn stew from Mexico. And before you know it, you're slurping up ceviche like a Peruvian or Ecuadorian, and munching on empanadas like an Argentine. And that's just the starter menu.
In general, we liked the starters better than the entrees. The chicken posole soup was a built from a fine, rich broth and had plenty of body. The anchovy and pisto bocadillos were toasted breads topped with pisto, a tomato-eggplant mélange like ratatouille with a Spanish kick. The anchovy here was just enough to add complexity without going over the line into unpleasantly fishy.
The piccadillo empanadas are ground-beef-filled pastry, no more dramatic than an Iron Range pasty. But these modest little bites aren't dramatic in Argentina where they keep you going until the very late dinner hour comes along. At Pop!!, the Venezuelan pepper sauce served alongside gives the empanadas a welcome flavor boost. And the Pop!! fritters, lovely little bites of battered black bean and shrimp, give you a chance to sample guasaca, a South American version of guacamole.
We skipped around a bit on the entrees, and this might have been our mistake. From our perspective, the vegetable paella simply can't compete with the real deal. Classic paella is a rice dish with sausage, seafood, and chicken in flavored rice, and this is a case where the character of the dish is lost by making it vegetarian. The pizza was fine, and quite large, with green sauce, chorizo, and shrimp. We tend to be classicists about pizza, but we liked this combo just fine.
Pop!! is the second in a series, the first being Pop!, a neighborhood restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. We especially admired Pop! for their zander filet sandwich, and now that's been replaced by walleye, which is one of the nods to Minnesota on the menu.
They serve Swedish meatballs with lingonberry jam, but this sort of thing is a mere distraction from the really good stuff.
When you're making a feast of all these Latino delicacies and flavors, there's really only one drink that makes sense. The pisco sour is the national cocktail of both Peru and Chile (great wars have been fought over less). Pisco is distilled from fresh pressed grape juice, and the drink mixes pisco, simple syrup, and lime juice. It's then topped with whipped egg white and a dash of bitters. The pisco sours at Pop!! are excellent renditions, and thus are a perfect match for the not-too-spicy but rich and warm flavors of Pop!!'s Latino dishes.
Prices are moderate. We had drinks, appetizers, entrees and a shared dessert for just over $27 a person.
Cuisine Type: South American influenced
Reservations: Not required
Diet Choices: All restricted diets will find something good here.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.