Column: Coagulation at the mixer

Paul Groessel

Paul Groessel

“Do I dip the chicken in the sauce? Or the slaw?” I asked a co-restaurant hopper I had just met as we sat at Moto-i in Minneapolis’ Uptown. I’ll call him Roy – since that’s his actual name. Roy. (There are a lot of Roys around here. You don’t know which one he is. Get over it.)

“It’s going in your mouth, so you should pick what you do with it,” Roy said.

I like Roy.

That’s when I stopped worrying about trying to be a food critic and realized this whole “Dishcrawl” was going to be less about the food and more about the social aspect.

All you have to know is that the food was good, but I put a quick rundown at the bottom of this post, as promised in the print edition.

This was the inaugural four-stop restaurant crawl in the Twin Cities, hosted by dishcrawl.com. There were about 25 people who gathered, slapped on a nametag and then talked among themselves over a food sample, a drink and some insight from the chef or restaurant owner.

You can always walk to four restaurants yourself with friends, but this was about enjoying food and drink at four different restaurants while meeting people with whom you would not otherwise share awkward napkin management.

Plus, you often get special non-menu food items and some insight from the chef or restaurant owner.

For this event, we went to Moto-i, Fuji Ya, Common Roots Café and then the Herkimer. I had been to all of these places, but I never had any of the dishes they served.

It’s a novel concept for a mixer, given Roy’s well-traveled and astute observation that it is hard to meet people in the Twin Cities.

You go to an event where a person or a small group join other unknown people, and these nice Midwesterners ultimately get into small groups and talk among each other. They don’t separate, he said.

I agreed: We coagulate; we don’t mix.

Even in Chicago – relatively close considering the proximity of Portland’s hipsters to Uptown’s – people seem a little more open and willing to meet and converse with strangers confined to a shared experience. Like trying sake and fried chicken.

So, at each restaurant in this small tromp around Uptown I tried to talk with different people, but even with that intent I found myself talking to the same group at restaurant four.

But, I still did some canvassing, and several people I had never met said it’s hard to talk with people they had never met. We indeed were coagulating ourselves.

This is fine, though, since we had never met each other before. This provides an opportunity for setting up another time to go visit something the Twin Cities has to offer as a group and possibly new friendships develop from there.

So, this restaurant crawl is a pretty good idea: There’s a surprise element, since you don’t know which restaurants you’re visiting until after you sign up; you usually get a non-menu-item dish specially prepared by the chef, who often makes an appearance to discuss this dish; you have an un-awkward opportunity to meet new people, which is refreshing even for well-established married couples.

Like the late Kurt Vonnegut said, when he and his wife got into arguments, they were basically saying to each other, “We need more people!”

The downside – each stop seemed like a half hour, even though they were probably a little longer.

It can be hard to talk with people, sample the food, listen to the chef or restaurant owner and finish a drink at each stop. Not a bad problem to have, I suppose.

There are more of these crawls coming up. The first one cost $40, so it’s up to you if it’s worth it.

Visit dishcrawl.com/minneapolis, and then pace and enjoy yourselves, people.

The food rundown

Moto-i: We had Japanese Fried Chicken, prepared Gangnam style. Like other Dishcrawl items, it’s not normally on the menu. Cooked for eight hours before it was breaded and fried, the meet was tender and the skin was not overly greasy. It went well with the reduced soy sauce and lemon slaw.

The sample was paired with Junmai Tokubetsu sake, served cold and incredibly smooth. Moto-i is the only joint sake brewery and restaurant outside of Japan.

The restaurant’s offerings were the most impressive on the crawl.

Samples at the second stop, Fuji Ya, were a little disappointing given the sushi restaurant’s menu. It was good, but it did not showcase its best efforts. But – the point of its preparation was to showcase the homemade gyoza (think pot stickers) the restaurant has recently started making. They also served two basic maki sushi samples and a cucumber and Umeboshi pickle platter, which was the surprising highlight.

Common Roots Cafe offered an honorable representation of its organic, made-from-scratch menu with a roasted beet endive cup. Squash phyllo cups were filled with butter squash, kale, blue cheese, beets, toasted walnut and layered with sage butter. Another impressive non-menu item on the crawl.

Finally, The Herkimer Pub and Brewery offered the biggest surprise of the night with a generous piece of pumpkin bread pudding. It was surprising not merely because of its crisp and sweet homemade taste, but also because the brewpub does not come to mind when thinking of dessert. It was paired with a sample of the brewery’s Sky Pilot Kellerbier, a refreshing medium-bodied pilsner.

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