Don Saunders is a man who walks the talk. To spotlight his culinary credo, he’s named his new restaurant In Season — a hosanna to what’s begging to be cooked today. The first page of the menu lists current inspirations — squash to pomegranates, cabbage to rabbit. Can’t get more in tune with the calendar than that.
Having shuttered his well-reviewed but less than well-visited La Fugaise on East Hennepin, he chose Southwest — locavore central — for this new venture, adapting the space where Café Maude started out. The décor’s simple — walls of warm caramel hosting abstract paintings above banquettes and a crowd of tiny tables that allow glimpses of the kitchen, where the nightly magic is performed.
To start, Don offers the simplest of green salads; but how about trading up to his version of the now-classic combo of endive, beets, Honeycrisps, blue cheese and walnuts? Or autumn’s ubiquitous butternut squash soup, here personalized with manchego cheese and oil of pumpkinseed?
And, while one may not think of scallops as cold-weather fare, consider what Don does with them. These sweet, ultra-fresh and juicy critters, plump as marshmallows, don’t even hit the griddle. They’re served, ceviche style, in an inventive toss of pomegranate seeds and pears — thus, three degrees of sweetness, three textural shades.
We next shared an oyster-pork belly combo — not such strange bedfellows at all if you’re tuned into Cajun cooking. Don adds sweet-and-sour cabbage shards for a Midwestern touch, and crunch, and livens the whole shebang with a hit of mustard to temper the ultra-richness. (I could do with a lot less breading on the mollusks, however. It dominates the sensuous silkiness within.)
No such thing as too much pork belly, right? So amid the six entrée choices ($15–26), we insisted on (banged our fists for, or is that TMI?) the pork pairing Don had on offer: an elite filet, all pink and tender, upscale as you please, married with that deliriously fatty, low-brow belly meat, whose rich juices irrigated the crunchy polenta on which it lounged. A jungle of kale provided the necessary bitter wake-up call, along with dual plate paintings of basil oil and paprika broth. Great dish.
So was the beef cheeks, braised in red wine with root vegetables until tender enough for a newborn (but who’s sharing?). A toss of kalamata olives cast a jarring note, however. Other entrees prove that serving what’s in season doesn’t limit the cook to grandma’s larder. Hawaiian opah got a Thai makeover with peanut crust, rice noodles and sweet curry, along with local cauliflower, while a Pekin duck did a cross-cultural flyover with celery root and cabbage.
The standout on the dessert list ($6–9) is the swell slab of bread pudding, dense and moist and favored with the flavors of our cold-climate state: Honeycrisp apples, walnuts and a luscious maple-caramel sauce. The only good thing about the frigid months ahead is exploring how Don will make the evening shine.
5416 Penn Ave. S.