Flavor // The Reign on Loring

Maude 2.0 has swept in to conquer Loring Park, newly-gentrified by Professor Higgins (aka designer Jim Smart).

The sweet Eliza Doolittle charmer in South Minneapolis has been transformed into a venue of understated elegance: shadows playing on its lofty walls, sheer golden fabric adding muted color — a place for consenting adults rather than solely the self-anointed hipsters of the building’s former Nick & Eddie days. There will be live music weekends, but on our Sunday visit, we could actually converse (remember that archaic artform?). Plus, turns out, Sunday is prix-fixe night: three courses plus a glass of beer or vino for $30: legal robbery.

First course choices: a Greek salad or cod terrine. Choose the cod, I implore you; it’s a flaky, tender and generous hunk of fish served here with tendrils of spaghetti squash and a punch of pumpkin curry that made us yearn to lick the plate. (Curried cod? Talk about cross-dressing. And it works marvelously.)

Next choice: fish and chips (more cod) with frites or lamb shank. We went for the latter (duh), eagerly ripping tender, tasty, long-cooked meat from the shank bone of what must have been a bronto-lamb. It’s set upon risotto with beets, chevre, truffle oil, a splash of marsala and mushroom jus ($24 on the regular menu and worth twice as much, but don’t tell Maude). Not scared of strong flavors, the kitchen’s combo of unusual bedfellows melds like a barbershop quartet. I’m coming back for more.

Finally, a devils-food cake with macerated fruit and vanilla ice cream or our selection, an almond panna cotta — a champ that knocks all other local contenders out of the ring, it’s so limpid, quivering at the mere approach of a spoon. Its light almond scent is underscored by a vanilla-bean caramel. A few tiny apple croquettes on the side add little to the party, but who cares?

We also split a couple of small plates from the regular menu ($9-12), each one a winner. First, a salad of nicely spicy watercress scattered with sequins of sweet tomato, briny purple olives and pearls of Israeli couscous, then set with translucent cross-sections of smoked scallops — a dish as addictive as it is creative.

Loved the quail, too — finger-lickin’ you-know-what, in fact. It nests atop a mélange of smoky-sharp pancetta balanced by sweet corn kernels in a satiny garbanzo cream (think: hummus). Finally, a carry-over from Eliza’s kitchen: Maude’s (justly) popular Turkish plate of spinach and fried egg, which also calls on feta, basmati rice, a nice hit of fiery harissa, balanced by a garlic-mint yogurt to cool things off, all topped by the star players.

Some entries on the wine list bear obscene mark-ups, but a few fall in Everyman’s price range, such as the Mourvedre we sipped. Kids get lucky with an appealing set of entrees of their own, served with green beans and milk (no soda!) and dessert ($8.50). Thanks, Maude!