Sameh, how I love ya

Sameh Wadi (left) and chef Matt Eisele outside the World Street Kitchen. Credit: Photo by Michelle Bruch

Well, call me stupid. (It happened once before, back in 1978). I phoned World Street Kitchen, Lyn-Lake’s red-hot new dining escapade, asking for a reservation. When the laughter subsided, I was educated, in language a three-year-old could comprehend, “This is a casual restaurant.”

Oh, right, a set-up like McDonald’s: line up for quick and cheap. But there the comparison falls short. It’s like equating the computer-pecking office temp to Steve Jobs.

Quick backstory: WSK is the lovechild, brash and feisty, of the Wadis of Saffron (whose Sameh is often, and rightly, nominated for James Beard awards), mixing genes with the Palestinian brothers’ ground-breaking food truck. Now you can get the whole panoply of those dazzling walkway lunches while seated in a warm, bright setting — the Pop Art version of Mickey’s — while sipping wine.

So, that’s what we did, five hungry Wad-aholics: We tried it all. The items defy culinary labeling — that’s the joy driving their creation, and consumption —melding Latin, Asian, Indian and regional American staples — think tacos, kimchee, biscuits, curry — in a delicious mix-and-match frenzy. Here’s the run-down on the short-order board, from “don’t miss” to “never mind.”

Highest on the “gotta come back” list was the simple-sounding, Indian-inspired aloo tikki chat, a gently-fried pattie with a trapeze leap of textures going on, melding mashed potatoes with fullbodied lentils given a spicy jump start to sail you through the windchill, then topped with crispy, hair-thin noodles under  a skim of sauces hinting of cilantro, lime and tamarind.

Then, the lettuce wraps that hark of Thailand — melt-in-your-mouth yummy and hip-enriching short ribs linked with earthy mushrooms carrying a gently sweet hint of hoisin. The lettuce-wrap meatballs proved more dry, less addictive, though a splash of potent chili sauce from a “ketchup” squeeze bottle helped pump the dish.

Several taco choices are on offer and they’re — in a word — darling. Double-shelled in petite, paper-slender tortillas, the winner was the veggie version, championing chunky squash and forest-flavored mushrooms under a shower of queso fresco, and served with strands of pickled onions. It doesn’t whomp your tastebuds, it simply seduces them. The lamb belly version, which I yearned to like, fell short, however, thanks to overfried cubes of meat.

A chicken burrito disclosed plenty of juicy white meat embedded in rice with a rich, heartwarming jolt of red curry — Tex-Mex meets Bangkok. Then there’s the best-selling Yum Bowl, blessed with those super-tasty and dangerously juicy short ribs (you know why they’re juicy, don’t you?) mixing it up with rice under a poached egg to stir in and moisten further — comfort food and not particularly arresting, unless you count the scattering of peanuts and acid breeze of kimchee that liven the rice.

The two Dixie dishes we tried didn’t make the cut — a po’ boy built on a huge, dull bun supporting sweet, bouncy shrimp — good idea, until they hit the deep fryer in an overcoat of batter. Nice celery-root slaw helped out. Then there’s the MFC biscuit sandwich in a version the Colonel never dreamt: crisp fried chicken, aromatic of ginger and cinnamon, given a jolt of chilies and settled on a doughy, why-bother biscuit, under a sprinkling of carrot threads and feta. Skip the blah biscuit and then we’re talking.

Well, there goes the neighborhood — thank goodness! Better before- or after-bar food doesn’t exist.


2743 Lyndale Ave. S.