Let me offer a solution to a civic problem. Instead of Occupy Minnesota, let’s occupy Mona. The darling new restaurant is right across the street from the Government Center, which makes the plan convenient. Or, invite the U.N. in for dinner and world peace is in sight.
In other words, Mona is a terrific addition to the food scene of downtown — or, make that North America. Proprietor/chef Lisa Hanson (Mona=Lisa: Get it?) — the young lady who caused foodies to moan with pleasure when she helmed the kitchen at Corner Table — has cornered the small-plates market with her spot-on list ($4-14) from which to compose your
own tasting menu. As bonus, they’re all fueled by the local purveyors she thanks in print. The only problem is deciding which ones not to order (Answer: none).
The smoked oysters — tiny ones, my only quibble — are like none other: wafting equal hits of vinegar, salt and wondrous woodsmoke as they quiver on a bed of spinach. Pork belly, which I can never resist, proved rich and unctuous yet sans overdose of fat, hunkered over a deft potato pancake whose calling was to soak up the tasty shallot jus.
Then there’s the marrow bone — the darling of trendy New York diners, but not seen too often here. Dig out its ultra-creamy innards, spread then on the (too) crisp raisin toasts, and add a slather of clove-steeped apple butter — the kind that wins Grandma blue ribbons at the fair. (Granny’d love this dish; however, your cardiologist may have other ideas.)
Speaking of State Fair, the next dish we tried mirrors the church tent’s fare: chicken and waffles. Lisa’s waffle gains a tasty little crunch from a pinch of cornmeal, and her chicken, soaked in buttermilk the way the Lord intended, is juicy as you please beneath its crispy coat. Add a slice of roast pear and skim of honey-sweet brown butter, as Lisa thought to do,
and you’re eating chicken as it’s meant to be.
Our final two dishes sent us into further eye-rolls. Bone-picking-tender braised rabbit centers a pool of jus scented with the unmistakable essence of foie gras, with spoon at the ready (otherwise, I’d be calling for a straw). The meat rests on a light, little square of bread pudding that incorporates the tart-sweet zing of rhubarb as foil for the foie. Don’t miss the
polenta, either — textured but still creamy, it’s topped with a braise of wild mushrooms, all salved with their jus.
Six sweets ($4-5) are on offer but didn’t ignite the same excitement. We shared a round of Lynette’s apple pie, named for the ladies in Lisa’s lineage who supplied her culinary DNA (a stint at the Culinary Academy didn’t hurt, either). Sided with Izzy’s ice cream, it’s fine but not special. And the affagato — espresso poured over vanilla ice cream — came in a
clunky coffee cup. But the wine list is a marvel of lesser-known wonders.
The room itself took me by surprise. Far from the designer bistros we’re accustomed to, this space is masculine and clubby, dressed in dark wood and tufted, leatherlike-upholstery around the central bar. A cluster of tables at the entrance offers views of the kitchen, which is lit, unfortunately, with the fluorescent brightness of a surgery.
I can’t wait to come back.
(Note: This story has been revised to correct Lisa Hanson's last name.)
MONA // 333 S. 7th Street // 259-8636 // monarestaurant.com