Back in the old mill stream

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January 20, 2014
By: Carla Waldemar
Photo by Liv Parkey
Carla Waldemar

When Mill City Café turned off the stove in Nordeast’s California Building 18 months ago, it left its fan club of starving artists — well, starving. Good news: The famine’s over. Its kitchen genii have found a new, more mainstream locale, spruced up the digs (have they ever!) and added dinner to their culinary repertoire.

Oh, don’t worry: They’re still as farm-to-table as ever, still the boon to starting artists’ budgets, and just as laid-back. Don’t expect nametags and uniforms: instead, alt T-shirts and landscapes of tats.

In a space about a big as my garage, window walls warm a modest line of booths and tables under clean, soaring walls that also back the be-there bar. (Now that there’s dinner, there’s also a swell list of craft cocktails, a dozen artisanal beers on tap, and slim collation of affordable wines, all BTG, you won’t find everywhere.)

Nor will you come upon octopus confit anywhere else in Nordeast, I’ll wager. Or wild boar grinders. Or chicken and dumplings, for that matter.

We pigged out on small plates sized for sharing (most $6–$10), starting with that octopus winner. There are still fingernail scratches on my (ex?) friend’s arm where we fought over the last tendril. The segments lounge on a cushion of poi — that Hawaiian starch that’s sorta like bread stuffing — illuminated by the sweet kiss of caramelized fennel, balmy with a dusting of cumin, cardamom and other Indian spices.

Scallops — super-fresh and sautéed just beyond quivering — came paired with crisp sweetbread nuggets (these, fried beyond perfection, but still a nice next-generation surf ’n’ turf), both brightened by a lick-the-plate luscious vanilla-apple puree. The duck and lobster potstickers, however, lost both identities; could have been mystery meat inside their wrappers, drenched in a tropically-sweet glaze of tamarind, soy and caramel. They’re further embellished — get this! — with a nubile nugget of foie gras (another Central Avenue first?). The “pork & beans” number has possibilities — never met a pork belly I didn’t like, but the “beans” (chickpeas, actually) bore the burnt flavor of a scorched pan. A fried quail egg (ham & eggs?) is the send-up garnish.

Several mains (mostly $12–$18) come in small portions, too. We tried the calamarata ratatouille: broad, nicely chewy pasta ribbons in a stew of Mediterranean veggies that bore a single, supersweet, tomato note. Needs more depth. Rice noodles, strewn with rock shrimp, pork belly (detect a theme here?), spinach and mushrooms in porky miso broth were standard fare.

Instead, save your appetite for the don’t-miss dish on the list, smoked pork crepes. Those burly bundles of pulled pork hunker over a cushion of cheddar polenta, dotted with braised greens and a palate-brightening tomatillo sauce further livened with crunchy sunflower seeds. To die! (Or try the fish & chips, short ribs, couscous, etc.)

Desserts, by comparison, are tame: the usual flourless chocolate, an almond cake, Sebastian Joe’s, and our choice, a homey, streusel-y kuchen of spiced apples paired with a scoop of (yes!) Surly Bender ice cream.

**

Mill Northeast

1851 Central Ave. NE

315-2340

themillnortheast.com