Off the Eaten Path: Kinsen
Kinsen: More than new noodles.
Asia seems to divide tourists into two categories. There are those who come back to the United States thankful that their restaurants feature toned-down, Americanized versions of Asian cuisine. Then there are those for whom American Asian restaurants are forever ruined after eating the real thing. Sadly, the real thing is very hard to find anywhere else but Asia. Even U.S. restaurants that attempt authenticity can’t get all of the proper ingredients, and even if they could, they’d likely have problems attracting enough customers. But if you crave real Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese or Chinese noodle dishes, Kinsen dishes up a worthy version at a reasonable price.
The brainchild of Kindee Thai owners (husband and wife team Nuntanit Charoensit and Kong Tiyawat), Kinsen’s stylish bar is perhaps the first thing that customers will notice. Once can’t help playing to the bar crowd in Uptown, but it’s clear that the focus is on the restaurant’s evolving menu–the list of specialty cocktails is relatively small. The wine and beer list is decent if a bit pricey, but happily, one can find either the requisite Tsingtao ($5) or Sapporo ($6). For the money, I’d recommend a signature cocktail. We sampled the Too Tem Tea ($9)–an even more dangerous and drinkable version of the traditional Long Island Iced Tea. For more zip, reach for a Prairie Saint–a kicked-up cosmo with Prairie vodka, St. Germain, lime juice and cranberry juice. It’s smoother than it sounds, thanks to the Prairie vodka.
I know the focus here is on the food, it would be lovely to see them play a bit more with house-made infusions and fresh-squeezed juices. Maybe when they get more established as an eatery, the bar will get more attention. The restaurant has only been open for a few months, and the menu is still being tweaked. An early review declared the cuisine too sweet; since then, they’re experimenting with a new chef that the manager keeps referring to, quite mysteriously, as “The New Guy.” So far, I really like The New Guy.
The New Guy is responsible for a version of Chinese hot pot, which is as yet, off-menu. The hot pot features the traditional cauldron of spicy hell broth with some noodles on the side to wad up and dip to your heart’s content. More side ingredients would make this already winning dish all the more authentic and fun, and I’d personally love to see it on the menu. The New Guy is also responsible for an off-menu coconut crème brûlée that even impressed my dining partner du jour, restaurateur and chef Zander Dixon.
Outside of The New Guy’s creations, many of Kinsen’s original dishes have also received a makeover since opening. The only thing I was served that seemed a tad on the sweet side was the Curry Triangle appetizer–yam, onion and curry filling folded inside fried spring roll wrappers. It may have just needed a little more onion and curry powder to balance out its accompanying mango chutney, but the concept is sound. That last is coming from a spice nut, so if you favor mild food, you will probably disagree with me.
But if you bat for my team, The Fried Calamari ($7) is a stunner. Sliced jalapenos and calamari are lightly breaded, then fried, and the texture is quite perfect. It’s served with a side of sriracha aioli, but I honestly didn’t find that it needed it. In the future, I’d actually love to play with drizzling the calamari with some of the kitchen’s spicy condiments selection. If you like heat, please ask your server to bring out the trio to experiment with at your leisure.
Kinsen’s noodles are custom-made for their menu, and that degree of care and precision shows. No matter how thin, the noodles stay springy and maintain their bite throughout the meal. Additionally, Kinsen is one of the few Asian restaurants in the Twin Cities area to serve local, natural meats, pleasing both foodies and the environmentally-conscious. May the trend continue.
We sampled the Boat Noodle ($12) and the broth used for Shrimp Tom Yum ($14), and found both broths to be assertive, authentic and complex, and the portions satisfying. If you prefer your noodles cold, the Peanut Noodle ($12) is Asian comfort food at its best, with either chicken or crispy-fried tofu, ramen noodles, cucumber, carrots, radish, sesame seeds and black garlic, tossed in a light peanut sauce.
For dessert, if The New Guy’s crème brûlée is not available, opt for charmingly light Pavlova ($6). Dessert can be a tricky item at Asian restaurants, but I thought this one rounded out the meal very nicely: a bed of swirled meringue, layered with fresh homemade whipped cream, fresh berries and a delicate berry coulis. If you’re on a budget, nightly specials are listed at kinsennoodles.com. My favorite is Movie Mondays, where an app, two entrees and two tickets to any Landmark Theater for just $35. But even during peak hours, Kinsen provides authentic Asian cuisine at a decent price.