Café Ena

Offers Festive Latin Fusion Menu and Reasonable Prices

I probably should have waited to visit Café Ena, a charming Latin fusion restaurant. As I will be taking a trip to Chile soon, I will return better-prepared to comment on Latin cuisine. However, whenever I put out feelers for good new restaurants, Café Ena—the brainchild of Hector Ruiz and Erin Ungerman of El Meson—kept coming up, and patience is not one of my strongest qualities.

Tampico (Salmon); Campesino Salad. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

The “Latin fusion” descriptor was enticing, with just the perfect amount of vague to attract my curiosity. At Café Ena, the fusion element applies to Ruiz’s French cooking techniques and presentation, but the food itself is somewhat traditional. Then again, much of what we experience of Latin American cuisine is itself a fusion, heavily influenced by the Spanish, but with hints of the German and the French.

Not to praise any form of imperialism, but I’m glad the influence at least went both ways—we have the Americas to thank for Italy’s red sauces, and for Ireland’s potatoes. Also, while Europeans brought smallpox to the Western Hemisphere, the Taino Indians may have introduced syphilis to the Eastern Hemisphere. I don’t know that I would call it a fair trade, but each brought down their share of dynasties. I only mention this for the morbid who also enjoy history and fine food. I hope my readership includes at least some of you.

My dining partner and I were offered a glass of Intalgio Bianco ($8.50/$29), which is clean and crisp, just as promised. If you are going to Café Ena, as I was, quite stressed and in need of TLC, I believe this complex white blend can soothe any savage beast.

I surrendered to my higher power—in this case, our server, who brought us Cameron Caribe and Ceviche.

Cameron Caribe ($9.95) is a playful plate of lightly-battered shrimp, balanced on corn and curry fritters, topped with cilantro aioli and picked onions, with an accompanying jalapeño-laced sauce. I thought the curry competed just a bit with the rest, but the presentation allowed one to enjoy the elements separately. If you’re interested in trying it, you should go to the restaurant before too much snow hits the ground—rumor has it this dish may go on hiatus during the winter.

Café Ena’s scallop, shrimp, and calamari Ceviche ($11.95) was very mild, very balanced, and very fresh. I’ve had ceviches elsewhere that are so packed with lime, you really can’t taste much else. It’s served with a wealth of tortilla chips, which is very considerate for a group of four or five diners.

What one quickly notices about Café Ena is how very easy it is to relax here. Thought is put into the food itself, of course, but also it is easy to order; easy to enjoy; and in the case of appetizers, mercifully easy to share.

Campesino ($8.95) followed, and it very well may have been my favorite dish of the evening. Layers of pan-seared panela cheese are tucked between thickly-sliced yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction, as well as cilantro- and jalapeño-infused oil. A glass of Chilean Root 1 Carmenere ($8/$28) brought out the fruitiness of the tomatoes very nicely, but didn’t get in the way of the mild, mozzarella-like cheese.

The carmenere grape long was thought to be extinct, but it survived in Chilean vineyards under the accidental pseudonym of “Merlot Peumal.” Its rediscovery in 1994 didn’t cause much of a splash outside the wine scene, but for my money, it should have. Carmenere makes for a gentle, drinkable wine. It is easy to pair, and it best is enjoyed young.

Our entrées were Bahia ($20.95)—grilled corvina (similar to sea bass) served over mango-coconut risotto and sauteéd spinach—paired with melon-kissed Pedroncelli Sauvignon Blanc ($8/$28); and Filete ($24.95)—pepper-crusted filet mignon, with a soft nest of mashed potatoes and sauteed Swiss chard—paired with chocolatey Ancient Vines Mourvedre (off-menu). I know it’s sacrilege, but if you were to take home anything from Café Ena’s menu, and eat it cold, alone in bed with the lights off (hypothetically), it’s Filete—quite comforting.

We sampled three desserts ($6 each): Churros with chocolate granache and cinnamon ice cream; Lemon Pie with mango coulis; and Empanadas. Assuming you must choose one, I’d recommend Churros, in no small part because of the assertive, red hot-like cinnamon ice cream—my favorite flavor—but I never have had it quite like this before.

Bottom line: I would recommend surprisingly few places for someone in need of a good cheering-up. However, at Café Ena, the light and airy dining room, festive menu, and reasonable prices make it very difficult not to enjoy yourself thoroughly. Heidi Fellner

Café Ena

4601 Grand Ave. S., Mpls.
(612) 824-4441

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