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The Sample Room

By Lavender July 30, 2010

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Debuts Awesome New Menu

If you haven’t been to The Sample Room lately, put it back on your list of restaurants to try. It has been a year since I last was there, but the promise of an overhauled menu, along with a renewed dedication to local and artisanal products, were lure enough for this ranch-raised foodie. I am pleased to report the new menu has delivered on its promise. With the kitchen now in the hands of Executive Chef Matt Paulson and Sous Chef Adam Beal, what once was a solid neighborhood restaurant has blossomed into a destination. The new menu is playful and exuberant, plus it reveals a striking attention to detail.

(Above) Wine Flights, sample of three wines. (Below) Seared Halloumi with watermelon, mint, and balsamic reduction; Braised Red Curry Pork Shanks with cilantro gremolata. Photos by Hubert Bonnet

Begin with a cheese plate…or three. We had two Chef’s Select ($5.95) cheeses, which at the time included a dreamy Spanish manchego drizzled with a homemade molasses and sprinkled with micro greens, and a brilliantly briny halloumi. Warm Camembert ($6.50) is a menu staple for a reason—one can’t go wrong with melted Camembert atop sweet caramelized onions. A cheese course is the perfect opportunity to appreciate this from-scratch kitchen’s inventiveness. Order the Chef’s Select, and if it pleases you, then it frees your hand to order more of Paulson’s innovations.

The Sample Room always has taken its wine and beer pairings seriously, and your server is your best resource for matchmaking perfection. With the Spanish sheep’s-milk manchego, dry Spanish Juan Gil ($9.50/$38) was a natural. Verdillac White Bordeaux ($8.50/$29) proved the perfect companion to the Camembert. Fresh, crisp Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay ($16/$62) did something quite spectacular to the already-impressive halloumi, letting its light briny taste and crumbly curd-like texture shine, but refreshing the palate between salty bites. If your eye wanders toward the meat plates, order Don David Malbec ($10.50/$42). Some excellent Argentinian malbecs are produced these days, and the newly popular grape has a talent for working with richer meats.

Red Curry Pork Shanks ($9) are pure heaven—falling off the bone, garlicky, and everything a girl could wish for. Between mouthfuls, and as I was tipping back the apt and accommodating Surly Bender ($5.25), my dining partner picked that precise moment to out me to the kitchen staff as being of Jewish descent. I took a moment to swallow before deciding I didn’t really mind the wide eyes. The truth is, we never kept that kosher in my family of origin, and my mother experimented with the cloven-hoofed meat from time to time. I don’t eat it often myself, but that’s all part of the taboo fun when you can get your hands on excellent pork. If you never have had what I refer to as a “pork high,” refrain from eating it for a couple of months, then come to The Sample Room, and order this dish.

I also ate shellfish, for the record. Paulson whipped up irresistible lobster, shrimp, and crab cannelloni, drizzling it in a champagne-based sauce. I hope they make an appearance on the menu soon. If not, I pray that Paulson has frequent access to those ingredients. The same combination of shrimp, crab, and lobster landed Paulson a seafood gazpacho with spicy chips. I could not imagine a more perfect dish for this time of year.

Follow with the succulent, must-order Pork Belly Confit with ponzu sauce ($5.25), which is clearly one of Paulson’s favorites, in part because it features the handiwork of Fischer Family Farms. Its products are a hit with chefs and diners for humane animal husbandry, quality, and safety. Sadly, this small, family-run business is worried about new USDA guidelines that could threaten smaller enterprises such as its. Let’s hope the government treads carefully. It is quite clear when you taste the pork belly that these animals have been treated with love and respect from the moment they were born until they arrive at your table. I would like to see the Fischers rewarded for their efforts.

The savory portion of our meal concluded with Wild Mushroom Ragout on Polenta ($7.25). I am so glad I put my trust in Paulson’s hands, because this truffle oil-infused dish was on par with the cannelloni, the pork belly, and the gazpacho. Pair the polenta with subtle Marc Bredif Vouvray ($12/$48). Its fresh floral notes help balance the darkness inherent in the wild mushrooms.

The dessert menu also has been revamped. We tried Chocolate Flan Cake ($6.50), and were glad we somehow managed to save room. The flan custard helped keep this caramel and chocolate confection light and summery. A tart Pometini—or my new favorite cocktail, the Ginger Lemonhead martini ($10)—would be smashing after dinner.

The Sample Room now boasts separate lunch, brunch, and dinner menus, which include entrée-size plates. Bottom line: If you haven’t been to The Sample Room in a year, you haven’t been to The Sample Room.

The Sample Room
2124 Marshall St. NE, Mpls.
(612) 789-0333
www.the-sample-room.com

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