Lake & Irving
1513 W. Lake St.
“You Can’t Go Home Again,” the conflicted Thomas Wolfe entitled his final novel. Thank goodness brothers Chris and Andrew Ikeda paid no heed. The Minnesota-born bros, Culinary Institute of America grads, earned their cooking chops in the fantasy climes of Hawaii, where Chris—who mans the kitchen here—cooked for the likes of Steve Jobs and Christina Aguilera, and in California, where Andrew donned his whites at Robert Mondavi Winery.
But you know the saying—once a Minnesotan, always a masochist—so they returned to their home state to open a restaurant back in 2013. They call it Lake & Irving, which pinpoints its Uptown location.
It’s Arts & Crafts all the way, from the simple décor of that Midwestern architectural style, to the 14-tap tower of artisanal brews, to what goes on in the open kitchen—an homage to both artistry and craftsmanship. It’s also a salute to Midwestern producers, from locally-raised chicken to breads from close by, too, with a few unpronounceable Hawaiian seasonings tossed in to keep us snowbound mortals dreaming.
Tables and bar stools were full on a recent evening—evidence that, yes indeed, Uptown’s neighbors welcome a hangout that offers affordable, homey, yet creative eats. From the list of enticing small plates ($7-9) we snagged one winner after another, starting with the smoked walleye rillette. It’s a love letter to our North Woods. Inhale that addictive smoky essence as you smear the yummy spread over paper-thin lavosh. Add a dab of Dijon mustard waiting at the side to wake any unsuspecting Swede. Pile on the sweet, pink pickled onion strands, and you’re good to go. (Well, add the coffee stout if you’ve a mind to. And you’d better.)
On to the mushroom fries—a Lincoln Log arrangement of hearty portobello spears dressed in a light tempura batter, ready to thrust into an inkblot arrangement of subtle black garlic aioli. Then call for the St. Louis rib bones, to which bits of sweet, hoisin-glazed pork cling (all too well). White sesame seeds and tendrils of green onion act as the backup band.
Or go for the charred green beans, spared the usual dash of soy and instead ready to frost with sea bream aioli and accented with bonito flakes and tobacco onions. Or the roasted beets and chevre, given their own Island accent with an umi vinaigrette (both untasted, but not for long).
Sated, we could have paid the check right then. But a quintet of entrees sang its siren song ($19-24, with several available in smaller portion sizes as well): crab-crusted snapper in soy-mustard beurre blanc; misoyake salmon that gains Pacific flavors from edamame, minced pork and char sui vinaigrette. Or the seared ahi salad, with mac nuts and avocado and a heart-starting sriracha aioli. But our fave was the one we chose to split: the tender, shoyu-braised short ribs, served with mashed sweet potatoes (a nice switch-up from Grandma’s kitchen) and broccoli. There’s also a hanger steak with frites to compete with Barbette, across the street (here, with truffle fries and chermoula).
Desserts? Who needs ’em, after that feast? But there’s Sebastian Joe’s on hand if you do, along with a Lift Bridge root beer float, crème brulee, chocolate torte (this one gets gussied up with Hawaiian salt and macadamias), and a Greek yogurt cheesecake. Welcome also are happy hour food and drink specials, as well as a late-night sandwich list (10 p.m. to midnight Thursdays-Saturdays). Parking, too—a real blessing on busy Lake Street.