Chef Thomas Kim electrified certain segments of Minneapolis’s food community when he opened his first spot, The Left Handed Cook, in the Midtown Global Market. Kim, the son of first-generation immigrants from a rural area of South Korea, was raised in Los Angeles and Hawaii.
By his late 20s he had already scrambled to the top of the California white-tablecloth Asian-fusion food scene, opening a few restaurants for Roy Yamaguchi, the five-star chef of Hawaii, and working for Nobu Matsuhisa. Then he fell in love with a midwesterner, Korean adoptee Kat Melgaard of North Dakota. The two moved to Minneapolis to pursue their dreams of family and small-business ownership, starting with what was essentially a taco stand. But what a taco stand!
Kim announced early on that The Left Handed Cook was a trial balloon to see what customers in his new home responded to. And we now have the answer: The Rabbit Hole, a full-service sit-down restaurant also in the Midtown Global Market. What does careful, on-the-ground market research by an accomplished out-of-town chef reveal about us? We really like meat, potatoes, and extraordinary cocktails.
Nothing has surprised me about The Rabbit Hole as much as its essential conservatism. The prices are exceedingly conservative: six bucks for a plate of drinking snacks to share, a half liter of soju (the traditional Korean drink and the most popular hard alcohol in the world) for nine dollars, and most everything else on the menu is less than 20 dollars. The business model is conservative: The Rabbit Hole has now swallowed up The Left Handed Cook, serving its menu at lunch, thus conserving resources.
The food, though, is the most shockingly conservative: a nice watermelon arugula salad, truffle parmesan French fries, short ribs and mashed potatoes. This is the cutting edge? Well, no. Still, the food is often extraordinarily good. Those French fries, for instance, go straight into the local hall of fame. They’re hand-cut and thick, sometimes as thick around as a thumb, but double-fried in such a way that they’re like perfect supper club baked potatoes in the middle, wrapped in a nanometer sheen of ultra-crisp all around. They arrive at the table in a two-quart saucepan, covered with thick shavings of fresh parmesan, gilded with the barest hint of truffle oil, and they’re so good they’re almost frightening.
A few other dishes purpose-built for us Minnesotans are just as devastatingly good: The Omma burger—a meaty, smoky burger topped with further layers of oink, including tender pork belly and a bacon jalapeño jam—is a fistload of creamy umami flavors, delivered in the fresh graceful sweetness of a bun from Salty Tart Bakery. Some of the other comforts are underwhelming. The short rib with kimchi mashed potatoes is flawless, with utterly tender meat falling off the bone, and it’s absolutely boring—the kimchi lending the potatoes more color than flavor. If the goal of this dish is to please the most timid Lindey’s Prime Steak House fan, mission accomplished, but I’d be surprised if that diner would be found in the heart of punk rock and artsy Powderhorn. The charred green beans are similarly innocent, cooked in an exceedingly subtle garlic black bean sauce and sprinkled with a midwestern Thanksgiving camouflage of sliced almonds. There’s a lot like this, expertly done and safe as houses: broccoli salad, a batter-rich fried scallop and crab pancake, a simple fried pork cutlet rice bowl.