There is some fairly decent Mexican dining to be found in the Twin Cities. Places such as Pancho Villa, Salsa a la Salsa, and Masa offer not only satisfying mole, carnitas, and other traditional south-of-the-border fare, but also pleasant surroundings. So the news that a New York–based chain called Rosa Mexicano planned to open an “upscale” Mexican restaurant in City Center didn’t register much on my excitement meter. But apparently there are scads of young professionals excited enough to hold onto one of those annoying blinking gizmos that let them know when their wait is over so they can be treated to a $14 tableside preparation of fresh guacamole. If ever a place made me feel I might be out of touch with the times, this is definitely it.
That’s not to say this isn’t a skillfully conceived and well-executed concept. The interior design features a number of burbling water displays, large curtained windows, shelves containing jars of colored water, and notably comfortable and well-spaced seating arrangements. The serving crew is exceptionally well trained and professional—on both visits we had an issue with the temperature of our food, and in both cases the problem was swiftly and graciously handled. The ultimate example of the staff's skill is the tableside guacamole. Its preparation reminded me of the kind of theater provided by teppanyaki chefs. Made to order and mashed in a molcajete, the guac is a mound of fresh, chunky, well-blended goodness. We also embraced the house-made tortilla chips and the excellent tomatillo and habanero salsas.
While there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about the food, much of it is quite enjoyable. Aside from an appetizer of roasted bone marrow and entrees of grilled short ribs and crispy pork shank, choices largely mirror those of most Mexican cantinas. One of the dishes I’d happily have again, flautas de pollo, was a pretty arrangement of moist chicken rolled in tortillas, fried, and sauced with salsa verde, salsa pasilla de Oaxaca, and crema. Another standout was jaiba, a delicious pair of enchiladas stuffed with lots of jumbo lump crab meat and topped with rich tomatillo sauce. Also a winner, the tortilla soup fired on all cylinders; this riff on the traditional version featured thick, rich, slightly smoky pasilla chile broth that was poured tableside over a combination of grilled chicken, chunks of avocado, shredded cheese, and fried tortilla strips. And the red snapper—marinated in a mixture of achiote, orange, and garlic and then lightly pan-seared and topped with well-balanced sauce—was deliciously spot on.
Some samplings were middling. A skewered arrangement of grilled shrimp and serrano peppers over a bed of rice was nicely done, but nothing special. Neither was yellowfin tartare, which I mostly pushed around my plate. Citrus-tinged braised pork belly and seared scallop in a taco is unique and inspired, but it proved hard to eat because the sodden tortilla base collapsed under the mass of the ingredients. Chile ancho relleno stuffed with slow-cooked pork had clumps of fatty meat that should have never made it to the plate.
A couple of desserts knocked it out of the park, the best being flan de Rosa—a scrumptious espresso-infused vanilla flan on an ancho chile brownie, squirted with a cinnamon whipped cream. Wow! Close behind was an unconventional tres leches tart with lemon, lime, and a delightful blackberry-hibiscus glaze.
If you savor people-watching at the latest glam spot, want a more splashy experience than your local taqueria, and aren’t pinching your pennies, Rosa Mexicano is definitely the ticket. 6209 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-656-7144, rosamexicano.com
GETTING THERE, GETTING IN: Valet parking for $9 or garage parking in City Center. Reservations are definitely recommended.
HOURS: Lunch: daily 11 am–4 pm; dinner: Su–Th 4 pm–11 pm, F–Sa 4 pm–12 am; brunch: Sa–Su 11 am–3 pm
KIDS: Ask for the Young Amigos menu.
NOISE LEVEL: High
CARDS: Amex, Diners Club, Discover, MC, Visa
ENTRÉE PRICES: $17–$29