Mexico Rising: Indio Mexican Cuisine and La Chaya Bistro

A couple of talented Mexican-born chefs have opened new
restaurants in south Minneapolis that raise the local standards for Mexican cuisine.

Hector Ruiz, who trained with Alain Senderens at Lucas
Carton in Paris, has added a third Latin restaurant to his collection: first El
Meson
, which features the flavors of the Latin Caribbean, then last year, Café
Ena
, which has a more South American lilt, and now Indio Mexican Cuisine (web site under development), which highlights
the flavors of Ruiz’s native Mexico. And elsewhere in south Minneapolis, Juan
Juarez Garcia has opened La Chaya, "featuring the flavors of the Mediterranean
and Mexico."

When they announced plans for Café Indio last fall, Ruiz and
his wife/partner Erin Ungerman made it sound like they were going to open a
very modest taqueria, with tacos, tortas, tamales and a few traditional dishes
like pork in tomatillo sauce, and chicken adobo, but no wine, beer or alcohol,
and everything priced at $10 or less.

Instead, they have transformed the former Pizza Nea space at
1221 W. Lake St. into a very stylish new bistro, decorated in vibrant colors
with a full bar and an ambitious Nuevo Mexicano menu. Starters range
from guacamole made to order ($8) and taquitos (small tacos filled with beef,
pork or wild mushrooms, served with onions, cilantro and salsa ($9) to a
Oaxacan-style tamal filled with chicken, and served wrapped in a banana leaf,
accompanied by a mole sauce. Entrees
range from duck-filled flautas in guajillo sauce ($16) and pork ribs in green
mole sauce ($17) up to seared rack of
lamb with roased poblano salsa ($23) , and huachinango, oven-roasted red
snapper served with a tomato cucumber salad ($25).

I have been a big fan of Ruiz’s cuisine over the years, but
I must admit that I got a bit of sticker shock when I first glanced at the
menu.Prices are markedly higher than at Ruiz and Ungerman’s other restaurants,
though the ambience is actually more casual.

I have only sampled a few dishes so far, including the
guacamole, which was fresh and lively, and the ceviche sampler, three tasting
portions of marinated seafood that included corvine soaked in lime and tequila;
raw tuna with fresh avocado, and chopped shrimp and salad with onion, tomato,
Serrano peppers and cilantro. I was underwhelmed by the pollo de olla, chicken
stewed in a tomato and hominy broth, but really enjoyed the camarones a la
diabla ($18), an assertively spicy preparation of shrimp in a sauce of morita
(chipotle) peppers, lime and tequila.

There is a lot more that I would like to
try, including the lechon (marinated pork tenderloin) and the ling cod, served
in a roasted red pepper flauta with a huitlacoche sauce ($18). Huitlacoche,
prized in Mexico as a delicacy, is a fungus better known in the the U.S. as
corn smut.

Indio Mexican Cuisine, 1221 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-821-9451.

At La Chaya, a former Kentucky Fried Chicken (or so I am
told) at 4537 Nicollet Ave.S. has been transformed into a rather romantic bisto, with earthtones and
open kitchen. Mediterranean flavors predominate, but the Mexican influence is
in evidence in a variety of dishes, from the thick black bean soup of the day
and the Mexican pizza (topped with refried beans, grilled chicken, chorizo and
too many jalapeno peppers, $13.95) to the entrees of halibut, offered either
baked in banana leaves with achiote and sour orange, or topped with a pumpkin
seed sauce, and served over mashed potatoes with poblano pepper (both $22). I
only sampled a few dishes, but I was impressed with the halibut in achiote
sauce, and liked the black bean soup a lot. On a return visit, I would like to
try the garlic cilantro ribeye with green caper salsa, and some of the
Italian dishes, such as the artichoke, onion and prosciutto pizza ($13.95) or
the housemade black fettucine tossed with shrimp and cherry tomatoes ($14.50).

La Chaya Bistro, 4537 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612-827-2254.