Zelo

Kristen and I were going to try Barrio, and we were foiled. We learned that we cannot just pop in and expect a seat (although I should have remembered this from my post-Manny’s visit). Reservations are necessary if you want a table. Otherwise, you can stand for a ridiculous amount of time in a narrow space hoping something opens up in the bar area, but screw that. We were hungry and thirsty, and there were plenty of other places in the area. I’m not upset that they were busy– it’s great that they’re thriving in this economy, and we’ll try it another time. But could they perhaps update their Web site so we can figure out if it’s worth the wait? They’ve had “coming soon” out there for at least a month, and that is just not acceptable. 

It turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. As we were tossing options around, Kristen mentioned Zelo and I commented that I had never been there. She said I needed an inaugural experience, and we were off. 

I was struck by the decor as we entered. Their Web site (They have one! It’s helpful!) gives you an idea of the curvy booths, the dark wood, and the funky light fixtures. 

We were seated at a table with a view of the pedestrian traffic on Nicollet Mall. We each started with a Blue Moon Harvest Moon pumpkin beer from the tap. It was crispy and refreshing with a hint of spice. 

For appetizers, we had the bruschetta sampler and the beef crostini. The sampler consisted of three different kinds of bruschetta: avocado, tomato, and roasted jalapeno; wild mushroom, brie, and truffle oil; and roasted sweet peppers and mozzarella. The jalapeno had a bit of a kick, as expected, but the heat wasn’t overpowering. Surprisingly, my favorite was the wild mushroom. I’m usually not a fan of mushrooms due to some bad salad bar experiences in college, but they were prepared perfectly, and the brie and truffle oil were outstanding. The beef crostini consisted of pieces of rare, tender slices of meat on top of toasted bread. It was accompanied by bleu cheese mayonnaise and a truffle aioli. Both toppings were a fantastic addition to the beef, and I even had a couple dabs on the side. 

The bread was light and fluffy and soft. It wasn’t all dried out, and the crust wasn’t overly crispy. It was really easy to spread the butter on, which is helpful for me because I can easily make a mess out of my bread if the butter is too cold or the bread is too hard. 

For our main course, we each had a dinner portion of the bacon and bleu cheese salad. It consisted of perfectly crispy bacon, sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and onion, with a light coating of bleu cheese dressing. All the ingredients harmonized perfectly, like a gourmet BLT without the toast.  

We saved room for dessert, and it was phenomenal. We had our selections narrowed down to two of the chocolate cakes and the lemon tasting plate, but once the server mentioned the pumpkin cheesecake, we substituted that for the lemon. 

For our chocolate item, at our server’s suggestion, we chose the Budino, which was a round molten chocolate cake with vanilla gelato. It was light for being a chocolate dessert, and allowed us to have room for the pumpkin cheesecake.  

The cheesecake was round, with a graham cracker crust. It was surrounded by mandarin orange slices and candied pecans. The most amazing detail was the clear piece of pumpkin seed brittle inserted into the center. It looked like a piece of glass with pumpkin seeds in it, and the taste was amazing– sweet and salty and slightly pumpkiny all at the same time. 

Zelo gets the big picture right (excellent food, outstanding service), but they also get the details. It’s not the cheapest happy hour, but definitely a good value and an unforgettable evening.

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