I haven’t been this excited about a new talent in a new restaurant in years. The restaurant? The Left Handed Cook—except, it’s not really a restaurant.
It’s a market stall at the Midtown Global Market, run by a newcomer to town, Thomas Kim, who came here for the same reason a lot of local chefs did, because of love for a girl—a North Dakota girl, as it happens. That girl is Kat Melgaard, who grew up on a farm in Noonan, North Dakota, and lived in Minneapolis when she attended the Aveda Institute. She thought this would be a good place for her and Kim to set up their future and, boy howdy, I think they’re right.
Now Thomas Kim has a résumé the likes of which this town has never seen. He learned at the side of a Japanese classically minded sushi purist named Jin Suzuki in Saratoga, then cooked with Nobu Masuhita’s team in Beverly Hills, helping open a short-lived sushi place called Tiger Sushi and he has also cooked for Roy Yamaguchi, the Hawaiian-Pacific Rim master. That’s a lot of five-star classically grounded Asian fusion experience.
And all that résumé shows up in the food. I’ve had pan-roasted asparagus served with a poached egg so plump and flawless it made me reflexively look around for a stern French cooking teacher in a tall white hat. But he wasn’t there, as I would have immediately realized if I had taken in that the perfect egg was paired with sriracha mayo and a generous sprinkle of furakake, that blend of Japanese seaweed flakes and toasted seeds and spices. The herbal depth of the asparagus, the rich cloak of the runny egg, the different sorts of spice and savor—it’s a top dish of the year, for sure. As is the PBS wrap party, a nearly-as-good-as-Momofuku lettuce wrap with pork belly and garlic confit, as is the ‘winner winner’ fried chicken, boneless chicken cloaked with 21 spices, served with one to four dipping sauces, (depending on who’s working the counter . . . I like the gochuchang-soy best), and try, just try, not to eat it in the car on your way home. But the most gobstopping thing I’ve had at Left Handed Cook was a daily special of hamachi sashimi, which truly was nothing short of exquisite: Juicy planks of fresh ocean-salty fish dressed with a mango salsa made of delicately micro-diced mangoes, jalapenos, and citrus, and further gussied up with a touch of wasabi sour cream, each piece of fish crowned with a single wasabi pea. The fresh fish, the jumping salsa, the creamy-spiciness of the sour-cream, the cutely winking wasabi pea, every bite was so various, so fresh, so energetic. It was the rare plate where you finish one, and you want to order a stack of six more, and then grab them and run for the hills before the ravening hordes learn how good it is.
So, the big dilemma: It’s not really a restaurant. It’s a little counter in a crowded market. One time I ate there there was a strongly amplified musical martial-arts demonstration on the market stage, (for real) which the folks at the torta spot around the corner from the Left Handed Cook tried to drown out by turning their boom box up to maximum volume, the noise of static-and-mariachi versus echoes-and-punching-and-stamping didn’t quite ruin that night at the Left Handed Cook—but I’m cheerful. I most strongly recommend the place right now for great take-out —put a good Riesling or some fancy craft beers on the table, and you’re doing some mighty fine white-tablecloth dining, at home. In the fall, probably October, Thomas Kim tells me, they hope to have a more private dining area at the Left Handed Cook, one where they’ll be taking reservations, and serving up some of Kim’s more esoteric repertoire: Truffle chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard), “little molecular things” (in the chef’s words), and things like a sashimi of watermelon, feta, and tuna, with a Saba syrup drizzle and Thai basil. “I started to develop a reputation for pairing raw fish with fruit,” Kim told me. “I thought that was a natural thing I see myself taking that farther.” But how far can you go at a market-counter?
Here’s where the real farther comes in: Kim and Melgaard are already planning a full service restaurant. “We definitely have a lot of ambitious plans,” Kim told me. “We’re not going to stop with just this one, we’re hoping to aggressively expand and put our stamp on the culinary community here.” With a standalone brick and mortar restaurant—or several. “I’d like to go back to my roots of doing a little more fine dining-style cuisine, that incorporates aspects of sushi,” Kim said. “And I’d also like to do something in terms of a Korean drinking pub, with elevated bar food, Asian bar food—chicken gizzards, pig-tails, chicken feet, things you don’t typically find in American bars.”
So that’s the story. A major new talent, great take-out today, and tomorrow, a force that will potentially remake the Minnesota restaurant landscape as we know it. With fried chicken!
Left Handed Cook, Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St. (Between Chicago and 10the Avenues), Mpls., 612-208-0428