Seasoned visitors to every new Daniel del Prado restaurant should have a checklist handy. Will there be tuna crudo? Some kind of grilled bread? A pork chop big enough to clobber the noisy diners next to you? Fish sauce and parsley, applied everywhere as liberally as lip balm in winter?
Yes to all, but with caveats. At Porzana, the restaurateur's latest effort, the tuna is prepared in crimson-colored slabs the size of Hot Wheels, set over a seething Fresno purée under a hail of apple and pepitas. It's fussier than those at his other restaurants.
There is bread throughout this menu, too. Besides the non-gratis bread basket, it's the star of the pa amb tomàquet (traditional tomato bread), where a thick grilled slice eclipses the anchovy draped atop it. Of beef tartare, as well, where a tall wedge with beautiful, singed edges overtakes the otherwise appealing, if nondescript, tartare. And of the panzanella, a thoughtful mix of wilted kale, sweet pomegranate and bitter endive, where the big croutons — neither crisp nor soft — blights it all.
The pork chop won't be as imposing as you'd expect, and it won't match the finely tuned one at del Prado's marquee restaurant, Martina. But this one is a close second: thick and wholesome, brined till tender, cut on the bias to reveal striations of rebellious medium-pink and fat. I wish more flavor jettisoned to the core of the chop, but that's why there's red pepper jus and a hearty sweet potato locro.
And fish sauce is everywhere. In some cases, faint as a whisper, lending a briny lilt to a dish like silky, sinew-free arctic char. In another, it's applied bluntly, like in a head-spinningly funky scallop tartare nestled in a coconut shell.
Del Prado's flourishes are everywhere. Telling him to change things up, though, is like telling Wes Anderson to stop featuring dysfunctional families in his films. Without them, where's the signature?
Porzana tries harder to defy the del Prado trope. Yes, there are crowd-pleasers that will sate both devotees and occasional diners who might squirm at the sight of those anchovies. But for the most part, Porzana builds on the ambition set by its predecessor, the Bachelor Farmer, a farm-to-table restaurant that brothers Andrew and Eric Dayton operated for a decade before closing it during the pandemic.
Whereas the old space was brighter and cheerier, the new space is darker and more wood-forward, an homage to del Prado's roots — a canvas on which he builds the Argentine steakhouse of his dreams.
So many steaks
During our first visit, a group of hopeful diners peered longingly into the dining room, angling for seats at the bar that seems to span the length of a bus. We ended up finding our bar seats around the same time; once settled, we were given not one, but three menus, including a dissertation dedicated to steak.
Servers refrain from delivering sermons on provenance (thank you), but the extensive steak menu can still overwhelm. In addition to grass-fed and grain-finished sections, there are several domestic and similarly priced wagyu steaks. There are more esoteric options, too, like an intriguing-enough flank steak "inoculated" with koji, which you order once, acknowledge its umami-ness, then forget about it; or a Gorgonzola striploin that has funk and salt, but no more depth than a good dry-age could bring. Discovery, it turns out, is half the fun. You may try a different cut or breed of cattle each time you visit. There are 25 possibilities.
"Where do we start?" my dining companion asks, exasperated. Throw a dart anywhere on the steak menu and you'll generally emerge happy, save for those experimental forays, with only a slim chance of going broke. Because aside from the A5 wagyu ($84 for 4 ounces), the double porterhouse ($195 for 34 ounces), and tomahawk ($295 for 44 ounces), prices are palatable. Prime Argentinian cuts range from 6 to 12 ounces, and are in the $24 to $43 range.
My favorite is the tapa de vacio, Argentina's equivalent of a beefed-up flank steak, with a glorious crust and a tolerable-enough chew. Asada de tira is the Argentine equivalent of a Korean kalbi, or short rib, and it's a welcome change if a prototypical steak isn't on your mind.
I'm sure the rib-eye and striploin are faultless. But a restaurant's way with steak comes through with the cheaper, less forgiving cuts, like the grain-finished hanger, which the kitchen broils until dark outside, meltingly tender within, with just enough salt to pronounce the meat. It's the best $25 steak you can find in the Twin Cities. A wagyu coulotte, by contrast, at more than twice the price — and, to be fair, slightly bigger — was dry and impenetrable.
Not just for carnivores
The paradox of choice extends to the sauces (chimichurri or spicy chimichurri?) and the four kinds of potatoes. You may be inclined to pick what sounds most exotic — papas alpastadas won among our group — and it happens to be the finest among them. The potatoes are cut into thin, freeform strips and fried until the crunchy edges multiply, then buried with Parmesan and bacon. Order it, or the excellent fries cooked in beef tallow (á la McDonald's), along with a cold vodka martini at the bar, or better yet, the Flora Room downstairs.
It's dishes like these that convince diners why there is a place for a steakhouse, beyond meat, that offers more than wan asparagus and pulpy spinach folded with prodigious amounts of butter and cream. Consider the sides here: mushrooms grilled till deliriously smoky; carrots that retain their sweetness and crunch; a broccoli dish so green it could be in an arboretum but ate better than it looked: nutty, herbaceous, vibrant.
Porzana's menu, it turns out, can appease the steak-averse. This may explain why there's a whole section of commendably executed entrees, including that pork. Our table, for one, fought over the Chilean sea bass. It is meaty, handsomely bronzed, and served with the same butternut squash purée found at del Prado's Blondette.
A glidingly smooth carrot purée that the kitchen also perfected at Blondette (to accompany chicken) and Colita (to accompany scallops) is the sauce for judiciously cooked lamb chops. Though it doesn't really feel like the right pairing for the lamb chops, it's one that I took swipes of until my plate was clean.
Some appetizers bear mentioning. Caesar salad is crisp and lively from fennel and dill, and the stand-in for croutons are miniature fried oysters that could be a snack on their own. Golden-fried sweetbreads is a forgiving way to try thymus glands (technically speaking), and while it is an upgrade from popcorn chicken — its closest visual cousin — the preparation does little to highlight their creaminess.
A better option is to order the warm oysters with bone marrow, with the right smoke and butter that adds to, rather than detracts from, the integrity of the shellfish. Additional accoutrements are not necessary.
A North Loop hot spot
I wish the pastas measured up to the entrees. Photos of the picturesque sweet corn agnolotto have long been peddled to the public, and it is indeed magnificent — a hypnotizing swirl of filled pasta buried with hazelnuts and a moss of shaved black truffle. The nuttiness and sweetness are there, but the filling is gritty. Perhaps the unsung option among these pastas is among the simplest: malfadini with a short rib ragu with a flavor so deep it convinces me that pastas could be in the kitchen's wheelhouse.
The rest of them, alas, are a blur — a salty eggplant tortelloni that lacked gloss; an acidic and one-note cavatelli, which ate like an overwrought take on pesto; a faultless if banal gnocchi á la vodka that didn't do burrata much justice other than to justify its $29 price tag. And so are the desserts, which range from an afterthought (a serviceable chocolate mousse) to a transgression (soggy pineapple cake).
With a menu this vast, there is bound to be dud or two. Judging from the crowds, that hardly matters. Getting into Porzana is still a challenge, if measured by the Resy notifications and false hope that I could walk in and snag a bar seat at 7 p.m. late in the week.
Why del Prado took this long to build what is arguably his buzziest, toniest concept remains a mystery. But Porzana is also the kind of restaurant we never thought we'd need: a place where you really can have your steak and eat it, too.
⋆⋆⋆ highly recommended
Location: 200 N. 1st St., Mpls., 612-489-6174, porzanampls.com
Hours: Dining room open daily 5-11 p.m.; lounge and bar from 5 p.m.-midnight.
Prices: Cold bar offerings range from $4 oysters to a $125 seafood platter, with $18-$22 tartares and crudos in between. Snacks come in the form of bread baskets ($7) to beef tartare ($20), and vegetable sides from grilled mushrooms ($14) to winter panzanella ($19). The pastas ($25-$31) and non-steak entrees ($27-$41) come before the extensive steak menu, where you can spend as little ($21) or as much ($295) as your budget allows. Find the potato dishes ($12-$16) near the steak menu. There are three desserts ($12), too.
Beverage program: Overseen by Megan Luedtke, bar director for Daniel del Prado's restaurant group, it doesn't disappoint, with original cocktails ($15-$26) to classics ($12-$16) and N/A offerings ($10) in addition to a well-appointed wine list. See her work really shine in the lower-level speakeasy Flora Room (the entrance is at the back of the building). The first-come, first-served bar has its own cocktail menu, as well as elevated bar food, with highlights of a fried chicken sandwich and burger. Plus, those fries.
Tip or no tip: A 5% health and wellness surcharge is added to every bill. There is also a line for gratuity.
Noise level: Buzzing, in keeping with the atmosphere. Depending on where you sit, and time of week, conversations feel more comfortable.
Worth noting: Porzana's patio should be on your warm-weather must list. And this is the latest from a very busy del Prado, who in addition to running Martina and Colita, has opened Rosalia, Sanjusan, Café Ceres, Cardamom and Blondette in Minneapolis, Macanda and Josefina in Wayzata, and Layline in Excelsior.
What the stars mean:
⋆⋆⋆ Highly recommended
Jon Cheng is the Star Tribune's restaurant critic. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him at @intrepid_glutton.