Let's go to Osseo

RICK NELSON | Updated 10/25/2012

Chef-driven Nectar Wine Bar & Bistro brings a creative spark to the northwest suburbs.

Our server at Nectar Wine Bar & Bistro raised an eyebrow in mock surprise when she learned that we'd trekked from downtown Minneapolis to Osseo for dinner. "The distance isn't geographical as much as it is psychological," she said.

It's safe to say that chef/owner Kevin Nordeen just might be the best thing to happen to downtown Osseo since the city erected its iconic silver water tower. I was not expecting a full house on a recent Tuesday evening, but that's what I encountered (turns out it's the night when most wines are sold at a discount). It was the same vibrant scene on the following Saturday.

Like the unpretentious surroundings, Nectar's menu sticks to basics. There are roughly a half-dozen entrees and an equal number of starters, all served in generous portions. Last week Nordeen was braising boneless beef short ribs with ancho chiles, garlic and Mexican cocoa powder, spooning the thick, savory results over mashed sweet potatoes teased with chipotle-generated heat. Carefully roasted chicken thighs and legs were another homey treat, the savory dark meat rubbed with a jerk-inspired seasoning.

When it comes to spice-induced heat, Nordeen walks a fine line. Witness the subtle heat level locked within a Mediterranean-inspired tomato/green-olive stew that dressed a pan-roasted slab of snowy white barramundi. Another example: the chile-fueled heat locked inside his best appetizer, a crispy tostada piled high with shredded chicken, bacon-fortified pinto beans and a crumble of aged Mexican white cheese.

I reveled in the showy soup that blended pumpkin, acorn and butternut squashes. But the appeal of a perfectly roasted duck breast was mitigated by a misguided blueberry sauce. Even less successful: pepper-crusted mahi mahi, marred by a layer of less-than-pristine crab and an odd sweet-and-sour sauce that had been billed as a beurre blanc.

For a wine bar, the menu is noticeably weak on sharable snacks. Nordeen offers a few generic, overpriced cheeses; why not cut the portions and assemble a more appealingly graze-friendly plate? Another oddity: Once past the starters, vegetarians are completely out of luck.

One definite strength is the bar. Nordeen has a knack for tracking down unfamiliar vintages and keeping the prices within the reach of mere mortals. Craft beers may be the new normal in urban addresses, but keeping a dozen or so on tap in this ZIP code is near revolutionary.

Bar manager Justin Wilmot's cocktails are a blend of ingenuity and freshly prepared ingredients. And the bar itself is a treat, a dark and jovial slip of a thing. Try finding that at the Olive Garden.