Here at DiscoverTheCities.com, we’re lucky to get the inside scoop on some pretty amazing food and dining experiences.
If you’re asking, “Does it ever get old?” then the answer is a resounding, NO!
Nothing drove that point home more than our recent sneak-peak into the hugely anticipated opening of Chef Yia Vang’s new restaurant, Vinai.
Vinai + Steady Pour’s Ultra Exclusive Collaboration
Here’s the low down:
For one short-lived, magical weekend between April 13-16, 2022, Vinai partnered up with Steady Pour to sell a limited number of tickets to the Vinai Dinner Series.
A five-course tasting, each paired with a hand-crafted cocktail, and accompanied by front-row seats to a night of storytelling from James Beard nominated chef Yia Vang and Steady Pour owner Jeff Seidenstricker.
As you can imagine, these tickets sold out even faster than Yia Vang’s hotly demanded food. But we were lucky enough to grab some, and we’re here to let you in on the full experience!
About Yia Vang
In the Twin Cities foodie scene, Yia Vang is one of the hottest new chefs in town.
You might know him from his hugely popular Union Hmong Kitchen. UHK, as its known to the super cool insiders, started as a popup, bouncing around for years and generating a massive cult following in the process. Eventually, they settled on a permanent location inside the Graze food hall in North Loop Minnneapolis. And the critical acclaim immediately started following.
Since then, Vang’s been featured in National Geographic and CNN, won Chef of the Year in both MSP Magazine and City Pages, and just recently, was nominated for a James Beard award.
About Steady Pour
Steady Pour is an awesome private-event space near Minneapolis’s Prospect Park neighborhood. Traditionally, they’ve hosted culinary popups, like the exact sort of thing we’re dedicated this whole post to!
But they’re also self proclaimed cocktail geeks, who periodically sell mixers through a growing Instagram following. It also explains why they jumped at the opportunity to create a custom cocktail menu to accompany the Vinai tasting menu.
Anyway, enough intros. Let’s get to chowing!
Tasting Time! Arriving at Steady Pour
We arrived at the Steady Pour address not quite sure what to expect.
From the outside, it’s a nondescript, almost plain looking office building.
But step inside and head up the stairs, and the space reveals itself to be a beautiful private event space.
There’s a full bar on the outskirts, and then a wooden door frame that opens up to a large space filled with natural light, rustic brick accents, lush green plants, and plenty of large farmhouse-style tables.
And did I mention, a private DJ!?
(The DJ was awesome, by the way. He began with a perfect mix of smooth jazz to start the evening and then slowly ramped up to energetic, funky beats once the cocktail pairings kicked in!)
5-Course Vinai Tasting Menu + Steady Pour Cocktail Pairing
For those four magical nights, the Vinai team and Steady Pour’s mixologists crafted up the following menu:
The tickets promised a night of storytelling, and they weren’t kidding!
For each dish and cocktail, the DJ lowered the music while Chef Yia Vang and Steady Pour Owner Jeff Seidenstricker stood in front of the room and gave a full rundown of each menu item’s creation.
It’s a setup that risked being pretentious, but the execution was anything but. These dudes were totally cool and completely down to earth, all while sharing awesome scoop about the mind blowing amount of thought, care, and work that went into each dish.
Both Lily and I left the night with the same thought:
The restaurant industry’s current practice of simply listing out a dish title and some ingredients does a total disservice to the artwork these chefs are creating. This ain’t McDonald’s! We both agreed that adding some sort of “chef notes” to menus should become the norm.
First Course – Quickfire Salmon with a Corgi Beach Day cocktail
In a theme of what was to follow, the tasting started with a heartfelt explanation about the quickfire salmon. Yia explained that it was an elevated ode to the quick, sticky rice dishes with canned salmon that he ate while growing up; a byproduct of his working class parent’s busy schedules and limited time in between shifts.
Alongside the salmon, Steady Pour paired a deliciously refreshing “Corgi Beach Day” cocktail, named after Jeff’s own Corgi pup.
One taste of each and we knew we were in for a treat.
The salmon highlighted Yia Vang’s ability to draw on the Hmong tradition of playing with heat, rice, vegetables, and fat, while while the cocktail immediately made me ask Lily why were hadn’t been buying all of Steady Pour’s cocktail mixers yet.
Second Course – Beef Laab Carpaccio with The Daydreamer Cocktail
Yia Vang admitted that he was incredibly pleased with how this dish turned out, and he planned on making it a permanent keeper on the final Vinai menu (slated to open later this year).
And I’ve gotta say, this guy wasn’t messing around!
The ultra-thin-sliced beef was meant to be slathered in those yellow dots you see (they were an incredible turmeric and garlic mix that acted like aioli on steroids) and then wrapped in the towering bright white rice mixture. Each bite was was fried, yet delicate, yet incredibly crunchy.
I’m running out of words to explain this unique masterpiece, but safe to say, the woman next to me exclaimed that it was, “The BEST thing I’ve ever eaten! Seriously!”
And she was certainly onto something. It was definitely one of the best bites I think I’ve ever had in the Twin Cities.
Just amazing, and I can’t wait to hopefully experience it over and over at the upcoming restaurant.
*They also make a vegan version of this dish using beats, and Yia confirmed to there’s zero sacrifice to going meatless here.
*The Daydreamer cocktail was also excellent. As Steady Pour explained, they wanted to take a familiar flavor but push people out of their comfort zones, and the odd yet refreshing aftertaste of the pastis was a perfect way to do just that.
Third Course – Red Curry Arancini with Thai Tea Slushi
Lily about had a heart attack as Yia Vang stood in front of the room and started saying all her favorite words… “inspired by cream cheese wontons” … “red curry flavors” … “arancini fried rice balls” … “stuffed crab.”
The Thai slushy was also the perfect complement. The aged rum built on the subtle spice of the dish’s red curry, before the drink’s touch of coconut milk cooled everything down.
Fourth Course – Stuffed Chicken Drummy and Open Flame Old Fashioned
I mean, just look at those beauties!
That’s what we did as we sat there in patience, while Yia and Jeff explained the incredible lengths they went to for these courses.
There’s not enough room on the page to list out all the details, but I’ll share some highlights. For the chicken drummy, it involved completely deboning the chicken before delicately refilled it with carefully crafted purple sticky rice, an homage to Yia’s dad’s chicken recipes. For the old fashioned, it included smoking the the ingredients for well over 6 hours in order to impart that subtle smokey flavor to complement the bourbon.
All that work paid off, because these were blow-your-socks-off amazing.
The drumstick was totally out of this world, and I was equally impressed with the old fashioned.
I’m not even an old fashioned guy, but this was one of the smoothest I’ve ever come across. Had this been a bar and not a tasting, I would have certainly surprised myself by ordering a second, no questions asked.
Fifth Course – Szechuan Coffee Macaroons and a Fairwell Dear Friends
The night ended with a perfectly sweet nonacolohic vermouth to wash down an equally sweet macaroon.
Along the way, Yia Vang’s heartfelt speech about his parents sacrifice to get him where he is today (Vinai, in case you were wondering, is named after the refugee camp where Yia was born, after his Hmong parents fled the Vietnam war) nearly moved the entire dining room to tears.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an authentic combination of food, words, and passion, and I got chills witnessing such an authentic outpouring of emotion.
Afterwards, it was clear where all these delicious flavors were coming from, and it was a fitting end to what was one of the most delicious, fun, and powerful tasting menus we’ve ever had the pleasure to experience.
All in all, we were totally blown away by both Steady Pour’s cocktails and Vinai’s food.
Every single dish was a home run, with some of them being off-the-charts grand slams.
To say we are excited for the restaurant’s grand opening might be the understatement of the century.
What a pleasure to be able to experience such a rare event, and we’re even happier to be able to share it with you!