Sergio Millan and Hector Ruiz are co-owners of the cozy and intimate Rincon 38. The menu is all tapas all the time, but the complexity of the flavors, intense in all the right ways and places, will put you in mind of French cuisine. And it makes perfect sense—chef Hector Ruiz studied at France’s famed Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Ruiz also worked for a year at Lucas Carton in Paris—a Michelin three-star restaurant at the time—with the legendary chef Alain Senderens.
Ruiz explains how his training in French cuisine plays a role in Rincon 38’s offerings. “We make our own sauces and stocks. It’s a longer procedure. We use butter with a high fat content—Kerry Gold brand.”
What makes the food so delicious? Ruiz is a zealot when it comes to the freshness and quality of his ingredients, and his passion illuminates the dishes. Top quality produce costs more, and Ruiz and Millan are willing to pay for it.
“We don’t cut corners—that’s how we keep the quality high. We use grass-fed lamb, which gives the lamb a more earthy flavor. We use Skuna Bay salmon—it’s high quality and sustainable. With our ingredients, we know what we want,” says Ruiz.
He explains that by using the highest quality ingredients possible, they ensure their food is consistent and reliable. Ruiz is also committed to using locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible.
Millan and Ruiz work together to create a seamless experience. Ruiz designs the menu and runs the kitchen. Millan runs the front of the house, chooses the wine list and coordinates the wine-themed dinners and wine and tapas pairing classes that Rincon offers, says Millan.
“We trust each other,” says Millan. “We’re simpatico.”
Ruiz’s desire to open a tapas restaurant took shape when he traveled through Spain after his graduation from Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Several dishes are typical Spanish comfort foods, explains Ruiz, including albondigas (meatballs) served in a saffron-tomato broth, and patatas bravas, fried potatoes with asparagus, chorizo and roasted artichokes.
Spain loves seafood, which is only natural considering the country is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay. Rincon 38’s menu reflects that love, and is accordingly rich in calamari, mussels, shrimp, octopus and fish.
Paella, the iconic dish of Spain, is a favorite of Rincon diners says Millan. There are two types on the menu—the meat-based paella Sevillana with pork, beef, chicken and sausage, and the paella marinera featuring calamari, mussels, shrimp and fish.
Many restaurants where meat or seafood have starring roles have less-than-stellar veggie options, but vegetarians need not fear—veggie dishes receive the same loving treatment.
I tried the fried manchego cheese served with fennel slaw, a sherry glazed garnish and micro greens, the crispy-fried saffron-poached cauliflower tossed with citron pepper and parsley oil served with citrus aioli, and the piquillos—roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with honey black truffle goat cheese and asparagus, served over grilled bread and garnished with saffron aioli. All were sublime, and left me plotting how soon I could visit again.
You won’t want to stop eating the tapas, but make an effort to save room for dessert. Sweets include apples braised in white wine, a flourless chocolate torte flavored with orange zest and, my choice, the tres leches cake with mascarpone cream and strawberry sauce. Tres leches cakes can sometimes fall victim to a cloyingly sweet sogginess, but not this one. It was perfectly moist with just the right level of sweetness, and the strawberry sauce added brightness without overwhelming.
Ruiz and Millan both say they’re impressed with the quality of cuisine available in town. “We’ve got some of the best chefs in the country here,” says Ruiz. But being a chef in the Twin Cities can have its challenges, says Ruiz. “It can be hard here because [Minnesotans know what they like as far as] their comfort food … and sometimes [they] don’t like to experiment too far away from that,” he says.
Both Millan and Ruiz enjoy the diverse clientele the restaurant has attracted. “We have regular clients that are from the neighborhood, from the suburbs and from out of town,” says Millan.
And once you’ve eaten at Rincon, it will be hard not to become a regular.
Happy hour is Sunday–Thursday from 3–5 p.m. and features assorted $6 tapas including queso frito, alondigas, cauliflower, Basque olives and calamari, and a selection of beers and wines for $4.50. But don’t worry if you can’t make it—any hour you spend there will be happy.