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What the experts recommend: The Midwest's new gems

Exceptional restaurants in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and St. Louis

OM MinneapolisAside from Indian cooking legend Madhur Jaffrey, “no individual has likely had as great an impact on demystifying and simplifying the food of the Indian subcontinent” as OM’s chef, Raghavan Iyer, said Peter Lilienthal in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. What Iyer has created here is a hip basement space that can sometimes be a little loud, but works as a setting for what he calls “contemporary Indian cuisine.” Almost every one of Iyer’s dishes is a “model of sophistication, inspiration, and well-crafted taste.” In his hands, run-of-the-mill Kashmiri lamb, or roghan josh, is a rack rubbed in spices, braised to perfection, and served in a seductive sauce of tomato and fennel. A Goan classic, pork vindaloo, adds a tangy, garlicky dimension to succulent slices of braised tenderloin, and here it “simply soars.” Even many of the desserts, from the mango cheesecake to the cayenne-tinged “chocolate nirvana,” boast depth. If only OM’s “overzealous” waiters could learn to give diners the same patient attention that Iyer bestows on that delectable vindaloo. 401 First Ave. N., (612) 338-1510

Bunkers MilwaukeeThis small bar-restaurant just outside Milwaukee had flown under my radar until the arrival of chef Brad Clark, said Carol Deptolla in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Clark has worked in some of the area’s top kitchens, and over the past year he has brought a “refined” touch to this laid-back spot. He’s  created a menu “friendly both to someone looking for bar food and a diner seeking something more, with a nod to seasonal and local ingredients.” Watch Clark’s daily specials for the steelhead salmon fillet, which comes perched on root vegetables in a saffron broth. The regular menu has its gems as well, including crispy rumaki—water chestnuts wrapped in local black pepper bacon—and seared scallops that are served with a “savory streak of caramel.” Keeping with the casual-but-refined theme, a fillet topped with shrimp and crab was “buttery-tender and well-seared.” The burger has received some nice touches, too, with bacon, cheddar, glazed onion, house-made tomato jam, and an egg over easy that “enrobed the whole thing with rich yolk.” I’ll be certain to return, especially—come summer—for the patio. 7420 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, Wis., (414) 258-1982

JFires’ Market Bistro St. LouisThis “terrific” New Orleans–inspired restaurant sits southeast of St. Louis in a little Illinois farming town across the Mississippi River, said Dave Lowry in St. Louis Magazine. Housed in a stately red-brick Greek Revival home that now features a “fire-breathing” brick oven in its kitchen, it’s the kind of place where the “excitement of good cooking and enjoyable dining is infectious.” JFires’ shrimp po’boy is served on house-baked bread, with an “irresistible” side of root vegetables that have been marinated in maple syrup and fried in batter. Don’t miss the “simply perfect” crawfish étouffée and Cajun-style barbecue shrimp in a rich, Worcestershire-spiked butter sauce. But leave room for the cochon de lait—suckling pig that’s been given the wood-burning-oven treatment. Pulled from the bone and baked again to order, the pork arrives at the table “meltingly tender, smoky, and moist,” with an addictively crisp skin. “It’s a pig roast you will not forget.” 725 N. Market St., Waterloo, Ill., (618) 939-7233

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