I wasn’t sure what to expect after my memorable visits to Saffron (one of my favorites) and seeing the photos on-line for WSK. Was this restaurant the polar opposite of the demure setting downtown? Was this really the creation of Sameh Wadi, one of the best chefs in the US and his brother Saed? But then I read the philosophy of WSK…bringing global street foods to the palates of MSP, and I decided to see what this hot-place would offer.
The exterior is best described as basic, lots of windows, not much signage with two doors…enter the door at the right half of the building, not the one with the sign that states “Exit →.” The “foyer” includes a combination cash register / ordering station and above this combo-station is the wall mounted menu, fully emblazoned with sections, and choices within each section.
I ordered three items, the “Kingston 12,” Jerk Beef, slow-cooked beef brisket with mint chimichurri and queso fresco; the “La Panza,” Caramelized Lamb Belly with pickled cucumbers, sesame seeds, basil and secret sauce; and the Korean “BBQ” Beef Short Ribs Lettuce Wrap with house-made kimchi. You pay and receive a number stand which you place on the table and a runner brings the food to your table. With no utensils or napkins on the table, make sure you make a stop at the self-serve area for forks, spoons, chop sticks and napkins. You can also grab a bottle of Sriracha sauce, and if you do not want a bottled beverage, there is a water canteen with carafes and glasses.
Each taco order includes two medium sized tortillas and the Lettuce Wrap is a DIY event.
I started with the short beef brisket tacos and these were delicious. The meat was tender, flavorful with a moderate level of spice. Then the kitchen kicked up the spice level with the pureed mint chimichurri, and mellowed the palate with the crumbled Queso cheese. The three components worked perfectly together. It was a great start to the meal.
Unfortunately the lamb belly did not maintain these standards. The first duet arrived and after two bites I knew this was a non-starter. The cubed belly was vastly overcooked, borderline hard and close to inedible. The server noticed my reaction and saw me push the dish across the table. When I explained, she offered to re-fire and that was a great save. When the replacement arrived, the meat was much better prepared. The belly was accompanied by house made pickle slices and basil leaves, and topped with a sriracha thousand island dressing. The basil and pickles were completely lost under the other two spicy ingredients
The Lettuce Wrap arrived in two paper containers (like those at a hot dog stand at the ballpark), the first contained a large selection of lettuce leaves and the other included two mounds, one meat and the other kimchee. The presentation was incredibly unappetizing, but flavors were over the top fantastic. Take a lettuce leaf, add scoops of the shredded rib meat and a little kimchee, roll and eat. The combination was like none I have eaten in a while. The meat brought spiciness, the kimchee (loaded with shredded carrots) was more sour than spicy and then the sweet crunchiness of the lettuce leaves added the final component. It was delicious.
The staff was scant, the cashier and a couple of runners. Other than the cashier who noticed my “food push” they basically stay to themselves, with zero interaction with the guests. Overall WSK was an interesting adventure. If I were in my 20’s, out with friends I would probably think it was a great inexpensive dinner. Other than the food, the ambiance was lacking, the service was non-existent and it was a get ‘em in, get ‘em out eatery. It has its place as a great quick meal, with great food but you need to know that it is totally different from Saffron.