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A new kind of residency brings Sichuan cuisine to Cook St. Paul

Sichuan Dry Pot

Sichuan Dry Pot JD Hovland

In the parlance of restaurants, a pop-up is usually ephemeral, here and gone with dishes that may never exist again, a definite FOMO magnet. A residency is another animal, longer lived, but still with a view of the exit on the horizon.

Eddie Wu’s Cook St. Paul, the award-winning restaurant renowned for its Korean-inspired brunch, also serves as the home for a variety of pop-ups during dinner. While some have gone on to find semi-permanent homes (like Union Kitchen’s Hmong-inspired fare at Sociable Cider Werks), others are still popping up here and there (on June 23, El Norte Kitchen is doing Al Pastor at Naughty Greek on University from noon until 6 p.m.).

Residencies remain a relatively new phenomenon to Cook St. Paul. Golden Horseshoe, its latest and most ambitious residency concept yet, was dreamt up when the local and national chef communities united last year in response to some much-publicized consternation with a certain local celebrity chef.

Akin to the accelerator/incubator model famous in the tech world, Golden Horseshoe sees a guest chef given the kitchen, where they learn a few core dishes and add a couple more to the menu each week. The current iteration belongs to chef Gen Lee (whose fame is sometimes linked with Peter Chang, thanks to their DC-area restaurants), and will be executed by chef DaiCan Tang, who hails from China's Chongqing province. Wu foresees the menu's evolution as strictly additive, so unless you wait until the end and miss it entirely, you can avoid I-wanted-to-try-that-but-can’t-now regret.

Given the aforementioned intent to grow, the initially sparse printed menu starts out with two starters and four dishes. (There are also currently two dishes listed on the “specials” board.) Wu indicates the board-listed ones will jump to the printed menu a week or so after they’re initially offered, and new items will go on the board. The goal is to have roughly four starters and 16 dishes by the last weeks of the residency.

So far so good? For me, yes, so far as everything I’ve tried.

Dan Dan Noodles

Dan Dan Noodles JD Hovland

The Dan Dan Noodles have a nice heat and flavor with a good noodle-meat-sauce ratio. The Cilantro Fish Roll is simple and satisfies the craving for a crunchy texture really well; the slightly spicy dipping sauce has a subtle sweetness, too. Dry frying seems to be a recurring theme in the early stages of this residency. The Sichuan Dry Pot with Shrimp and Chicken was entirely enjoyable on my first visit.

The impression left by my first visit had me returning for some of the other items a few days later, when I greatly enjoyed the Dry Fried Eggplant. Its expert seasoning is full of chilies and the classic mouth numbing from the Szechuan peppercorns, but it’s the contrast of textures that really makes it so delightful. The most common items I could compare it to are either the fried polenta at Fogo de Chão, finely mashed potato croquettes, or the perfect Dutch french fry. Think: a very crispy exterior and an almost ethereal interior with a hint of creaminess. I dreamt about this eggplant after having it.

Dry Fried Eggplant

Dry Fried Eggplant JD Hovland

While I enjoyed the Garlic Shrimp, I think it would be best shared among a group so as to be eaten quickly. The first two I had were super succulent and contrasted the crispy shell and dry garlic perfectly, but as time progressed the proteins and water did their thing, firming up a little bit. Still tasty, but not quite as perfect.

From my initial impressions of Golden Horseshoe, I recommend it. I plan on going back frequently to see how it grows, trying newly offered dishes—and the eggplant again, and again—before it’s gone.

The Golden Horseshoe residency runs 5 pm to 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for the next few months at Cook St. Paul. You can watch its evolution and keep up to date on the menu by following @cookstp and @goldenhorseshoeus on Instagram or Facebook.

Find JD Hovland at @jdhovland on most social media platforms.