Una Noche en Babalu

WHAT: Babalu WHERE: 800 Washington Ave. N. âÄúBabalu,âÄù a new restaurant in the North Loop boasting Latin Caribbean fusion food, has more energy and spice than Ricky Ricardo. A step into Babalu is a whirlwind of crimsons and golds. The soft-lit dining area is a candlelit excursion into romantic solitude amidst the restaurantâÄôs electric atmosphere. In lieu of relying solely on mouth-charring spice, Babalu focuses on integrating contrasting flavors into each meal. Think mango and bacon or saffron and plantain. Starting at $6, the tapas appetizers wonâÄôt break the bank. The Calamares al Ajillo is a specialty of the restaurant, with calamari fried and sautéed in garlic and pepper. For those looking for something to test the limits of their thermophilic taste buds, Mejillones con Cilantro are mussels sautéed in habanero broth, green onions, mango puree and just enough cilantro. The entrée list is as impressive as it is diverse. From tender rice and pan-fried scallops to marinated pork, Babalu offers something for each and every palette. Ropa Vieja con Fufu is a flourish of salty shredded pork intermixed with peppers, onions and tomatoes atop a bed of plantain and bacon puree. Arroz con Pollo a la Chorrera is a delightful splash of cumin churned with onions, rice and cilantro. For those wishing to splurge, the Paella Valenciana is in order. The savory paella is packed with saffron, Chorizo mussels, clams, shrimp, fish and enormous Argentinian lobster. DonâÄôt let the prices frighten you away (the cheapest entrée is $18), but the portions are the perfect size to split with a comrade. The hardest part will be deciding which splendid dish to share. The restaurantâÄôs real attraction is its bar. Commodious sofas and armchairs are positioned around trim coffee tables for comfortable mingling. On Fridays and Saturdays, the seating is kicked to the outskirts of the bar to make way for authentic Salsa and Meringue. The bravest can cut a rug to live bands with crazy Latin beats, while others take a seat and chat alongside the show. With a dazzling list of Caribbean and domestic beer, the libations wonâÄôt disappoint either. The Mango Mojito , a drink that earned an award in âÄúMpls.St.Paul MagazineâÄù in 2008 , is a flavorful medley for those looking for a sweet retreat from a long work day. Since itâÄôs on the costly end of Minneapolis dining, itâÄôs safe to say this wonâÄôt be a daily destination for student dinners, but next time a celebration is in order, skip Chino Latino and treat yourself to some opulent Caribbean cuisine.