I am only now just recovering from the weekend. I have been in a major funk ever since the book-banning scourge of Wasilla, Alaska, was nominated for the Veep seat on the GOP ticket. She is a Bush clone of the highest order, and her selection shows that her running mate is no maverick, just a brain-dead moron for selecting her as his potential second in command—or maybe he is the smartest man alive based on her resonance with some of the voting public. Are Americans that easily swayed from what has gone on for the last eight years?
Sadly, the one quote of hers that I just couldn’t shake, the one that dominated the dinner conversation at Heidi’s all night long on Friday, proved to be the one that was purely Internet mythology. Bigger than the secessionist sympathizing, the ‘drill at all costs’ theories, the pork issues, and bigger than Palin’s assertions that the Iraq war is a mission from God and that community organizers are a bunch of do-nothings compared to small-time mayors, the one that really got to me was the Wannabe Veep’s belief that “dinosaurs are 4,000-year-old Satan lizards.”
It’s a funny one and seems to fit Palin like a glove. How can a major party, check that, even a minor one, put forth this lunatic as a candidate for office? Aren’t you amazed? And the scariest thought is that statistically, McCain, due to his age and ill health will probably guarantee that Palin gets to be POTUS at some point, should they win the election. At this rate, Michele Bachmann will be touted as a potential Secretary of State nominee! You can see why I am upset.
So as someone who routinely eats his feelings, I tied on a big-league feedbag this weekend. The wife was out of town, so the kid and I hit the highway looking for some great food. Here are some highlights:
Brasa takeout and Punch pizza takeout are still the best in their class. The sooner Brasa opens on Grand Avenue, the happier I will be. Punch opens on lower Grand Avenue next week.
Mill City Market . . . what an amazing job their board has done creating such a gem.
Brenda Langton, whom I bumped into while strolling the market, should be sanctified for having the vision and perseverance to make this market happen. And despite the soap and sweater vendors (not my bag), I loved the whole vibe. Shepherd’s Way had the last of the season on one of their more limited-edition cheeses (Shepherd’s Hope), and I bought a bucket load of great tomatoes, Russian fingerling potatoes, and root vegetables. The second-best thing at the market is the demo stage set in a small café atmosphere; it’s a superb venue, and I caught my pal Zoe Francois doing a bread demo there.
The best thing about the market is the meal on wheels food van called the Chef Shack, run by Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, which makes some of the best and tastiest treats in town. We had not one but two bags of their mini donuts, simply the best I have ever tried—anywhere. Then we grabbed some of the tongue tacos, piled with fresh salsa and dense sweet wedges of corn kernels. We added pickled vegetables and hot sauce from the homemade fixin’s bar, and had we not been so stuffed, I would have ordered some of fabulous sausage in a bun concoction (they offer several) right away. If you have not eaten at the Chef Shack, don’t be an idiot like me and let one more day slip by without setting aside some time this weekend to stuff yourself silly there.
?Lucia’s Wine Bar now allows dogs to enter the premises. I am thrilled because now Pretzel Zimmern can come out with Mom and Dad to get a bite to eat. Let’s turn the Twin Cities into Belgium, that’s what I say. And thanks to Lucia Watson for getting the ball rolling. And the T-shirts are really cool, too!
I had a sitter one evening, so I made a reservation at Heidi’s, a restaurant that I have been trying to get to since it opened. The room has not changed much since the days when the space was Pane Vino Dolce, but the vibe is 100 percent different. From the dreary, empty days of overrated food and up and down service, there now stands a complete and whole restaurant in every sense of the word. For my money, based on the meal I had (ten appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts), this is one of the top food experiences in town and finally seems to be the perfect venue for the best of what the superbly talented Stewart Woodman is capable of producing.
GM Frank Thorpe is a charming and affable host, and his jaunty pirate necktie is pretty slick. The wine list is well priced and filled with familiar names as well as some pretty nifty finds, the lighting and the noise level are perfectly fitted to the casual atmosphere, and the only complaint I had all evening would be related to the seating, literally. Much of the seating at Heidi’s is on a thin wooden banquette, a plank that is just screaming out for some casual pillows, nothing fancy, just some relief for the aching tuchus. Other than that, it has been awhile since I have encountered so many diners in an eatery raving to each other about the food or so many locals stopping by for takeout in a restaurant of this caliber.
This restaurant should be a model for what we need in neighborhoods all over this town. Local chefs eager to open up their own businesses should look to neighborhoods deep with customers, spaces perched on streets with sidewalks, you get the idea. The difference maker here, of course, is that only a handful of local chefs can cook like Woodman can. We started with a dewy and fresh shrimp mousse spring roll, slaked our thirst with a zippy cuke-ginger soup with avocado, reveled in the airy genius of the chevre parfait with beets, were thrilled to a textural orgasm due to a sliced and smoked scallop on a garlic and breadcrumb palette with mustard vinaigrette, and were left speechless by a foie gras and crepe composition on beluga lentils. The lamb shank was our fav entrée, so perfectly perfumed with anise that it surprised all my guests with its subtlety. The smoked pork tenderloin amazed me. I hate that cut of pork (it’s spongy and flavorless), but Woodman managed to source a superb hog by smoking the meat before grilling it,and pairing it with a sublime pork belly wedge and light, tomatoey barbeque sauce; it managed to pull off the unimaginable. The peas and carrot risotto with the chicken breast was impressive as well. But the praline semifreddo replete with homemade ‘pop rocks’ was comfy, familiar, and brazen at the same time.
Neighborhood restaurants like this one are special, but in many cities around the country, they are plentiful. I like casual environments that take their food seriously and am thrilled that we have Heidi’s. But as an equal-opportunity diner, I think we need more places like this one—ambitious yet grounded. Too many eateries these days are derivative restaurants seeking only to sling the hash, not caring enough about their product to make it any different from the chophouse down the street. Heidi’s seeks to engage the diner in a way that small modest restaurants like Alma do, and that’s what makes the food world tick in my opinion.
Wayne Kostroski just sent me a copy of the newly minted and newly upgraded Taste of the NFL cookbook titled The Sunday Night Football Cookbook. Proceeds benefit food banks in all the NFL cities. Find out more here, and keep your ears open for the opportunity to buy tickets for the local event later in the year.
Next week in NYC, the Star Chef’s Congress is taking place. Where else can you find all this serious megawattage food freakdom all in one place? Check it out if you are able to go to the Big Apple. Tickets still available at the Starchefs website. Next year’s event is a monster as well; I think it is one of the best food events in the world, and I am heavily involved in the 2009 Congress. Here is just a taste of the event this year . . . pretty darn amazing, isn’t it!?
—Heston Blumenthal, The Fat Duck, England, ?Keynote Address: “Eating is a Multi-Sensory Experience”
—Charlie Trotter, ?Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago, ?”The Evolution of Creativity: “The Responsibility of a Chef”
—“The Role of a Chef” with Michael Ruhlman (moderator), ?Anthony Bourdain, ?Les Halles?, and Marco Pierre White
—Masaharu Morimoto, ?Morimoto, New York, “?Fish: Head to Tail”
—Daniel Boulud, ?Daniel, New York?, Mentor/Protégé Cooking Demonstration
—Grant Achatz?, Alinea, Chicago, “?New Tools of Gastronomy: Service Ware, Re-Imagined”
Workshops and Seminars Highlights:
—Savory: ?Graham Brown & Lyndon Matthews?, The Cookhouse and Cervena Farmer and Owner, Puketira Deer Farm ?A Sustainable Story: Working with New Zealand Cervena Venison
—Pastry: ?Sherry Yard, ?Spago, Beverly Hills, “?The Yummy Factor: Souffles Rising to the Occasion”
—Mixology/Wine:? Simon Difford, ?Difford's Guide, England, “?How to Consistently Make Great Drinks”
—Junior Merino, ?The Liquid Chef, New York?, “Modern Cocktail Techniques: Exploring Density, Textures and Sensation”
—Culinary Trailblazers?, Jonathan Waxman (Barbuto, )?Larry Forgione (An American Place), ?Mitchell Davis (James Beard Foundation)
—Raising Money for Your Restauran, t?Kep Sweeney, Acceleron Group
—Sustainability Beyond The Plate?, Richard Young (Food Service Technology Center)? and Laurel Cudden (BR Guest)