Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heidi's - Dangerously Close to Home

After months of waiting for the right reason I finally ate at Heidi's. I had heard plenty about it and have been intrigued for quite some time.Pretty much everything I've read says the same thing... "Why is the old Pane Vino Dolce space so loud", "what's up with the service?" and "good luck getting in there..." Yes it's true many of the neighborhood joints near me have been getting blasted for the toughness of a table and sloppy service, but at the same time many of the places have been celebrated for the imagination of their food. I soon found that the food at Heidi's more then balanced out any of the previously associated discrepancies.

We actually walked in on a Tuesday night... had to wait about 5 minutes at 8:30, but we still walked in. When I initially walked in the sound level was noticeably loud, but Heidi (who was hosting) soon led us around the corner to the side room which was pleasantly quite. Reservation tip - call a few days if not a few weeks in advance and request a table in the side room. It instantly alleviated my concerns, but alas, this was just one visit.

The next knock on Heidi's is the service. I've had some odd dinners in this city and I think no one will argue that as a whole, the Twin Cities food scene is a bit behind the ball when it comes to service, but as long as I have some int iced taste buds I normally don't mind. That being said, our dinner service was about as awkward as the first time you hit the showers after gym class in middle school... It seemed like our server wasn't comfortable in his own skin. Imagine watching one of your friends approaching someone at the bar for the first time, and totally blowing it... The silver service at Heidi's is really too much. We had our silver changed about 5 times throughout our simple, 2 course meal. I felt like a baby chimp getting picked over by a silver back as they reached around me, over my back and at one point actually went under my girlfriends arm to retrieve a piece of silver from a semi-eaten plate without even asking. The greatest offense - The Old Rasputin. Old Rasputin is a beautiful Russian Stout - a bit tangier then a good old Guinness, but still very nice. Anyone who knows their stout knows that it is to be poured carefully. My waiter popped the top and poured this thing as if trying to give Tom Cruise's character in Cocktail a run for the money. Needless to say there was more foam on the pour then I would have bargained for. Despite that fact, beer is beer and none is to be wasted.

Now on to the food. There are many things about food that excite me, including discovering and re-discovering flavors. Now, normally the bread basket isn't all that exciting, and Heidi's didn't look like anything special, but it was late and I was hungry so I tore into a piece of the bread. Two words: Grandma Fazio. The second that bread hit my tongue I instantly flashed back to running around my great Grandma's kitchen as a little boy while watching her kneed dough for the evening meal. Nothing short could ever erase that smell ans taste from my memory and to be able to revisit that feeling was truly special. She has been gone for years and my palate longs to taste her food once again. Major points for Heidi's. That experience alone was more then worth the the awkwardness endured from the waitstaff. Next, my date and I tore into the "Chicken Lollipops." which was a nice little spicy, savory twist on your typical chicken wing appetizer. Paired with a crunchy frisee and candied apricots, the flavor profile was diverse and satisfying - now we're talking. For my main course I went against my carnivorous calling and went with a vegetarian Pappardelle. Pure unadulterated silk has nothing on the texture of their rich, buttery noodles. Perfectly cooked and adorned with the lightest dusting of cheese, this is a serious dish. The Bolognese was traditional in it's foundation but had some lovely chard and magnificently rustic porcinis to accompany the robust flavors of the tomato base. This dichotomy of texture was flavorful, imaginative and far from expected. I loved it. It was the perfect buttery, velvety pasta for a cold winter's night. I sampled my girlfriend's pea and carrot risotto with roasted chicken. Typically risotto at this time of year would be paired with a winter preparation of cheese, cream, root vegetables or simple mushrooms, but the pea and carrot was a refreshing surprise and added a lightness that is typically not experienced with a proper winter risotto. It was fresh and invigorating and all around very pleasent. The bone-in chicken was delicate, well prepared and simple. The flavor combination with the risotto was a perfect fit. Everything was well seasoned and managed to avoid the over-salted, over cheesed pitfalls that we typically run into in the MN winter dining scene. We left the table full, satisfied and conspiring for a return visit soon. It looks like I've found another hit close to home. Now if they could just figure the service out...

Happy Eating,


Saturday, February 23, 2008

A nice little Friday in Lent

I typically dread Fridays during the 40 days of Lent as I am Catholic and for one whole day a week, I am deprived the privilege to consume meat other than seafood (See Mom, I really do adhere to the rules sometimes). Most people would think "He's complaining about seafood? What's this Guy's problem? I'll have the lobster, please." Well, it's not that easy. Although I'm sure I would enjoy most varieties of shellfish, I also have proven highly allergic to some and the thought of rolling the dice on one of the many varieties I have yet to try and having to watch my mother or girlfriend plunge an EpiPen into my thigh as I try not to violently explode on the restaurant floor is not my idea of a great dining experience.

Now in the grand scheme of things this sacrifice seems really insignificant (probably because it in fact, is), but then again depriving a natural born carnivore his favorite sustenance can start to irritate a guy, especially after a long day at work. However, I will say that I've started to find a few places right near my house that offer Lent friendly meals in warm environments that help to alleviate my steak, chicken and pork deprived pains.

Last night I found both a savory meal and a comfortable location at Cafe 28 The setting is in an old historic firehouse in the friendly confides of charming Linden Hills. I've eaten there several times and really enjoy the fact that they not only embrace local products, but they also embrace the needs of the Lent weary crowds. Last night, I had the Tuna Melt which is far from typical. They take a nice light albacore and blend it with spicy jalapenos, cilantro and lime juice, slide on a nice piece of creamy cheese and lightly grill it on nice thick sourdough bread. It was the perfect light, warm and satisfying meal for someone who was looking for something other then the typical pasta or cheese pizza on a Lenten night.

My cohorts had the Friday night fish fry which is absolutely fantastic and could make even the most seasoned Minnesotan Scandinavian smile. You get a few nice pieces of lightly breaded and fried Walleye, some nice salty, crispy fries and a little dish of cole slaw. Now, I can't say I'm a huge fan of dill in my slaw, but the fact that you can get an Ice cold PBR ($3) to wash down your meal and get out of there for less then $20 more then makes up for it. If you are a native Minnesotan you can at least appreciate what they are doing. Overall Cafe 28 has several dishes that can help you forget that you are even making a Friday night sacrifice. They offer a wide selection of locally brewed Surly beer as well as an accomplished list of Belgian beers if you are looking for something a bit different. I'll add their blog ( to my link list so you can keep up with this nice little cafe. They offer a weekly fish special that is far from typical, and the service/ownership is a s sweet as can be. Overall it's a pretty nice fit for quite, comfy, cozy Linden Hills.

Stay tuned for more updates if you are looking to upgrade form the Fillet-o-fish default on a Friday in Lent.

Happy eating...

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