Best Dishes of 2007

For some, 2007 will forever be the year of wide stances in public bathrooms, but for foodies, other moments stand out

My meals at Mission this past fall were all over the map (see full review in CP 11/07/07). Yet, when I look back in my little mind, the tasting meal of one Saturday night shines and beckons to me: If you could relive one meal of the year, wouldn't this be the one? Yes, Mind, I answer, and since I've got you on the line, where exactly is the spare set of house keys? But then I find my Mind is unresponsive, again dwelling on that magical Saturday: a king crab souffle like some kind of cream-salt vapor reaching up from the ocean depths; squab as scarlet as berries, as deep and winy as Port made flesh; spaghetti with a pigeon Bolognese as earthy and rich as a whole forest; foie gras thrumming with the freshest, most elemental notes of iron and butter—what a night, what a night! Mission American Kitchen, 77 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, 612.339.1000; www.missionamericankitchen.com.

3) Scallops at Grand Café Minneapolis

High on my list of restaurants to watch is the Grand Café Minneapolis (the former Bakery on Grand.) This is because chef Jon Radle, formerly a cook at Auriga, La Belle Vie, Corner Table, and many others, took over in August and has been slowly rolling out his own menus, replacing ones I found decidedly ho-hum. Radle tells me he'll consider the restaurant truly ready for prime time in late January, when his sideman comes back from paternity leave, and frankly, I can't wait, as one dinner I had there has haunted me with its excellence. The highlight was four diver-caught scallops perfectly seared, presented on a bed of saffron-and-tomato risotto that was as evocative and bewitching as a melody heard over water. Grand Café Minneapolis, 3804 Grand Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.822.8260; www.grandcafempls.com.

4) So much at La Belle Vie

I field a lot of reader requests looking for the best restaurant in town for an engagement, major birthday, anniversary, gift certificate for the parents, and whatnot, and lately my answer feels like a skipping broken record: La Belle Vie, La Belle Vie, La Belle Vie. What can I say? It seems like the only place in town these days that has service to match the food. In my experience, servers there roll about on silent wheels, meeting your needs before you even know you have them. I love that. Does it sound like I'm damning the food by praising the service? I don't mean to—the food remains nothing short of spectacular. And here's a hot tip: Did you know the lounge offers a $40-per-person tasting menu? It's true. They've been doing it all year now, and when I dropped in to try it, I was blown away. There was a gorgeously clear and dark pheasant consommé with foie gras agnolotti and a darling poached quail egg; sautéed skate with roasted beets, blood orange, and black olive; a grilled beef fillet with Jerusalem artichokes, porcini mushrooms, and a beautifully gelatinous and silky oxtail marmalade; and, for dessert, lemon-scented financier (a light French pastry) with blood-orange curd, mascarpone sorbet, and candied kumquats. Add a supplemental wine flight for $25. This is just the sort of opulent but not bank-breaking splurge that these days of constant mortgage crisis call for. La Belle Vie, 510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis, 612.874.6440; www.labellevie.us.

5) Just about everything in the wine bar at Heartland

More-than-pleasant pheasant: Stewart Woodman makes a triumphant return to the local  restaurant scene with Heidi's
Alma Guzman
More-than-pleasant pheasant: Stewart Woodman makes a triumphant return to the local restaurant scene with Heidi's

I entertain visiting restaurant critics and super-power foodies pretty often over the course of a year, and I've noticed two things: One, they always want to go to 112 Eatery. (Which I ate at four or five times this year, and, frankly, I find it less than it was when it opened. Am I just poisoned by opening memories? It's not like there's anything wrong with it, it's just that all year I find the place superior but never spectacular. Maybe I'm just ordering wrong. I don't know. It's probably me, not them.) And two, I always want to show off the wine bar at Heartland, which I find nothing short of spectacular, and spectacularly reliable. One unforgettable bunch of appetizers featured a house-made duck breast prosciutto that had a salty, gossamer-berry intensity; a hedgehog-mushroom wild rice soup that tasted like everything I love about shade-saturated Minnesota wild lands, focused to a laser-like intensity and shot through with cream; and smoked lamb ribs so meaty, so big-flavored, so intense and pleasurable I wanted to pound my fist on the wine-bar counter in satisfaction with just how show-offable the great foods of the upper Midwest really are. Heartland Restaurant, 1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, 651.699.3536; www.heartlandrestaurant.com.

6) Pasta with wild boar at Broders' Pasta Bar

When I asked readers for their recommendations for the most essential, can't-miss restaurants for an ongoing project, one answer came thundering in: Broders', Broders', Broders'! Well, thank you, readers, because were it not for your letters I would have missed one of the best pasta dishes of my life, namely the "Fettuccine con cinghiale": soft, silky house-made fettuccine topped with staggeringly concentrated, spoonably soft bits and shreds of wild boar cooked with porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and caramelized onions. Mmm, it was like eating the atmosphere in a Brothers Grimm fairytale: big, dark, wild, unknowable, irresistible. Broders' Pasta Bar, 5000 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.925.9202; www.broders.com.

7) Beef ribs at Big Daddy's

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