Small But Mighty

It has only 40 seats, but Heidi's is interesting enough for a lifetime

Speaking of art, I had a few entrees at Heidi's that, like the appetizers, were nothing short of breathtaking. Steamed halibut ($19) in a buttery white-wine citrus broth studded with small, whole fingerling potatoes, artichoke hearts, and dark pillows of wilted kale was a little dance of rich, elegant simplicity, accented like a well-set table with little leafy bursts of green.

A poached Wild Acres pheasant breast ($19) with roasted cauliflower and fresh arugula in a deep, dark pheasant jus was a miracle, the pheasant as tender as a noodle, the spicy, deeply caramelized jus accenting it as beautifully as velvet does pearls. The sadness I feel in writing this next sentence hurts me down to my toes: That pheasant will soon be coming off the menu because the birds are getting ready for their mating season, which makes them tough and unpleasant. Now, feel free to stop reading and discuss among yourselves who else in your acquaintance becomes tough and unpleasant in preparation for love.

Are you back? Good. In addition to the art-for-art's-sake plates, I admired a couple of dishes for making an art out of living thriftily. For example, $9 here can get you an entree of tender house-made ravioli filled with a slightly licorice-scented turnip puree, the plump little darlings lined up on a plate like solitaire cards and arranged in a rich brown butter sauce, beside a tangle of baby pea greens. Sweet, delicate, a little smoky, a little fresh, and appealingly simple and innocent, this was quite a fancy bit of chef work for such a street-food price.

Still, I never felt that everything at Heidi's is art. I tried things I thought were utterly mediocre, like a dish of little chicken wings on the bone served with apricots and a truffle vinaigrette ($9.50), or a pork tenderloin in an unpleasantly uncomplicated and thin sweet-and-sour broth ($16). I even had one thing I absolutely despised—a fillet of roast cod ($17) served in a bowl of what looked and tasted like some kind of high-fiber, overly sweetened breakfast cereal, but which I knew to be a chef-made sauce of almonds, white grapes, and lobster oil. "My wife hates that one, too," Woodman told me. "It's kind of a dish you either love or hate." If anyone's keeping score, I'm firmly on the side of hate.

I wouldn't say I hated the desserts at Heidi's, but I never really found one I loved, either. To me, the combination of lemon and pink peppercorns in the crème brûlée ($5) tastes too much like perfume, and the molten chocolate cake ($7) was fine but ho-hum. All I could think about the drinking chocolate ($5.50)—just a simple cup of ultra-thick, creamy, bittersweet hot chocolate—was: Is that all there is?

Yet even with all these elements I didn't care for at all, I never stopped feeling that Heidi's was that rarest of creatures: a simply great restaurant.

The wine list is partly what does this. Designed by Woodman's wife and the restaurant's namesake, Heidi Woodman, this 50-bottle list is a marvel. It feels like it truly was plucked from vineyards around the world that were planted just to match Woodman's food. On top of that, it's affordable. A $30 bottle of the 2005 Domaine Martin Schartzel Alsatian Riesling, for instance, has a brisk, green-apple nerve to it that slides up beside that warm potato salad in the most flattering possible way, cutting the richness, amplifying the perfume of the leeks, and generally flouncing and showing off the best aspects of the dish, like Ginger Rogers making an already impressive Fred Astaire look better. Similarly, the Alois Kracher Trockenbeerenauslese ($12 a glass) cozies up beside a dish like the poached pheasant and teases out depths of winter spice and herbal fruitiness that would be merely latent in the food without the wine. I don't think I've ever experienced a wine list so in harmony with the food a restaurant offers, which is actually, in its way, a small, beautiful, and truly lovely thing.

Which, during its best moments, is what Heidi's, the restaurant, is too.

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