Haute Dish's Landon Schoenefeld: Talent with a temper

Chef has held more restaurant jobs than many retired cooks

Chef Landon Schoenefeld's name has proved famously difficult to spell—even the newspapers get it wrong—which may be part of the reason why he's often referred to by his other moniker, Colonel Mustard. This is the nickname Schoenefeld earned at the Bulldog NE after he refused to honor a customer's request for salad dressing on the side and doused the messenger with mustard. (He was immediately fired.) Schoenefeld has worked everywhere from the Wienery to Sea Change; at 29 years old, he has held more restaurant jobs than many cooks who are retired. Local foodies watch Schoenefeld's career like it's a game of Whac-A-Mole, waiting for the chef to pop up somewhere new and hoping to be the first to make the discovery.

"People give me a lot of shit because they think I'm the peripatetic vagabond," Schoenefeld says. "But I've only ever worked for about five different people." It's just that each of those people has connected him to more jobs at more restaurants: Alex Roberts from Restaurant Alma to Brasa; Isaac Becker from D'Amico to112 Eatery; Steven Brown from Restaurant Levain to Porter & Frye to Nick and Eddie. By working several of these jobs at once, Schoenefeld managed to do time in most of the Twin Cities' best kitchens in a relatively short time.

To diners, Schoenefeld has a reputation for having a creative mind and an intense work ethic—as well as an impulsive, volatile personality. In the public eye, Jekyll has often been overshadowed by Hyde: His legacy at the Bulldog NE, for starters, is one of mustard munitions, not first-rate hamburgers.

Schoenefeld's food is humble but artful
Tony Nelson
Schoenefeld's food is humble but artful

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Map

Haute Dish

119 Washington Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Haute Dish
119 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis
612.338.8484; www.haute-dish.com
appetizers $6-$15; entrées $10-$33

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But this spring Schoenefeld pushed his career to the next level by opening his own spot, Haute Dish, in Minneapolis's Warehouse District. The move was a chance for him to settle down and dig in, to convince potential customers to focus on his talent, not his temper. Could the dining public stop perceiving Schoenefeld as the Anna Kournikova of cooking and take his work seriously? Would they finally pay more attention to what was on the plate than the personality in the kitchen?

For a young, first-time owner, Schoenefeld and his crew chose an ambitious space to launch: The former home of Café Havana has high ceilings, pretty woodwork, vintage charm—and, after some modest renovations, 110 seats to fill. Schoenefeld spent several years planning before he assembled Haute Dish's team of investors/working partners—Jess Soine, David Walters, Tim Johnson—who were friends or friends of friends, all with various connections to the restaurant business, and ages that span from 26 to 30.

Both in terms of food and ambiance, the restaurant feels very personal, as if decisions were made on gut instinct, not using focus groups or demographic data. The dining room's soundtrack is reminiscent of mix tapes played in dorm rooms a decade back, including music by the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Nirvana, Black Sabbath, and Michael Jackson. Each detail of the Haute Dish dining experience seems to have been carefully considered, from serving the Minnesota Mules (essentially Moscow Mules made with local Prairie Organic vodka) in their traditional copper cups to stocking the women's restroom with tampons.

Haute Dish's menu has a humble artiness: It's French-meets-Midwest, with a kiss of kitsch. Many of the house specialties might be characterized as man food, being rich, meat-based, and hearty. While there is gourmet mac and cheese on the menu—not on the recommended list, unfortunately, as the pasta and cheese smother the crab—the list doesn't otherwise feel trendy or market-driven. This is a restaurant that will never be cloned for diners in Utah or Florida, or even the south metro suburbs, for that matter.

Schoenefeld describes the concept as "fancy hot dish," meaning middle-American classics reinterpreted and refined. Grandma's flavors will still be there, but packaged with fancy cooking techniques and presentations.

The best dishes are clever and creative, without trying too hard. The Haute Dish Hot Dish fits that bill and has quickly become the restaurant's best seller. (To avoid confusion—or perhaps create more—the staff tends to pronounce "haute" as "hot.") The casserole comes deconstructed, a pretty sculpture of short ribs, haricots verts French-cut in delicate strands, porcini béchamel in lieu of cream of mushroom soup, and house-made tots, which are more like croquettes with their delicate crust and fluffy, mashed potato center.

General Tso's sweetbreads are another example of a gourmand's take on middle-brow fare, this time using a Chinese-American template. Schoenefeld notes that sweetbreads (the more palatable term for pancreas and thymus) are sometimes referred to as adult chicken McNuggets, as they hold up to frying and pair well with the fast food's associated sauces, such as barbecue and honey mustard. The Tso's sweetbreads have an addictive fried, sweet-spicy crust similar to that of the original. Inside, the creamy flesh is a little like a cross between tofu and chicken, with a slightly livery aftertaste. The sweetbreads are served on a pile of fried rice with a slice of foie gras—along with a house-made fortune cookie for those in need of a little prophesizing or advice. ("What's the point of a dress if it doesn't inspire your man to take it off of you?" mine inquired.) The success of this dish alone should be cause to promote Schoenefeld's alter ego from Colonel to General Landon Tso.

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