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BEST NEW RESTAURANT Minneapolis 2008 - Heidi's

Readers' Choice: Meritage

What happens when a bigwig chef—one who cooked in some of New York City's best restaurants, one who graced the cover of Food & Wine's Best New Chef issue—scales back? Wonderful, wonderful things, that's what. Chef Stewart Woodman, the force that launched Five and Restaurant Levain, took over the former Pane Vino Dolce space and named the new restaurant Heidi's, after his wife. The space is cozy and romantic, without feeling slick. And the owners—Stewart, Heidi, and Frank Thorpe, the dapper maitre d'—are a constant presence, which gives the place a welcoming vibe and keeps quality consistent. The food is star-chef fabulous without being fussy. A winter dish of Asian-style braised short ribs was so meltingly tender and zestily sauced it made pot roast seem downright pedestrian. A butter lettuce salad, presented like a bridesmaid's bouquet, could inspire a proposal on the spot. The whole experience has just the right mix of homey and highfalutin, from the jalapeño juice transformed into faux caviar to the beets turned into sorbet. The biggest surprise about the Twin Cities' most interesting menu is that it's so shockingly reasonably priced. Nothing is more than $20, so you can supplement your meal with a glass of wine or something from the new tableside cheese trolley.

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