A Cooking Class
Minnesota cuisine-o-philes, attend! Grip firmly your hats, seize tightly your lids, and don't say I didn't warn you: Now is the time to spot food celebrities, and any cookbook collector given to flipping his or her lid is in for a flipping of untold dimension, for lo, Minneapolis is hosting the annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals April 25-29. Chefs, food writers, cookbook authors, they're all here to meet, to gossip, to confer. And if you've got good eyes, you've got a decent chance of spotting Emeril Legasse (the bam! man, star of so many Food Network shows), Martin Yan (of the Yan Can Cook empire), John Mariani (here because of his new, IACP-award-nominated cookbook The Italian-American Cookbook, but also author of the oughta-be-in-every-library Dictionary of American Food and Drink), Chuck Williams (of Williams-Sonoma--someone go see if the IDS Skyway store is quaking in its boots), Madeleine Kamman (prolific author and 20th-century French-food-in-America avatar), Julia Child (Julia Child), and many, many others.
When these culinary professionals are not hard at work, I suspect you'll be able to spot them terrorizing our sommeliers (who could use a good workout), puzzling over what a walleye could be (it's a freshwater perch), and, I'm betting, unsuccessfully seeking cocktails in our skyways. This I draw from some advice on the IACP Web site, namely that the "skyway encompasses myriad shops, services, restaurants, nightlife, and a theater."
Which is one of those statements so manifestly true and untrue it begs for an insider's correction: Yes, the skyway encompasses nightlife and a theater--in the half-block between Palomino and the Capital Grille it does. But mostly, the skyway encompasses a lot of cash machines and places to grab lunch on the way to picking up your dry cleaning. And it encompasses a whole lot of nothing after business hours, because it all locks down into a ghost town sometime after lunch. So, in lieu of my standard restaurant review, what follows this week is a sort of insider's guide to Minneapolis for culinary professionals.
Where to dine? People often ask restaurant critics, "Don't you ever just want to relax and enjoy yourself and not think about what you're eating?" The answer is usually, "I am relaxed, and I do enjoy myself." But the truth behind that statement is that this is my home turf, and I've got all the time in the world to enjoy the beautiful variety of dim lights and flickering lights and bright lights and weird red candles melting spectacularly on the floor. In another city, I am less sanguine. I want the best the city has to offer, and if I don't get it, I want to leap from the table in mid-entrée to go elsewhere.
Where would I point culinary professionals in Minneapolis? Goodfellow's and Aquavit are the two to beat. Goodfellow's does sophisticated American regional cooking and serves it in an art-deco jewel box of a room. I go to Goodfellow's fairly often, and I'm rarely disappointed. Aquavit is the local branch of the New York, forward-looking Scandinavian restaurant, and I find the food alternately absolutely breathtaking and bafflingly clumsy, often at the same meal. (Please note that both Goodfellow's and Aquavit have bars where you can linger over a cocktail while surveying the room, and you can sample each restaurant's stunning desserts there. Both are open for lunch, too.) The third jewel in the crown is supposed to be newly chandelier-bedecked pan-Italian D'Amico Cucina. This Minneapolis mainstay recently redid itself, so here's your chance to be the first on your block to post a review.
After that, I love three of the really good smaller-scale chef-driven restaurants in town: Alma, Auriga, and Lucia's. All are in residential neighborhoods, so you will need to take a cab. It will be worth it. Aquavit, IDS Center, 80 S. Eighth St., Minneapolis; (612) 343-3333. Goodfellow's, 40 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis; (612) 332-4800. D'Amico Cucina, 100 N. Sixth St., Minneapolis; (612) 338-2401. Restaurant Alma, 528 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis; (612) 379-4909. Auriga, 1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; (612) 871-0777. Lucia's, 1432 W. 31st St., Minneapolis; (612) 825-1572.
Those amazing Parasoles: If you care about restaurant trends, give Parasole Restaurant Holdings a good look, because this company could sell ravioli to Chef Boyardee--and it will, in your town, sooner than you think. Buca is the best-known Parasole restaurant. Management honed the red-sauce-and-glee concept here for a few years, then spun the restaurant off into its own company and set it running. Now there are 59 Bucas, and so many more to come. The next concept spun off on its own was Oceanaire: This upscale, vaguely postwar-prosperity-themed restaurant is a chef-driven, fish-as-steak idea that does gangbuster business here; recently launched a successful Washington, D.C., location; and will open in early 2002 in Seattle. (Yes, they do see the irony in Midwesterners selling seafood to coast-dwellers.) Oceanaire is beloved for being fun, fancy, and classy without being at all highbrow. Expect one in your hometown, sooner rather than later.
The newest Parasole venture, Chino Latino, opened last spring and specializes in "foods from the hot zone," which Parasole says means any food that originates within 1,000 miles of the equator, and I say is just every under-35's favorite foods-that-aren't-pizza: mostly Thai, Mexican, Caribbean, Korean, and Chinese. Add sexy décor, sexy lighting, and big, expensive cocktails that make the crowd look especially sexy, and you've got a combination that can't lose. Right now the restaurant is still perfecting the Chino Latino concept, though they say they're already getting offers from all over the country to open a Chino in a city near you. Drink the future. The original Buca di Beppo, 1204 Harmon Pl., Minneapolis; (612) 638-2225. The Oceanaire Seafood Room, 1300 Nicollet Mall (in the Hyatt Regency), Minneapolis; (612) 333-2277. Chino Latino, 2916 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis; (612) 824-7878.
Should I go to St. Paul? And what is the deal with St. Paul, anyway? I get asked this question by every visitor who ever comes to the Twin Cities. So here's the inside dope on St. Paul: As nature made it, St. Paul was the northernmost navigable point of the Mississippi River. When riverboats were a main form of transport, this made St. Paul very important. Then trains came to St. Paul, and things were loaded off trains and onto boats. St. Paul got very, very big. This all ended before World War II, and St. Paul has been off its game, and in Minneapolis's shadow, ever since. Now, for those in the know, St. Paul offers considerable treasures: Get a table at itsy-bitsy, Italian Ristorante Luci or hip and affordable bistro Café Zander and you're in clover, but both of those are restaurants in residential neighborhoods and not near much. As far as this critic can figure, there isn't a restaurant in downtown St. Paul right now that's worth a trip from out of state. (Yes, dear regular readers, I've boarded up all my windows, in preparation for the coming bricks.) Ristorante Luci, 470 S. Cleveland Ave., St. Paul; (651) 699-8258. Zander Café, 525 Selby Ave., St Paul; (651) 222-5224.
What's the deal with Minneapolis? Once upon a time, there was a great and fearsome waterfall in the Mississippi. Some said you could hear it 15 miles away. It was a sacred place to the Sioux who lived here. When settlers arrived, they discovered that the waterfall was perfect for turning water wheels and turbines, which made it a great tool for grinding grain into flour, and slicing forests into lumber. Scads and scads of mills popped up all around the waterfall--lumber mills, grain mills--earning Minneapolis the nickname "Mill City." Then some greedy bastards couldn't get any waterfront real estate to put their new mill on, and got the bright idea of tunneling under the falls. Turned out their engineering was as hare-brained as their scheme, and the tunnel collapsed, destroying the falls. This happened in 1869, and all the other mills converted and made do without the falls. But if it seems like Minneapolis was sort of randomly dropped by aliens into the middle of the prairie, now you know better.
(Extra-credit question: How is it that Minneapolis is quite a few miles upriver from St. Paul but the two cities lie east-west from one another? Because around here, the Mississippi flows southeast, until it decides against it, and goes northeast for a while, before resuming a southeast path. Which is why you can be in Highland Park and have the river both to your west and to your east. Yes, I did say it flows north. Really. North. It does. Ask anyone.)
Any milling lately? Nope. But as a legacy of that milling money, we do have the National Baking Center on the outskirts of downtown Minneapolis, a place in which bakers from around the world train new generations in artisanal bread production. The best place to experience the fruits of this concentrated bread activity is the Turtle Bread Company, a National Baking Center-enhanced bakery and counter-service café where they make a whole line of great breads from specially sourced flours, using a whole range of old-fashioned techniques. They also sell Minneapolis's best chocolates, made by local chocolatier B.T. McElrath, and bake pies so good they make you want to chain yourself to the chairs. National Baking Center, 818 Dunwoody Blvd., Minneapolis; (612) 374-3303. Turtle Bread Company 3421 W. 44th St., Minneapolis; (612) 924-6013.
Hey! What about us natives? There is one way for civilians to get in on some of that IACP insidery goodness: Attend Culinary Harmonies, a fundraiser for the IACP Foundation. The $100 or $75 tickets will get you into an event with wine tasting, food sampling, a concert, and a chance to mingle with stars, including Julia Child, Emeril Legasse, Lidia Bastianich, Martin Yan, and our own Lynne Rossetto Kasper. It's all for a good cause--or several: Proceeds benefit culinary scholarships, research grants for food writers, world hunger relief, and cooking workshops for children. Culinary Harmonies: Thursday, April 26, starting at 5:00 p.m. at Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; (612) 371-5656.
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