Heyday and the new face of New American dining
Alma Guzman for City Pages
When a truly good ensemble cast is at work — think Glengarry Glen Ross, Pulp Fiction, or The Royal Tenenbaums — it's a total delight to watch. Each person is at his or her charismatic peak, trusted by the director to go out and do what they do best. After a number of visits to Lyn-Lake's long-awaited Heyday, helmed by La Belle Vie alums chef Jim Christiansen and front-of-house manager Lorin Zinter, we've concluded that it's the Ocean's Eleven of restaurants: a team of talented individuals selected for their special skills and considerable experience, brought together for a single purpose. Only their heist, thankfully, doesn't last just one night (they're open every day of the week at 5 p.m.) and the sequels — or in this case, courses — just get better and better.
In a bold departure from the complicated, often overly fussy plates that have come to signal New American cuisine, the dishes at Heyday, with the exception of the more molecular-leaning desserts created with a big assist from La Belle Vie pastry chef Diane Yang, are mostly very straightforward and singular. Under other circumstances, that would be a Minnesota nice way of calling the food one-note. But the plates we enjoyed at Heyday, from the sweet clams in sherry with rye bread and sea lettuce to the exquisite filet of monkfish with thin yogurt and a few florets of roasted cauliflower, were all quite remarkable. It's food that has the ability to be simultaneously surprising and very "what you see is what you get."
Imagine you're blindfolded. You scoop up a bite of buttery, finely minced lamb tartare on toast, punctuated by teeny-tiny capers and fluttery crisps of fried artichoke. Untie the blinders and that's precisely what you'll see. Every element is recognizable and identifiable, clean and perfectly isolated but still playing nicely with the other pieces in the dish.
Though it sounded like it might be another predictable beet, nut, and goat cheese combo, the sweet beetroot and hazelnut salad ended up having all the comforts of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the luscious textures of panna cotta, which is a very difficult thing to pull off, especially in a salad. Initially a sturdy stone bowl of blanched chopped-up stalks of asparagus appeared to have lost its way, but the cold crispness was refreshing and challenging against the mix of floral yuzu and basil in the background.
Allow yourself to crave a little starch with your raw courses because here, in the midst of the great gluten scare of the early tens, Heyday is bringing back the bread basket. Jo Garrison, formerly of Rye Deli and La Belle Vie (see a pattern here?), is baking everything in house, from rustic brown bread to wonderfully yeasty, almost cheesy dinner rolls made with spent grain from Indeed Brewing, all served with super-fresh cultured butter.
As the Lyn-Lake area's offerings have expanded from cheap pitchers to a slightly higher class of beverage, Heyday smartly appointed Dani Megears to create the manageable but totally outside-the-box wine list, and Britt Tracy, alum of both Marvel Bar and Parlour, to head up the cocktail side. Unlike the elaborate, 10-ingredient drinks we have come to expect in these parts, Tracy's cocktails have a minimalist edge. The Dirty Rotten Scoundrel is like a Piña Colada that finally graduated from college, and while the so-called Health Drank may not contain raw kale juice, it's certainly seductive and invigorating.
The dinner menu is technically arranged from lighter to more robust dishes, but the bolder food tends to be slightly larger in portion, too. Dig into crispy chicken thigh topped with a long spear of caramelized endive and springy, herbaceous nettles. Follow up with crispy lamb belly and flash-seared snap peas with mint, a dish that is somehow totally traditional, like the roasted leg of lamb with mint jelly you might have had at your grandmother's house (and likely did not appreciate) as a kid, but also totally fresh and uncomplicated. The chicken liver mousse tart, covered somewhat jarringly in black, toasted shallot powder, was one of our favorite dishes. The crisp pastry cuts away to reveal ultra-luxe, deeply savory mousse offset by tangy rhubarb compote.
The most entree-like plates are where Christiansen veers into more playful, technical territory. Perfectly roasted squab is served with petals of sweet miniature onions and tapioca dyed with beet juice, making each pearl look exactly like the seed of a pomegranate. The barely cooked beef filet with morel mushrooms and roasted sunchokes featured the loveliest, most gently handled sweetbreads we ever did eat. Do yourself a favor and get over your fear of eating offal. Remember: Ferris Bueller did it on his day off.
Dessert is by far the most daring of all the courses. Christiansen and Yang have taken every opportunity to apply a new texture to a familiar flavor. There's vanilla crème fraîche ice cream with sheets of rhubarb windowpane that melt into gelatin on the tongue, surrounded by "frozen licorice," which is softly sandy, vaguely anise-y, and a touch salty. In other desserts milk is made into solid foam, coffee is crunchy, and maple syrup is whipped into a meringue. You get the distinct feeling you've landed somewhere very different than the place where the meal started, but the journey is a fun one.
Like the stylist who barbers go to see when they need a new 'do, Heyday will likely be one of those restaurants where chefs, line cooks, and bartenders will go to eat and drink. So it's good news for them (and for us laypeople) that Heyday has a pretty killer little late-night menu. When dinner service ends around 10 p.m., swing into the big beautiful bar side of the restaurant, recall that it was, incredibly, once a laundromat, and order up rich chicken liver mousse on grilled sourdough toast for $7, house-made cheese crisps with caramelized onion dip for $3, or partake in the ritual of staff meal (right now it's kimchi fried rice topped with a poached egg) for $9.
If you like to eat simply but adventurously, think a good cocktail should not cost $14, appreciate fine product showcased in really well-executed dishes, and like to dine in jeans and sneaks, consider Heyday your El Dorado. For our money, it's a strong contender, if not the frontrunner, for best new restaurant of the year so far. Keep in mind that it's only May, but also just think what this means when they start serving brunch, which we have on good authority will be before the end of this summer.
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