When we got chef Landon Schoenefeld on the phone the word of the day was "busy."
In between madly testing recipes for the upcoming joint concept Nighthawks/Birdie, which is going into the old Shorty & Wag's space on Nicollet, he's grooming his staff at Haute Dish for his impending absence once the new place opens sometime between February 1 and March 1. He says he's feeling confident though -- he's got a good, solid staff in place.
"Finding cooks is not a problem of mine," he says, alluding to the apparent professional cook shortage that many chefs in the Twin Cities are experiencing.
While we know that Nighthawks will have a loose interpretation of a diner feel (it takes inspiration from the famous Edward Hopper painting of the same name), exactly what kinds of dishes can we expect?
"Well, you know the book by Heston Blumenthal called In Search of Total Perfection?"
(In case you don't, think very exacting chef trying to perfect the most iconic dishes -- things like roast chicken and pizza.)
"It's kind of like that. I want to make my idea of a perfect chicken noodle soup. So last week I made five chicken noodle soups. I'm taking an element from this version, and that version and making one. The best one."
He says he'll be doing the same thing with chili, hot dogs, burgers.
"But if Haute Dish's burger was the 'X' this one is going to be the 'Y'" he explains, in total philosopher's terms. Meaning, it will be different from Haute Dish's iconic take on a '70s kid's Big Mac, and instead will be more like a squishy bun Smashburger.
He's also "sneakily" inserted some vegetarian items onto the menu.
"I've long been saying that vegetarian food is like the last frontier for the creative chef," he says (if you want proof of this, check out the Sunday vegetarian tasting menu at Haute Dish). He recalls that an old girlfriend was constantly pestering him to make her a vegetarian French Onion soup, and it was always terrible. "But I finally made one that I'm very pleased with. It only took 12 years."
And no, he's not going to look up the old girlfriend.
Birdie, the tasting menu room, will only be open three nights a week, and probably only seat 12 at a time, two seatings per night, for a multi-course tasting menu.
"People are always saying that fine dining is dead, but that isn't true. It's just that the face of it is changing. The 70- to 80-seat fine dining full service restaurant just doesn't work in this economy. So, I think I can do it under the veil of something more casual."
Other hinted-at items include a soft-serve ice cream machine with a twist cone attachment, maybe his own take on Blizzards, a popcorn machine, and "god forbid," maybe even ways to accommodate vegans.
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