Let's talk food, from restaurants and recipes to farmers markets, food issues and wine. Lee Svitak Dean, Rick Nelson and Kim Ode will start the conversation.

DeCamp to head new Hotel Ivy restaurant

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: February 6, 2015 - 9:44 AM

The restaurant space inside the Hotel Ivy – formerly known as Porter & Frye, and dark for the past two weeks – is getting a new operator.

Jester Concepts, the fast-growing enterprise behind Borough, Parlour, Coup d’etat and Marche, announced this morning that it is taking over the space and rebranding it as a “coastal Italian” restaurant, along with a lobby bar and low-level cocktail destination.

The company has recruited La Belle Vie chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp to run the kitchen. DeCamp has long been a key figure at the state’s top fine-dining establishment and has worked with La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee for the bulk of his career.

DeCamp was a teenager when he started working at the restaurant’s original Stillwater location in the late 1990s, and after a stint in Chicago he returned to the Twin Cities in 2005 to open La Belle Vie’s posh quarters in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis. He has been there ever since, and has been McKee's chef de cuisine for the past eight years.

It will be fascinating (and no doubt delicious) to watch the gifted DeCamp (pictured, above, in the La Belle Vie kitchen in a 2012 Star Tribune file photo) step out on his own after such a long, happy and successful association with McKee, who is once again proving his mettle as a mentor to a new generation of Twin Cities chefs. 

(DeCamp maintains a lively social media presence. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be.)

The bar program will be developed by Jester’s Jesse Held and managed by bartender Jeff Erkkila. Michelle Massey, a Bachelor Farmer veteran, is the project’s general manager.

The project – still unnamed – involves a complete makeover of the problematic Porter & Frye space. ESG Architects of Minneapolis is adding a new street entrance and a patio for the restaurant, and is eliminating a large staircase between the dining room and what will become the lower-level cocktail bar.

Porter & Frye’s brief 2008 heyday was the stuff of legend. The chefs working in that talent incubator of a kitchen have gone on to operate some of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants, including Steven Brown (Tilia), Doug Flicker (Piccolo) and Mike Brown and James Winberg (Travail Kitchen and Amusements). Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone both went on to run Sea Change and are now developing Brut.

In the restaurant’s post-Brown era, the kitchen was staffed by Joan Ida (formerly of Goodfellow’s) and Sara Master (now at Barbette).

As for La Belle Vie, DeCamp’s departure is the latest in a year-long string of major players, including barkeep Johnny Michaels (who went on to develop a bar menu for McKee’s Libertine), manager Bill Summerville and pastry chef Diane Yang (both are now gracing Spoon and Stable; Yang was replaced by Niki Francioli, formerly of Brasserie Zentral and Sea Change, and Summerville has been replaced by Matthew Anderson) but turnover is an inevitability in the industry, and it gives restaurant-watchers something to discuss as staff members move on and kitchens, bars and dining rooms evolve.

A late spring opening is planned, just in time to go up against a second downtown Italian newcomer, Il Foro, the remake of the Forum Cafeteria space.

New restaurants headed to Ridgedale

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: February 2, 2015 - 10:57 AM

When the Twin Cities’ second Nordstrom opens on Oct. 2 at Ridgedale in Minnetonka, the store (pictured, above, in a provided photo) will include a full-service restaurant as well as a coffee counter.

Mediterranean-inspired Ruscello will feature salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and risottos. Menu items include ciabatta filled with chile-rubbed pork tenderloin and a dried cherry-napa cabbage slaw, pizza topped with prosciutto and arugula, lemon-scented risotto served with shrimp and asparagus, and grilled vegetables tossed in a Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette. The bar will serve cocktails, beer and wine.

It’ll be the third Ruscello outlet for the Seattle-based retailer; the other two are located in suburban Atlanta and suburban Chicago.

Mall of America shoppers will recognize the store’s Ebar, a counter-service operation that focuses on coffee and tea and includes a small sandwich/salad grab-and-go component.

Also coming to Ridgedale: the Twin Cities’ second Kona Grill outlet. The steak-and-sushi chain, which operates 30 locations in 19 states, will be located on the mall’s north side and will open prior to October.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 4

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Baking, Recipes Updated: January 30, 2015 - 8:36 PM

For the fourth round of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Project, I turned to my close personal friend Dorie Greenspan.

We've never met, of course, but her cookbooks have played a vital role in my baking life for more years than I can recall, so it feels as if we have a meaningful (if wholly one-sided) relationship of long standing.

There’s a Toll House-like recipe in my well-worn copy of her “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” and I almost went there. But then I took a shot and pulled her recently released “Baking Chez Moi: Recipes from My Paris Home to Your Home Anywhere” off our kitchen library shelf and began flipping through the index. Could it be possible? Can the French -- or, at the very least, an American in Paris -- have a thing for chocolate chip cookies?

Of course they do, and La Greenspan is on it, naturally. Her recipe originates with bistro owner Eduoard Bobin, and when she first glanced over his recipe, she was disappointed to find little difference from the familiar American version that graces the back of so many chocolate chip packages.

Wait, had my Dorie made a mistake that trips up many bakers and cooks? Had she not read the recipe twice? She doesn't come out and say that, but she does admit to not initially noticing a few key alterations (a failing which, in my worldview, was a tremendously humanizing moment for someone I have long imagined residing in one of Olympus' better neighborhoods, and only increased my reverence for her). There’s significantly more flour in this iteration than the basic American version, and the nuts aren’t chopped, they’re ground.

Ok, this sounded compellingly offbeat, enough to test-drive. And then a light bulb went off over my head: Almond flour! What a great use for the almond flour that's sitting in my pantry, leftovers from our 2014 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest winner. (Greenspan also recommends hazelnut flour).

Here's another quirk: Greenspan suggests adding an unusual step while the cookies are baking. Midway through, use a spatula to gently press down the tops of each cookie. I bake batches that followed this advice, and others that ignored it, and frankly I didn’t see much of a difference between the two (sure, the pressed ones had spread slightly wider, but not much), other than the tops of some of the pressed cookies ended up with unattractive chocolate smears, a result from coming in contact with the spatula.

As for the cookies, I liked, but didn’t tumble head-over-heels. They’ve got the thick shape and chewy texture that I generally aim for (and rarely achieve) in a chocolate chip cookie, and I love the look of the flecks of almond that dot the the dough (it helped that the almond flour I was using was technically almond meal, which uses unblanched almonds, resulting in that verigated brown-and-gold look; almond flour, which is made with blanched almonds, is a pale, monochromatic gold). The chocolate-dough ratio is good, too, a close-to 50/50 match. 

But they lack they enticing caramel brown color that generally grabs my eye, and their cakey texture (due to all that extra flour, no doubt) is drier and less buttery than the Toll House role model that obviously still continues to rule my world. However, they’re fantastic with milk, and what more can a chocolate chip cookie fanatic ask for?

EDUOARD’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Note: From “Baking Chez Moi” by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40).

3 1/2 c. flour

1 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. lightly packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

2 eggs

12 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or 2 c. chocolate chips)

1 1/2 c. almond or hazelnut flour

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla extract and beat until well-combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 4 to 5 additions, mixing only until each addition is just incorporated. Add chocolate and nut flour and mix until just combined. Divide dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (and up to 3 days).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop dough into golf ball-size mounds (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes and then, using a clean metal spatula, gently press each mound down just a little; rotate the baking sheet and bake until cookies are pale brown, about 7 to 8 minutes. (They’ll still be slightly soft in the center, but that’s fine – they’ll firm up as they cool). Remove from oven and cool 1 minute before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Burger Friday: Get a burrito with that burger at Peppers & Fries

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: January 30, 2015 - 1:47 PM

The burger: After decades of seeing development continually transform the Uptown side of Lake Street, it’s encouraging to see steady signs of life spring up at the far eastern end of one of Minneapolis’ principal thoroughfares. Naturally, food and drink are major driving forces behind this happy revival.

The latest example, Peppers & Fries, opened earlier this week, and it's doing double urban duty. Not only have the father-daughter ownership team of Steve Frias and Maria Frias started to draw a steady stream of customers to another E. Lake St. corner, but they’ve managed to yank the blight out of a boarded-up former SuperAmerica outlet, one of those stubbornly blight-inducing properties that can vex a neighborhood for years (witness the long-abandoned former Taco Bell outlet just down the street, which is now also starting to show promising activity; does anyone know what’s going on?).

The Frias duo have a lifetime of restaurant management swirling in their DNA. Correction: several lifetimes. Steve’s parents, Guillermo and Gloria Frias, founded St. Paul’s landmark Boca Chica Restaurante Mexicano y Cantina in 1964. Steve also operated his own restaurant, Burnsville's Coronado’s Mexican Restaurante, and along with working in the family business, Marie has been a front-of-house presence in area restaurants for more than a decade.

A father-daughter partnership was inevitable. “We’ve always talked about opening our own place,” said Marie. They decided to emphasize two favorite foods: burgers and burritos. “Obviously, when it comes to the burrito side, we have that down,” said Marie with a laugh. But burgers? “They have always been a passion of my dad’s,” she said. “I used to tag along with him while he looked for the best burgers.”

All of that quasi-research has obviously paid off. Their menu features nine burger varieties, and a few leap off the page. One piles grilled jalapeños, chipotle-seasoned mayo and zesty pepper Jack cheese, a fiery combo that’s appropriately named the Firehouse 21. Another lays on the bacon, peanut butter and pepper jelly, a totally on-trend combo.

But Burger Friday tends to stick to the classics, and in this regard, P & F's COLT burger (American Cheese, Onion, Lettuce and Tomato) doesn’t disappoint.

The obviously freshly formed 6-oz. beef patty (the meat hails from Husnik Meat Co., a family-owned South St. Paul processor that has been in business since the late 1920s) was billed as being cooked to medium, but it arrived as a far more palatable medium rare. The thinnish patty reached out to the bun’s outer edges, and its flavorful outer char — evenly seared on the kitchen’s busy flat top — gave way to a lightly pinkish interior with a slightly juicy (if somewhat underseasoned) bite.

There’s no skimping on the California-style embellishments. Tucked under the patty is a veritable side salad of crisply leafy lettuce, a few so-so slices of tomato and several rounds of tangy raw red onion, while the top is blanked in salty, melted-to-perfection American cheese. There’s mayo, too, and it’s described on the menu as a garlic aioli, not that my taste buds detected anything that came close to fitting that description. But the generous swipe managed to fulfull all creamy-fatty requirements.

Full marks for the no-nonsense bun -- soft, puffed-up, golden, with a gentle toast -- that the Friases wisely order from P.J. Murphy’s Bakery, another long-standing 651 supplier. Add it all up, and it’s a fine example of a burger-joint gutbomb (in the most admiring and affectionate sense of that word) done right. If this were my neighborhood, I’d be calling up the Welcome Wagon.

Price: $8.95, a deal.

Fries: Included. Meh. Mine arrived looking great: Slim, skin-on cuts that were golden-verging-on-brown and liberally salted. Alas, they turned out to be greasy and limp. I probably should have splurged and gone with the Tater Tots instead; they’re an extra buck.

Extras: Although months away, spring can’t come fast enough for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the way the Friases have replaced the building’s front wall with a series of glass garage doors, which, when weather permits, will open up to a patio. In the meantime, the super-casual 80-seat room is peppered (no pun intended, honest) with baseball memorabilia, a nod to Steve Frias’ favorite summertime pastime (which probably also explains the all-beef hot dog selection). The appetizer list keeps the kitchen's deep fryer going full-tilt, the bar carries a full liquor license and the Friases have made an effort to pull in local craft beers. Oh, and dessert is ice cream, from nearby Izzy’s. As for the restaurant’s name, it makes total sense. 

“My dad’s nickname growing up was ‘Fries,’ because his last name is Frias, so that obviously makes sense,” said Marie. “And it’s ‘Peppers’ because Dad always called me ‘My little pepper’ when I was younger.” Sweet, right?

Address book: 3900 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-353-6730. Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, bar open to midnight Sunday through Thursday and to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

Bake this chocolate chip cookie, part 3

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Baking, Recipes Updated: January 28, 2015 - 5:01 PM

It was one of those situations where I knew the answer before I asked the question.

As in, I was fairly certain that my friend Scott, an accomplished and prolific baker, would respond in the affirmative when I made the inevitable inquery: Did he have a favorite non-Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe?

Please. Of course he did.

“It’s the recipe I’ve used for the last 15 years and have made about 8,000 times,” he said. “I’m always told it’s the best cookie anyone has ever had. And yes, the recipe really is called ‘The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.’”

We'll see about that. But first, back up for a second. Really, eight thousand? Maybe he was exaggerating, although given the amount of time I imagine Scott's oven to be in preheat mode, maybe not.

“I’m sure I’ve made 300 batches of them,” he said, correcting himself. “But they’re one of my three basic recipes [the other two are chocolate cake and caramel rolls, and they sound like fodder for stories down the road] that people go insane for, and demand the recipe, and refer to as ‘Scott’s’ and then make for themselves.”

So far, so good. What I wasn’t expecting is what came next, and it’s all that I needed to hear. I mean, talk about your ultimate in recipe endorsements.

“I got it from a nun,” he said.

Sold.

Not 10 minutes later and the recipe landed in my e-mail box (send yours to rick.nelson@startribune.com), and it looked promising. It’s a definite detour off the Toll House highway, what with its rolled oat overtones and rich bittersweet/milk chocolate mix.

Then my eyes got to the bottom of the ingredients list, and all of my hopes and dreams came to a crashing halt.

Butterscotch chips.Seriously, butterscotch chips?

No. I just can’t even. And I’ve tried. If Scott is the defacto president of the I-Hate-Semisweet-Chocolate Club, then I’m a card-carrying member of the Butterscotch-Chips-Are-Banned-For-Life Association.

“You’re such a snob,” he said with a laugh. “Why do you judge all of my choices?”

Maybe because butterscotch chips are the work of the devil?

“You can make them without,” he said. “You could also use a cup of toasted pecans. I forgot to add that. One out of 10 times, I do that.”

I’ll remember that. Wanting to stay true to his recipe -- but also knowing my extreme distaste for those fake-tasting Nestle's butterscotch chips (seriously, have you ever run across a palatable version, anywhere? They all have the scent and flavor of a chemistry lab, not a kitchen) -- I decided to bake half a batch with them, and half a batch without them.

The result? Loved. Well, the non-butterscotch ones, anyway. It's a real lunch box cookie, and I offer that as the highest of compliments. The oats are a big part of the appeal; one bite, and I was immediately reminded of a favorite commercially prepared chocolate chip cookie with oat-ey undertones, baked by Tank Goodness, the local we-delivery-warm-cookies operation.

But Scott’s “Best” cookies are a completely different animal: Thin-ish, crisp and delightfully chewy, and jammed with a powerful but not overpowering chocolate bite. The bittersweet/milk chocolate split works wonders with the oats (which explains my ridiculous affection for the Fabulous Fudge bars at Bread & Chocolate in St. Paul). The oats contribute more of a texture thing than a flavor thing, lending a pleasant kind of heft, yet allowing some traditional chocolate chip cookie essence to shine through. 

“Most people don’t realize that there are oats in there,” said Scott.

The two-bite size is another asset. I think I’m officially over enormous cookies, in part because they foster too much dietary guilt. But these? “You can eat a hundred of them,” said Scott with a laugh. “And I use excellent ingredients: Hope Butter, etc. So they’re quality little morsels.”

No wonder he’s baked hundreds of batches.

“I don’t want to oversell them,” he said. “But I think they’re pretty terrific.”

Me too.

THE BEST CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

Note: Rolled oats are also known as old fashioned oats. In place of butterscotch chips, consider adding 1 cup of toasted, chopped pecans. From Scott Rohr of St. Paul. Rohr is the winner of the 2010 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest. Find his winning recipe, Pistachio-Orange Cookies, here.

2 c. flour

2 1/2 c. rolled oats

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda         

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. granulated sugar

1 c. golden brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 10-oz. bag bittersweet chocolate chips

1 11.5.-oz. bag milk chocolate chips

1 11.-oz. bag butterscotch chops, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In large bowl, stir flour, oats, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and reserve.

In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in bittersweet chocolate, milk chocolate and butterscotch chips (optional). Form dough into 3/4 tbsp. balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly brown, about 8 to 9 minutes; do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

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