Two new eateries are return engagements

  • Article by: RICK NELSON
  • Updated: October 25, 2007 - 10:34 AM

What a pleasure it is to be eating Stewart Woodman's food once again.

What a pleasure it is to be eating Stewart Woodman's food once again.

Nearly a year has passed since the implosion of his Five Restaurant & Street Lounge, too long for such a talent to languish on the sidelines. Now he's back, at Heidi's Minneapolis. From my vantage point I could catch glimpses of Woodman as he worked in the restaurant's lilliputian kitchen, transforming commonplace ingredients with his usual vivid imagination and technical prowess. This time around, Woodman is immersed in a much more affordable price range: entrees average $15, and appetizers hover in the $8 neighborhood.

Beet salad: Boring, right? Wrong. Instead of yawning through blue cheese and walnuts, there are thick slices of roasted beets paired with caramelized Brussels sprouts and an icy beet sorbet. Buffalo-style shrimp sounded like he was slumming at TGI Friday's, but it turned out to be spicy, barely battered shellfish cooled by a light blue cheese-celery dipping sauce. Spring rolls, filled with sweet crab, were livened by a flavorful cilantro pesto. Juicy, crisp-skinned chicken was served on the bone like a Tootsie Pop. Succulent short ribs fell apart at the slightest pressure from my fork and shared the plate with sesame spaetzel, and I didn't want to miss a bite. A lively curry sauce brought out the best in a peppery pork tenderloin. Other entrees include poached pheasant, steamed halibut and a pair of vegetarian dishes.

Woodman's spouse -- and the restaurant's namesake -- has returned, too, preparing desserts ($5.50 to $7) that include lemon creme brulee and a back-to-basics warm chocolate pudding. The intelligent wine list follows the kitchen's affordable-price lead, with nearly a third of the bottles at $30 or less. Sunday brunch should appear shortly.

The former Pane Vino Dolce has undergone a minor overhaul. What I noticed most was that there are fewer seats crammed into its two tiny side-by-side dining rooms. What hasn't changed is that the dim lighting and unadorned surroundings continue to make it one of the most romantic spots in town.

• • •

Nick and Eddie reminds me of what would happen if the cool kids from high school went on to launch their own restaurant. You knew the type: Their fake IDs got them into downtown clubs, they refused to learn the lyrics to the school fight song, they read Kerouac and Sartre on the school bus and their clothes were obviously not purchased in the Town & Country department at Dayton's. And you secretly wanted to be just like them.

The cool kids here are Steven Vranian and Jessica Anderson; he handles the savory duties, she's the baker. Their new enterprise, a spare and seamless overhaul of the former Ruby's Cafe and a next-door men's clothing store, has cool-kid touches at every turn, a canny mix of old (terrazzo floor, high ceilings, Loring Park views) and new (a handsome L-shaped bar, a private dining room perched on a balcony, eye-catching art and a small constellation of bare-bulb light fixtures).

The straightforward menu starts simple: Rich chicken liver pate spread across grilled bread and topped with slices of crisp bacon, spicy beef borscht, crisp potato pancakes finished with a creamy smoked whitefish salad, a toss of endive, watercress and persimmons. From there it branches into eight entrees, including slow-braised beef over a parsnip puree, thick slices of grilled duck paired with a wild rice-hominy combination, steak two ways, a roast chicken breast and pork and salmon plates. Desserts go from a parfait glass filled with a rich butterscotch pudding and a splash of cream to a sprightly chocolate roulade.

Breakfast and lunch are a few weeks off, as is a counter for Anderson's breads and sweets, nirvana for anyone who recalls her riches at the former Bakery on Grand. Like Heidi's, prices are approachable: Appetizers are $3.50 to $8, entrees average $15, desserts are $5 and a quarter of the bottles on the drinkable wine list are $30 or less. Very cool, indeed.

Rick Nelson • 612-673-4757

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