On most Thursdays, critic Rick Nelson fields any and all restaurant-related questions in a live chat on Startribune.com. Here's a summary of last week's discussion.
Here's a summary of last week's live discussion with Rick Nelson. Join him next Thursday, from noon to 1 p.m.
Q We're still hoping to go leaf watching. Any destination dining you can recommend?
A Plenty. Why not drive down to ultra-scenic Lake Pepin and hit some favorites? On the Wisconsin side, I like the Smiling Pelican Bakeshop for baker Sandra Thielman's excellent pies, cookies and quiche (W3556 Hwy. 35, Maiden Rock, Wis., 1-715-448-3807), and the Homemade Cafe (809 3rd St., Pepin, Wis., 612-396-5804, www.thehomemadecafe.com) for killer Reuben sandwiches and pie. If you find yourself in or near Stockholm, Wis., on a Tuesday afternoon, head over to A to Z Produce & Bakery (2956 Anker Lane, Stockholm, Wis., www.atozproduceandbakery.com) for awesome wood-fired pizza, made using ingredients raised on the farm and served outdoors, starting at 4:30 p.m. On the Minnesota side, a stop at Rabbit's Bakery (304 S. Washington St., Lake City, Minn., 1-651-345-3199) for breakfast or lunch is a must. If you're headed north along the St. Croix, drop in for wood-fired pizza at dinner- only Olives Pizza (11 Judd St., Marine on St. Croix, 651-538-2124, www.olivesmarine.com), and the wonderfully retro Drive-In (572 Bench St., Taylors Falls, Minn., 651-465-7831, www.taylorsfalls.com).
Q Last I heard, the great chef at Vintage in Lanesboro had left. Any idea how good it is now?
A I'm sorry to say that it has been several years since I've dined there. I was in Lanesboro last summer and had a marvelous meal on the deck at the Old Village Hall (111 Coffee St., Lanesboro, Minn., 1-507-467-2962, www.oldvillagehall.com), a day-trip destination that I've always enjoyed. Oh, and to me it's inconceivable to make the trek to that part of the state and not hop over to the nearby Aroma Pie Shop (618 Main St., Whalan, Minn., 1-507-467-2623). It's terrific. And yes, I appear to be on a pie kick.
Q We're going to Red Wing this weekend. Is there anywhere you suggest for lunch?
A I'd go to the Smokey Row Cafe (1926 W. Main St., Red Wing, Minn., 1-651-388-6025, www.smokeyrowcafe.com), where the soups and salads are made from scratch, and the baked goods are first-rate. It's near the entrance to the Cannon River trail.
Q Have you eaten at Terra Waconia? I've heard great things about it and am considering a trek that would include Parley Lake Winery (www.parleylakewinery.com) and Deardorff apples (www.deardorfforchards.com).
A It's definitely worth the visit (140 W. Main St., Waconia, 952-442-3353, www.terrawaconia.com). Chef Craig Sharp knows what he's doing, and it's a treat to drop in and see what he has on his chalkboard menu. The space is charming, another benefit, and the wine list is well-tended. It's dinner only, so it's a great way to end a late-afternoon autumn leaves drive.
Q What's the best thing you've eaten in a restaurant lately? Mine is definitely the Big Woods blue cheese Napoleon at the Bachelor Farmer (50 N. 2nd Av., Mpls., 612-206-3920, www.thebachelorfarmer.com).
A Hands down, it was the lunch I recently enjoyed at the raw bar at Sea Change (806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-225-6499, www.seachangempls.com). I'm not sure which one of chef Jamie Malone's dishes was more memorable: the abalone with thinly shaved asparagus and tart yuzu, the beautiful langostines that had been infused with rosemary, or the scallop with pops of compressed (and super-flavorful) watermelon and birch beer. The oysters were phenomenal, too.
Q My folks have just bought a house in Brooklyn Park, and it's Mom's birthday. We want to find a place in Brooklyn Park so we can celebrate. So far, I've only seen chains up there, but there has to be something more. We are open to any type of dining. Any suggestions?
A I admire your perseverance. Going local isn't easy in the 763, for reasons that mystify me, as the area certainly isn't lacking in diners. Here's my suggestion: Nectar Wine Bar & Bistro (204 Central Av., Osseo, 763-657-7231, www.nectarbistro.com), the very sweet storefront cafe in downtown Osseo (that's Brooklyn Park adjacent, right?); I enjoyed a lovely dinner there last week. For dessert, run over to Nadia Cakes (11650 Fountains Dr. N., Maple Grove, 763-575-8885, www.nadiacakes.com) in Maple Grove's Arbor Lakes district. For something more casual, you could also check out the nearby 50's Grill (5524 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center, 763-560-4947, www.50sgrill.com).
Q Have you traveled anywhere lately, and eaten anything worthwhile we should know about? A I was recently in Washington, D.C., and I ate very, very well. I don't have enough time here to go into detail, so I'll shorthand it to a single, must-visit restaurant: Little Serow (www.littleserow.com). It's the work of chef Johnny Monis (he owns Komi, located upstairs), and it was one of the most enjoyable restaurant experiences that I've had in ages, with an exceptional five-course, family-style Thai (in some cases, scorching Thai) meal for $45. It's a no-reservations zone, and it's tiny, maybe 30 seats. We got in line an hour before the door opened. By the time 5:30 p.m. rolled around, there were nearly 100 people behind us, so I felt fortunate indeed to have made the first seating.
OK, two others. Taking mallets to an enormous box of steamed Chesapeake Bay crabs on the dining room table at the home of my friends Sally and Michael proved to be a fantastic -- and relatively low-fuss -- way to throw a dinner party. And ShopHouse (www.shophousekitchen.com), the Asian (and not afraid of spice) version of Chipotle, is getting a test drive from the company in D.C.'s Dupont Circle neighborhood. All I can say is, please come to the Twin Cities. Soon.
Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @ricknelsonstrib
Poll: Which 2013 Taste Holiday Cookie Contest entry do you most want to try?