On most Thursdays, including today, critic Rick Nelson fields restaurant-related questions in a live chat format online at Startribune.com at noon. Here’s a summary of some of his recent discussions.
Q: Any reactions to the recent James Beard semifinalists announcement?
A: I was (happily) struck by the number of Twin Cities women on that semifinalists list. There’s Kim Bartmann, owner of Barbette (1600 W. Lake St., Mpls. www.barbette.com), Red Stag Supperclub (501 1st Av. NE., Mpls., www.redstagsupperclub.com), Pat’s Tap (3510 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., www.patstap.com) and Bryant-Lake Bowl (810 W. Lake St., Mpls., www.bryantlakebowl.com), in the outstanding restaurateur category, which is cool because she is such an innovator on so many fronts, including sustainability issues. And Jamie Malone of Sea Change (806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.seachangempls.com) in the rising star chef of the year category, which honors chefs age 30 and under. And Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart (920 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.saltytart.com) in the best chef in the Midwest category. And two women-owned restaurants: Lucia’s (1432 W. 31st St., Mpls., www.lucias.com), in the outstanding restaurant category, and Sapor Cafe and Bar (428 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.saporcafe.com) in the outstanding service category. That’s an exciting trend.
I was also pleased to see Eric Seed, owner of Haus Alpenz (www.alpenz.com) in Edina, in the outstanding wine, beer and spirits professional category. He’s not a well-known Twin Cities name, but he’s a rare-ingredients savant to cocktailers around the country.
You can find the list of semifinalists at www.jamesbeard.org.
Q: We have a restaurant-savvy friend coming to visit. Where should we take her?
A: You ought to book a table at Heidi’s (2903 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., www.heidismpls.com). I always send out-of-towners there, in part because it’s a cool, un-Minneapolis room, and in part because chef/co-owner Stewart Woodman is almost always there, putting his inimitable touch on everything that comes out of his kitchen. The desserts, by Stewart’s spouse, Heidi Woodman, are as original as her husband’s savory cooking.
For another unique and highly personal dining experience, you should check out Piccolo (4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., www.piccolompls.com) and throw yourselves into chef/owner Doug Flicker’s design-your-own-tasting-menu world. (Both restaurants received four stars when I reviewed them in 2011 and 2010, respectively.)
You should also think about a lunch at the fabulous Fika (2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., www.aismn.org) at the American Swedish Institute; beautiful room, gorgeous food and shockingly affordable. Oh, and Al’s Breakfast (413 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9991). I love to take visitors to Al’s (a 2004 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics award), and when I do I always think of something that former Gov. Wendell Anderson once told me, for an obituary that I was writing on Al Bergstrom, the Dinkytown restaurant’s founder. He said that he always took out-of-town “big shots” there. I loved that.
Q: What are your favorite west-suburban spots, not on Lake Minnetonka?
A: One place that immediately comes to mind is Curry ‘N’ Noodles (802 Mainstreet, Hopkins, www.curry nnoodles.com) in downtown Hopkins. It’s a terrific Indian restaurant. I’m also a fan of Terra (140 W. Main St., Waconia, www.terrawaconia.com) in downtown Waconia.
Q: Any new ingredients you’re seeing out there in the restaurant forest?
A: It’s not really new, but it’s everywhere: kale. I’m waiting to encounter a kale doughnut. Seriously.
Q: What’s new out there?
A: Speaking of doughnuts, I would direct you to Glam Doll Donuts (2605 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-345-7064). It’s a really cool idea, an open-every-day doughnut shop that serves late into the night (to 3 a.m.) on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.