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Former Sofitel landing a new restaurant

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: April 22, 2015 - 6:49 PM

A new restaurant is going into the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel — it’s the 1970s landmark formerly known as the Hotel Sofitel, anchoring the northwest corner of I-494 and Hwy. 100 — but let’s get one thing straight right from the start: it’s not a hotel restaurant.

Yes, there’s an overlap in ownership. Sort of. WB Hotel Partners — the WB is Warren Beck, developer of the Galleria mall in Edina — purchased the property in October 2013.

But the restaurant, Lela, is a separate business entity, a partnership between Beck and longtime collaborator Paul Wischermann.

Also, while Lela occupies roughly two-thirds of the footprint of the hotel’s previous dining-and-drinking establishments (longtime diners will remember them as Colette Bar & Bistro, Chez Colette, La Fougasse, La Terrace, Cafe Royal, Le Petit Marche bakery and others), Lela is keeping its distance from the hotel by maintaining its own entrance, one that opens to the parking lot and not the hotel’s lobby.

“It’s a stand-alone concept with stand-alone management,” said Wischermann.

Designed by ESG of Minneapolis, the L-shaped, 200-seat restaurant and bar will boast all kinds of contemporary bells and whistles, including a showy wine display, a lively front-row-seat kitchen counter, private dining facilities and a yup-to-the-minute brown/tan/bronze/cream color palette. One dining room will flank the roomy bar, the other will have views into the kitchen. A south-facing patio is on its way, too. “We want to bring an urban-style concept to the suburbs,” said Beck.

The menu is on trend, too, with a three-part emphasis: steak (available in a variety of sizes and cuts), crudo (but not sushi) and pasta (fresh and dry, prepared on the premises), tailored to suit small appetites as well as shared plates, along with gluten-free, low-carb, pescetarian and other diverse dietary habits. The bar will concentrate on craft cocktails and maintain an ambitious wine list.

“I wouldn’t describe it at all as a steakhouse,” said Wischermann. “We want to create something authentic, but this isn’t going to be a destination restaurant. The residents of Edina and Bloomington are our biggest audience, and our No. 2 customer is the business clientele from the surrounding area. We’re creating a neighborhood restaurant for a very large neighborhood.”

No chef yet. “We’re in the middle of finalizing a chef, but we can’t make that announcement at this time,” said Wischermann.

But there is a general manager on board. He’s Haykel Arfaoui, recruited from Atlanta, where he has spent more than a decade at restaurants including Cheeky and the former Couscous, Amuse! and Perla Taqueria.

Beck and Wischermann (pictured, above, in a provided photo) have been business partners for more than a decade, starting when Beck developed the Westin Edina Galleria Hotel and Wischermann Partners signed on to operate it. When Texas-based Hines Global REIT purchased the Galleria in 2012 for $127 million, Beck retained ownership of the adjoining Westin hotel. As for Wischermann Partners, the Minnetonka-based firm currently manages more 14 hotels, restaurants and other properties in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Hartford and the Twin Cities.

Construction crews aren’t limited to the restaurant; the Sheraton is also undergoing a renovation. “It always was and continues to be a special place,” said Beck. “We hear that from so many people, who have so many amazing memories. And now we’re going to add what we hope is just a very popular restaurant that has a very accessible and highly visible address.”

Lela will serve lunch and dinner (no breakfast; the Sheraton's separate food-and-beverage operations will handle the morning meal for hotel guests), with a second-half-of-June opening date. As for the name, it’s a mash-up.

“In romance languages, words begin with ‘le’ and ‘la,’” said Wischermann. “Every story has a beginning, and this is how the story of this restaurant begins.”

Food & Wine magazine heralds Heyday chef Jim Christiansen

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: April 1, 2015 - 7:31 AM

It’s official: Jim Christiansen of Heyday (2700 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls., 612-200-9369, www.heydayeats.com) is one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs.

Christiansen learned the news about a month ago — via a call from the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Dana Cowin — and keeping the news under wraps in advance of Tuesday’s announcement was not easy.

“That was not good,” he said with a laugh. “I just wanted to tell everybody, especially all of the people that I work with. It’s another chapter for Heyday, about doing what we do, and about progessing, and going forward, and building a great team.”

He was in New York City on Tuesday, posing for photographers and meeting-and-greeting at a gala announcement event.

“I’m just so grateful to be a part of this group,” he said. “They’re all super-talented.”

The news coincide’s with the restaurant’s 1-year anniversary, and to celebrate, Christiansen is planning a greatest-hits tasting menu to run April 23 through April 25. If he can acquire the necessary city permits, Heyday would like to host a block party on April 26. “We’ll get some music, and some grills, and some guest chefs,” he said.

Christiansen is the sixth Minneapolis chef to join the magazine’s Best New Chefs fraternity. Earlier BNCs include Tim Anderson (formerly of Goodfellow’s) in 1991, Tim McKee (of La Belle Vie, then at the former D’Amico Cucina) in 1997, Seth Bixby Daugherty (formerly of Cosmos) in 2005, Stewart Woodman (of Workshop at Union, then at the former Heidi’s) in 2006 and Jamie Malone (formerly of Sea Change) in 2013. A seventh, Erik Anderson (formerly of Sea Change) was a 2012 honoree for his work at Catbird Seat in Nashville. Malone and Anderson are working to open Brut in Minneapolis.

“We’re a great food city,” said Christiansen.

Along with Christiansen, the 2015 group includes Bryce Shuman of Betony in New York City, Michael Fojtasek and Grae Nonas of Olamaie in Austin, Zoi Antonitsas of Westward in Seattle, Jake Bickelhaupt of 42 Grams in Chicago, Jonathan Brooks of Milktooth in Indianapolis, Katie Button of Cúrate in Asheville, N.C., Tim Maslow of Ribelle in Brookline, Mass., Ori Menashe of Bestia in Los Angeles and Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria in Costa Mesa, Calif.

Being in the Food & Wine spotlight isn't Christiansen's first taste of national recognition. In Februrary, he was named a semifinalist for Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation.

Food & Wine's 2015 Best New Chefs — who must be in charge of a kitchen for five years or fewer — will be featured in the magazine’s July issue and will participate in the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., from June 19 through 21.  

From the Strib's archives: A day in the life of a server, circa 1975

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: March 26, 2015 - 9:11 AM

The Minneapolis Tribune's Thursday Food section devoted its Oct. 9, 1975 cover to glimpses inside the lives of Twin Cities restaurant servers. "The only time most of us think about waiters and waitresses is when something is wrong," starts the editor's note. "The coffee cup is empty, the meat undercooked, the side order of fried onions missing. Waiters and waitresses spend their lives smiling even though their feet hurt, being pleasant to cranky customers and husting for tips from people who many leave anything from $50 to 50 cents for a $12 meal. Why do they do it? Staff Writer Irv Letofsky interviewed five of them to find out."

Let's just say that times have changed during the intervening 35 years, but some aspects of the job remain timeless. Letofsky's subjects included: 

Eighteen-year-old Ramona Eicher (pictured, above), a senior at Mounds View High School who had just started working at the then-new Country Kitchen in Roseville. "She went through the Bloomington training center, where she studied slides on how to wear the orange-and-white checkered uniforms, when to fill the salt and pepper shakers, the protocol of punching in, etc. 'Opening day we got all hyper,' she remembered. 'On my first table I didn't know if the hostess was supposed to bring the menu or me, whether you bring the water or the coffee first. The first night was a mad crush.'"

Becky Erbes, 23 (pictured, above), "has a well-organized figure that brings honor to her costume -- a black, low-cut, tights-like, Bunny-type uniform with sequins and the leg-flattering but otherwise foot-pinching three-inch spiked heel shoes. For the noon luncheon in the Apartment, the moody basement retreat at the White House complex in Golden Valley, she circulates in a basic bikini. The management prefers her in the new Rudi Gernreich thong swimsuit and black stockings, but it is 'kind of brief' (she says in understatement) and exposes more backside than is comfortable. Owner Irv Schectman rejects the term 'cocktail waitresses' for the help, preferring 'Bambi Girls.' He looks applicants over for their decorative possibilities, then instructs the successful ones on the rules of the room. For example, you don't sit down with customers. You don't smoke or drink. You don't bend over at the lowly cocktail tables ['You crouch,' Ms. Erbes said. 'Like a deep knee bend. After the first night there I was pretty stiff.'] You maintain decorum by avoiding slang. 'Certainly' is preferred to 'O.K.,' 'gentlemen' to 'guys.' And you never date the customers. 'Mr. Schectman wants a certain type of atmosphere and I think that's approriate. You cold attract the wrong types.'"

Lorraine Heath of the Gay 90s (pictured, above), who "has spent 38 of her 55 years in the service business." The 15-year veteran of "the relic theater-bar-restaurant that recently turned discotheque" said that she didn't know why she liked her job. "I still get tense every night. But I like meeting people. Even if I could do office work, I wouldn't. It would be too monotonous."

Phyllis Laiderman of Lincoln Del (pictured, above), "who has spent 13 years in and around chopped liver and chocolate pies and has maintained a reasonable girth. It is difficult to comprehend. 'Customers tell me I'm so lucky because I'm thin,' she said. 'Well, first of all, I'm not that thin. But you find that you just eat lighter when you're working. All the waitresses. I don't know why. But there's not a dessert here that I don't love today as much as when I started.'"

And a 27-year-old Michael Brindisi (pictured, above), who went on to become artistic director at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre in 1987. Here's his story, in full:

For actor-director Michael Brindisi, 27, his recent debut day as the first waiter among the array of waitresses at the Promenade Room in the Sheraton-Ritz Hotel was socko boffo -- $22 in tips on top of his $1.73-an-hour salary: “I told almost everybody I waited on that this was my first table.”

But the act didn’t do as well after that. The average ran to $4.50 a day in tips.

[To put those wages into perspective, $22 in tips in 1975 is the equivalent of $98 in 2015 dollars; $4.50 has a 2015 value of $20].

It was his first serious job since he was graduated from Lea College five years ago. But now he and his wife Linda, who was the first waitress to infiltrate the once all-male Cheshire Cheese restaurant a flight up in the hotel, are quitting for a move back to New York and, who knows, stardom.

He worked there six weeks, three as a bus boy, three as a waiter. It was an education, if perhaps a slow one.

“I mean, nobody told me anything and I would get orders twisted around – ‘Did you have the bacon? Who had the potato?’ So I started taking orders from the left and I got the food out there at the same time and looked snappy.

“Some of these waitresses are incredible – nine dishes at once. I could only do three. So I asked Linda, and she suggested using one of those big trays. Now why didn’t I think of that?

“Success, it occurs to me, is to get out there and read the audience, see what type of people they are. It’s like theater. You see if the shtick will work, if you should go broader with the comedy or lay back.”

He could improvise, too: One customer wanted a green vegetable but the restaurant only has salads. So Brindisi slipped upstairs to the Cheshire Cheese kitchen – “I just walked in like I knew what I was doing” – and scopped up a dish of green beans.

“The guy asked me where I got ‘em. I told him I had friends.”

He did best with older women. “I can talk the older ladies into having drinks, just by suggesting it, like, ‘How about a Bloody Mary today,’ instead of ‘cocktail.’ ‘Well, I really shouldn’t, I have to drive’ But they ordered two.

“Groups of businessmen, I don’t hit it off so well. I don’t know why. One night I had a bill for $12 and they left me 52 cents. They’d rather have Cathy wait on them . . .

“It was my job to see what the customer wanted from me. Sometimes he wanted to be left alone; sometimes he wanted to talk.”

One lonely man stared out the window one night, ordered a beer, then four more and a hamburger, medium rare, and a center cut of an onion. “I don’t care if it costs $10, I want a center cut of onion.”

Brindisi returned with a monster slice: “Is that the best you can do?” the man said. The waiter went back to the kitchen and cut up an onion himself.

“The man was looking real down and depressed and I said, ‘How’s everything?’ He said, ‘Michael, I’ve got to tell you. I received bad news today. I’ve got six to eight months to live.’

“It’s hard to respond to that. I got almost physically sick and couldn’t eat my supper.”

So he said, ‘So you tell that ____ ____ cook that if I want a center slice of onion, I want a ____ ____ center slice of onion.’

“Later I told the cook about it and he said, ‘Oh don’t pay any attention to him. That guy comes in here all the time and he can really spin a yarn.”

Minnesota restaurants, chefs, architects and media garner James Beard award nominations

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: March 24, 2015 - 1:39 PM

The James Beard Foundation announced nominations for their 2015 awards -- widely considered the Oscars of the food world -- and Minnesota is well-represented across the board.

Four-month-old Spoon and Stable (pictured, above) was nominated for Best New Restaurant. It’s the first time a Minnesota restaurant has been nominated in the national category. The restaurant, led by chef Gavin Kaysen (a Beard winner in 2008 for Rising Star Chef of the Year, bestowed upon chefs "age 30 or younger who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come"), is competing with Bâtard and Cosme in New York City, Central Provisions in Portland, Me., Parachute in Chicago, Petit Trois in Los Angeles and the Progress in San Francisco.

The North Loop newcomer has another Minnesota first: A Beard nomination for Outstanding Restaurant Design. Shea Inc. of Minneapolis was nominated in the 76 Seats and Over category for its work, a conversion of 1906 stable. It is the firm’s first Beard nomination. Other nominees in the category include the Grey in Savannah, Ga., designed by Parts and Labor Design in New York City, and Workshop Kitchen + Bar in Palm Springs, Calif., designed by SOMA of New York City.

“It’s a good way to start a morning,” said Kaysen with a laugh.

Kaysen was alone at home – his wife Linda was taking their children to school – and going through the motions of making breakfast while watching the announcement as it rolled through the Beard Foundation’s Twitter feed.

“Then my phone started to blow up, and I was literally crying tears of joy as I was thinking of all the people who have worked so hard to get us where we are today,” he said. “To me, the amazing part is to see us get two nominations. You just never know how it’s going to pan out. I tried not to speculate. I’m just proud of what we do, and that’s what’s important. But it’s history, right? This has never happened in Minneapolis.”

Three Minnesotans are nominees in the Best Chef: Midwest category: Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant. They’re competing with Gerard Craft of Niche in St. Louis and Justin Carlisle of Ardent in Milwaukee. Russo is a five-time nominee in the category, and this is Gayer’s third consecutive nomination (along with two previous nominations in the Outstanding Pastry Chef category). This is Berglund’s second nomination.

For its 10 regional chef awards -- given to those "who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions" -- the James Beard Foundation divides the country into 10 geographic regions. The Midwest region includes Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

Restaurant and chef awards will be announced at a gala program at the Chicago Lyric Opera on May 4. It's the first time in the awards' 25-year history that they are taking place outside New York City. 

“I’m thrilled that it’s going to be in Chicago, and not just because it’s a shorter flight,” said Kaysen with a laugh. “The Beard Foundation is doing what they stand for, which is spreading the wealth and the love throughout the whole country. They see what we see, which is that destination dining is spreading across the country. It’s going to be incredible, to be in Chicago with all those amazing chefs and restaurateurs and designers and media people. I know that there’s going to be some pretty great parties.”

In broadcast and new media, Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods” is a nominee in TV Program on Location, the Perennial Plate (by Minneapolitans Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine) in Video Webcast on Location and DeRusha Eats by Jason DeRusha of WCCO-TV in TV Segment. “Bizarre Foods” won the award in 2012 and was a nominee in 2011. Perennial Plate is a 2013 and 2014 winner. It’s the first Beard nomination for “DeRusha Eats.”

Media winners will be announced in New York City on April 24.

Congratulations to the nominees.

Friday Fish Fry: Five ideas

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: March 20, 2015 - 8:56 AM

Burger Friday has given up hamburgers for Lent, and is diving headlong into the Friday fish-fry ritual. Here are five suggestions:

Glockenspiel offers a Friday fish fry year-round, but the restaurant goes into overdrive during Lent, with all-you-can consume portion of beer-battered cod (plus a single serving of fries and coleslaw) for $12.95 (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and $14.95 (from 3 to 9 p.m.). Here’s another Lenten bonus: The restaurant accepts reservations for fish fry-eating parties of four or more at dinner.

For its year-round Friday fish fry, the Groveland Tap taps swai. “It’s similar to catfish,” said kitchen manager Steve Johnson. “Everyone has cod, or pollock, so it’s nice to do something different.” The beer batter-fried fish (Johnson relies upon Grain Belt Premium) is an all-you-can-eat situation, and the fries and coleslaw are not, “but if someone wants more of either one, I am happy to make that happen,” he said with a laugh. Cost is $11.25, and it’s served all day, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Johnson’s tip: Show up at lunch. “People sometimes have to wait an hour, an hour and a half for dinner,” he said. “Lunch is the best bet for getting in without having to wait.” As for beer pairings, Johnson suggests going light, something along the lines of the Freehouse No. 1, a crisp, golden Kolsch produced at the Tap’s sister restaurant.

At Stella’s Fish Cafe, the formula is simple: fried Alaskan cod, golden fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce, an all-you-can-eat situation priced at $14.95. 

For its all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry, the Machine Shed offers three Atlantic cod choices: rolled in bread crumbs and fried, beer-battered and fried, or broiled. Side dishes include vegetables and a choice of potato (baked, sweet, mashed, garlic mashed, French fries or sweet potato fries), served from 3 p.m. until the kitchen closes for the night. Cost: $12.99.

All day, every Friday, year round, for $11.95, fun-loving Harry’s Cafe offers up four pieces of Alaskan pollock, serving it pan-fried, deep-fried or broiled, and pairing it with a choice of mashed potatoes, baked potatoes or fries. Tartar sauce, too.


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