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.

Women chefs, restaurateurs in Twin Cities demand fair play in media

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Chefs, Locally-produced food, Minnesota newsmakers, On the national scene Updated: April 18, 2015 - 12:40 AM
Brenda Langton speaks as one of the four local women in the film, "Women Chefs of the North."

Brenda Langton speaks as one of the four local women in the film, "Women Chefs of the North."

The March magazine cover of Mpls.St. Paul magazine, where no women were included in its "Best Restaurants" photo, prompted local women chefs and restaurateurs to respond in unprecedented ways that included a letter to the public, as well as a film to be presented this weekend at the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs conference in New York City.

Filmmaker Joanna Kohler talked with four Minneapolis chef/restaurateurs to create "Women Chefs of the North":  Kim Bartmann, who owns eight restaurants, including The Third Bird and Tiny Diner; Brenda Langton of Spoonriver; and Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, both of Chef Shack in Bay City, Wis., and Chef Shack Ranch and the Chef Shack food trucks.  The film, "Women Chefs of the North," offers these recommendations for the media and for other women in the industry to improve the lives of their peers in the restaurant business.

1. A redefinition of what's called "best food," possibly to include an acknowledgement of different styles,  ethnicities and price points.

2. A change in the media's presentation of the restaurant community to reflect its breadth and diversity.

3. The creation of a local network of women chefs and restaurateurs.

4. The support of young female chefs through a fast-track program with other women in the restaurant business around the country.

Find out more at Women Chefs and Restaurateurs of the Twin Cities. The Minneapolis women are proposing to bring the 2017 conference to the Twin Cities, says Lisa Carlson.

Burger Friday: Vacation isn't complete without Tyler's

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: April 18, 2015 - 7:01 AM

The burger: “Has it really been a year?” asked Roxy, recognizing us as we walked through the screen door and into Tyler’s, the most-excellent burger joint in downtown Palm Springs, Calif.

Let me backtrack for a moment. Twenty minutes earlier, my husband and I had just stepped off the airplane, picked up our rental car and made a beeline for what has become a daily winter vacation ritual: Lunch at Tyler’s. Here’s a telling indication of how much we love the place: During our recent eight-day stay in Palm Springs, we found ourselves at Tyler’s seven times. Trust me, it would have been eight, but the restaurant is closed on Sunday.

That figure may seem, well, extreme. After all, there are other restaurants in Palm Springs. This was not the case when we first began making annual escape-from-winter visits to the California desert more than a decade ago, and today there are a surprising number of decent options, including Birba, Workshop Kitchen + Bar, Matchbox, Tinto and Jake’s, to name a few, and we avail ourselves of them at dinner (or, in case of Cheeky's, breakfast). But for lunch, we somewhat religiously set aside an hour in the afternoon, every afternoon, for a full-on Tyler’s immersion.

And why not? For 20 years, owner Diana DiAmico has vigorously embraced a keep-it-simple approach to burgers (and to the rest of her highly appealing menu), and the strategy works, big time.

Fresh is this kitchen’s mantra. Particularly when it comes to the burgers, the house specialty. Every morning, the beef gets a coarse grind, is sparingly seasoned and then loosely formed into whopping 7-oz. patties. Each one is expertly grilled on a well-worn flattop until they hit that sweet spot just above medium-rare, and the beef exudes a slight sweetness and plenty of juices. It’s the kind of patty that fuses itself to the bun’s bottom half. DiAmico sources a first-rate bun from a local baker, a rich, sturdy, golden thing, and it gets a gentle toast before meeting that sizzling, slightly charred patty.

The pile-ons don’t stray too far afield from well-trod Burger 101 territory: Swiss, American or Cheddar cheese (skip the Swiss). Raw or grilled onions (get the latter, they’re nudged to a soft sweetness). Several pert layers of iceberg lettuce. A decent tomato slice and a few does-the-trick pickle chips. A criss-cross of first-rate bacon. Half an avocado, thickly sliced and creamy. Generous swipes of Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard.

It all adds up to a pinnacle burger experience, primarily because its beauty lies in the absence of modern cooking techniques and fancy-schmancy toppings. Instead, there's just time-tested, supremely confident, wrapped-in-white-paper burger engineering. No wonder we’re regulars, right? Well, as much as one-week-a-year visitors can be. "Goodbye, guys," said Roxy after our final lunch. "See you next year, right?" Right.

Price: $7.50 to $9.50, depending upon extras. Three-ounce sliders – a fine Mini-Me version of the standard version, suitable for more modest appetites – are $3.25.

Fries: Extra ($3.50 and $4.50), and a familiar, universally distributed frozen product. They’re treated well in the Tyler’s deep-fryer, yanked just as they achieve a crispy, lightly golden timbre. One quibble: Not enough salt. But hey, it’s health-conscious southern California, right?

In other words, they’re fine. But anyone craving starchy tubers should turn their attention to DiAmico’s life-affirming potato salad ($4.50).

To say that I adore it is an understatement. Just like the burgers, this addictive concoction reflects what Tyler’s is all about. After all, this is the place that abides the following motto: “Sometimes it’s food that jogs the memory – that’s the best food of all. We call it comfort food. When life threatens to overwhelm, its goodness and simplicity are a reminder of childhood and it offers the most satisfying emotional nourishment.”

Exactly. My goal for the upcoming summer is to do my level best to replicate the formula, which DiAmico based on her mother’s recipe, or least what she can remember of it. Of this much, she’s certain: it’s simplicity itself. Russets are boiled in their skins, then cooled to room temperature. They're peeled and the cooked potato's flesh is broken into bite-size pieces, with a texture that hovers somewhere on the continuum between mashed and baked.

From there, out comes thinly shaved white onion, tiny snips of crunchy celery, bits of hard-cooked egg whites and a dusting of finely minced chives. Holding it all together is a generous wallop of mayonnaise that exudes a slightly pale golden cast; the color comes from hard-cooked egg yolks and a dash of Dijon mustard.

DiAmico prepares it fresh, daily, and the effort shows. My suggestion is to arrive well before 2 p.m., or facing the highly distressing possibility of a sellout.

When it’s gone, the usual alternative is coleslaw ($3.50). This is not a second-best kind of situation. Like the potato salad, DiAmico's coleslaw embraces simplicity, just a small mountain of crunchy coarsely julienned cabbage, liberally finished with chives and a punched-up dressing that doesn’t slavishly follow the usual (and frequently off-puttingly sugary) slaw formula.

Beyond burgers: Vacationers cannot live by burgers alone (had I consumed seven Tyler’s burgers over the course of eight days, I would have questioned my ability to squeeze into my coach-class seat for the flight home). Fortunately, DiAmico has a knack for soups, and prepares a different one every morning from a wide repertoire, skillfully nurturing flavors out of a kettle. One day last week I made a meal out of hearty, stew-like lentil soup fortified with Israeli couscous, and the next day I found myself equally impressed by an intensely colorful carrot puree, each spoonful teased with a dash of sweet curry. In hindsight, I should have sampled DiAmico's every-Friday clam chowder. At least I now have something to toss on my 2016 to-do list.

I also once made the mistake of ordering a whole egg salad sandwich ($8.25), a terrific less-is-more exercise that’s little more than coarsely chopped hard-cooked eggs (enough to conduct a smallish Easter egg hunt), mayo and maybe some green onion. Never again. I can barely finish a gargantuan half-order; the same is true of the equally impressive (and similarly bell-and-whistle-free, in a good way) chicken salad sandwich ($9.50).

Where to sit: In my nascent encounters with Tyler’s – we’re talking maybe 2004 -- I played tourist and followed the crowd, penciling my name to the ever-present list and then waited – and waited – for a table on the canvas-sheltered patio. And I did it without complaint. After all, it’s a quintessentially southern California kind of setting, nicely shaded and usually brimming with all kinds of people-watching potential. 

Even so, I’m an impatient diner, no more so than when I’m on vacation. Eventually I discovered an alternative, and I’ve rarely returned to the patio. (Truth to tell, I’m not sure if I was the one who stumbled onto it, or if it was my husband, who loves Tyler's even more than I do; naturally, I’ll take the credit). Our strategy involves a trade-off, but it’s worth it. We skip the fresh air and take a seat indoors (the modest structure, with its distinctive pointed-arch windows, dates to the 1930s and once served as the city’s bus station) at the counter, an eight-seat perch just opposite the postage stamp-size kitchen.

Doing so suits our needs for several reasons. First, it’s a front row seat to a fascinating, break-neck show, an improvised ballet with a cast of three – and sometimes four – cooks laboring in a space no larger than my office cubicle. Watching their near-wordless teamwork never grows old, and DiAmico – who grew up at her mother’s boardwalk burger stand in Venice Beach, Calif. -- is usually right in the thick of things, acting as expeditor and keeping the food flying out to diners, of which there appear to be hundreds on a daily basis.

Second, the service is astonishingly good, thanks to a pair of longtime Tyler’s vets. The counter is Judy’s domain; the half-dozen stools set against the wall – and the handful of tables on the adjacent front patio – are Roxy’s territory.

Both appear to possess more energy than the standard-issue whirling dervish, and they know their stuff. Judy (she's pictured, above) has logged 19 years at Tyler’s, Roxy is in her 11th, and their multi-taskers-to-the-nth-degree expertise is a wonder to behold.

Observing them go about their workday has a kind of In-the-Presence-of-Greatness aura. They keep the counter so sparklingly spotless that the staff at nearby Desert Regional Medical Center could use the place to perform day surgery; I fully expect to walk in one day and see Judy and Roxy wearing t-shirts that proudly read, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.”

Third, the counter is a reliably no-wait situation, at least as the afternoon stretches on. Our routine is to hang out by the pool until our sunblock cries "Uncle"  – that’s usually by around 2 p.m. – and then we head downtown, hopefully avoiding the brunt of the lunch rush. It usually works, and we're seated immediately.

Dessert? Sure: The nostalgia-inducing shakes and malts are something of a must-order. They’re prepared using a fantastic vintage Hamilton Beach milkshake mixer (its mint color is reminds me of every 1960s Woolworth’s store) that I covet every time I see it. DiAmico has two of them – one came from Hadley, the nearby landmark orchard, famous for decades for its dates, and date shakes – and she worries about a decided lack of spare parts. I would, too; I can’t imagine Tyler’s without them.

An alternative is a pair of palm-size cookies. They’re delicious, but also enormous, and after one of those artery-clogging burgers, the password, at least for me, is moderation. For a more modest crack at something sweet, there’s always scooting over to Palm Springs' adorable See’s Candies outlet (hello, Cashew Brittle!), located just down the block.

Palm Springs improvements: After years of slogging through some of the dreariest baked goods imaginable (which makes sense, I suppose; when the default attire is swimwear, no one wants to come near a complex carbohydrate, right?), the city has recently sprouted two first-rate bakeries. Hurrah.

Peninsula Pastries, located about six blocks south of Tyler’s and the work of a husband-and-wife team of French expats, turns out gorgeous  croissants, pain au chocolat and other skillfully prepared indulgences. Just walking in and gazing was a joy.

Then there’s Townie Bagels, which is performing boil-and-bake miracles in this bagel-starved region. They’re currently available Saturday mornings at the Palm Springs Farmers Market (and Wednesday morning at the nearby Palm Desert Farmers Market), as well as via delivery (Cost is $26 for 15 bagels with cream cheese, or 18 without). Owner Andy Wysocki also bakes a few breads – DiAmico relies upon his dense cranberry-walnut, sourdough and multigrain loaves for her sandwiches – and the friendly guy behind the table at the farmers market told me that Wysocki’s plan is to open a retail outlet just south of downtown Palm Springs, hopefully by early May.

One more happy surprise: Ernest, a coffeehouse/wine bar hybrid which takes a serious approach to coffee (the beans are from third-wave kingpin Stumptown) and baked goods, but doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously.

Cash is king: Forget about plastic. Tyler’s operates on a strict cash-only basis.

If you go: Tyler’s, 149 S. Indian Canyon (in the Plaza), Palm Springs, Calif., 760-325-2990. Open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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

Summerville leaving Spoon and Stable

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: April 16, 2015 - 2:29 PM

Diners at Spoon and Stable will soon be without a familiar face in the dining room. General manager Bill Summerville is leaving the four-star North Loop restaurant, which debuted in November.

Summerville (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo from his longtime tenure at La Belle Vie) is moving on to New France Wine Co., the St. Paul-based distributor. His last day at the restaurant is April 25.

“The whole intention of having Bill as the general manager here was a very successful one, and he did a great job for us,” said chef/owner Gavin Kaysen. "He's now taking on this new role in his career, and we’re all so happy about that. Honestly, what’s really great about this direction is that Bill is so experienced in wine, and so passionate about wine, that he can now share that talent with other restaurants throughout the city.”

Stepping into Summerville’s roles as service manager and wine manager is Ian Szymczak, who joined the restaurant in December after nearly a decade working with Nancy St. Pierre and Isaac Becker at 112 Eatery.

“We’re so excited to have Ian grow into this position,” said Kaysen. “It’s so exciting to be able to promote from within.”

In other news, Kaysen is gearing up for next month’s James Beard awards, which are taking place in Chicago on May 4. Spoon and Stable is up for two national honors – best new restaurant and outstanding design – an unprecedented feat for a Minnesota restaurant.

To celebrate, Kaysen is taking a posse of 14 Spoon and Stable staffers to the gala ceremony (and, as a consequence, closing the restaurant that evening; it is normally open for dinner on Monday).

"Regardless of what happens at the awards, it’s such a historic moment for Minneapolis and for this team, to be recognized in the national spotlight, twice,” he said. “It has given everyone here a boost of confidence. When I lived in New York, I always went to the Beard awards. It’s going to be fun to bring my staff. They’ve never been, and I think they’re going to be starstruck.”

What's your favorite new Target Field fare?

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Food, beer, wine events, Restaurant reviews Updated: April 16, 2015 - 11:24 AM

It's a banner year at Target Field, new foods-wise. Fans will find a number of impressive new options, including the chicken Tikka rice bowl from the Hot Indian Foods stand, pictured above. Find my summary here.

If you've been to Target Field this week, what did you try, and what made an impression, favorable or otherwise? Share the good, the bad and the ugly in the comments section below.

New or old? What's on your table this weekend?

Posted by: Lee Svitak Dean under Holidays Updated: April 5, 2015 - 8:26 AM

Noritake Gotham Gold china

Noritake Gotham Gold china

When you are setting the table for company -- especially on holidays -- do you bring out the family heirlooms that sparkle, or do you prefer the more modern (and new) options?

I wrote about my holiday table in Sunday's paper (Grandma's china and more). I'd like to hear (and see) what you put on your table. Let us know in the comments below.

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