Deep-fried delights

Doughnut lovers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Mojo Monkey Donuts owner Lisa Clark, who crafts a raised doughnut of exquisite proportions. Unlike their vapid supermarket counterparts, Clark's version, with its sourdough-, potato- and parsnip-enriched dough, has a welcome heft and moist, not-too-sweet bite. The originality doesn't end there: Clark finishes them with a tangy mango-honey glaze and a sprinkle of chewy organic coconut. To say that they are the Twin Cities' best doughnut is not doing them justice.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

An instant Linden Hills landmark

Here's what happens after just one sublime, sigh-inducing taste of the scallops at Tilia, burnished with a glorious caramelized glaze, juicy beyond reason and finished with a bright kaffir lime foam: You'll be mentally composing a thank-you tweet to your lucky stars that chef and innovator Steve Brown is running the show. Oh, and you'll acknowledge your good fortune for having scored a seat in his wildly popular Linden Hills restaurant. I know I did.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Thai comfort food

There are many incentives for diving headlong into the menu at On's Kitchen, one of the Twin Cities' great new Thai restaurants, but here's a smart place to start: chef On Khumchaya's steamed tilapia custard, a low-and-slow preparation perfumed with lemongrass and served inside a pretty banana leaf shell. It's comfort food at its soothing, flavorful best.

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Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Bring on the pork belly

When chef Don Saunders launched his In Season in late 2010, he promised an ever-changing ode to peak-season ingredients. And he delivered. Let's hope he revives last winter's wowser of an appetizer: wonderfully briny Quilcene oysters from Washington state's Puget Sound, dusted in semolina, fried to perfection and paired with honey-glazed, slow-braised pork belly, all laid out on a bed of crunchy, sweet-sour slaw cabbage. It's been nearly a year, but I can recall the vivid flurry of divergent yet complementary textures and flavors as if I'd ordered it yesterday.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Porky goodness

My favorite 2011 doggy-bagged leftovers started out as dinner at Sopranos Italian Kitchen in the form of chef J.P. Samuelson's spectacular porchetta, a spiral of fork-tender cured pork, a scandalous amount of garlic and a bumper crop of rosemary. It was served with lardo-kissed cannellini beans and it was one of those pot roast-like dishes that tastes even better the next day. Drop in on the restaurant's happy hour, when Samuelson incorporates that porchetta into bargain-priced sliders.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Even more pork

Yes, 2011 was definitely the Year of the Pig, particularly at Masu Sushi & Robata, where chef-of-all-trades Tim McKee (seriously, is there anything the man can't do?) formulated a stunning series of Japanese noodle soups, most notably a handsome earthenware bowl filled with crimped ramen, a barely-holding-it-together poached egg and, you got it, a slab of seductively fatty pork belly. Go there. Order it.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Fresh off the farm

My go-to summer snack? The snap peas at Wise Acre Eatery -- harvested earlier that day at the restaurant's Plato, Minn., farm and rushed into the city -- that chef Beth Fisher lightly drizzled with olive oil and sea salt before giving them a gentle char, the grill's heat unlocking their natural sugars. Fisher dubbed them "Minnesota edamame," but I proclaimed them utterly addictive, and the embodiment of this ambitious farm-to-table hot spot.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Breakfast obsession

Some nights I fall asleep dreaming of the biscuits and gravy at Sun Street Breads. Baker Solveig Tofte knows exactly how to handle flour, butter and buttermilk, transforming them into light and golden biscuits. She splits them down the middle before smothering them in a peppery gravy that's packed with house-made sausage built on Minnesota-raised Berkshire pork (the vegetarian version, brimming with earthy mushrooms, is pretty swell, too). Even better? The southern-accented variation, featuring superb fried chicken, a strip of smoky, thick-cut bacon and a side of that eat-every-last-drop gravy. Hurry up, sunrise; I need my fix.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Divine decadence

In the sheer indulgence department, nothing beat Meritage chef/seafood king Russell Klein's over-the-top ode to lobster. Picture a gelatin-enriched, flavor-packed lobster consommé, filled with hefty pieces of tender poached lobster and crowned with a sweet corn purée, a flavor coupling that pretty much screamed "summer on the shore." Oh, and when the delicate gelée came in contact with your tongue, it instantly reverted to its consommé form, a smile-inducing culinary sleight of hand.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Can't pick just one

Selecting a sole standout Stewart Woodman creation is like being restricted to a single favorite episode of "Downton Abbey." I mean, where to begin? The divine salmon that had been baked in orange peels? The swoon-inducing mussel soup? That delightfully mad-scientist play on eggs Benedict, vegan-style? Still, when it comes to just one can't-get-it-out-of-my-mind dish at Heidi's, my memory keeps rewinding to mouth-melting lamb shanks, the ones so delicately perfumed with lemongrass and cinnamon, a textbook example of Woodman's boundary-pushing ability to repurpose familiar ingredients in exciting new directions.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Looking back on a delicious year

  • Article by: RICK NELSON
  • Star Tribune
  • January 6, 2012 - 4:10 PM

It's probably safe to say that 2011 was a watershed year for the Twin Cities dining scene. A record number of influential newcomers blazed their way into the hearts and appetites of local diners, and an impressive roster of familiar practitioners remade themselves in new, genre-shaking ways.

While sifting through the mountain of menus, cocktail napkins and crumpled receipts -- all scribbled with notes -- that constitute my poorly organized dining diary, my initial conclusion is that paring down countless meals to just 10 memorable dishes is going to be a tremendous challenge.

Not that I'm complaining. It's a good kind of problem, one that's rooted in the ever- expanding diversity of the Twin Cities' culinary community. Better to have many from which to choose, rather than few, right?

Here are my choices, and have a happy new year of eating.

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