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.


Q: Can you tell me what you think of Borough?

A: This is based solely on a single visit (730 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.borough mpls.com), but I was really impressed. I found the food to be imaginative and disciplined, and the effort that the kitchen puts into presentation is pretty remarkable. I can’t imagine having dinner there and not ordering the foie gras (my favorite line of the night was when we asked our server what we should order for dessert, and he said, “I’d say the foie gras, but you’ve already had it,” which is an indication of how the dish is treated, and here’s a hint: with pecan ice cream). Then there is the sturgeon — which is served in a wonderful pork-scented broth — and the exceptional riff on the Scotch egg. It’s a cool room, and despite a full house, my friends and I were able to conduct a conversation, so unusual in today’s spate of really loud restaurants. I can’t wait to go back, and to hit up Parlour, the lower-level cocktail bar.


Q: Best diner in the Twin Cities?

A: Right now I’d say that it just might be the St. Paul iteration of the Colossal Cafe (2315 Como Av., St. Paul, www.colossalcafe.com), which is a more modern interpretation of the classic breakfast-lunch-dinner diner. But there are so many reasons for recommending it, from the yeasty pancakes in the morning to the wonderful selection of small plates at dinner, including amazing lamb chops, and crostini topped with rosemary and three kinds of beans.


Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about Ward 6. Have you been there? What are your impressions?

A: I’ve been, just once (858 Payne Av., St. Paul, www.ward6stpaul.com), and I loved it. What a great neighborhood pub, something I never thought I’d be saying about anything on Payne Avenue. I’d go back just for the pie, although I’m a pie hound. It’s a comfortable, great-looking room, and the food is fresh, interesting and affordable. What’s not to like?


Q: Where do you recommend for a pre-show dinner near the Guthrie?

A: My knee-jerk response is Spoonriver (750 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.spoonriver.com), which is right across the street, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, it’s all very good. You’ll also enjoy yourself at the neighboring Kindee Thai (719 S. 2nd St., Mpls., www.kindeethai restaurant.com). But you might also consider Sanctuary (903 Washington Av. S., Mpls., www.sanctuarympls.com), just a couple blocks from the theater, and home to chef Patrick Atanalian, a maverick talent.


Q: What is the biggest challenge for a chef opening a new restaurant?

A: In this economy I’d have to say financing. I can’t tell you the number of hyper-talented chefs who have told me that they were laughed out of the banks they visited, looking for a loan. It’s a testament to their skill and tenacity that they manage to succeed, despite any commercial lending support.


Q: Are there any more restaurants left that require a jacket and tie for men?

A: No, that age is long gone, at least in the Twin Cities. But it is nice to see people dolling themselves up when they go out, isn’t it? I can’t imagine, for example, sitting in La Belle Vie (510 Groveland, Mpls., www.labellevie.us) in shorts, flip-flops and a T-shirt.


Q: Any new dessert spots you’re crazy about?

A: Oh, yes. If I weren’t at my desk, I would probably be at the Lynn on Bryant (5003 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., www.thelynnonbryant.com), enjoying pastry chef Abby Boone’s work (it’s never too late for a tray of beautifully made cookies, or a sugar-coated cake doughnut, is it?). And it’s not new, but sometimes I find myself craving the crazy-good coconut cake at Yum! Kitchen and Bakery (4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, www.yumkitchen.com), but then I look at my waistline and think better of it. Someday … right?


Follow Rick Nelson on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib