Lakefish platter at the Lexington
Chef Jack Riebel channels memories of childhood visits to Lake Superior to create the ultimate Minnesota nosh platter ($16), one that glorifies smoked freshwater fish in three different but equally tempting approaches to whitefish, salmon and trout. Don’t miss it.
1096 Grand Av., St. Paul, 651-289-4990, thelexmn.com
Foie gras “royale” at Grand Cafe
It’s eggshell as tableware, one that’s carefully filled with a silky foie gras custard and topped with palate-cleansing pops of tangy crème fraîche and fragrant orange zest (that hint of tobacco can be traced to Gitanes cigarettes, a sly nod to the kitchen’s French intentions). It’s the opening salvo ($9) on chef Jamie Malone’s menu at the Grand Cafe, and it’s one heck of a salutation.
3804 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8260, grandcafemn.com
Flourless chocolate chip cookie at Bellecour
Sure, it’s easy to rattle off the riches — the bouillabaisse! the pot-au-feu! the steak tartare! the onion soup! — produced in chef de cuisine Nick Dugan’s kitchen, but what I often find myself craving from Wayzata’s spectacular newcomer is this palm-sized treat ($3). Crinkle-topped and chewy, it’s brazenly chocolaty, and pastry chef Diane Yang folds in a small (and thoughtful) secret: The flour-free formula is a present for the sweet tooth of her gluten-averse boss, Gavin Kaysen.
739 Lake St. E., Wayzata, 952-444-5200, bellecourrestaurant.com
Mushroom tart at 510 Lounge & Private Dining
It’s tempting to hail the kitchen’s caviar service. But singling out that Twin Cities rarity wouldn’t do justice to chefs Don Saunders and Daniel Keenan, because while they clearly have a knack for sourcing top-shelf ingredients, they sure can cook, beautifully. A fine example of their considerable skill sets is this elegant, deeply flavorful tart ($18), an ideal antidote for a cold winter’s night.
510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-315-5841, 510mpls.com
Whole fish at Young Joni
Because Pizzeria Lola founder Ann Kim is at the helm of this standard-setting newcomer, ordering pizza is a no-brainer. But don’t overlook the pinnacle of the kitchen’s wood-burning stove, a nightly grilled whole fish. You’ll encounter whatever’s ultra-fresh and in season — red snapper, Spanish mackerel, Branzino — cooked simply, over glowing coals. It’s an affectionate nod to Kim’s mother’s table. “That’s how I grew up eating fish,” she said. “Mom would put it in the middle of the table, and we’d all eat.”
165 13th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-345-5719, youngjoni.com
Chicken Parmesan at Red Rabbit
The dish that chef Todd Macdonald refers to as “Italian schnitzel” ($18) might not be a beauty contest contender, and its not-so-dainty scale could easily turn off the bigger-isn’t-better crowd. But neither traits should be a deterrent, because this made-for-two plate is a dream, a pair of pounded chicken breasts that are all tender juiciness under their crackling breaded coating that’s enriched with plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano and smothered by a lively, complex tomato sauce. If only all comfort foods paid such close attention to textural and acidic contrasts.
201 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-767-8855, redrabbitmn.com
Ham, egg and Cheddar sandwich at Wise Acre Eatery
My 12-month quest for the Twin Cities’ tastiest breakfast sandwich concluded when I stumbled onto this beauty ($13), served daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Chef Brianna Baldus makes excellent use of two farm-fresh (literally, they’re from the restaurant’s acreage in Plato, Minn.) basics: hefty slices of fat-streaked ham and luscious, protein-rich eggs. That Cheddar? It’s a five-year-old beauty from Wisconsin, and the toasted, milk-enriched bun comes from St. Paul’s St. Agnes Baking Co.
5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577, wiseacreeatery.com
Bagels at Rise Bagel Co.
The Twin Cities’ best bagels are the work of siblings (and obsessive perfectionists, in a good way) Jen and Kate Lloyd, and up until a few months they were only available on a semi-random basis at their farmers market stand. No more, thanks to the advent of this stylish and hugely convenient brick-and-mortar real estate, where the Sisters Lloyd have expanded their menu to include sandwiches.
530 N. 3rd St., Mpls., 612-354-3349, risebagel.com
Chicken thighs at Bar Brigade
Chef J.D. Fratzke taught me a lesson I never thought I’d ever dare to consider; namely, improving upon an Ina Garten staple. But this utterly satisfying dish ($16), a standard on his menu, boasts a helpful trick, one that involves roasting the bird earlier in the day. Just before serving, the skin is crisped in a bit of olive oil in a hot pan, and the plate is dressed with a butter- and lemon-laced pan sauce. To borrow from the Barefoot Contessa, how easy is that?
470 Cleveland Av. S., St. Paul, barbrigade.com
Pasta at Tenant
Quick-paced six-course dinners ($50) are the house specialty, prepared and served by a hardworking crew of four. Dishes change frequently, but one that will forever stand out in my memory involved strands of freshly extruded bigoli (a thicker spaghetti) that was tossed with a perfectly calibrated combination of chiles-fueled pork, buttery breadcrumbs, Parmesan curlicues and refreshing pops of height-of-the-season sweet corn. I’m sighing just thinking about it.
4300 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-1111, tenantmpls.com
10 more great dishes:
The meatloaf patty melt at Fulton Brewery (414 6th Av. N., Mpls., fultonbeer.com)
Brisket at StormKing Barbecue (16 1/2 W. 26th St., Mpls., stormkingbarbecue.com)
Fusilli with lamb shoulder at Martina (4312 Upton Av. S., Mpls., martinarestaurant.com)
Scrambled eggs with baby squid at Octo Fishbar (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, octostp.com)
Lefse at Tullibee (300 Washington Av. N., Mpls., hewinghotel.com)
Brussels sprouts “elote-style” at Pajarito (605 W. 7th St., St. Paul, pajaritostp.com)
Liège waffle with poached pears at L’Etoile du Nord (320 5th Av. N., Bayport, letoiledunordcafe.com)
Breakfast sandwich at Salty Tart (289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, saltytart.com)
Pappardelle with Gorgonzola and pistachios at Lovechild (300 3rd St. S., La Crosse, Wis., lovechildrestaurant.com )
Tomato-bread soup at Cafe Alma (528 University Av. SE., Mpls., almampls.com)