"They ought to call this place RichDish," said my friend. No kidding. After a single bite of HauteDish chef Landon Schoenefeld's insanely fatty -- and insanely delicious -- mortadella, one of five glorious entries on his charcuterie platter, I probably should have programmed my cardiologist's number into my cell phone, just as a precaution.
That charcuterie! Jalapeño- and tequila-kissed head cheese. The creamiest chicken liver pâté imaginable, with a hint of Madeira. A rustic ham-chicken terrine topped with snappy, cinnamon-laced pickled watermelon. Each element radiated an impressive amount of legwork and imagination, and served as a precursor for the technical fireworks that were headed our way.
The majority of the menu finds Schoenefeld twisting a familiar dish, each seemingly culled from a retro church cookbook or vintage food magazine. The danger in this kind of cooking is the temptation to veer into kitsch or parody, but not here. I don't know that there's a better fried chicken in the Twin Cities. It starts with a well-raised bird, brined in buttermilk and tarragon, then gently poached before being fried in lard -- I said it was good, not good for you -- until the skin is absurdly crisp and the meat is beyond succulent. It's served with a sort-of failed soufflé of heirloom grits and sharp Minnesota-made Cheddar, as well as watermelon that's been vacuum-compressed with a bit of mustard oil until it becomes indecently ripe and juicy.
Then there's the ode to the Niçoise, modestly billed as "tuna salad." We get the proper components, each treated with tender loving care and artfully composed into a memorable salad. Or "Steak & Eggs," which turns out to be a gently cooked egg inside buttery toasted brioche paired with a clean-tasting beef tartare and a shooter with a raw oyster floating in a sublime version of V8 juice. Or "Mac & Cheese," a half-dozen giant pasta sleeves stuffed with crab and Tallegio, each bite pure pleasure.
The Tater Tot HauteDish turns meat and potatoes on its ear, marinating, braising and then basting short ribs until they take on a luxe, lacquered sheen, then pairing them with ultra-creamy mashed potato croquettes and a modern version of green bean casserole. It's marvelous, but it's not a summertime dish. Schoenefeld's bar food is closer to the mark, from a tall stack of a burger and a killer Cubano sandwich to a thoughtful vegetable-cheese plate.
Outside of La Belle Vie, I doubt that any other kitchen finds so many extravagant uses for foie gras. It's stuffed inside a duck breast, turned into a mousse for a skillet-style smoked-chicken pot pie, and poached and then inserted into an already over-the-top version of fried rice topped with sweetbreads. The dish already teetered on overkill without the liver; sometimes, a little restraint can have a larger impact.
Schoenefeld, 29, has forged experiences from his incredibly varied résumé into his own inimitable point of view. His cooking demonstrates maturity and ingenuity. That's the rep that he deserves.