On Feb. 18, 2010, a fire ravaged the building that housed Heidi's Minneapolis, along with Blackbird Cafe and several other businesses. Though it was unclear at first where Heidi's would reappear, there was no doubt that it would return. And to the delight of regulars and new fans, Heidi's did just that in January in the old Vera's Cafe location at 2903 Lyndale Av. S. In an elegantly decorated dining room, chef Stewart Woodman's self-proclaimed "four-star dining at two-star prices" once again proves why the accolades are well deserved.
The menu ranges from good to "wow." Unexpected combinations, new takes on classic dishes and a mastery of flavors make it easy to have a memorable meal. Take the instant pork bun ($4), for example -- if the tiny pot in which the starter arrives doesn't excite you, the kick of the barbecue-like sauce and tenderness of the meat will. The pickled beef tongue ($2) served with a roasted shiitake mushroom salad gets a pleasant kick from a spicy mustard sauce, and while the "eggless" Bennie ($4) could have had us fooled with that yolk-like foam, there was no joke in the two bites that brought together savory huitlacoche with earthy truffle.
The appetizer list offers many familiar openers, and many are satisfying. The foie gras (market price) allows you to experience both the silkiness of the liver in terrine form and the sweetness of it seared with dried fruit chutney and Manischewitz wine. The ranch salad ($7) features a green peppercorn crème fraîche dressing that's so smooth and peppery you could drink it. It might be a stretch to call the Beets 2.0 ($8) a salad, with only three small stacks of roasted beets sandwiching a smear of feta and a couple of carrot coins on the side, but what the dish lacks in volume it makes up for in flavor. A pickled shallot dressing ties together the sweet beets and salty feta in a perfectly packaged bite.
The few weaknesses in the menu came from the entrees. We enjoyed the smokiness of the seared duck breast ($17), but found the meat a tad too chewy, and we missed a crispy skin. The coffee pecan pancake was a solid accompaniment, as was the lingonberry sauce. Rabbit ($18) tasted a little dry, though smashed sweet potatoes were spot on. More successful were the barrimundi ($20) with lobster sauce and pickled eggplant, and a salmon cassoulet ($19) that managed to make a heavy, oily fish taste light and delicate. Perhaps it was those creamy adzuki beans on the side.
The entree standouts -- the lamb shank ($20) and tofu ($17) -- both featured vibrant, Asian-flavored sauces that made the dishes swoon-worthy. The leanness of the anise-scented lamb didn't make the meat tough; on the contrary, we lauded its tender texture, as well as the accompanying jasmine rice and arugula sauce. The fluffiness of the tofu, encased in a crisp, wonton-like wrapper, could fool many into thinking it's ricotta cheese, but ricotta doesn't tend to be topped with sweet soy sauce. For a side, the luxurious truffle flavor makes the fresh pappardelle ($9) very decadent, but the hot, bubbly and cheesy spinach gratin ($5) is the better choice.
Heidi's has come a long way in the past year, and it's comforting to see Woodman and his team return to form so quickly (with the exception of the glacial service on one of the busy evenings when we visited). The fine food makes it appropriate to recommend the restaurant to anyone looking for an upscale but unpretentious meal.
- The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week, twice a day, at www.heavytable.com.