Heidi’s in Minneapolis
Editor’s Note: Heidi’s has closed.
As the festivities were winding down at the Heavy Table birthday party on February 17, 2010, a few of us started chatting about restaurants we hadn’t reviewed yet, and the name Heidi’s surfaced quickly. We left the party with the intention to set a dinner date at the southwest Minneapolis restaurant soon. Little did we know that it would be almost exactly one year before we’d be able to make good on our plans.
The next day, a grease fire that began in the Heidi’s kitchen ravaged the building that housed both that restaurant and Blackbird Cafe, along with several other businesses. Ironically, chef and owner Stewart Woodman learned the same day that he had been named a semifinalist for a James Beard Foundation award. Though it remained unclear in those first few months after the fire where Heidi’s would reappear, there was no doubt that it would, in fact, return. And to the delight of former regulars and new fans, Heidi’s did just that in January in the old Vera’s Cafe location on the corner of Lyndale Avenue and 29th Street. In an elegantly decorated dining room, with the branches of a frosted white tree hovering overhead and an open kitchen just steps away, Woodman’s self-proclaimed “four-star dining at two-star prices” once again proves why the accolades for the food are well-deserved.
Organized into hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, entrees, and desserts, the menu ranges from good to “wow” — and I don’t throw that word around very often. Unexpected combinations, new takes on classic dishes, and a mastery of flavors — particularly those that are Asian-inspired — make it easy to have a memorable meal. Take the instant pork bun ($4, above), 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 sure 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” label on the 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 — soup, salad, and seafood — but for those willing to take a chance, there’s also a surprise. Literally. Your server won’t reveal the nature of the Shefzilla Surprise upon ordering, but if you mention your dislikes, he or she will let you know if the day’s offering is for you. On one visit, the surprise came in the form of prairie oysters — that’s buffalo testicles, to those unfamiliar with land-roaming “mollusks.” Luckily, my Kansas-born and -bred dining companion (and Rocky Mountain oyster aficionado) was thrilled when the deep-fried organs arrived at the table, snugly sitting in marine oyster shells, and he raved about their crispy, well-seasoned coating.
Fortunately for those of us who aren’t as adventurous, many of the other appetizers are just as 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 that you could drink it — or ranch dressing lovers could, at least. It might be a stretch to call the Beets 2.0 ($8, above) 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 we found in the menu came from the entrees, but in no way did those shortcomings doom a dish to failure. We still enjoyed the smokiness of the seared duck breast ($17, above), but we found the meat to be a tad too chewy, and we missed a crispy skin. The coffee pecan pancake on which the duck breast lies was a surprisingly solid accompaniment, as was the lingonberry sauce. The rabbit ($18) tasted a little dry, though the smashed sweet potatoes were spot on.
More successful were the barrimundi ($20, above) with lobster sauce and pickled eggplant, and the salmon cassoulet ($19), which admirably managed to make a heavy, oily fish taste light and delicate. Perhaps it was the influence of those creamy azuki beans on the side.
The entree stand-outs — the lamb shank ($20) and tofu ($17, above) — both featured vibrant, Asian-flavored sauces that made the dishes swoonworthy. 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 was ricotta cheese, but ricotta doesn’t tend to be topped with sweet soy sauce. Since portions are ample but not of Cheesecake Factory size, consider adding a side to your order. Though the luxurious truffle flavor made the fresh pappardelle ($9) very decadent, the hot, bubbly, and cheesy spinach gratin ($5) is the better choice.
Desserts and drinks round out the menu with similarly noteworthy results. Sweet potato beignets atop a bowl of bourbon rice pudding ($7) set a high standard for sweet plates everywhere. You almost won’t feel guilty eating the fried dough balls since they lack any residual oiliness — and they’re filled with nutrient-rich sweet potatoes, of course. The creaminess of the chocolate mousse ($9), sprinkled with peanut butter powder and a roasted marshmallow sauce — was countered with a slight crunch from the dessert’s dip into liquid nitrogen. We liked the delicate shell encasing the mousse but didn’t enjoy the tiny granules of excess nitrogen we found in some bites of mousse. A clever cocktail list, matched with a wide range of domestic and imported wines, helps to take the sting out of any wait for your table.
Yes, about that wait — timing, unfortunately, is what keeps Heidi’s in the three-star range. Our first visit to the restaurant was an exercise in patience: an 8pm reservation resulted in seating at 8:20, orders taken at 8:45, hors d’oeurves arriving around 9:20, followed by appetizers at 9:35, and, finally, entrees at 10. Though our server alerted us that all dishes are “prepared from scratch” and it would take 25-30 minutes for our entrees to be prepared once we placed our order, we found ourselves waiting much longer, resulting in a rushed main course and leaving no time for dessert on this school night. Sure, we had a blast drinking cocktails and getting into deep conversations on the merits of edible foam and the awesomeness of Warren G’s surprise appearance at a recent Snoop Dogg concert, but as 10pm neared we just wanted our food. Luckily, a subsequent 8pm reservation went off without a hitch, with a prompt seating, attentive service, and three courses enjoyed within a reasonable two-hour time frame. Let’s hope as Heidi’s settles into its new environs, the latter scenario, rather than the former, becomes the rule.
Heidi’s has come a long way in the past year, and in an industry where no concept is a sure bet, it’s comforting to see Woodman and his team return to fine form so quickly. The fine food makes it appropriate to recommend the restaurant to anyone looking for a upscale but unpretentious meal. If the service becomes more consistent, then the recommendation won’t just be appropriate — it will be a no-brainer.
BEST BET: The lamb shank ($20) is hard to beat, and if you don’t eat those sweet potato beignets ($7), I will.
Fine dining in Lyn-Lake, Minneapolis
2903 Lyndale Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55408
CHEF / OWNER: Stewart Woodman
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE PRICE: $17-24