Saffron is Closing

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

Saffron chef and co-owner Sameh Wadi announced the news of the restaurant’s upcoming closure on his personal Facebook page (via City Pages). The modern Middle Eastern eatery will serve its last meal on Dec. 3, and it will leave a hole in the marketplace with its departure — there’s nothing else like it in the state. Saffron fused classic Middle Eastern fare with sophisticated modern plating and imaginative reinvention, and helped change the way Minnesotans view food from the Mediterranean region. Wadi’s popular World Street Kitchen and Milkjam Creamery continue to boom, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see the former open another location in the near future.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We reviewed Saffron positively in 2011, wrote about Wadi’s Spice Trail spice blends, interviewed Wadi about World Street Kitchen, and talked with the chef about his book, The New Mediterranean Table.

The Tap: Why Minnesota Needs a Syrian Restaurant

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: Middle Eastern food is stellar, and we could always use a bit more of it — and right now, what we need most of all is a Syrian place.

The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

A Taste of Syria

The news that Syrian refugees may make their way (in small numbers) to the Gopher State has made plenty of people mad, and it has made others quite proud. But for those of us who care about what we eat, the news that our increasingly multi-cultural stew is about to be peppered with new flavor is a good thing. It’s an excuse to learn a bit more about the massive blue marble on which we live.

There’s no shortage of good Middle Eastern fare around here (on Central Avenue alone, we had stellar kebabs and Iraqi bread at Al Amir, mind-blowing baklava at Filfillah, and savory charcoal-roasted quail and divine Lebanese Night dessert at Basha – and let’s not, of course, forget Saffron downtown or Beirut on Robert Street in St. Paul). But to the best of my (considerable but not perfect) knowledge, we don’t have any place with a particularly Syrian bent.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

In a best-case scenario, one or more Syrian families come to our state with money and a dream, and they start a restaurant — maybe on the far northern outskirts of Central Avenue, or maybe in a suburban strip mall, or maybe somewhere on University Avenue’s massive expanse. The food is good, people come and eat, and the restaurant prospers. It expands, it moves, it leverages social media, it embodies one particularly delicious incarnation of the American Dream.

More realistically, this might be the kind of thing that gets a slower start: a pop-up dinner series supported by an established restaurant or a food truck launched with the help of crowdfunding, for example.

But regardless of how it happens (and I sincerely hope that it does), here’s why it matters: When you eat in first-generation restaurants, you meet first-generation immigrants and you taste the flavors that they love — the flavors of the place they call home. And when you do that, the gaps that separate people — religion, language, class — start to close a little bit.

Bridging those gaps is what food should be about. That’s what it needs to be about, right now.

James Norton

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table


Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Out-of-Towners’ Guide to Minneapolis 2015

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Welcome to the Twin Cities! Don’t know where to find interesting, high quality food and drink? Whether you’re looking to splurge or eat on the cheap, we’ve got you covered. Looking to drink killer cocktails and treat a hangover the next morning? No problem. Want to know where the locals get their doughnuts, sausage, tacos, and coffee? You’ve come to the right site.

The guide is a collection of places our contributors take out-of-towners (or suggest others take visitors). It’s not a “best-of” list. It’s also not comprehensive. To keep the guide from getting unwieldy, we limited the number of categories and suggestions within each category. Therefore, there are numerous places that we love that didn’t make it into the guide. If you asked us where to eat, drink, and hang out, this is what we’d tell you (and then we’d list a bunch of back-up spots). Together, the interactive map (posted at the end of this article), the list, and the corresponding Foursquare list will help you plan your gastronomic tour of the Twin Cities.

After considering feedback on last year’s inaugural guide, we decided to split the document into two parts, one for each of the Twin Cities. We published the St. Paul guide last month, and now bring you the Minneapolis version. To avoid duplication, we have not included restaurants on the St. Paul list that have Minneapolis locations: Black Sheep Pizza, Brasa, and Colossal Cafe.

Locals: Along with using the guide and sending it to folks visiting town, we hope you will add your recommendations in the comments section (and tell us why our suggestions are completely off base). We update the guide annually, so your feedback helps us improve the document as well as provide out-of-towners with additional suggestions.

Worth the Splurge

Brasserie Zentral logo
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brasserie Zentral; 505 S Marquette Ave, Minneapolis | Our review

The Central European vibe at Brasserie Zentral is unlike that at just about any other place in town. The white-tablecloth atmosphere is welcoming without being fussy, and “fancy” in the best possible meaning of the word. Dishes are made with impeccable consistency using top-notch ingredients. At Zentral, the fine cuisine of Vienna meets the country charm of Hungarian folk dishes and Jewish heritage food, and the foie gras menu is long and lovely.

Kenwood Restaurant; 2115 W 21st St, Minneapolis | Our review

A sunlight-infused casual spot just off the north end of Lake of the Isles, The Kenwood features seasonal fare that’s approachable, elegant, and often playful. Along with lunch and dinner, The Kenwood serves a full brunch every day, with a range of beautifully executed classic egg dishes as well as more Midwestern-inflected options.

Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table
Crystal Liepa / Heavy Table

Corner Table; 4537 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis | Our discussion with owner Nick Rancone and chef Thomas Boemer

For a pork-forward, impeccably executed, disarmingly comfortable taste of the Upper Midwest by way of the mid-South, a meal at Corner Table is the way to go. The restaurant’s sourcing and technique are both killer, and the ever-changing menu has a host of twists and surprises that make every visit a rewarding adventure.

Spoon and Stable; 211 1st St N, Minneapolis | Our review

The brainchild of chef-owner Gavin Kaysen, Spoon and Stable is at the leading edge of what we might think of as “comfortable fine dining.” The food isn’t flashy — there aren’t bells and whistles, meat glue, or liquid nitrogen. But it is precise, beautiful, and delicious. Spoon and Stable’s desserts — the handiwork of pastry chef Diane Yang — are exquisite, and the beverage program is first rate. The restaurant also boasts one of the more popular and well-regarded brunches in the Twin Cities.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Bachelor Farmer; 50 N 2nd Ave, Minneapolis | Our review

The restaurant that drew national attention for capitalizing on a “new Nordic” trend has created a nice niche for itself in the Twin Cities. Owned by Target heirs Eric and Andrew Dayton, the space feels like a slightly fancy, modern take on an old-fashioned, imagined Scandinavian heartland. And the food doesn’t disappoint — don’t miss the shareable toasts, which arrive on a tiered silver tray and feature flavors like lox and steak tartare. Make an evening of it: Head downstairs before or after your meal for cocktails in the living-room-esque Marvel Bar. If you’re in town in mid-August, don’t miss The Bachelor Farmer’s rendition of kräftskiva, a Swedish crayfish festival — it’s a fun event replete with local music, boozy snowcones (aquavit luge, anyone?), and of course crayfish.

Heyday; 2700 Lyndale Ave S, Minneapolis | Our review

With inventive food, funky style, and good cheer, this restaurant exemplifies the Lyndale-Lake neighborhood. Skillfully blending creativity and restraint, chef Jim Christiansen delivers interesting, high-quality, tasty creations. And the desserts are some of the most inventive and scrumptious the area has to offer.

Joshua Page / Heavy Table
Joshua Page / Heavy Table

Piccolo; 4300 Bryant Ave S, Minneapolis | Our review

Combining non-traditional ingredients, flavors, and techniques, Chef Doug Flicker puts out unique, addictive fare. Take Piccolo’s signature dish, “Scrambled brown eggs with pickled pig’s feet, truffle butter and Parmigiano.” It may sound strange, but the flavors and textures work brilliantly. The five-course tasting menu ($59) is a great way to sample Flicker’s creations. This is the spot for adventurous, super high quality food in a casual atmosphere.

Restaurant Alma; 528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis | Our interview with chef / owner Alex Roberts

Well-executed, seasonally-driven three-course tasting menus are the name of the game here. There is almost nothing about Alma that’s flashy — in fact, it’s so unassuming you’ll probably drive right by. Sometimes a low-key, unpretentious evening of fine dining — one where you can hear your companion(s) talk, and hear yourself think — is just what the doctor ordered, and Alma’s the place to go. If you’re looking for something a bit more everyday, check out chef / owner Alex Roberts’ other restaurant, Brasa Premium Rotisserie, for a killer pork sandwich and yuca fries.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Saffron; 123 N 3rd St, Minneapolis | Our interview with Sameh Wadi

The smart new-Mediterranean food of Saffron combines Middle Eastern flavor with an cosmopolitan attention to detail and technique, and the result is some of the area’s most stunning food — both in terms of appearance and flavor. This is a place where you can have a beautifully crafted cocktail and journey somewhere new via the magic of a creative menu.

Broders’ Pasta Bar; 5000 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis | Our reflections on Broders’ Pasta Bar and reviews of Terzo Vino Bar and Porchetteria

[Editors’ Note: Broders is less expensive than the other restaurants in this category, but meals at Terzo tend to fall into “splurge” territory.]
Broders’ consistently kicks out perfectly cooked, seasonally sauced housemade pasta. Whether you’re snuggled with your sweetie at the bar with a couple glasses of wine and a piece of Bestia Nera flourless chocolate cake or at a table passing plates of pasta and risotto to share among friends, Broders’ knows how many of us at the Heavy Table like to eat — good, unpretentious food at reasonable prices, and a great wine list to boot. We’re also huge fans of the Broder family’s wine bar, Terzo, located across the street from the pasta bar. Porchetta sandwiches (also served through a window facing the parking lot during the day), thoughtful small plates, top-notch entrees (especially the branzino), and a wine program (that slants toward Northern Italy) are all dynamite.

Casual Eats

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Revival; 4257 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis | Our review

The little sibling of Corner Table (see above), Revival offers amazing Southern fare. It’s rightly known for fried chicken with exceptionally moist and tender meat and gorgeously crispy skin. But it’s not just a chicken joint. The cheeseburger is one of the best in the Twin Cities, and sides like fried green tomatoes, collard greens, and hush puppies are delicious. And if banana pie is on the menu, get it!

The Rabbit Hole; 920 E Lake St, Suite 101, Minneapolis | Our review

Looking for traditional Korean food? Head elsewhere. You won’t see the standard bulgogi / bibimbap / soondobu / japchae formula here. But if you’re craving a good, decidedly boozy drink and gastropub fare beyond the usual fried whatever, this place will be your jam. As a second-generation Korean-American hailing from LA, chef / owner Thomas Kim grew up with his mom’s cooking, but he draws from his experience working with Roy Choi and others to create his own spin on food. This results in things like kimchi-and-curry gravy-slathered poutine, truly addictive Brussels sprouts, and rice bowls loaded with things like soft-shell crab and habanero oyster sauce. Arrive early enough to explore the other shops in the Midtown Global Market, then lose track of time in one of the dark pojangmacha-styled booths and hang out late into the night.

Heavy Table Hot Five: July 31-August 6


Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email

Ted Held  / Heavy Table
Ted Held / Heavy Table

1-new - oneJerk Chicken at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
On July 23, Pimento Jamaican Kitchen showed off its new, still very much under construction digs on Nicollet Avenue with an open house at which staff handed out excellent smoky jerk chicken, fluffy rice and beans, and sweet fried plantains to anyone with a mouth who stepped into the long line. For a few more days, you can help Pimento bring its island flavors to Eat Street with Kickstarter. Positive vibration bonus: in partnership with Refill MN, Pimento aims to provide 100,000 meals to food-insecure Minnesotans.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Ted Held]

Yena Lee  / Heavy Table
Yena Lee / Heavy Table

2-new - twoHalloumi Cheese Curds at Saffron
Saffron is offering fried halloumi cheese curds as one of its weekly specials. The salty, crunchy, and milky characteristics of halloumi cheese work well in a fried “curd” format, and the accompanying rhubarb pieces bring a nice, bright contrast to the comforting fried cheese.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Yena Lee]

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

3-new - threeKorean Fried Cauliflower at Icehouse
The mildly spicy and perfectly fried cauliflower is a crisp offset to the thick but tender kimchi pancakes that are best eaten under a drenching of the fried egg’s yolk. There are generous dollops of gochujang sauce to add some heat, if you like. Lots of flavor and texture in a not-overly-huge lunch plate.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

Joshua Page  / Heavy Table
Joshua Page / Heavy Table

4-new fourBarbacoa and Vegetarian Tacos at Pineda Tacos
We became fans of Pineda during a taco crawl last year. A recent lunch confirmed our positive first impression of this nondescript spot on East Lake Street. The barbacoa taco is juicy, soulful, and super flavorful. A vegetarian creation with griddled queso fresco, beans, and rice is also dynamite. We’ll definitely be back soon.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Via a Tweet by Joshua Page]

Paige Latham  / Heavy Table
Paige Latham / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveCherry Shortcake from the Barley’s Angels Goose Island Beer Dinner
The cherry shortcake made for the Barley’s Angels and Goose Island Beer dinner at Cooks of Crocus Hill was a revelation. Made with simmered dark cherries and saison, it was the hit of the evening. May no shortcake ever again be made without orange zest. It almost dwarfed its beer pairing, the Juliet Belgian-style ale.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Paige Latham]

Heavy Table Hot Five: May 21-28


Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email

1-new - one Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Biscuits and Gravy at The Buttered Tin
For my money, Buttered Tin has the best breakfast in St. Paul, and the biscuits and gravy are a standout. Remarkable biscuits cradle a pair of expertly poached eggs covered in a sage-sausage gravy that adds a whole other level of Thanksgivinglike comfort. They’re the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever had in the Cities, and — it pains me to say it — they’re even better than Sun Street Breads’.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by John Garland]

Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table
Isabel Subtil / Heavy Table

Bee2-new - twors from Eastlake Craft Brewery and Tacos from Sonora Grill at Midtown Global Market
Tapas my way: Sonora Grill tacos and Eastlake beer inside the Midtown Global Market. The best way to start your Friday evening.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Isabel Subtil]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - threeThe Kenwood Burger at The Kenwood
The Kenwood Burger proves that pork belly might just beat bacon as a burger topping. Add some gooey Gruyere and a softly fried egg, and you’ve got an ideal mix of fat and flavor. You have the option of getting mixed greens with it instead of fries, but if you’re already in for a big burger, a slab of pork belly, and a fried egg, why bother?
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new fourJeweled Rice at the Saffron Launch Party for The New Mediterranean Table
This Persian-inspired dish is so much more than a mere side of rice. It’s bedecked with herbs, spice, and dried fruit. It was a perfect pairing with an Arabic-spice-rubbed roasted lamb shoulder served last Monday at a Saffron dinner celebrating the launch of Chef Sameh Wadi’s new cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. Jeweled rice isn’t currently available on Saffron’s menu, but you can make it yourself with a little help from the book.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Instagrammed by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveMieng Kham at Royal Orchid
This dish is like no lettuce wrap we’ve ever tried. Royal Orchid’s wraps are composed from a palette of incredibly bold flavor boosters including chunks of ginger, atomic-hot pepper bits, dried shrimp, small pieces of lime (with skin left on to amp up the kick still further), coconut chips, and chopped onions. Dressed with sweet palm syrup, the result is something like a flavor brawl taking place in your mouth — first bright citrus, then withering heat, then sharp onion, and so forth.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Contributed by James Norton from a future Central Avenue Checklist]

New Mediterranean Table Launch Dinner at Saffron

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

If you read about The New Mediterranean Table and thought “that sounds damned delicious!”, you’re in luck: Chef Sameh Wadi is hosting a book launch dinner this coming Monday, May 18. The menu includes whole roasted lamb shoulder with Arabic rice, jeweled rice, and shellfish paella croquettes. Tickets are $125 a person.

Three Tastes With Sameh Wadi and The New Mediterranean Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“The idea of eating in the Middle East, it’s like a sport, really,” says Chef Sameh Wadi. He’s out of his element cooking in my cramped South Minneapolis kitchen — not at Saffron or World Street Kitchen, or the WSK truck — but you’d never know it. He’s talking a mile a minute, and chopping, slicing, searing, and straining as he goes.

“We wake up — and the first thing my mom would say was ‘What do you guys want for breakfast?’” Here he paints an appealing picture: “Breakfast was a table filled with little mezzes, different cheeses, olives, pickles, hummus, sometimes chicken livers. … There’s got to be 10 items on the table, at least. …”

The context resonates right now, as our kitchen fills up with bright, deeply spiced food, and the chef flips through his newly released cookbook, The New Mediterranean Table. Food is everywhere: on the counters, on the stovetop, on the plates, in the air, and soon — in our mouths.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Wadi continues his story: “And then: ‘What do you guys want for lunch?’ And lunch was the biggest meal of the day. And then: ‘What do you guys want for dinner?’ Around 3 o’clock, people are done working. They don’t want to have a heavy meal right when they get home, so they start out with something lighter. But dinner was the late-night one, at 8 o’clock or so — basically all mezzes, is how we ate. At lunch there was always one or two big stews that go with rice.”

He pauses for effect: “And throughout the day there was snacking.”

The interweaving of eating and family life is at the core of The New Mediterranean Table, which is overstuffed with recipes that represent and reflect the flavors and textures of their region. The range of recipes is admirably broad, from short, simple dishes that any observant cook could pull off to potentially life-changing challenges, including formidable spice blends (the ras el hanout has 21 components, including saffron threads and something called orris root) and a glorious-looking chicken bastela that I intend to attempt sometime between now and the day I die, although the complexity of the dish will no doubt result in one or two postponements.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The New Mediterranean Table is a book as elegant as any dish that has emerged from the kitchen at Saffron. It’s clean, crisp, and clear, the recipes easy to read and swimming in white space, the photos bold and colorful without feeling forced or styled. Best of all is Wadi’s voice, which rings out from the pages as he introduces each dish — it’s warm, informative, and conversational without being wordy or feeling forced.

The book’s sections run from small plates through to dessert, drinks, and an unusual section entitled “The Larder.” 

The Toast: February 2014

Banner for the Toast: Drinking Well in the Upper Midwest

Readers: What are you Toasting? What’s your favorite cocktail on the town? Or have a recipe of your own to share? Tweet your toasts to @johnpgarland and each month, our favorite submission earns you a Heavy Table pint glass.

In This Toast…We found ourselves in Duluth, the hill by the sea where the vortex is most polar. We sipped gin from a distillery that contracts with a local brewery. At that brewery’s tap room, we drank ale made with the cold press from a coffee roaster. At that coffee roaster’s shop, we found the jams from a local preserver.

We return with bison pastrami from Northern Waters Smokehaus and notes on some new drinks from up north. Mix it all together with some Valentine’s Day wine for our February Toasts.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

The Paulucci building has been at the base of the aerial lift bridge in Duluth’s Canal Park since 1915. It was built by Gowan-Lenning-Brown, a wholesale grocer, before it became HQ for Jeno Paulucci. The future pizza roll inventor anchored his Chun King and Michelinas brands from the building for decades.

The room where chow mein used to roll off the canning line is now the home of Vikre Distillery. Right now, Joel and Emily Vikre are bottling and shipping their first batch of Boreal gins for locations in northern Minnesota. Expect the second and third batches to reach the metro in a few weeks.

“We both did organic chemistry, undergrad and graduate, so that was part of it,” says Emily, on becoming distillers. “Joel apprenticed at a rum distillery in Massachusetts, Turkey Shore, and we also worked out at Bainbridge Organic Distillers for a while, and that’s where we got our small spirits still [below, right] when they were upgrading.”

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

They’re debuting three expressions of gin right away. All three are light, clean-cut spirits and each flavor will have its partisan. There’s Juniper for the London Dry fans, a Cedar formula hoping to reacclimate the whiskey drinker to gin, and Spruce for the Hendrick’s crowd.

Also in the works is a traditional Norwegian aquavit in time for syttende mai. “I grew up drinking aquavit,” says Emily, “but I never enjoyed the taste; it’d always smack you in the face with caraway. I wanted to make one more balanced, a little sweeter, that was still caraway driven but with other flavors.”

Lee Egbert of Dashfire Bitters

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Lee Egbert (above) was once a Boy Scout, enamored with identifying barks and plants out in the forest. He later spent 18 months in China, discovering the flavors in the herbs and roots of eastern medicine.

His botanical journey has come to a head with Dashfire, the new orange-bourbon cocktail bitters on the market, and the first bitters to be made in Minnesota.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

With Midwestern spirits on the rise, it seems logical that it would only be a matter of time before a bitters company would emerge here to complement the terrific Bittercube line that’s made in Wisconsin. Egbert was initially pursuing a distillery, and in fact has become Bob McManus’ partner at Mill City Distilling.

But until that operation is up and running, he’s promoting his versatile new bitters. We chatted over happy hour at Saffron, where bartender Robb Jones (two photos down) sat us down with a classic martini: navy strength gin, Dolin dry and blanc vermouths, and Dashfire. Sophistication with a hint of citrus.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“I appreciate when someone puts the time in to do something better, so I don’t have to anymore,” says Jones (below). “I still enjoy making my own, but they’ll never come out like this. I think these are the best orange bitters on the market.”

It seems Egbert set out to correct some shortfalls he noticed in the other major brands. Fee Brothers, for example, uses glycerin and concentrated citrus oils. Tasting them side by side against Dashfire, which is flavored by fresh orange zest among other spices, there’s no contest.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

“Almost all of them use dried orange rind,” says Egbert. “It’s vastly different, more of an orange soda flavor. It’s sweeter; I think Regan’s tastes more along the lines of Sunkist. I wanted to honor the flavor of the orange.”

Since orange is one of the original and most popular types of bitters, it’s called for in a number of classic whiskey cocktails. So Egbert thought to base his bitters on a quality bourbon, Old Weller Antique, instead of a neutral grain spirit.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

His bitters are also distinct because they receive some barrel age. He lugged his 5-gallon barrel from Black Swan Cooperage into the bar, beeswax chipping around the rim, still fresh from draining batch number one, and emitting a powerful citrus-bourbon musk. The oak is both toasted and charred, producing Dashfire’s distinct woodsy-vanilla aftertaste.

Egbert’s beautifully labeled 1.7-ounce bottles are already on shelves around town for $20. Joining them soon, if not already, will be his second flavor: Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret. Informed by his travels, it’s based on the concept of a balanced five-spice blend. It smells like anise and finishes spicy thanks to some Szechuan peppercorns.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Jones took the Ancient Chinese Secret and dreamed up a whiskey sour with apricot liqueur and toasted sesame oil that was as tasty as it was mind-boggling. Then, a captivating flip: Plantation 5-year Barbados rum, with a whole egg, heavy cream, Licor 43, demerara syrup, and a heavy dose of Ancient Chinese Secret. Have Jones make you that drink. It’s the eggnog of your dreams.

John Garland / Heavy Table
John Garland / Heavy Table

But perhaps even more quickly than bartenders, it’s been bakers and chefs making notable adoptions of Dashfire so far. Glam Doll Donuts has debuted the Dashfire doughnut (above) using the bitters in a sweet, boozy glaze on their classic raised doughnut. Potter’s Pasties (where Dashfire is on sale) went the dessert route as well, baking it into a pie with pears, dates, and cashews. Egbert is currently angling for a Dashfire ice cream at Izzy’s.

Stephanie Kochlin, chef at Pig & Fiddle in Edina, is using Dashfire in a nice gravlax preparation for her summer menu. “She’s done a different twist on it,” says Egbert, “so instead of dill, it’s with fennel, which does complement the orange really well. I’ve already had it twice.” His future plans include a line of tinctures that sound tailor made for chefs.

Once Mill City Distilling moves in to the old Hamm’s Brewery, Egbert will get Urban Organics to grow the botanicals for both his bitters and Mill City’s gin. For now, he’ll be tinkering with infusions and planning Mill City’s first run of spirits. One can envision cocktails with ingredients made entirely under the same St. Paul roof in the not too distant future.

New Year’s Eve Specials 2012-2013

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

New Year’s Eve is meant to be big, and here in Minneapolis and St. Paul, there are options galore for a delicious evening.

Hell’s Kitchen, for instance, is featuring a duo of steak and lobster tail with linguine, and Brit’s Pub is handing out bubbly toasts. La Chaya Bistro is spinning classic proteins like filet mignon with spicy Latin elements, and Saffron‘s tasting menu ($65; $75 with foie gras, $25 extra for wine pairing) will showcase trout, short ribs, and foie gras. Dinner at Sontes in Rochester draws inspiration from 1960s dining, and The Sample Room in Minneapolis will serve an ultra affordable ($45) six-course meal with a deconstructed dessert sampler. In Season is offering a stunning prie fixe menu ($80; +$35 for wine pairing or +$65 for premiere wine pairing) with a saddle of lamb from Shepherd’s Song, and The Kenwood makes the night special with beef tenderloin, Abalone Mushrooms, and pastry-baked Bent River Camembert. Gandhi Mahal is offering a buffet and champagne celebration from 5-10pm ($25 for adults, $10 for children) followed by live music, cash bar, and kids’ activities from 10pm-1am ($10 door charge). The already talked-about, still-to-open Borough is doing a five-course dinner ($50 / $75 with wine pairing with optional oyster, foie gras, and cheese supplements for additional charges).

Below are five other dinners that particularly struck our fancy. But whether or not you indulge on December 31, Tilia is serving brunch for the bleary-eyed starting at 9am on the first day of 2013. Cheers!

Citizen Cafe
The menu: This South Minneapolis cafe is going old school. Expect champagne cocktails and five courses of classic, supper club standbys. Each course includes a few options, so you can style the evening to your particular retro wishes. Think Oysters Rockefeller, shrimp scampi, and a crisp wedge of iceberg with blue cheese for starters. Filet Mignon and Coq Au Vin are just a few of the strapping entrees. Baked Alaska, Bananas Foster, and other goodies finish the whole thing off with a saccharine flourish.
Libations: No specific drink pairings, beer and wine available
Reservations: Encouraged
Price: A la carte, entrees $20-$25

Citizen Cafe, 2403 E 38th St, Minneapolis, MN 55406; 612.729.1122

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Lynn on Bryant
The menu: One of Minneapolis’ newest neighborhood spots is going big and debuting two unique (one vegetarian), three-course five-course [corrected 12/21/12] dinners on New Year’s Eve. The Blue Cheese and Pear Souffle (present on both menus) sounds especially festive. Crispy lobster tails and short ribs fill out the non-vegetarian menu, while an imaginative vegetable and tofu Napoleon and bitty pumpkins filled with chestnut custard make the vegetarian side sound swoon-worthy. Rich riffs on celebratory dishes in a gorgeous space.
Libations: Optional wine pairing and a complimentary champagne toast.
Reservations: Encouraged, for both dining room and cafe
Price: $80 / $115 with wine pairing

The Lynn on Bryant, 5003 Bryant Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55419; 612.767.7797

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The menu: Probably the most Minnesotan evening you’ll find. Chef Lenny Russo’s (above) four-course meal has three variations, and each one celebrates a different local habitat. Enjoy goose and snapping turtle soup from the Forest and Prairie, or smoked trout, crayfish risotto, and black bass from our Rivers and Lakes. And finally, a vegetarian feast from Farms and Fields includes a kale torte and pumpkin-filled buckwheat crepes. A unique dessert accompanies each option.
Libations: No specific drink pairings, but beer and wine are available.
Reservations: Required, must be secured by credit card
Price: $75 / a la carte at the bar

Heartland, 289 E 5th St, St Paul, MN 55101; 651.699.3536

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Wise Acre Eatery
The menu: Things get a little southern and cozy over at Wise Acre Eatery in Tangletown. Their seven-course meal features lots of corn and a kaleidoscope of comforting beans and meats. Dinner starts with corn and crab bisque or a beautiful-sounding Painted Pony Bean Chowder. Choose from duck and grits, pork and beans with garlicky greens, roasted squash and pilaf, or bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin with purple potato cakes. Minnesota’s own Buffalo Creek sheep’s milk cheese — which we can attest, is delightful — makes an appearance at the end.
Libations: Optional wine pairing
Reservations: Required
Price: $80 / $120 with wine pairing

Wise Acre Eatery, 5401 Nicollet Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55419; 612.354.2577

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Bachelor Farmer

The menu: If you like levels (uh, literally) of activity in your New Year’s night, The Bachelor Farmer’s got them. While Chef Paul Berglund’s seven-course dinner is already booked up, the Farmer’s got a few other special things going on. The second floor of the restaurant (in lieu of Marvel Bar) will be open for pre-dinner social hour. Sip a few fireside drinks and snack on complimentary hors d’oeuvres as the Jeremy Walker Trio does its smooth thing in the background. Marvel Bar will open later at 9pm, flush with champagne, New Year’s punch, and tunes by DJ Jonathan Ackerman.
Libations: Champagne, punch, and standard drink menu
Reservations: Not necessary for the second floor and Marvel Bar
Price: A la carte

The Bachelor Farmer, 50 2nd Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55401, 612.206.3920

Sameh Wadi of World Street Kitchen Restaurant

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Look at a map of Lyn-Lake and you might conclude that World Street Kitchen, the bricks-and-mortar incarnation of the food truck by the same name, has moved into hostile territory. WSK (which had its soft opening last Friday) slings Asian-inspired sandwiches and small plates, but right down the street Moto-i offers Japanese pub grub and house-brewed sake. Just up the block, Nightingale stays open late and dishes up bistro bar food small plates. And around the corner, you’ve got Fuji Ya and its extensive menu of sushi and noodles, to say nothing of Latin-Asian fusion powerhouse Chino Latino further to the west.

The more the merrier, says Chef Sameh Wadi (top), who helms WSK and the downtown Minneapolis fine dining hotspot Saffron. “I’m super excited,” he says. “When people have a like-minded approach to food, it’s really awesome for the neighborhood.”

For Wadi, the competition is a scene, not an obstacle. He sees the neighborhood as primed for his adventurous, boldly flavored style of mix-and-match global cooking. “It’s one of the things at Saffron that I’m worried about,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of independent restaurants around… it’s me, and Isaac [Becker] across the street [at 112 Eatery] and that’s our little circle, and right down the street we have HauteDish. It’s us three, that’s pretty much it. Everyone else around us is a nightclub or shit-slingers.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Saffron is known for dishes like its seafood tagine, its foie gras with medjool date-almond briouat, and its fried lamb brains; World Street Kitchen, by contrast, will echo its truck namesake in terms of moderate price and casual vibe. “I feel like the truck is a special feel,” says Wadi. “Obviously we’re trying to replicate that by having an open kitchen and not having any servers, just having counter service, and having menus hung up there.”

Wadi cooked up a few preview tastes for us last week while his brother Saed put the front-of-the-house staff through some pre-opening training drills. Dishes made by the head chef before a restaurant has been broken in can’t be taken as gospel for the restaurant’s long-term output, but the ideas were both sound and promising over the long term.

As we contemplated a couple of the restaurant’s dishes, Wadi broke down the food philosophy still further: “The menu is divided into two different sections — the health conscious, and the stoner food.”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

For the former: We tried the Vietnamese noodle salad ($9, above), which was refreshing as a cold lake breeze in mid-August, and a surprisingly straightforward version of the dish, with cold rice noodles, shrimp, pickled daikon, and cucumbers, plus mint, cilantro, basil, green onions, lettuce, crushed peanuts, and nuoc cham fish sauce dressing.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And we found the aloo tikki chaat ($4.75, above) to be an explosion of flavor, spice, heat, and contrasts, a superman of a dish in a Clark Kent package. The dish appears simple, like a samosa filling turned out onto a plate: “We have potatoes, a little bit of dal, and some garam masala from the Spice Trail — what! what! — we have two chutneys, a tamarind and date chutney and cilantro chutney, a little bit of lime yogurt, and fried sev, which is a [chickpea flour] noodle.”

As for how we found the KFC homage known as the MFC, read on.

THE HEAVY TABLE: For those diners who know what you’re putting out at the World Street Kitchen food truck, how will the brick-and-mortar restaurant be different?

SAMEH WADI: We’re going to take the same concept and crank it up a little. Obviously the kitchen here is bigger — the flattop here is bigger than the entire kitchen on the food truck.

At the truck, the days we put the Bangkok Burrito on, the people who eat the Yum Yum Bowl don’t show up. Both of them are going to be here at the same time.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

This is the first time ever they’re going to be served on the same day. I don’t know what’s going to happen. World peace, because of two foods… ?

HT: So the menu will be bigger…

SW: We typically would have one or two sandwiches on the trucks — here we’ll have six or seven.”

Some dishes are going to be a little more upscale than what the food truck will offer. One of the dishes is a banana leaf-wrapped fish with coconut rice and a marinated radish salad. It’s a little more upscale than [dishes served from] the food truck.

HT: Is this a reaction to the expansion and improvement of the fast casual segment of the market in recent years?

SW: For sure. Even in the fast casual category, big food companies are really raising the bar and helping people understand… people who would usually go to McDonald’s or Burger King or something like that are now stepping up and going to Chipotle or Noodles & Company. I’m not saying those guys do amazing food, but it’s a good start.

It’s just a couple of dollars difference to get something hand-crafted and chef-driven, with good ingredients.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

HT: This sandwich is intense — a lot of carbs between the biscuits and the fried chicken interior, but the bright flavors of the feta and carrot slaw really keep it alive.

SW: It’s our MFC [Moroccan Fried Chicken sandwich]. You’ll need a knife, a fork, a spoon, maybe even a stretcher afterwards. It’s a buttermilk biscuit with white cheddar and green onion. We have the fried chicken, marinated in North African spices — cumin, black pepper, cayenne, paprika — spicy feta mixed with smoked paprika, and the carrot salad is very traditional in a lot of mezzes, tossed in preserved lemon.

This is our stoner food, right here.

HT: How about the bar options?

SW: We’ll have beer and wine cocktails and sake cocktails. The list was put together by Rob Jones [bar manager at Saffron, formerly at Meritage] and Alberto Blanco [sommelier at Saffron].

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

All the beers on tap are local — the cans come from all over the world. We’ll have a sake-based caipirinha, forties of Miller’s High Life, Mickey’s grenades, other fun stuff like that.

Around us we’ve got a lot of great, beer-centric places; we’re not going to be competing with them. We’ve got the world’s only sake brewpub outside of Japan — I can’t [mess] with that, I’m not even going to try, so I’m just going to have some fun.

World Street Kitchen
World street food in Uptown

2743 Lyndale Ave, Minneapolis, 55408
Sun-Thurs 11am-midnight
Fri-Sat 11am-1am
CHEF / OWNERS: Sameh Wadi / Sameh and Saed Wadi
BAR: Wine, beer, sake

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Mideast Peace Breaks Out Locally, Kinda and Morning Roundup

Andrew Zimmern and Sameh Wadi bury the Israel-Palestine hatchet, street food originals Chef Shack are planning to open a restaurant in Bay City, WI, a former Open Arms employee is charged with swindling the organization, details on the Meals on Heels event to benefit Meals on Wheels, the Steel Toe Brewery taproom gets a city council blessing, kudos to City Pages for their Comix Issue (including Psycho Suzi’s and Jucy Lucy references, for what it’s worth), the Good Food Awards are seeking submissions from food artisans, the Well Fed Guide to Life pigs out at Pepito’s, WACSO illustrates Grasshopper Tamales, details on the Nordeast Big River Homebrew Competition, and Iggers raves up Mona (here’s our review).