The Heavy Table crew remembers the year a little differently from some — we think in terms of food and drink. What follows are some of our most memorable bites of 2014. Guten appetit!
BECCA DILLEY — PHOTOGRAPHER
Brasserie Zentral | Spaghetti and Speck
I generally photograph / Instagram food before I eat it, but the first time I tried this dish, it was so good that it was gone before I even thought of getting my camera out. Totally unexpected flavors (poppyseeds? how do those work?), but they combine to be so much more than just the components. A dish that would not work for anyone less experienced than the pros in the Brasserie Zentral kitchen. [See our review of Brasserie Zentral]
Home | James Norton’s Backyard Cherry-Berry Pie
I have always been the fruit pie maker in our family, and so it is with a twinge of regret that I have to admit that my husband’s fruit pie (made with cherries, rhubarb, and raspberries from our backyard) is actually the best pie I have ever had. He basically makes a rhubarb compote that works as both a thickening agent for the pie and also a sweet-tart base. Anyway, it is amazing, and now he makes the fruit pies. I still have the market cornered on pumpkin pie, though.
The Jam Pot | Wild Raspberry Jam
This monk-made jam tastes like warm summer days anytime we open it. [See our Tastes From the Shores of Lake Superior]
JOHN GARLAND — WRITER
Tiny Diner | Brandade Tater Tots
Of all the dishes I ate in 2014, I don’t think a single one reflected its setting better than these “tater tots.” Tiny Diner has taken salt cod, flaked it like shoestring potatoes, formed tots, and deep-fried them. The herb-laden tartar sauce might be the best part. A novel, playful, delicious presentation from one of the most idiosyncratic restaurants in the Metro. Reinvented diner food achieved. [See our review of Brandade Tater Tots at Tiny Diner]
The Third Bird | Polenta with Ham Hock and Poached Egg
My vote for soul-comfort dish of the year is this Lucas Almendinger / Steven Brown collaboration, a resplendent little mound of everything awesome. It starts with tender, smoky shredded ham hock covered in a layer of creamy polenta, topped with a soft poached egg and shaved truffles, and encircled with an intense pistou. If it ever actually gets cold this winter, this dish will be my weekly respite. [See our review of The Third Bird]
MAJA INGEMAN — ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Sonora Grill | Shisito Peppers
There’s something about the one-in-ten spice roulette of shisito peppers that’s always a bit entertaining — but Sonora takes the tried-and-true salt-and-char treatment and turns it up to eleven. A quick, bright hit of acidity complements the salt and spice beautifully; the accompanying huitlacoche crema brilliantly combines the earthy corn fungus with a smooth, creamy sauce. It’s a simple dish, but one loaded with the kind of flavor that makes it memorable. [See our review of Sonora Grill]
Sen Yai Sen Lek | Haw Mok
There’s a lot of great Thai food to be had at Sen Yai, but none so special as Haw Mok, the richly flavored salmon mousse they make a couple times a year. I kicked off my new year at Sen Yai indulging with friends in this luxuriously creamy, salmon-and-coconut-milk dish that is studded with sweetly earthy slices of slippery young coconut and baked in a banana leaf, and I’d love to do the same this year. [See our review of Sen Yai Sen Lek]
BRENDA JOHNSON — PHOTOGRAPHER
The Mill NE | Sweet Wacky Tobacky
Sweet Wacky Tobacky: Bulleit rye, pipe tobacco syrup, Cocchi Americano, and coffee shrub. I didn’t know what to expect when I ordered this cocktail at The Mill on Central Avenue. I’m not a brown liquor fan. In fact, I’m not a liquor fan at all, but I was crazy-curious about the tobacco infused syrup. The bartender, whose name I didn’t catch, but who was the inspiration behind the concoction, highly recommended the cocktail simply to experience the tingling in you mouth as the nicotine is absorbed into your cheeks and gums. Sounds like fun, huh? Why smoke when you can drink? It was definitely an experiential beverage … leaving behind the taste of a good old fashioned cigarette. Crazy. [See our tasting of Octopus Confit at the Mill NE]
Bar La Grassa | Pasta Carbonara
When pasta carbonara is prepared in the traditional manner, it’s beyond heavenly. This Roman pasta dish with BLG’s handmade spaghetti tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino cheeses, pancetta, black pepper, and a soft-boiled egg gently resting on top, is the real deal. It’s as good as, if not better than, what you’d expect in a traditional trattoria in Lazio. The best carbonara dishes are those that stick to pure ingredients and the Roman tradition. The pasta is cooked al dente; there’s a perfect balance of flavors; and the creamy, egginess of this dish is perfect every time. It’s sublime! Fai la scarpetta! [See our review of Bar La Grassa]
Cafe Ena | Almond-Crusted Barramundi
We had the pleasure of taking part in a six-course dinner at Cafe Ena (a fundraising event for our kid’s school). It was an amazing dinner filled with color, ethnic influences, aromas, and flavor. Chef Hector Ruiz is a talented man. After three epicurian courses, I thought we’d reached the top. However, the almond-crusted barramundi on truffled Yukon gold potato gratin with yellow aji sauce and cucumber salsa was the pièce de résistance. The mix of colors on the plate was beautiful. The fish was flaky, yet the outside was crunchy, and the taste the essence of truffle generated when mixed with the tanginess of the cucumber salsa was unbelievable. I don’t get to Cafe Ena often, but if this dish were on the regular menu I would become a regular.
VARSHA KONERU — WRITER
The Rookery | Ron Burgundy
I have yet to order a cocktail from the Rookery that I haven’t loved, but the one that rises to the top, and my favorite drink of the year, is the Ron Burgundy. Cabin Still bourbon, Laphroaig scotch, and cherries are topped with tobacco-laced smoke that is poured on tableside. It is both visually and literally intoxicating. Imagine a glass of neat bourbon in one hand, a cigar in the other — that’s the Ron Burgundy.
Heyday | Spiced Braised Lamb
I am always a little wary of ordering lamb at restaurants because the meat is so easy to cook improperly, as I have done myself countless times. But the chefs at Heyday know what they are doing; the lamb is perfectly seasoned, with almost a lamb sausage texture: It’s light on the gaminess and served with grilled scallions and a divine potato-almond puree that I could have eaten an entire bowl of. [See our review of Heyday]
Rustica Bakery | Bouchon
The bouchons at Rustica are curious little things, not quite brownies, not quite cake. They’re packed with chocolate chips that appear to defy the laws of physics and maintain a semi-melted state even hours after they come out of the oven. These little cork-shaped cakes are undeniably delicious — rich, chocolaty, buttery, and dense, without being cloying. There are no nuts, no frosting, no fancy-schmancy salted-caramel ganache filling, or whatever is in vogue these days. It’s simple, yet decadent, and hits the sweet-tooth spot every time.
PAIGE LATHAM — WRITER
Five Watt Coffee | The Kingfield
It is impossible to leave Five Watt without ordering from their specialty beverage list, even if you stepped through the door thinking “just a coffee, please.” Far from the standard latte is The Kingfield. Coriander bitters and black Hawaiian sea salt are evocative of a gose, a German beer brewed with the similar ingredients. But the vanilla and milk add a remarkable creaminess that makes me weak in the knees. I have never craved coffee the way I crave the selections at Five Watt. [See our visit to Five Watt]
H4C (Montreal) | Tasting Menu
In an unexpected corner of an expected city is a kitchen that delivered one of the most incredible meals of 2014. Montreal’s H4C is the best place on earth to order the chef’s tasting menu because chef Dany Bolduc is, essentially, a madman. Our meal opened with a Caprese salad containing mozzarella ice cream and closed with chocolate seven ways, including aerated. The dishes in between were equally memorable: duck, foie gras. The entire experience of stepping out of an underground metro station to come upon this bank-turned-restaurant, only to spend hours upon hours at a table, is entirely Quebecois.
Libertine | Late November
Cocktails do not always rise above the level of pleasantly intoxicating. Every now and again I sip something that forces me to take notes, but rarely do I beg for a recipe. Libertine’s Late November (above right) is the ultimate cocktail, with sweet and savory elements in perfect balance. Pumpkin pie spices take the back seat to rum, lime, and rosemary. Nardini amaro adds an important puzzling note that keeps the drinker intrigued. [See our visit to Libertine]
JAMES NORTON — EDITOR
Home | Timpano
We built a timpano (a stuffed, drum-like pasta bomb to end all pasta bombs) for a Heavy Table story earlier this year, and the combination of homemade meatballs, fresh pasta, lively marinara, and many meats and cheeses was intoxicatingly decadent and delicious. The experience was a journey as pleasurable as it was arduous, and while we won’t do it again soon, we remember it fondly. [See our epic timpano-making adventure]
Grampa’s Pizzeria (Madison) | Pork Confit
Grampa’s Pizzeria is just one of a legion of hot new restaurants burning up the Madison scene, and the popular love it has earned is well-deserved. It’s a moodily lit, cheerful, rambunctious dining room, and the pizza is first rate. But the item that really seized my imagination was an appetizer — pork confit served with mustard, chimichurri, giardiniera, and a sour dough baguette. Each bite was a deep, joyous blast of layered but harmonious flavor.
Origami Uptown | Hibiki 12
Scotch whisky is near to my heart, and I have long been unfairly skeptical of Japanese Scotch-like whiskeys. No more. A tasting flight at Origami in Uptown was revelatory, and the taste of Hibiki 12 was one of the three best flavors of the year for me. It was light and delicate, yet layered and profound. Plus, that bottle, man. What a bottle! [See our visit to Origami Uptown]
JOSHUA PAGE — WRITER
Grand Szechuan | Triple Flavored Squid
At the suggestion of a new friend, I recently checked out Grand Szechuan in Bloomington. The meal was solid, but the Triple Flavored Squid knocked my wool socks off. The squid was expertly fried and not the least bit chewy, and the combo of flavors was so bold that the other dishes tasted a bit boring by comparison. Dried peppers and chili oil turned up the heat while Szechuan peppercorns added hints of citrus and numbed the tongue. Salt and green onion rounded out my most memorable dish of the year. [See our Hot Five featuring triple flavored squid]
Holy Land Supermarket and Restaurant | Wood-Fired Rotisserie Chicken
Since trying this dish in July, I have craved it constantly. The halal chicken features blackened, crisp, smoky skin and incredibly moist and flavorful meat. It’s rotisserie fowl at its finest. [See our review of Holy Land rotisserie chicken]
Coastal Seafoods | Sockeye Salmon
This past Thanksgiving, our family bucked tradition and served salmon as the main course. It was a hit, a huge hit! Honestly, our preparation had little to do with the dish’s success. Our only job was not to mess up the beautiful, fatty, ultra-fresh slab of sockeye salmon from Coastal Seafoods. After drizzling it with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon, and fresh rosemary, we tossed it on the grill for 15 or so minutes and served it sauceless. It took even less time for our family to decide that salmon is the new turkey.
AMY REA — WRITER
Pekarna’s Meats (Jordan) | Merna Mae’s Pies
Perhaps the most unexpected food item you can find at Pekarna’s Meats is homemade pie. It’s not a daily offering, but if you’re driving by and see a handwritten sign on the door announcing that Merna Mae has pie today, do yourself a favor and stop; it means the owner’s wife has been playing in her kitchen again, with great results. Our Thanksgiving dinner had the unusual addition of a key lime pie along with our pumpkin and pecan. But what a key lime pie — a perfect graham cracker crust, the filling creamy and rich, yet light with a citrus tang. It turned out to be a refreshing end to the weightiness of the turkey and its accompaniments. [See our review of Pekarna’s Meats]
Home | Poached Eggs in Tomatoes
Summer breakfast at its finest. Core and dice a fresh tomato (no need to peel), place it in a skillet and heat it until it releases its juices and starts bubbling. Crack an egg or two into it and poach. Serve over warm polenta with salt and pepper. You can dress it up with the addition of some oregano, or saute some garlic before adding the tomato to the skillet, but really, when you’re at the height of the summer tomato season, this is perfect without any extras.
Lost Lake Lodge (Nisswa) | The Forager’s Omelet
Open only during the summer, Lost Lake Lodge serves amazing breakfasts. The Forager’s Omelet, as the name implies, changes as the season goes on. When I was there in early June, it was served with locally harvested shiitake mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, and Gouda. The crispy ferns were a great foil for the chewy mushrooms, and oh, those eggs — soft and tender, brought to Lost Lake from a local Amish farmer. It came with a huge batch of crisp hash browns. I cleaned my plate and didn’t need lunch.
JANE ROSEMARIN — COPY EDITOR
Sant Ambroeus (New York City) | Orecchiette alle Cime di Rapa
The thick, “little ears” pasta was tossed with broccoli rabe that had been sauteed to a tender state in olive oil and garlic. Buttery, spicy-hot breadcrumbs topped the dish. It was everyday food perfectly realized. A dessert of dome-shaped gianduia cake (with layers of cake, meringue, and creams, all made of chocolate and hazelnuts) only added to the perfection of that lunch.
Tal-y-Tara Tea & Polo Shoppe (San Francisco) | Motor Loaf Tea Sandwiches
As you approach Tal-y-Tara, you are surprised by the almost-lifesize horse sculpture crowding the doorway. Once you slip around it, you come upon an indecipherable collection (at least for the non-equestrian) of polo gear. Your destination is the back of the shop, a tearoom decorated in old wood and a riot of fabrics. The sandwiches are what make tea at Tal-y-Tara unique. The fillings are not unusual: cream cheese and cucumber, egg salad, ham with mustard … but they are spread on motor loaf bread, a quick bread containing ground raisins and walnuts, and probably molasses, a fourth-generation family recipe of the owner. The sandwiches are individually wrapped in paper and tucked back into what remains of the loaf after a central, crustless rectangle is cut out and sliced (something like serving pineapple ice in a pineapple). There is considerable Internet buzz about the bread, and one blogger, now lost to me, suggested that Mark Bittman’s whole wheat molasses bread has a similar flavor and texture, which it does. You can find the recipe on Bittman’s website. I make the variation with an egg.
Home | The Ritual of the Chocolate Cabbage Rose
The rose in question was seven inches in diameter and was formed from semisweet chocolate. It topped a cake I made for my husband to celebrate a landmark birthday. The cake itself was two layers of chocolate genoise filled with a rose-geranium mascarpone cream and strawberries, and it was surrounded by a slick band of chocolate. As soon as I served the cake, I sensed that our friends were waiting to sample the rose, which I had moved to a plate so I could cut the cake. So I passed the plate, and as the rose went around the table, which it did more than once, each guest broke off a piece, consumed it, and seemed to be transformed to a happier place. The moment felt like a rite of passage, which it was.
LIZ SCHOLZ — WRITER
Bent Paddle | Cold Press Black Ale
A wonderful addition to Minnesota’s craft-beer scene, Bent Paddle has made quite the stir in its second year of operation with its unique brews and unrivaled popularity at beer festivals. Part of the popularity may be due to the wider distribution of beer in cans, but part is simply how delicious Cold Press Black is. This ale is highly sought after, and until recently, was available only in the taproom. Now making the rounds on tap lines across the cities, it is quickly becoming one of our favorite breakfast and anytime beers. [See our review of Cold Press Black]
Strawberry Rhubarb Gin | Norseman Distillery
This Minnesota gin reminds us of Grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pie, but with Grandpa’s gin-and-tonic touch. Norseman’s basement laboratory is making a name for itself — so much so that they are moving to a bigger facility — with small batches made with local ingredients. The rhubarb comes from the neighborhood. People dropped off their extra supply as their patches began to frost over. We look forward to more Strawberry Rhubarb Gin in 2015. [See our visit to Norseman Distillery]
Torpedo Room Tiki Bar | Eat Street Social
Sure, tiki bars were trendy on the coasts two or three years ago, but here in Minnesota, the No Coast, if you will, tiki bars have finally hit their stride. While I have always loved Psycho Suzi’s, and always will, Eat Street Social’s Tiki Bar has taken things to a whole new level. With a laundry lists of ingredients we can only dream of — including wild rice horchata and filbert and pumpkin seed orgeat — the cocktails were homey and hazardous at the same time. During the summer, Eat Street’s auxiliary room was transformed into a home-away-from-home, where you could taste familiarly unfamiliar elixirs poured by some of the best bartenders in the cities. [See our visit to the Torpedo Room and our review of Psycho Suzi’s]