Wednesday, February 07, 2007

At Home in the Heartland

Vile, evil winter BLAH!!! These below zero temperatures are just ridiculous! I know I came from the wilds of Northern Minnesota and should be accustomed to such blustery winter days, but that's why I left! Actually, I left because I'd turned 18 and that's just what you do when you grow up in small town America if you don't feel like gettin' knocked up or living in a trailer. But that's another story.
After my last week's heartache of not only losing out on my favorite happy hour, but also being denied entry for one more farewell wine guzzle because of all the other cheap foodie saps like me that crowded the bar the second word got out that Auriga would be closing. Okay, after all of that, I realized that I've been living in St. Paul for months now and still had not gotten over to Heartland. I coordinated with Andy and Eric that we'd get in there on Saturday night. We'd go early and go to the wine bar so that we could a.) afford it and b.) find a place to sit. We were successful.
However, it was fa-fa-fa-reeezzing!! I think it was about 25 below on Saturday night. And I had a terrible cold chasing after one of the worst week's at work in recent memory. Any normal person would have snuggled up in their wubbies while watching the Food Network and taking out an entire bottle of wine on their own. That's what I probably should have done, but not me. Oh, no. Logic is for the weak! Andy picked me up in her thoughtfully pre-heated car and drove us over to the unassuming intersection of Fairview and St. Claire. We stumbled in to the wrong entrance because it was the first we came up to and oh, also, yeah, little cold. Once we were pointed in the right direction, we found ourselves in one of the tiniest bars this side of NYC. Teeny!! Luckily, my early bird special plan worked and there was room for the three of us at the bar.
Eric arrived just after the bartender thoughtfully plunked down an amuse before us. I didn't hear what all it was, "What? What was that? Burnt liver mousse?"
"No bird liver mousse."
"Oh.... Are you going to eat it?"
"Heavens no!" Andy fears the burnt bird mousse, but before Eric even said hello, he'd tossed the whole confection down his throat like a Jell-O shot. It was wonderful and just enough to tease my pallid palette awake. The mousse was deliciously light and pared with what I think was a poached cherry and a crispy little crostini. Delicious!!
After a couple of minutes of jabbering and a quick gift exchange (Eric brought me back saffron, Turkish paprika and a pickled paprika that is amazing from a trip overseas) we ordered wine. (Love Eric!) We began our evening with a bottle of the Sierra Cantabria Rioja, which is just my favorite rioja. It's a fantastic wine for a night of freezing your ass off. It's plumy and woody tasting. It went really well with the Wisconsin bison brat that we ordered next, served with really spicy course ground mustard and a house made sauerkraut that I loved. It didn't have any of the sour taste or the funky/fungy smell associated with sauerkraut. It was actually really sweet and super salty. I love salty! Salty makes the wine go fast.
The second bottle we ordered was at the suggestion of the lovely and gorgeous bartender. Love bartender. Unfortunately, the cork was one of those new plastic kinds that didn't have the name of the wine or vineyard on it. I do remember it was a Garnache and I really, really hope that somewhere Andy saved the name, because this wine was incredible. When I was little my mom would would make jam. Wild raspberry was always my favorite. As the jam cooks down there's a fluffy little layer of pink foam that rises to the top that must be skimmed off. That was always my favorite part. It was lush with concentrated brushy fruit and syrupy sweet. That's what this wine tasted like.
I was really chugging now and after the adorable little cheese plate, the food starts to get a little fuzzy. I did love absolutely everything and I mean that in a sincere way, not in a I-drank-too-much-without-taking-proper-notes-because-omigod-is-this-fun!!! I should have written these things down because, of course, the menu changes daily and I'm probably not ever gonna get any of this stuff again. The cheese was okay, but it had been sitting at room temperature a bit too long. The flavors had gone beyond developing and into plasticky. They were such little teeny hunks (it was only $8, to be fair.)
Next we ordered the Yorkshire pork belly and the pork rilletes served in a little cornbread bowl and surrounded by a pheasant reduction and garnished with leek oil. Care to venture a guess on which was my favorite? It really surprised me, too because I do love me some pork belly. It was the pheasant reduction. It just couldn't be beat. I was sopping up the rest of the juice with the delightful little house made rye roll and about to dunk my head in the bowl and start slurping when the adorable and man-i-wish-andy-flirted-with-him-more bartender asked if I was finished. This guy's good. Not only did he pick out for us a wine that gave me all the good feelings contained in a suntanned five-year girl's blond locks, but he also rescued my dignity. Barely. I won't get into the debauchery that came after we left Heartland, but it wasn't pretty. Already, I can't wait to get back there. Everything about this dining experience was like home; from the wood walls to the locally sourced food to nearly making an ass out of myself.


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