Friday, June 11, 2010

Heartland on St. Clair

It's the end of an era for Heartland restaurant. On Sunday, they'll be closing their current location before opening an incredibly ambitious new operation down in Lowertown. I've heard some comments about chef Lenny Russo's possible insanity relating to the move - the overhead! The non-existent St. Paul foot traffic! Fhima! To that I say, if anyone can do it, it's this guy. Who would have ever thought the restaurant, tucked into the Mac Groveland neighborhood at a relatively quiet intersection would ever draw a fine dining crowd? He did. And he was right.

I have to admit, I've never eaten on the fine dining side of the restaurant. The prices and pressure to actually order two entrees is too great for me. I've always loved grabbing a stool in the often crowded, hallway-like wine bar next door. This is where I found out my friend Eric was getting married - that was a great night. I almost fell off my barstool with excitement. Then he surprised me with a bunch of spices that he'd brought me back from overseas. Love that man.

This is where Matt & I have celebrated our anniversary and any special "whoa, we actually have a little bit of money" occasion. So, fresh from his first paycheck at his shiny new REAL job (where he doesn't, not ever, have to crack open a cheap bottle of beer for anyone.) We went one last time to say goodbye.

I'd expected them to be packed with sentimental well wishers like me, but they were actually pretty quiet. Then again, it was 6:30pm on a Wednesday night. Not exactly a hip hour to be dining. I never claimed to be hip - just mildly delusional in a way that some people find kind of cool.

I ordered the pinot noir, he got a Schell's and we tucked into the menu. There was a lot of pointing and gasping with delight. One of the things I love about eating at Heartland is the experience of it. I've ordered things I never would have thought I'd consider eating before, but I put my trust in Russo and his staff. They churn out the weirdly wonderful.

The amuse we were served was a tiny cup of asparagus and fresh peas tossed in a horseradishy dressing.

The flavor was pretty strong to start out the meal with, but we still ate it all.

The little bread served looked like a little football and was made with wild rice flour. It was also just about as tender as a pigskin, but the inside flavor was deliciously sourdough-y. I think it would have been wonderful smeared with butter, but Matt ate it all. Cause he's a big jerk.

I comforted myself with the cheese tray, which I didn't have a chance to take a picture of. Suffice it to say, it was cheese, on a plate, and somehow in this lighting it would have come out looking like some kind of blurry, drunk valentine postcard for Wisconsin. (Honestly, I don't know what the lighting does to my camera.)

Because it was a special event, and because the bartender gave us the dining menu, we went off course. Usually, we'd be splitting a bit of house made lovely from the charcuterie section of the menu, but on this night we actually ordered an entree. We got the lamb chops with caramelized shallots and ramp mashed potatoes. (And can I just say that ramps are the new greatest thing ever? The last three years I've become one of those swooning, tooting converts, scouring farmer's markets for these little harbingers of spring? The oniony/garlicky flavor is incredible! And they're so versatile. Plus, there's the added living on the edge danger where if you eat too many, you get the winds something fierce. As a lady, this is something I've never had to endure, but it's always, always funny when it happens to Matt. Unless I'm stuck in the passenger seat of the car with the windows rolled up. That isn't very funny at all. See? Big jerk.)

The chops were cooked a perfectly pinky medium rare and the mashed potatoes with the sugary, rich shallots were just incredible. It was so velvety and rich, an incredibly decadent, almost desserty style entree. I licked the plate. Hand to God, I did. I had to! It was that good, and heaven only knows when I'll have a chance to eat this food again!

To balance my sweet entree, I ordered the most meaty sounding of the desserts. Matt had a chocolate marquis that was just... yum. It was so good. I had a spice cake that was just a little bizarre, but that's half the fun of eating here. The bartender confirmed that the pastry chef, is a little nuts. I love that. My Rhubarb-mustard seed spice cake with ginger anglaise, barley malt glazed black walnuts and wild grape-high bush cranberry jelly was insane. The cake was zingy and spicy. The walnuts? Were footy. They were really... challenging. The ginger anglaise however was just incredible, subtly sweet and a smooth, coolness that harmonizes with the zing-zang-POW of the cake.

It was so much fun. Looking around the room I wondered what would stay and what would go. Personally, I'm hoping the 80's inspired wallpaper border around the room dies a slow and tacky death. The wonderful wine, amazing service and inspired food is what I look forward to seeing again, once they're settled in Lowertown.


At 8:19 AM , Blogger Joy Estelle said...

Here's a nice follow up. The Chef's own blog and words about the transition.


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