Best New Restaurants 2011
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4. Pizzeria Lola
5557 Xerxes Ave. S. / Mpls. / 612-424-8338 / pizzerialola.com
Watching pizzeria lola owner Ann Kim slide pizzas in and out of her gargantuan copper-clad, wood-fired pizza oven is one of the more enchanting sights in the Twin Cities’ foodie scene. As if the juxtaposition of Kim—ever so slight—and the pizza oven—a veritable fairy-tale beast—wasn’t enough, just watch Kim’s face as she works: her expression is so serious, so watchful, that you feel like you’re witnessing something momentous.
Of course, you forget Kim’s rapt look when your pizza arrives. Now it’s the bready, biscuity, smoky depths of the crust and the delicate balance of the toppings that enchant. Take the dewy and sensuous “Sunnyside” pizza, for example, generously topped with local La Quercia Guanciale cheese, melted into invisibility; a salty dash of pecorino; a bit of cream; buttery leeks; and, in the middle, a just-set egg.
Once your pizza is devoured, you may once again turn your thoughts to Kim, and muse upon what miracles evolve when a thoughtful woman gives a project her deepest attention.
5. Pat’s Tap
3510 Nicollet Ave. / Mpls. / 612-822-8216 / patstap.com
A late entry to this year’s dining scene was Pat’s Tap, the hotly anticipated bar and restaurant by Kim Bartmann, the restaurateur behind Barbette, Red Stag Supper Club, Bryant-Lake Bowl, and the also-new Bread and Pickle, the locavore-focused reimagining of the snack bar at the Lake Harriet bandshell in Minneapolis. Pat’s Tap was hotly anticipated because Bartmann seems to have found the perfect teammate in chef Kevin Kathman, who joined Bartmann last year and provided the chefly talent and operational insight that allowed Bartmann’s formerly small empire to turn into something suddenly dynamic and large.
Kathman, of course, is the Cold Spring, Minnesota, native who returned to his home state after a three-year stint at French Laundry in Napa Valley. In addition to being a massive cooking talent, Kathman has a remarkable grasp of restaurant operations. Together, he and Bartmann seem to have cracked the code on how to serve restaurant meals worth $50 for just $20. How is such a feat possible? The key is the invisible part of the Bartmann empire: Gigi’s, the coffee shop Bartmann bought earlier this year for its giant commercial kitchen.
Gigi’s now operates as a commissary for all the Bartmann properties, and allows the company to do things like bring in full sides of beef from local farms. Once the beef is at Gigi’s, they remove the prestige steaks and chops and send them off to the Red Stag and Barbette, and turn the rest into hamburger for BLB, Bread and Pickle, and Pat’s Tap. In fact, they get all sorts of locavore goodies: whole chickens, hogs, ducks, lambs, all of which are delivered into the hands of chef Geoff Hausmann, the charcuterie master once known for his work at Travail. Hausmann takes in these meats and creates charcuterie (salamis, rillettes, patés, etc.) for Barbette, Pat’s Tap, and so forth. That’s how a cute corner bar can have the cooking firepower to take your breath away.
Take the Buffalo chicken terrine, for instance. To make this daffy bit of brilliance, Hausmann pulls out a few tricks from his molecular gastronomy toolkit, deboning chickens and separating the fillets from the rest of the meat (which is destined to be finely ground with chives and Buffalo sauce powder). The two are then reunited in a terrine mold, cooked sous vide, and sliced into pretty pink slabs, which are garnished with blue cheese, paper-thin celery slices, buttery hot sauce, and more buffalo-sauce powder. It’s hilarious and delicious, flavored like chicken wings but dainty enough for high tea. Set that Buffalo chicken next to a local beer or one of the many 100-percent organic, biodynamic, or otherwise rigorously sustainable wines on Pat’s Tap’s list, and you’ll be charmed.
Actually, you’ll be charmed even if you skip the food. While Bartmann was renovating the building, she unearthed vintage wallpaper showing poodles in the midst of a chic Parisian 1950s courtship, smoking near the Eiffel Tower and so forth. Bartmann had the motif recreated throughout the bar and installed some vintage mechanical Skee-ball games in the back. The food is very now, but the atmosphere is a vacation in the cutest version of the past.
Overseeing Pat’s Tap’s kitchen is Charlie Schwandt, a veteran of 112 Eatery. Schwandt does a great job with the simple-but-excellent menu: the goat-cheese fritters are like little tangy clouds captured in batter, and the vegetable curry I tried contained a whole farmers’ market of well-showcased vegetables. The burgers at Pat’s Tap are also very good, with the bacon burger (half ground bacon, half ground beef) being the one most people talk about. But if you have to choose between the calories in the burger and the calories in the French fries, get the fries. They’re utterly potato-y, crisp, sweet, and beautifully caramelized—a true contender for the best in the state. Is there more you want from a corner bar? Is there more you could want?
330 E. Hennepin Ave. / Mpls. / 612-332-6278 / masusushiandrobata.com
Masu was a game-changer in local sushi this year. The new restaurant made waves by installing Tim McKee, our most famous James Beard-award-winning white-tablecloth chef, in its kitchen and poaching our most famous sushi chef, Katsuyuki Yamamoto, known to his friends and fans as Chef Asan, from his longtime home at Origami. With two titans in the kitchen, Masu had the audacity to sell sushi for less money than its competitors (try the $18 a person omakase menu) with a promise of completely sustainably sourced fish. Oh, and Masu also serves the best ramen in the Twin Cities, especially the rich and spicy tonkatsu curry ramen.
7. Muddy Waters
2933 Lyndale Ave. S. / Mpls. / 612-872-2232 / muddywatersmpls.com
Muddy Waters is legendary. It was one of Minneapolis’s first stand-alone, modern coffee shops, and since the 1980s has probably been responsible for more homework assignments getting done, more song lyrics being written, and more Uptown workers showing up to their jobs well-caffeinated than any other place. The legend took on new dimensions this summer when the old Muddy Waters moved five blocks down Lyndale Avenue into greatly expanded digs, adding a full bar (including 30 local taps) and a full kitchen. It’s now the absolute apex of the local gastro-bar phenomena, in which establishments that used to look like plain old liquor-drinking bars are revealed to have ambitious and accomplished kitchens.
Muddy Waters’s new status is courtesy of chef Scott Hurlbut, fine-dining veteran of Porter & Frye. “I was a beer drinking chef before I came to Muddy Waters,” he says. “I think ‘beer-and-food,’ instead of ‘wine-and-food,’ is going to become more accepted with every year.” When more bars have dishes like Hurlbut’s fork-tender, riveting, delicious pot roast—which he makes through a five-day process that involves a dry salt cure and a lot of Surly Bender—food that pairs with beer will not merely be accepted by pub patrons, it will be celebrated with dancing in the streets.