Why does it matter how old or young a chef is? It matters in the same way that it mattered when a young Manet painted what he did in the way he saw the world, and a generation later when a young Picasso built on that and painted the way he saw the world, and a generation later when a young Jackson Pollock built on all of those ideas and painted in a way that reflected how he saw the world. The world of art could have decided to stop with Manet—heaven knows there are enough paintings. But it didn’t, thank goodness. And so it is with food: We could have stopped with Escoffier, the great old chef, who certainly left enough recipes for all our lifetimes, but we don’t. We rely on new young chefs to expand the way we see the world. ¶ And so it is with great interest that Twin Citians have awaited Haute Dish, the new restaurant of Landon Schoenefeld, 29. Oh, Landon Schoenefeld. He made a name for himself at 25, inventing the best gourmet burger Minneapolis has ever had at the Bulldog Northeast—trimming Wagyu beef by hand, mixing it with fresh thyme, searing it in cast-iron pans, and resting the finished meat in a butter fondue. Then he really made his name, ending a tiff with a bartender by squirting mustard at him, which got Schoenefeld fired. With that odd act, that ill-advised but later national-publicity-generating act (Schoenefeld’s shot was discussed on the website News of the Weird and the NPR program Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!), Schoenefeld earned himself a nickname, Colonel Mustard, and a reputation.
That reputation was later burnished by a short but important stint as chef at Barbette, a hand in the briefly brilliant Porter & Frye under Steven Brown, and a recurring position as the guy making hot dogs at the Wienery. Haute Dish, Schoenefeld’s first venture on his own, has been so eagerly anticipated that one local magazine crowned it one of the most important restaurants of the year months before it opened.
And it is one of the most important restaurants of 2010. (The other two are the new Heartland in St. Paul’s Lowertown, which once and for all declares the return of the upper Midwest as one of North America’s premiere food sheds, and Piccolo, which showcases the distinct Minneapolis style of delicate and precise yet unfussy farm-driven cuisine.) But Schoenefeld’s restaurant is different from either of these restaurants, which both represent the full flower of mature artists working for decades in their field.
What’s so special about youth? This: Every generation needs to define for itself what’s important, and why, when it comes to food. The choices that members of that generation make will redefine a good chunk of the whole entire world. Really. In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, a whole generation decided that cooking was slavery and convenience was king. And so, cans, packets, and TV dinners flooded forth to define America for decades.
The next generation brought international food ways home, and in the blink of an eye, the country changed from a land in which Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche to one with sushi and quesadillas in every airport. The following generation repudiated all of that, looking askance at not just the food in the packets, but also the heavy environmental toll it took to make the stuff, the way its sourcing and production changed local communities for the worse, and the tremendous amounts of gasoline it took to create such unpleasantness! Which led us to Heartland, Piccolo, and so on.
So here’s Haute Dish and the next generation. What does this generation of people—who weren’t old enough to drink on 9/11, who were primary targets for predatory credit-card lending, who never got to buy a house before the housing bubble, who have hardly known a country not at war—what do they want?
A stiff drink, first off. One of the first things you note about Haute Dish (pronounced hot dish) is the selection of all-American drinks, like an excellent mint julep, served Kentucky Derby style, in a silvery cup.
The food at Haute Dish is also all-American, in a very post-postmodern way, by which I mean it takes in all sorts of global, high-cuisine and low-cuisine elements and mixes them any which way, often to great effect. The Haute Dish house-made charcuterie plate, for instance, can contain classics like a fine pistachio-studded mortadella; all-American originals like hot-pepper headcheese, which presents the fiery flavor of hot links in the classic guise of European headcheese; and even something entirely original like a small pot of duck-liver mousse topped with a Coca-Cola gelée.
The various charcuterie cuts are presented on a 1970s wood platter, and with a good, stiff American drink at their side, the experience is a perfect one: relaxing, original, eventful, confident, and tasty. Other dishes at Haute Dish hit the same winning streak. I tried a version of a summer picnic plate with several incarnations of cauliflower, including sweet-spicily pickled and silkily puréed, and smoked pork (actually, pork made tender by cooking it sous vide, and then crisp by hard-searing it, so that it achieves the best moments of both campfire bacon and the all-day pig roast). It was delicious, but it also conjured up a sort of romantic Huck Finn summer bounty I’ve never before eaten.
The chicken potpie was full of chunks of good chicken, topped with a pastry so crisp it seemed like butter solidified into froth, and crowned with a scoop of foie-gras mousse that melted into the pastry decadently. (This restaurant is also for the literal young at heart. Many dishes are so rich that a succession of them begins to seem like a Bronx cheer aimed in the general direction of the Mayo Clinic. Follow your foie gras–chicken potpie with short ribs and house-made Tater Tots, and cheesecake stuffed with Brie—if you dare!)
The rib eye was delicious and indulgent and memorable, with a huge marrow bone served perfectly cooked, the inside trembling and gelatinous, prompting one of my friends to regale me with a tale of how all of human evolution may be traced to prehumans’ desire to figure out how to get at the rich marrow in carcasses discarded by lions. A so-called mac-and-cheese, really big tubes of pasta paired with generous strips of king crab meat and cloaked with a creamy Taleggio sauce, celery leaves, and bread crumbs, shows Schoenefeld’s lighter side to magnificent effect.
The desserts, by Christian Aldrich, also from Restaurant Levain under Steven Brown, are appealingly bold. That Brie-larded cheesecake is surrounded by sour cherries and topped with lavender granita, and it’s one of those dishes over which you disagree with yourself. At first bite, you think it’s odd, at the second, delicious. Then you go back and go back and suddenly the plate is empty and you decide you must return and order another one sometime soon to get a really definitive answer. Pastry in Minnesota has gotten so tame lately, it’s a relief
to find a pastry chef willing to be interesting.
All in all, the only things I haven’t been wild about at Haute Dish have been the vest-pocket wine list, (though the Rioja is a good standby) and the sloppy opening. I thought the restaurant’s first weeks were in no way living up to Schoenefeld’s potential, and said so on my blog. Schoenefeld begged to differ and thought I was being paternalistic and patronizing.
Was I? On the one hand, it’s certainly obnoxious to have someone noting that your food is precious and important because of your young age, and on the other hand, it is precious and important because of his young age. On the third hand, that’s why they call it a generation gap. Generation gap or no, it’s nice that we can eat together, especially Haute Dish’s original, often exquisite cuisine of high-technique Americana.
Haute Dish is the most important restaurant of a new generation—a generation in love with good cocktails and charcuterie.
Ideal Meal: The charcuterie platter, steak with marrow bone, Brie cake. Hours: Monday–Saturday 4 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sunday 4 p.m.–midnight. Prices: Many different categories of plate size mean you could spend $20 and be stuffed, or $50 and be dazzled. Address: 119 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis, 612-338-8484, haute-dish.com