New Restaurant Review: Wood + Paddle Is Truly Minnesotan

Experienced chef, excellent service, ultra-seasonal food in a downtown Minneapolis hotel

The best hotel restaurants tell visitors something about their city: Manny’s is the ultimate in Midwest meat; the St. Paul Grill is old-world elegance. And Wood + Paddle is aiming for a true taste of Minnesota on the ground level of the Royal Sonesta (the former Radisson Blu).

Take the simplicity of wild rice-and-mushroom croquettes served with a dash of paprika-dusted creme fraiche ($10). I’m sort of over croquettes, as they often taste like deep-fried mush, but these were perfect. You tasted the mushrooms, you tasted the grains of rice, and you got a sense of where you are in the world. This is a truly Minnesotan appetizer—a fried version of wild rice soup!

It would be easy to skip the rye flatbread with cultured butter, but don’t make that mistake. This is the dish I still think about (which I’m sure is horrifying to the fantastically talented chef at the helm of this operation, Niki Heber). There was depth and texture; the flavor of the flatbread that was unexpectedly complex and nourishing, and that cultured homemade butter was something special. Just a great $7 starter, and you can add burrata for $4 or steak tartare for $6.

Smoked cauliflower and grits suffered from the same plate-design issue that is my only hesitation about the menu here. Bear with me: I’m not asking for a Damien Hirst expression of abstract art, but there is something off-putting about much of the entrees all in the brown/gray/white color family. Slightly golden grits stacked next to a charred, smoked half-head of cauliflower. Tasted good, but looked, well—you see what it looked like.

Grilled beef cheek was done in the style of pot roast. This tasted phenomenal, but again: brown on brown on brown gravy on brown mushroom. We also really loved the flavors in the pork coppa steak ($26), with roasted celery root and mushrooms.

For spring, the menu features a spit-roasted lamb shoulder with za’atar ($30) that looks phenomenal, as well as a smoked pork chop with apricot and Swiss chard ($32).

I’m a huge fan of executive chef Niki Heber; I’ve enjoyed his work at Corner Table for years, as well as Masu, Pajarito, and 4 Bells. He brings serious farm-to-table bonafides, having cooked rural dinners with the traveling dining experience called Outstanding in the Field. He was born in Japan, raised in Iowa, and worked with some of the finest chefs in Minnesota. Now he has the stage, and is telling his story and ours through food.

31 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, 612-216-3473, woodandpaddlemn.com

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