Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Restaurant Review :: Heartland Restaurant - Midwestern Eats All Classed Up

I've been dying, simply DYING to try out Heartland in St. Paul.  Why?  Well if you don't follow the foodie blogs like I do, you should know that Heartland has gotten absolute rave reviews for its food and its philosophy (reviews here, here, and here).  The restaurant features Midwestern cuisine, but it's not your Scandinavian-style tater tot hotdish.  The menu features Midwestern favorites such as sunfish, bison, and a whole host of veggies that you can grow in your own Minnesotan gardens.  The ingredients come from local, family farms and are all organic and produced in environmentally sustainable ways.  In short, this place is a locavore's dream.  Loves it!

The restaurant itself is located right outside the St. Paul Farmer's Market in downtown St. Paul.  How perfect a setting is that?  It has high ceilings, open spaces, and a lot of light that is just as refreshing as the style of food.  It feels like an open-air market, which creates a great vibe to go along with the menu.

it's a little blurry but you get the basic idea!
Because the head chef, Lenny Russo, relies on local fare for his restaurant needs, the menu changes almost nightly.  They offer a fixed price, three-course menu in both a "flora" and "fauna" theme, along with individual plates if that's more your style.  They start you off with a choice of the whole wheat or buttery butter bread (guess which one I picked) and an amuse-bouche in either a omnivore or vegetarian option (yay). 

the buttery bread just melts in your mouth...
Leigh and I opted for the "flora" menu, which started out with a green bean salad that had walnuts, ginger creme fraiche, and a cranberry-walnut vinaigrette.  The beans were fresh and crisp and the ginger creme fraiche added a welcome spice to this salad.  It was not heavily dressed so it was very veggie heavy and a teensy bit dry, but after a long Minnesota winter, I welcomed this farm-fresh starter course.

The main course was a beetroot fazzoletti with spinach, garlic, mushrooms, beurre noisette, and Parmesan cheese.  I know what you're thinking -- that barely sounds like food.  That's what I thought! 

heavenly beet pasta of joy
Let me break it down.  The beetroot fazzoletti is simply a pasta that is made with beets.  Much like you can make a pasta with sundried tomatoes or spinach, you can also make pasta with beets.  Fazzoletti is a type of pasta also described as pasta "handkerchiefs" or folded squares of pasta.  The noodles are thick but delicate, and because they were made here with beetroot, they were pink.  Beurre noisette is just a fancy phrase for brown butter, which in and of itself is a wonderful pasta "sauce."  The dish was a lighter version of your typical pasta dish, with nearly the same ratio of pasta to vegetables.  The mushrooms added a bit of a meaty element to the dish, the spinach was wilted to perfection, and they did not scrimp on the cheese!  The whole pasta dish was perfectly cooked, lightly sauced, and, if I may say so, damn delicious. 

I'll take a brief detour from my own menu items to showcase some of the meat-eater dishes that we had on the table.  My foodie friend Sarah ordered the "fauna" menu, and her main course was Poussin (a small chicken), with cipollini onions, Colorado rose potatoes, corned beef tongue, and tomato glace de viande.  A tomato glace de viande is a tomato sauce that is made and thickened only by reduction, as opposed to using a flour-based thickener.  Since I didn't try it, I can't offer any review, but I trust Sarah's judgment and she said it was excellent.


My friend Amie ordered off of the regular menu and tried the sunfish entree made with a cornmeal crust and sauteed bok choy.  This was the one offering that was not well-received by our group (meaning Amie and Sarah).  According to their assessment, the fish fillet was too thin and chewy, and the cornmeal crust overwhelmed this delicate fish but was not even crunchy!  This could have been an off day, or maybe it's hard to beat the batter-fried sunfish fillet that you catch yourself off the dock up north!  Either way, it did not impress my fish-eating friends. 

My dessert course was a dried fruit-pecan kolac (fancy name for a pastry) with a ginger creme anglaise, crystallized ginger, apple butter, and nut compote.  It was a spicy, pastry-heavy dessert that I wolfed down so fast I forgot to take a picture!

But a few other picture-less notes.  Sarah and I also ordered a starter course (because we just cannot help ourselves) with cress, pickled onions, focaccia croutons, and smoked blue cheese.  It was A-MAZ-ING.  I actually did a double take when I took my first bite, wondering if there was bacon in the salad.  The smoked blue cheese was ridiculously good and gave me a little taste of smoky, bacon-y goodness.  And I could eat those foccacia croutons by the handful right out of a bag.  Yum.  Amie also ordered the apple cream soup with toasted hazelnuts and ginger, and it seriously knocked my socks off.  I really need to deconstruct that baby and figure out how to make it in my own kitchen. 

We were actually out for a belated birthday celebration (mine) and somehow our server found out and BOOM -- complementary glasses of booze!  I love going out to dinner and getting free drinks! 

cheers to awesome friends and fab food!
My final impression of Heartland?  Fan-freaking-tastic.  I'm not at all surprised that Russo is nominated for a James Beard award and the buzz and fervor surrounding the Heartland is totally deserved, in my opinion.  The restaurant reminds us that we have delicious ingredients right in our own backyards and we do not need to ship in exotic foods from far-away places in order to have an amazing and classy meal.  I cannot wait to go back and try out some Heartland's other Midwestern meals.

Heartland Restaurant Reviews in St Paul


  1. I'm having diner there and I would hate to be under dressed. What is the attire?

  2. Mmmm lucky you! No dress code as far as I could tell. If you wore jeans and a nice shirt, you'd be all set! Let me know what the menu's like now that it's summer!