There are benefits to dog-sitting. And I’m not just talking about the joy of having another dog in the house along with that dog’s quirks and that dog’s hair.
We recently dog-sat for our friend’s black lab, Dakota. As a thank you, they wanted to take us out for dinner. We would never argue with that – in fact, that is a rad thank you gift. They really wowed me when they said they wanted to take us to Heartland. They had recently dined there and said to each other, “Jen and Brette would really like this place”.
They know us too well. I’ve been wanting to go there for years – literally. Since the first time I heard about Lenny Russo and his local amazingness, I’ve wanted to eat there. I’m not really sure why I haven’t. I kept thinking I needed to save it for a special occasion because I was certain it was “super fancy”. Lenny was nominated a James Beard award this year for Best Chef – Midwest…he’s kind of a big deal. He’s been on the ‘local’ seen since forever. Since before I even knew there was a local scene and never thought about where my food came from. He has always known it’s the cool thing to do.
Heartland recently moved to a new location in downtown St. Paul, right across from the farmer’s market. Since I never experienced the previous location, I cannot compare the two, but I will, of course, share my opinion of the new location.
Another cool thing about Heartland is they recently opened their Farm Direct Market in an adjoining space. They will be selling products from the farms they work with along with things they make at the restaurant… soups, stocks, etc. Neat, huh?
Back to our evening. Meet our gracious hosts, Chuck and Jaime:
Fun fact: I think the whole first year I knew Chuck, I didn’t know his real name. We just called him “the freshman”.
I guess that’s what you do when you’re a super cool junior in college.Hopefully I’ve grown up some in the last 13 years.
I’ll be dividing my review into our standard three areas: atmosphere, service, and the food.
The restaurant is a lot bigger than I had anticipated. There was plenty of room to have the tables spaced out a bit so that you weren’t sitting on your neighbor’s lap. The noise level was perfect. Lots of “buzz”, but quiet enough that our fellow diners didn’t have to listen to the in-depth discussion about how to organize and divide MN Twins season tickets for 2011.
Everything was very clean and I loved the big island in the middle of the dining room where the servers could get new silverware, wine glasses, and the wine itself. Just like a home kitchen, it seemed to be the hub. The decor was very comfortable and homey. Nothing stood out to much which was somewhat comforting to me. Sometimes fancy or wacky decorations make me feel to ‘uncool’ to be there.
Our server, Matt, was wonderful. Now, I need to come clean on this. Matt could have provided the worst service ever and I would still say he’s wonderful. His Barry White voice was almost hypnotizing. I loved listening to him talk. I was tempted to ask him to explain every single dish on the menu. Lucky for us, he also happened to provide good service and was very attentive.
Although Matt was attentive, it took an incredible amount of time for our food to arrive. We had a 7 p.m. reservation and our first course did not arrive until 8:30. We were there until about 9:40. Had this been a Friday or Saturday night, I would not have cared as much, but it was a Wednesday, so it seemed a bit much. I don’t know if this is a normal thing at the Heartland or if they were a cook down. It certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.
I think the opinion was unanimous. The food was fantastic.
Their menu changes every single day based on what is available from the farms they work with. I love that.
They have two pre-fix options; the flora and the fauna. This makes it so easy for a vegetarian to get a great meal without stressing over the menu and asking for substitutions. I ordered the flora since it was just easier and I didn’t have to make any decisions on the rest of the menu; where everything looked amazing.
My first course was a wild rice salad with preserved blueberries, butternut squash, a mizuna pistou and arugula sprouts.
It was beautiful and I loved it. The blueberries were so fun to find. They blended in with the wild rice so you couldn’t really see them, so it was always a surprise to bite into one.
My second course is the number one reason I went with the flora pre fix menu. A Savory apple bread pudding with a goat cheese béchamel and shoestring butternut squash.
If you do get to Heartland and there is a version of this on the menu – please get it. It was all I could do not to lick the plate.
It was the perfect size portion. I mean, I wanted more of it, but it would have put me into a coma. The bread was just soft enough to absorb flavors, but it didn’t disintegrate in your mouth. I loved the soft apple chunks along with the crispy butternut squash on top. The textures were perfect. I might just have to try to recreate something like this.
My dessert course: Gateau marjolaine, sheep’s milk ricotta,zestar apple, hazelnut genoise and brandied prune. If you’re like me, you don’t know what half of those things are. Just know you’ll like it.It’s a big cookie sandwich! What made the dish really stand out was the brandied prune – which I was originally very skeptical of. If you had a little bit of it with each bite, it made everything else taste better.
I liked everything that I ate.
The boys both had the Fauna pre-fix menu and raved about the catfish and the lamb dish. Jaime went the ala carte route and really liked the broccoli soup and the wild boar chop. I think it’s fun to say, “I’ll have the wild boar chop please.” :)
As a table we shared an appetizer of Wild Boar Braunschweiger. This is no grocery store mystery braunschweiger. This was made in house and was very tasty with the other accompaniments on the plate.
I would definitely recommend Heartland. The food is fancier than your local pub, but it is delicious and reasonably priced. It’s a great place for a special occasion, but I think also perfect for a Wednesday evening with friends. Sometimes a little bit of fancy is a good thing, especially when it tastes this good.
Have you been to Heartland? What did you think?