Mascarpone agnolotti at Restaurant Alma
Six years ago, my husband and I celebrated our wedding at this remarkable restaurant. Each year, we return for an anniversary dinner. The setup is a design-your-own three-course meal ($62), with four options in each course. The middle section is currently featuring grilled quail with fennel, buckwheat crêpes with braised chard, and mung bean pancakes with cauliflower. But what grabbed my attention was turmeric-tinted agnolotti. Each dimpled pillow, filled with mascarpone, Parmesan and house-made ricotta, was resting in a gossamer tomato consommé and dressed with Parmigiano-Reggiano, tarragon leaves and drops of a dreamy, single-source olive oil. The combination captured the very essence of late summer in a single, exquisitely rendered dish.
The topper? A wedding was taking place in the restaurant’s private dining room.
Empanadas at Don Raul
Because he wasn’t busy enough running Costa Blanca Bistro, Cafe Ena, Rincon 38 and La Fresca, chef Hector Ruiz decided to open a fifth restaurant, naming it for his grandfather and using it as a platform to explore Mexican flavors. The small-plates-focused menu usually features a pair of elegant variations on empanadas ($12, two per order), one with beef, the other chicken, their components constantly changing. When I dropped in, the chicken version, enveloped in a tender crust, was redolent of mustard, fennel, crème fraîche and salsa verde, and it was fantastic. Ruiz has already switched up the formula, and I can’t wait to check it out.
Heirloom tomato plate at Birchwood Cafe
Is there a more glorious representation of summer’s peak than a sunshine-ripened, heavily juicy, deeply colorful tomato? Chef Marshall Paulsen and his crew foster connections with all kinds of farmers — in the case of heirloom tomatoes, it’s Twin Organics near Northfield, Featherstone Farm in Rushford and Riverbend Farm in Delano — and Team Birchwood knows how to treat premium, just-picked specimens, slicing them thick and inserting flourishes (palate-cleansing basil, a sweetened balsamic vinegar, a tangy garlic-honey vinaigrette) that enhance rather than overwhelm the tomatoes’ alluring qualities. Simplicity itself, this meant-to-be-shared platter ($10) is a tantalizing example why August is peak Minnesota eating season. Available at lunch and dinner.
Cherry tomato galettes at Fruit & Grain
Again with the tomatoes, because taking full advantage of their short-lived season should be everyone’s priority. While browsing the Linden Hills Farmers Market, my eyes landed on these beauties ($6). “Each one has a pint of cherry tomatoes,” said baker/owner Emily Lauer. Sold. Later, at home, I discovered that the filling also contained caramelized onions and Parmesan (a perfect combination) and that the firm, golden crust exuded a buttery flakiness. Lauer started her business last fall after discovering that she couldn’t locate a bakery that could accommodate her son’s severe peanut allergy. A passion for pie-baking explains her emphasis on galettes and Pop Tart-like treats, filled with whatever happens to be in season. “You don’t have to have allergies to enjoy my food,” she said. “It’s for anyone who likes a good tart.”
Linden Hills Farmers Market, 2813 W. 43rd St., Mpls., lindenhillsfarmersmarket.com, Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Note: Lauer won’t be at the Linden Hills market on Aug. 18. Also occasionally at East Isles Farmers Market, 1420 the Mall, Mpls., eastislesfarmersmarket.com, Thursday 4 to 8 p.m.
Breakfast sandwich at Lowry Hill Meats
This butcher shop makes one of the Twin Cities’ best burgers, so it makes complete sense that owner Erik Sather is also turning out top-flight breakfast sandwiches ($8). The goodness starts with a tender house-baked English muffin — no characterless supermarket iterations here — filled with tender, thinly shaved ham (my next Easter ham is so coming from LHM), a perfectly fried egg, a slow-burn splash of Cry Baby Craig’s hot sauce (a crafted-in-Minneapolis treasure and a rare not-prepared-on-the-premises staple) and a gooey house-made American cheese that’s a marked improvement over its Kraft counterparts. After this, I don’t know how I’ll ever face one of those Starbucks factory-made, heat-and-serve egg sandwiches. The only downside? Availability is limited to Saturday and Sunday.
1934 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-999-4200. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.-Sun.