Romaine lettuce with sauce vert, pistachios and herbs at Saint Dinette
After a year of takeout-only service, the dining room at this Lowertown destination reopened on Wednesday.
"It's nice to get back to plating food," said chef Adam Eaton. "I've been shoving stuff into boxes for a year, and that can be demoralizing, because part of what you do as a chef is make food as pretty as possible. Still, I'm grateful to all the people who were willing to come and pick up these boxes. That's what got us through this."
On the subject of pretty, there's this beauty, a kind of lettuce wrap-meets-bruschetta-meets-wedge salad.
The base is a slice of romaine hearts. The crisp, sturdy lettuce is swiped with a tangy and herbaceous green goddess-like blend of tarragon, chives, parsley, dill, spinach, green onions, champagne vinegar and crème fraîche. The garden-like toppings? More dill and parsley, with pansy blossoms adding cheerful color and pistachios contributing crunch.
What a way to approach salad! Eaton was inspired by a similar dish he encountered at Wildair in New York City, and the harbinger-of-spring results ($12 for two pieces) typify his astute approach to rethinking taken-for-granted dishes.
Eaton is delighted to see diners back in his dining room.
"I underestimated how great it would be to see a guest at the bar, scarfing down fried chicken and looking so happy," he said. "Holy cow, I haven't seen that in a year. It's such a good feeling. It's the best feeling in the world." (Rick Nelson)
261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-800-1415, saintdinette.com. Open 5-9 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Pizza from Fair on 4
It's impossible to miss the new Fair on 4 on the Mall of America's fourth floor. The sprawling 35,000-square-foot eat-drink-and-be-merry emporium has all the ingredients for fun. Bright colors? Check. Arcade? Check. Go-Karts, axe-throwing and all your favorite State Fair-inspired foods? Check, check and check.
Locally owned by the folks behind Victoria Burrow in Victoria, Fair on 4 definitely came to play. Minnesota touches elevate fair food from standard to superior: Corn dogs are hand dipped and made with pork hot dogs from Red Table Meat Co.; Alemar Cheese Co. provides the cheese for the curds. The sunfish fillets were tempting, as were the Duck Duck Grey Duck Drummies.
But we came for the pizza. The made-from-scratch kitchen and collaboration with Baker's Field Flour for the Neapolitan-style dough was intriguing. And so were the toppings. There are a dozen specialty pizzas (you can also create your own) and we would have ordered any of them. We landed on the 4 on 4 ($17) — a meat lover's pie with house Italian sausage, smoked shoulder bacon, salami and andouille, all from Red Table Meats or made by head chef Jake Dmochowski. It. Was. Fabulous. The crust was chewy perfection, and the zesty red sauce and cheese provided a subdued base for the meat, which clearly was the star of the show. The pizza was big enough to share, especially if you want to dabble in fair food. (And you will want to dabble.) Be sure to save room for the apple cider mini doughnuts, funnel cake or one of the other housemade treats.
There's plenty to keep you busy here, including a full bar with specialty cocktails and more than 40 beers on tap, many of them local. It's a great way to break up a day of shopping, but I'd make a special trip just for the pizza. (Nicole Hvidsten)
Mall of America's fourth floor east (park on level 5 in the east ramp), 952 452-9938, thefairon4.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri., 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.
Pasta from Joey Meatballs
If this is an appetizer to what's coming to the new Malcolm Yards Market, we can't wait for the main course.
The fast-casual Italian Joey Meatballs, the creation of chef-owner Josh Hedquist, held its first pop-up at the Pourhouse in Uptown in yet another sign of dining normalcy. A $20 ticket bought a focaccia breadstick, salad and a choice of three house made pastas — pesto rigatoni and spinach, gnocchi meat sauce and ricotta, or spaghetti and a meatball. Goat cheesecake and strawberries sweetened the deal.
With a name like Joey Meatballs, we probably should have sampled the spaghetti and meatball, but we never turn down anything with spinach or pesto, and fresh gnocchi was just too tempting. We weren't sorry. The pesto rigatoni was light and fresh, a perfect springtime pasta. The gnocchi with meat sauce was equally delicious but on the heartier side.
Now let's talk about that pasta. If your only brush with pasta is from supermarket shelves, do yourself a favor and try Joey Meatballs' versions. The pillowy gnocchi was perfection, bite after bite, and the meat sauce held on tight as if it didn't want to miss the party. Ditto the rigatoni, which was tender and tasty. Coated with a lively pesto, it didn't need anything else, but spinach and a dusting of Parmesan made it just that much more flavorful. My only regret? Not getting one to go.
Hedquist is among today's chefs who favor local ingredients — he counts Peterson Craftsmen Meats as a partner — and donates a portion of proceeds to local nonprofits. He's also on the board and a mentor with the Redemption Project, which works to educate and employ the formerly incarcerated. Hedquist mentors aspiring chef Daniel Campbell, who accompanied him in the kitchen and will work alongside him as Joey Meatballs prepares to open. "It was the coolest thing I've ever done in my life," Hedquist said.
More pop-ups are in the works (including May 3 at Copper Hen); keep an eye on the website for dates and tickets. But we'll be among the first in line when he opens at Malcolm Yards next month. (N.H.)
Vietnamese Roll at Pho Pasteur
This clever and conveniently packaged treat is reminiscent of piecaken, where a pie is baked inside a layer cake. Except this rendition (two rolls, $9.25) is savory.
Outward appearances suggest nothing more than a standard-issue fresh spring roll, with lettuce, carrots, rice vermicelli and whole basil leaves visible through the rice paper wrapper. But take a bite and discover (spoiler alert!) the surprise filling: a piping-hot, pork-filled egg roll, its crispy browned wrapper emitting a tantalizing crunch with each bite.
Condiments include both a peanut hoisin sauce and a fish sauce, perfect for double dipping.
The Minnesota State Fair is just up the road from this popular Vietnamese restaurant, and the proximity got me thinking that this portable, best-of-both-worlds delicacy would make for ideal fairgrounds fare. No stick required. (R.N.)
694 N. Snelling Av., St. Paul, 651-756-8562, phopasteurvn.com. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily.
Smelt tacos at Pajarito
The short-lived smelt season is coming up fast. If a Lake Superior expedition isn't possible, then chef/owners Stephan Hesse and Tyge Nelson offer the next-best experience with these tacos ($9 to $10).
"Smelt is great for a fish taco," said Hesse. "Everyone else does cod, or mahi, so why not do something different?"
Indeed. The duo acquire the tiny, mild-flavored, silver-skinned fish (frozen, with the heads removed) from Canadian and northern Minnesota sources. They're coated in a delicate, beer-powered batter and given a quick spin through the deep fryer before being folded into flour tortillas with shredded cabbage, cool pico de gallo and a spirited chipotle-infused sauce.
Yeah, I have a new favorite fish taco.
Their occasional inclusion on the menu grew out of one of Hesse's happy childhood rituals.
"My grandma would clean them — but leave the heads on — roll them in seasoned flour and throw them in bacon fat," he said. "When we were thinking up ideas for tacos, this memory came up."
Smelt aficionados, listen up: the Brooklyn Park Lions Club will be hosting its 58th annual smelt fry on May 12-14 (4:30 to 8 p.m.) at the Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center (5600 85th Av. N.). Check the club's Facebook page for details. (R.N.)
605 W. 7th St., St. Paul, 651-340-9545 and 3910 W. 50th St., Edina, 612-268-4770, pajaritorestaurant.com. St. Paul open 4-9 p.m. Tue.-Sat., Edina open 4-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 4-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat.