The chocolate torte is garnished with local honey.  Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

The chocolate torte is garnished with local honey. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Fire in his belly

Get over it. Foodies have long shunned hotel dining rooms when it comes to a night on the town. But that was then and this is now. No longer the stepchildren of a culinary experience, populated by dreary traveling salesmen picking away at even drearier food, urban hotels have picked up the pace and are prepared to earn your dining dollars, even if you’re not turning in upstairs.

The Radisson Blu has recently re-opened after an image-changing makeover of the longtime downtown Minneapolis flagship. And FireLake, the Blu’s casual-chic restaurant, provides sizzle that extends well beyond its steak.

Exec Chef Jim Kyndberg is making the most of his chance to showcase Minnesota products on his menu, besting out-of-towners’ expectations of hot dish as our way of life. As a dedicated hunter-gatherer, himself, it’s in his DNA. And now, it’s on his menu, too, as spotlighted in November’s special, a hearty venison striploin belted in wild boar bacon. He sides it with an ultra-mealy potato/celery root gratin and a splash of Pinot Noir reduction. Or stop by any Saturday, when that rotisserie venison bumps shoulders with cheddar-herb mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables ($33).

Speaking of root vegetables: Autumn’s seasonal soup is a liquid velvet interpretation of heirloom kabocha squash, sweet and nutty, dolled up with the zest of green apples and spike of cayenne, along with crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds ($6). With it, we ordered the kitchen’s unsung (not for long) heroes, a pair of behemoth popovers, whose buttery,  crisp-to-tender skin is yours to paint, if you can hold off that long, with a slather of maple butter ($5).

Jim also offers a venison Bolognese, based on a staffer’s treasured family recipe ($24). More down-to-earth Minnesota cooking: Lena’s meatballs, an extraordinary triumvirate of pork, beef and duck, atop those cheddar mashed potatoes, served with lingonberry compote and (Lena’s no fool) porcini sauce ($22). Or vote for the duck gnudi, showcasing savory Wild Acres breast slices blanketing spaetzle-like nuggets tossed with roasted mushrooms, oven-dried tomatoes and shaved Brussels sprouts ($27). Turn your eye, and tongue, to Jim’s Northern fried chicken ($23), raised naturally right here in Minnesota rather than botoxed on a megafarm. It’s brined in buttermilk and dredged in wild rice flour before its lap on the rotisserie, then plated (as one would insist) with those cheddar spuds, gravy, and (Lena’s update?) broccolini. Or opt for the bison ribeye and/or bone marrow; the Wild Acres turkey burger; or Blue Ox pattie of local Limousin beef — and I haven’t even mentioned the walleye yet.

I’m delighted to report that the dessert list skips the obligatory crème brulee in favor of more local signatures: a maple bread pudding; caramel apple crisp; or our own indulgent choice, a dense, wildly delicious dark, virtually unsweetened, chocolate torte embellished with hazelnuts and blood-orange caramel, served with a tuile of local honey.

Even the cocktails take on a Nordic twist, and the BTG list offers many appealing  wine pours in the single digits. Now, that’s Minnesota Nice! Or try your luck at playing Guess the Wine (grape, region). If you win, it’s free; if not, $38 well spent.

Radisson Blu
35 S. 7th St.