FireLake is all fired up again. With corporate chef Paul Lynch decamping to the MOA’s new Radisson Blu, the hire of his downtown successor, Jim Kyndberg, further extends the seasonal/regional mantle that drives this kitchen.
I first met Jim as the brave-new-world chef of the destination Bayport Cookery, where he was as often out foraging in the fields and forest (think fiddleheads, morels, berries) as busy behind the stove. I loved his multi-course, prix-fixe, worth-the-drive dinners. But now, I can hop the bus. And order as little, or in my case, as much, as I’m in the mood for, blessed with a view of the wood-fired grill that sets the tone in the open kitchen, trolled by sweet servers who’ve clearly drunk the Radisson’s “Yes I Can” Kool-Aid.
Some menu icons you don’t dare remove — but you can take the liberty to improve upon, and that’s what Jim has done with that Minnesota classic, beer-cheese soup. The suds in question come from Lift Bridge, and the rich, cheesy potage arrives studded with cured ham and pine-y snips of rosemary. Popcorn? Sure. Here, the add-in wafts the heady scent of truffle oil.
Then there’s Jim’s rip on the staid Caesar salad. He eschews romaine in favor of the more robust presence of kale and arugula, once again abetted by pork (crispy pancetta) that plays well with the scattering of Parmesan-rye crumbles. And the dressing? Green Goddess — that dishy diva of the ’70s. Welcome back!
More bacon: It wraps the mesquite-grilled quail legs, gone further uptown (and Up North) with their duck sausage stuffing — a somewhat oversalty starter that’s reined in by a richly sweet pear chutney (starters $7-12).
We pigged out further with an entrée of pork meatballs (by the time you read this, they’ll be turkey, we learned) — more than a meal’s worth of juicy, full-flavored nuggets sharing a skillet with rugged swiss chard (hey, if kale is the new black among greens, swiss chard’s not far behind), along with finely pureed potatoes pumped with Cheddar, and a scoop of “purgatory” sauce (read: Jim’s suave version of a marinara).
As antidote, of sorts, for our second entrée we chose that Minnesota must, the walleye. (Jim says he favors freshwater fish — there’s also a striped bass and a salmon listed — rather than tuna, swordfish and such.) This fillet, from the Red Lake Nation, comes crusted in heirloom cornmeal, sided with fries (oh, please! Not only boring but run of the mill) and a luscious lemon-tarragon remoulade that could stand in for dessert (entrees $16-30).
I’ll be back for the duck liver crostini; pulled pork (or walleye or steak) sliders; the uber-Minnesota salad (cranberry-wild rice croutons, Stickney Hill chevre, bacon, Bushel Boy tomatoes, corn, and cukes—like stopping at a roadside stand). Or the buffalo burger. The elk, served with native wild rice. The lamb pastrami melt. The caramelized brussels sprouts with Haralson apples.
But first, one last lick of bacon. I’m talking dessert, of course. Candied a bit, those salty loglets strut their stuff atop a slice of malted chocolate/peanut butter pie, ratcheted even further on the ‘naughty’ scale with salty beer caramel. Yes!
Radisson Plaza Hotel
35 S. 7th St., 339-4900