When you dine out for as many meals as we did, it’s hard to narrow down your favorite bites of the year to a few.
Yet we strive to do this every year.
This year we have a stellar list that includes everything from venison and lobster to a few killer sandwiches to a celery salad (trust us, it’s delicious).
Here is our top 12 dishes, because it was impossible to narrow it down to 10.
IN BLOOM COCOA SCENTED BACK STRAP ($ 22). If you’re scared of game (and we’re shocked at the number of people in Minnesota), try this dish and prepare to be converted. The tenderest, leanest part of the animal is kissed by the fire, but left almost sparse and nestled in a deep, rich taupe sauce in which every ingredient – nuts, seeds, dried fruits, fresh and dried peppers, garlic. and onions – is roasted over an open fire before being mashed into a silky delight. We dream of this sauce.
In bloom: 928 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-237-9630; inbloomstp.com
HYACINTH CELERY SALAD ($ 14). The best dishes are the ones we still think of months later, and this salad falls squarely into that category. Crunchy and floral celery; tender and earthy celeriac; thinly sliced pears; aniseed pecans; funky, salty grated blue cheese; and a delicate vinaigrette that binds it all together. Celery is largely unknown, but this dish celebrates its magnificence.
Hyacinth: 790, avenue Grand, Saint-Paul; hyacinthstpaul.com
CHICKEN LIVER MEMELITA AT COLITA ($ 14). Just when we thought we had some great Mexican food, Colita arrives and shows us who’s boss. Chef Daniel del Prado prepares complex, multi-faceted dishes of smoked meats and other Mexican dishes inspired by the Oaxaca region. We passed out at so many menu items that a few were candidates for the best dish. We are zooming in on the chicken liver memelita because you can practically taste the job of grinding the corn for the masa to make the memelita shell and because the pate has layers of deliciously elaborate flavor. The dish is also a visually stunning, with purple hues inside and outside of the memelita shell and the pickled plum and shiso leaf pie on top. The prettiest and most elegant dish for sure.
Colita: 5400 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis; 612-886-1606; colitampls.com
SALTY PIE HAM SANDWICH ($ 9). Sometimes simplicity is better. Crispy crispy baguette, obscene heaps of thinly sliced, sweet-and-salty ham from Peterson meats (who knew they made ham too?), Thinly sliced Gruyere, and a drizzle of arugula butter are all that’s in there. there’s on this ridiculously delicious sandwich, and he needs nothing more.
Salty Tart : 289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul; 612-874-9206; saltytart.com
STEEL-HEADED TROUT AT THE COMMODORE ($ 30). One of the nicest restaurants in St. Paul’s also serves some of the most faint-worthy food we’ve tried all year. The Rainbow Trout from Lake Superior is lightly coated with a lobster crust with forage mushrooms from Chef Chas Grant. The fish is nice and oily on the inside and the dusting of the lobster mushroom crust makes for a perfect crisp, just thick enough to separate evenly. A ginger-fennel broth adds extra spice, and vegetables like bok choy on the plate make a good team. The mix we had this summer is no longer available, but a grilled rainbow trout ($ 33) is.
The Commodore Bar and Restaurant: 79 N. Western Ave., St. Paul; 651-330-5999; thecommodorebar.com
LOBSTER BENEDICT AT OCTO FISHBAR ($ 21). Chef / Owner Tim McKee and Chef Shane Porto’s weekend brunch menu at Octo Fishbar is one dish that takes Egg Benedict to the next level. While the dish costs a few pretty pennies, the madness pays off knowing that your search for the most luxurious, decadent Eggs in the Benedict Mix is over. A generous portion of quality poached lobster is garnished with egg coulis and a togarashi hollandaise sauce in which the seasonings are just perfect.
Octo Fishbar: (Market House Collaborative) 289 E. Fifth St., St. Paul; 651-202-3415; octostp.com
CHULETA PORK RIB AT POPOL VU ($ 30). Chef Jose Alarcon lights the wood fire and serves balanced dishes from his native Mexico that also harmonize with the seasons at this cozy, full-service restaurant that is the sibling of the more casual street-side restaurant Centro Mexican next door. . We especially like the chuleta, a dish of pork chops with huaxmole, giant beans and celeriac. The big pork chop is juicy with just the right amount of char from the wood-fired oven. But what made the dish really special was the huaxmole sauce. Its ingredients, such as the guaje seeds, provided bold notes of bitter and sweetness that complemented the smoked pork chops perfectly.
Popol Seen: 1414 Quincy Street NE, Minneapolis; popolvuhmpls.com
ALL BAGEL WITH LOX AND CREAM CHEESE FROM MEYVN ($ 12.50). We’re already hearing the outrage – $ 12.50 for a bagel sandwich? Yes, and we will pay for it at any time. The bagels here are cooked over a wood fire and have the appropriate crackle and shiny crust with little bubbles. They’re as perfect a specimen as there are in the Twin Cities, and topping them with just enough smoky cream cheese and lox isn’t just delicious, it’s true.
Meyvn: 901 Lake Street West, Minneapolis; 612-315-4608; meyvneats.com
CAULIFLOWER AT THE LIVING ROOM ($ 8). Cauliflower always has its moment in the sun, just like vegetables, and this particular dish showcases all that is wonderful about it. Half a head of cauliflower is perfectly roasted until there are lots of caramelized pieces, then dipped in a spicy honey sauce. There is also a layer of herbal paste on the plate and slices of hot pepper sprinkled all over it to make each bite different and addicting.
Salon Saint-Paul: 267 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 651-207-4433; parlourbar.com
CHEEK-TONG SHROOMIN VEGAN FOAM ($ 3 or $ 13 for a five-teaser flight menu). The number of vegan options is increasing at a rapid rate in the Twin Cities. When we toured 10 places with hearty or all-vegan menus earlier this year, there was one dish that stood out – Chef Leonard Anderson’s “Shroomin” vegan mushroom mousse. The dish with mushroom broth, roasted mushrooms, chewy tofu and truffle and topped with fried enoki mushrooms for the crunch reminded us of a traditional cream of mushroom and mousse – while also being a vegan dish. Whether you’re a vegan or not, Tongue In Cheek’s rich and creamy mushroom mousse is sure to please everyone. The dish is a rotating option in the flight menu and is currently not available. Call the restaurant or check the website for updates.
Tongue in the cheek: 989, avenue Payne, Saint-Paul; 651,888,6148; languageincheek.biz
TORTA AHOGADA TAPATIA SANDWICH ($ 10). There is usually a queue at this counter ordering operation, mostly take out, with only three tables. La Tapatia – the family behind the El Tapatio food truck – opened a brick and mortar store this year, and there’s no shortage of fanfare. The authentic Mexican dishes here are paired with bold peppery spices that make them distinct and aromatic dishes. We love La Tapatia’s version of the torta ahogada sandwich, a Guadalajara favorite. Fried pinto beans and pork carnitas are the base, and avocado and onions top it off. The sandwich is served on crispy toast and accompanied by a tangy and aromatic tomato sauce. You can sprinkle the sauce on your sandwich to eat it the traditional way, or you can dip the sandwich in it if you feel like doing less mess. You can’t go wrong anyway.
The Tapatie: 1237, avenue Larpenteur Ouest, Roseville; 651-253-6175; facebook.com/pg/LaFamiliatapatiaMN
BASILIC ICE CREAM FROM SWEET SCIENCE ($ 5.50 per scoop). This seasonal flavor is not available at the moment, but we can still taste the fresh, floral and herbal notes of this ultra-creamy ice cream, and it makes us nostalgic for the basil season. We are hopeful that they will bring back that flavor, because now that Sweet Science is in Keg and Case West 7th Market, we plan to be there A LOT.
Sweet scientific ice cream: 928 W. Seventh St., St. Paul (Keg and Case), or 1360 Lexington Parkway, St. Paul (seasonal stand at Como Lakeside Pavilion, now closed for winter); sweetscienceicecream.com