Queen of Cuisine: Minnesota at the Mall


FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar
MOA near Macy’s

We’re lucky to have not one, but two of Radisson Hotel’s new Blu concept in town—the delightfully inviting downtown Minneapolis destination, about which we’ve raved in print earlier, and its just-a-bit-older sibling at the Mall of America: eye candy like nothing else in Minnesota. Both house FireLake restaurants—similar as siblings but far from identical twins.
The MOA site’s kitchen is the pulpit for loco-vangelist Paul Lynch, who states his credo front-and-center on its menus : A Taste of Place. (The MOA receives more annual visitors than Disneyland, the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty combined, and Paul is proudly determined to demonstrate to them that our state is no culinary flyover land.) He salutes partner ranchers and farms by name in print and even insisted on rescuing local barn wood to dress the place. And now, he’s pushed his mission another step forward by enlisting Minnesota’s cache of artisan distillers, employing their spirits (rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, bourbon) in cocktails. Craft beer? That’s so yesterday.
The spirits pair up as successfully as Ole and Lena with what comes out of the kitchen, too. Consider this: a cocktail of Alander spiced rum, from Far North Distillery in almost-in-Canada Hallock, Minnesota, with juicy, wood-smoked duck aside maple-glazed yams and apples ($28). Or this, from Vikre Distillery in Duluth: a spruce-laced gin to pair with rich and uber-juicy fritters of pulled lamb, braised and smoked, then sided—smartly—with a palate-cleansing toss of tarragon-scented cucumber slices ($10).
1369345802744Speaking of cukes: Try the crisp and compelling cucumber vodka, distilled by Prairie Distillery in Benson and bottled in Princeton, as a perfect partner to the springtime menu newcomer featuring silky salmon pastrami sided with boxty—the potato pancakes of Irish grannies—dressed with dilled crème fraiche and a couple of pickled capers.
Du Nord Craft Spirits, right here in Minneapolis, produces l’Etoile vodka to ignite the Aviation cocktail, matched with a hearty spinach salad spiked with an attention-getting mustard aioli and devilled duck egg (choose either organic chicken or duck eggs on the menus.)
From St. Paul comes 11 Wells Spirits Company and a wheat whiskey bracing the Summer Rye cocktail—the smooth, dark spirit as a foil for a rich pheasant confit tossed with wild mushrooms and gnudi (think gnocchi) plumped with ricotta ($18 for vegetarian version). Finally, Panther Distillery, of Osakis to our west, produces a Pike Street bourbon that harks back to Prohibition days, especially in a sexy, deep Manhattan cocktail—here paired with a deceptively simple skewer of fingerling potatoes. They’re wrapped in rich back bacon dressed in a salt/fat-conquering sweet and fruity apricot glaze. Or order a side of those fingerlings dressed up with sea salt, Amablu cheese and crème fraiche and call it a day.
Other all-Minnesotan fare on the menu ranges from cheese and charcuterie platters to walleye cakes and burgers; from turkey pot pie to buffalo rib eye. Oh, and a Haralson apple cake and an Amish malted-chocolate-peanut butter pie ($8 each). Now go walk it off in the mall.

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