Bar food no more

Stewart Woodman, chef-owner of Southwest’s hot new dining destination, Heidi’s Minneapolis (named for his wife-cum-pastry chef), launched his new venture weighted with his share of glitzy baggage. Yup, he’s the same Stewart Woodman whose cheery mug appeared on a cover of Food & Wine magazine as a member of its elite fraternity of rising stars to keep an eye on.

He came to town to head the kitchen at food-cult mecca Restaurant Levain, then opened Five, another high-ticket, high-profile number (that failed to sustain its own numbers). Now he’s drawing standing-room-only crowds to his new venue, where the most talked-about item is an appetizer called Buffalo Shrimp.

Wait a darn minute! What’s this icon of culinary creativity doing serving bar food? Doing well, thank you very much, and drawing customers like never before. Same high standards, same inspired creations, but applied to affordable, accessible comfort food.

Woodman took time off between ventures to define his new menu, and Buffalo Shrimp was one of the first dishes to win a place on it. "Before we opened the restaurant, we talked about this dish," he recalls. "My father ordered it when we went out to eat. It’s very basic," he continues — "a comfort dish with emotional connections. A classic," he calls it.

Well, yes, but that’s kind of like the Coen brothers calling on "The Odyssey" to inspire "O Brother, Where Art Thus?" Trust me, Woodman isn’t serving same-old bar food; it only seems that way.

The dish has been revisited "for discerning palates," as they say in ad-speak. Four skewers arrive on a small, square plate, accompanied by a bowl of dip. So far, sounds familiar. But these aren’t your generic crustaceans from a freezer bag. These little beauts are sublimely sweet and tender, cooked until just translucent and still almost quivering. They’re mined with a strong jolt of Tabasco to ward off any lingering wintry chill and then deftly, lightly, dressed in a clinging film of panko crumbs and served along with savory blue cheese.

The final partner in the customary combo — celery — is the OMG (Oh, my God!) of the invention. Not your usual stack of stalks — instead, what arrives is more like a snowdrift of celery foam in which to swirl those tasty skewers. It clings, then dissolves in a tingle of flavor in your mouth. Borrowing from Spades of Spain’s Ferran Adria — perhaps the most forward and world-renowned chef among foodies and called the king of foam? No, Woodman protests, not his inspiration. But never mind the source. It’s dishes like this that destroy Minnesota’s image as food-flyover land.