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Feb 21, 2012 10:49 AM

MSP james beard semifinalists local rundown

best chef midwest:

brown & winberg -- travail
steven brown -- tilia
doug flicker -- piccolo
russell klein -- meritage
lenny russo -- heartland
stewart woodman -- heidi's

national awards:

bachelor farmer is listed for best new restaurant

la belle vie for outstanding bar program

restaurant alma is listed for outstanding restaurant (omg has it already been 10 years?!?)

tim mckee is up for outstanding chef

michelle gayer is up for outstanding pastry chef

d'amicos up for outstanding restaurateur

manny's steakhouse for outstanding service

sameh wadi is up for rising star (chef under 30 yrs age), again...

full semifinalist list here:

five finalists will be chosen from each category for the final award vote in march, the winners will be announced in may. congrats to all the local semifinalists! now let's talk about the chefs and restaurants!

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  1. Just thrilled for Alma, absolutely our very favorite restaurant, and thrilled for Alex Roberts, who has to be the nicest guy in the TC restaurant business.....

    1 Reply
    1. re: mtullius

      Well said.

      i am also thrilled for Lenny, whose restaurant and marketplace are wonderful.

    2. Very cool! Soupkitten, I know you keep up on stuff in the chefosphere better than most of us -- is anyone/anyplace else a repeat nominee besides Sameh Wadi?

      20 Replies
      1. re: KTFoley

        Most of these people / places have been nominated before. Travail, Tilia, Piccolo and Bachelor Farmer I believe are new.

        1. re: KTFoley

          russell klein and lenny russo were both *finalists* for best chef midwest last year and stand a very good chance of a repeat. our own isaac becker (112 eatery, bar la grassa) won the actual 2011 award, joining other recent winners alex roberts (alma, brasa) 2010, and tim mckee (la belle vie) 2009. winners can't be re-nominated but can be considered for other awards like outstanding chef/restaurateur.

          i think wadi has been up for rising star for several-four years now. maybe it just seems that way. i wish he'd turn 30 already so they can just hand him the regional award! (they afraid, i tell ya ;-P)

          the d'amicos were also semifinalists for outstanding restaurateur last year iirc. michelle gayer was also up last year for best pastry chef. iirc, gayer and d'amico & co. did not make the finals, but just the national recognition is pretty great. (i forgot to type in that gayer is pastry chef at the salty tart, in the above post, sorry!)

          bachelor farmer of course was not in operation for awards last year, hence the nom for best new restaurant. outstanding bar program, for which la belle vie is nominated, is a brand new award category this year. i do not believe that restaurant alma was old enough to qualify for outstanding restaurant award (open 10 years min), previously.

          everyone has her/his own favorites, but i think everyone/every restaurant named & recognized is pretty great. it is hard to argue w MTullis on rooting for restaurant alma/alex roberts--who totally deserves to win some sort of "nicest human" award :)

          and i will root hard for sameh wadi again, and my underdog pick for the regional prize would be doug flicker (formerly of auriga, along w steven brown, also nominated this year). but i'd be happy to see any of them do really really well. it should be said that the national awards are really *really* tough for chefs/restaurants that are outside of the arenas of nyc/la/sf/chi, so just the recognition is a good thing. the best chef midwest semifinalists also have competition from other great chefs in wisconsin and the rest of the region, who are probably pretty tired of seeing the award go to an msp chef! :)

          1. re: soupkitten

            Thanks, Soupkitten! Appreciate the historical info, especially about previous winners now nominated in different categories.

            1. re: soupkitten

              Disappointed to see no love for V-44, considering the Beard folks made a point of listing the pork cheek as one of the best dishes of the year.

              On a national level, if you are out to Los Angeles, definitely hit MB Post, especially if Travail/V-44 is your bag.

              It is increasingly embarrassing I have not been to Alma. I need to put an end to this affliction.

              Rooting for everyone locally, but especially Wadi and Woodman, because they make ridiculously good food.

              1. re: kevin47

                Woodman could use an ego boost.

                Also have not been to Alma. My friends are taking me out for my Christmas present (a smidge late), and I've narrowed it to Alma, Bar La Grassa, or Bachelor Farmer.

                1. re: semanticantics

                  "Woodman could use an ego boost."

                  Heh, this made my morning. "Minneapolis' most overwhelming ego in need of boosting."

                  Alma crushes suggestion would be to wait until spring to cash that check if it is to be Alma though...Alex has fun with fiddleheads, ramps, scapes and asparagus.

                  1. re: Foureyes137

                    I'm cashing in next weekend, but Alma's menu isn't grabbing me right now. There was a window a month ago where the menu was awesome looking, but I had some Travail GC's so I ate for free instead. I'll get to Alma when the menu is right.

                    I think I've narrowed down my dinner to BLG (never been) or Saffron (never been). Both are JBF nom's and have a good veg selection. Was thinking maybe Bachelor Farmer to see what all the fuss is about, but there are like 3 vegetarian things (and no prices listed, anyone else in this city do that?).

                    1. re: semanticantics

                      I find that, sometimes, restaurants with a true commitment to local sourcing (such as Alma) shine the most when the season is at its peak. Their menus just aren't as exciting this time of year. I'm sure this isn't news to anyone, but sometimes it's hard to remember that when you're looking at a menu and saying to yourself, "What's the big deal with this place?"

                      I'd sure like to see a St. Paul chef take the honors this year... And any or all of the Twin Cities nominees take national awards. Aside from media awards, have any Twin Citeans ever won a national Beard award?

                      The no prices thing seems odd to me. I like full disclosure where possible. I get when some dishes need to be A.Q. but hopefully that's not the entire menu!


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        >>>(TDQ said)>>> I find that, sometimes, restaurants with a true commitment to local sourcing (such as Alma) shine the most when the season is at its peak.

                        So true! I always find something I like at Alma, but you're right - certain seasons really click for Alma's style of food.

                        I'm lucky in that my birthday coincides with the "right" season for halibut (April), and Restaurant Alma always has the most glorious menu for the week of my birthday. In fact, Alex Roberts even remembers me, from year to year, as "that lady who raves about his halibut." One year, he even called us to let us know when my favorite dish would be on the menu. This is why I'm an Alma's patron FOR LIFE. That, and the food is always glorious when I'm there (especially for April/birthday and September/anniversary :-).

                      2. re: semanticantics

                        Up at the top of Bachelor Farmer's online menu, this sentence displays:

                        "Our appetizers start at $7 and our entrées range from $17 to $27."

                        1. re: KTFoley

                          To quote everyone's dad, "That's how they get you." In the end, 3 veg dishes aren't enough for a party of 3 with 2 vegetarians. I also can't get excited about a meal of "toasts".

                          Would be nice to see St. Paul get some love. Strib has a great article on the Travail boys, and it sounds like they'll be profiling everyone.

                        2. re: semanticantics

                          Was at BLG a couple nights ago, and just wasn't feeling the love on the execution on the dishes... tried about 8 dishes, would reorder maybe 1...the gnocchi that was soooo gummy but cauliflower/chili/orange is so nice together, that if they got the texture right and didn't kill the cauliflower due to overcooking, that dish would be a monster. I wouldn't run back there, and they most definitely aren't on the same level of execution as alma is, but saffron is closer, however have not been post revamp.

                          1. re: semanticantics

                            With the rejiggered menu, I'd think Saffron would be a perfect choice. Do brains count as a vegetable?

                            1. re: semanticantics

                              I eventually landed on BLG after agonizing of the decision and menus.

                              The gnocchi with cauliflower and orange was amazing. Perfect texture, super delicious. Carmelized red onion and goat cheese bruschetta was excellent. The mushroom taleggio angolotti was tasty, but the ends of the giant (never seen them this big) agno's were thick (never seen them shaped this way either, like a candy wrapper twisted on the ends). We got a dessert that was similar to crepes with caramel and ice cream, but for the price point I was expecting amazing, not merely good. Service was excellent and I had a great time and really felt I made the correct choice. Alma will have to wait until they flip their menu again, hopefully it'll be morel season by then.

                          2. re: semanticantics

                            I've been to all three, and Bachelor Farmer does not belong in any conversation with the best restaurants in town. Marvel Bar is great - I'll give them that, but for the life of me I don't get wtf everyone sees in this place. The food is straight up boring! Celebrate Nordic heritage all you want but meatballs and mashed potatoes? Really? Oh no, I'm sorry, you put pieces of toast on a rack. I get it.

                            Let me know if I'm wrong - has anyone out there been truly wowed by the food at BF?

                            1. re: keithinmpls

                              Nope. I thought Bachelor Farmer was overrated as well. The food wasn't bad, but at that price point (higher than suggested by the statement on the online menu quoted above, btw), it should be much more exciting.

                              I vote for Saffron! I don't think I will ever have a more delicious dish of green beans.

                              1. re: keithinmpls

                                Bachelor Farmer does not belong? In Minneapolis it is an outlier, but nor for negative reasons. Their food is simple, clean, connected to the local stream, tightly executed, and playful. The chef has a well trained palate. The toasts represent a fun hands on involvement with the food. The wine auction chalk list is brilliant.

                                1. re: keg

                                  Bachelor Farmer is mediocre. The fact that it's on the list is disconcerting. Demeaning to the rest of the list.

                                  1. re: SarahInMinneapolis

                                    I'm not sure if every knows this but in all categories, you can get on the semi-finalist list if you fill out an application and pay the entry fee. This is why the semi-finalist list doesn't really matter and isn't taken seriously. "Nomination" level is much better.

                                    1. re: SarahInMinneapolis

                                      Bachelor Farmer is just not as good and more expensive than Bar La Grassa and right down the street.

                        3. We have visited Minneapolis twice in recent years and were blown away by the food scene there. Our visits were short (two nights each time), but we managed to fit in visits to Bar La Grassa, 112 Eatery, Alma, Travail, Piccolo, and Sea Change. Keep up the great work ! Here in Vermont, we are hoping Hen of the Wood ( finally wins after many nominations. If you are ever in VT, be sure to post as I would be happy to return the favor many of you have done for us by providing great advice !!! Now if only the Vikings could raise to the same level as the cuisine in MN................

                          1. update: finalists announced today-- sort of an upset-- the only msp chef finalist for best chef midwest this year is lenny russo!

                            also of note, food journalism finalists announced, and the splendid table's how to eat weekends (lynne rossetto kasper) is up for general cook book

                            more updates to follow as available/announced

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: soupkitten

                              Eric from Hen of the Wood (see above) also made the finalist cut so Lenny will have good company from VT at the awards ceremony.............hopefully two great chefs form two great states will come home with victories !