The best hotel restaurants tell visitors something about their city: Manny’s is the ultimate in meat in the Midwest; the St. Paul Grill is old world elegance. And Wood + Paddle is aiming for a real taste of Minnesota on the ground floor of the Royal Sonesta (the former Radisson Blu).
Take the simplicity of wild rice and mushroom croquettes served with a sprinkle of fresh cream sprinkled with paprika ($10). I’m kind of on the croquettes as they often taste like fried porridge, but these were spot on. You have tasted the mushrooms, you have tasted the grains of rice and you have understood where you are in the world. This is a true Minnesota appetizer – a deep-fried version of wild rice soup!
It would be easy to skip rye flatbread with cultured butter, but don’t make that mistake. This is the dish I still think about (which I’m sure is horrifying to the fantastically talented chef running this operation, Niki Heber). There was depth and texture; the flatbread flavor that was surprisingly complex and filling, and that home grown butter was something special. Just a great starter at $7, and you can add burrata for $4 or steak tartare for $6.
The smoked cauliflower and oatmeal suffered from the same plate design issue which is my only hesitation about the menu here. Bear with me: I’m not asking for an expression of Damien Hirst abstract art, but there’s something off-putting about most of the entries, all in the brown/grey/white color family. Lightly browned oatmeal piled next to a charred and smoked half head of cauliflower. It was good, but it looked, well, you know what it looked like.
The grilled beef cheek was prepared like a charcoal roast. It tasted phenomenal, but again: brown on brown on brown sauce on brown mushroom. We also really liked the flavors of the pork coppa steak ($26), with roasted celeriac and mushrooms.
For spring, the menu has a spit-roasted shoulder of lamb with za’atar ($30) that looks phenomenal, and a smoked pork chop with apricot and chard ( $32).
I’m a huge fan of Executive Chef Niki Heber; I have enjoyed his work at Corner Table for years, as well as Masu, Pajarito and 4 Bells. He brings some seriously great farm-to-table ideas, having cooked rural dinners with the traveling dining experience called Exceptional in the field. He was born in Japan, raised in Iowa and has worked with some of Minnesota’s top chefs. Now he has the stage and tells his story and ours through food.
31 S. Seventh St., Minneapolis, 612-216-3473, woodandpaddlemn.com