If you are like me and grew up in the western suburbs of the Twin Cities, you have witnessed the extraordinary transformation of downtown Wayzata in the last 20 years. Back in the day there weren’t many options, especially for dining, and although it was surrounded by very expensive real estate, it was NOT a culinary mecca.
Happily that has all changed with the revitalization of Downtown Wayzata. Now we have many wonderful options for dining, coffee, baked goods and shopping. I recently was given the opportunity to have lunch at ninetwentyfive in the lower level of The Hotel Landing on Lake Street. ninetwentyfive serves American food with a cosmopolitan flare, catering to the more refined palates of diners that have experienced cuisine all over the world. All without being pretentious and staying true to the Midwestern values of the people that live here.
Chef Daniel Cataldo is the artist behind the menu at ninetwentyfive. A graduate of Chaska High School, he went on to earn his culinary arts degree at the Art Institute of Minneapolis. But he will tell you his real education came from working his way up the ranks in various kitchens, all the way up to Chef de Cuisine.
“That’s where you decide if a culinary career is for you,” said Cataldo. Some people think it’s like it is on all the TV food shows, but as any restaurant worker will tell you, they are working when everyone else is having fun – weekends off are rarely an option. But Chef Daniel loves what he does; his self-described perfectionism combined with the creative drive of an artist is the force behind his passion to present food that is beautiful to look at, delicious to eat (and responsibly sourced from local producers) that keep quality of product and sustainability at the forefront. So after meeting Chef Daniel and his sous chef, Clark Furlong, all I could think was, “WHEN DO WE EAT?!”
Anne Morehouse and I arrived on a blisteringly cold day (-10!) and were met with a well-lit, classic and, thankfully, warm decor. We were seated and promptly ordered HOT coffee so we could defrost before perusing the menu.
Shawn, our waiter/craft-bartender/father-of-four extraordinaire, introduced the menu. As I am wont to do on any new culinary venture, I asked, “If we were to die tomorrow, what should we eat in our last hours here?” He laughed and said, “In that case, eat everything!” I liked him already! Anne and I agreed to give up control and let Shawn and Chef Daniel run the show.
Our starter was a lemon zest, ricotta-filled, handmade agnolotti with smoked chicken, thinly sliced heirloom carrots, quartered grape tomatoes, finely sliced celery, all in a pool of savory consomme, crowned with fresh herbs and shaved parmesan. It was perfectly light and delicious, but packed with flavor and the warm broth helped us forget the frigid weather. This dish was paired with Stoller Pinot Noir from Oregon. A medium-bodied red, with soft tannins, it was a nice balance to the smoky, salty flavors of the agnolotti.
A series of 3 entrees were to follow. First an Arctic Char, (think salmon but not quite as marbled) pan-seared to crisp the skin, then placed atop a buttery pile of roasted golden and red beets. Served with an herb-laced yogurt sauce that worked nicely with the richness of the fish. Shawn paired this with a velvety Landmark Chardonnay from California.
Next we were presented with a twist on classic meat and potatoes. A flat-iron steak, medium rare and sliced on the bias layered over roasted broccolini, sea salt fingerling potatoes, all drizzled with veal demi-glace. Several dollops of gorgonzola cream finished the dish. The steak was tender and piping hot.
For the final entree Chef Daniel surprised us with a new idea he is working on for the winter menu. A plate of HUGE diver scallops seared and nestled in a creamy carrot risotto sprinkled with razor thin slices of pickled Fresno chiles. The risotto, a beautiful golden orange color with complex layers of carrot butter, mascarpone, bacon, roasted butternut squash and parmesan cheese, was so rich and decadent that even though we had sampled all the other dishes we kept shoveling fork-fulls of sweet scallop and risotto into our faces. Pure pleasure!
Since we told him this article was for the February issue of LocalTies, Chef Daniel insisted that we end with something chocolate, keeping Valentine’s Day and thus romance in mind. In my case arm twisting is not required when chocolate is mentioned. Our final flourish was a chocolate tart with fresh berries, berry coulis and a pillow of bruleed meringue. Rich chocolate ganache, in a crispy chocolate cookie tart shell, and just a hint of sea salt. A perfect “romance” with the berry components and the toasted meringue. Shawn served a lovely Old Vine Blended Red from California. It was a perfect coupling to the chocolate and berries.
For me it is a true, albeit rare, pleasure to wile away an afternoon, sipping good wine, savoring wonderful food, and enjoying good conversation with a friend. Just escaping, for a few hours, the routines of work and responsibility.
If you are downtown Wayzata and looking for an escape, stop in and partake at ninetwentyfive Tell them Heather sent you!