Autumn in Stillwater is pretty like a Bob Ross painting: burnt umber Lift Bridge and olive green rolling hills lining the banks of the cerulean St. Croix. That's the view from the gazebo in Lowell Park, the meeting place from which we embarked on the "Savor the Flavors" culinary walking tour, part of Stillwater's Foodies on Foot series. The restaurants and food and beverage options vary from tour to tour, but the surprise factor is part of the fun.
We sussed out fellow food tourists with whom, over the next three-plus hours, we would engage in conversational bursts on topics ranging from Mexican dental vacations to "the airlines." Congenial hostess-with-the-mostest Nancy McNulty provided guidance and historical tidbits along the way.
First stop: Cooks of Crocus Hill in the historic Grand Garage building (324 S. Main St.) to sample some fancy Belgian Callebaut and French Valrhona baking chocolates, and to engage in some "What do you do with that?" kitchen implement browsing. Then it was on to the American bistro Reve 324 in the same building for a well-executed spicy pepper risotto and a glass of crisp Frenzy Sauvignon Blanc, for palate-cleansing purposes.
We shuffled up to Shanghai Bistro for some Asian fusion on a chic patio, complete with mini-waterfall, outdoor bar and cabanas(!). Sexy pitchers of fresh and fruity cocktails, starring a new açai-berry spirit called VeeV, tasted so healthy and refreshing that I enjoyed three. The food included a tasty ceviche-style ahi and escolar app, and a seared sesame scallop atop sweet-sauced, crispy-fried Singapore noodles.
Like a herd of happily buzzed lemmings, we waded through the movie-set-charming storefronts of downtown, and stumbled into Stillwater Olive Oil Co. (208 S. Main St.) to tinker around with their rainbow assortment of extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. My blood orange EVOO with cranberry pear white balsamic was killer, as was the fig balsamic, of which I purchased a bottle for dousing on pretty much everything.
On to the Green Room (215 S. Main St.) -- the deservedly lauded, global/local hot spot for sophisticated comfort food. Co-owner and chef Christopher Durant provided the play-by-play story of his preparation of lush Norwegian salmon belly with butternut squash, a buttery brandy cream sauce with zingy capers, and black balsamic gastrique. Heavenly.
Before we arrived at our last stop, the rooftop of wine cooperative Northern Vineyards (223 N. Main St.), we learned that a prehistoric creature was discovered underground at the intersection of Myrtle and Main Streets in 1865. If you want to know what kind of creature it was, you'll need to take the tour. At the winery, we were served a decadent slice of raspberry chocolate truffle cake from Bayport Bread Art and a glass of dry and fruity Prairie Rose rosé from Iowa's Prairie Crossing vineyard. Hot tip: Because Northern Vineyards is a cooperative, it is actually open on Sunday. Holla!
After this satisfying communal frenzy of food, folks and fun, you will probably want to embark on a leisurely stroll by the river with your new foodie buddies and take in all of those happy little clouds.