It was my partner’s birthday. Chad was turning turning….I picked him up from work early. We hit I-35 going north. I had been swamped with work. Chad’s 23-year association with his company was lasting—at best—maybe one more week, thanks to the economy. We needed to get out of Dodge.
Three hours later, we arrived at the Sheraton Duluth Hotel. We were running a little late, after stopping in Forest Lake for a sandwich and a glass of wine. The lobby is stately, adorned in rich wood tones, with leather chairs and a sofa. I felt comfortable immediately.
The staff behind the desk was enormously friendly. They informed me that my food tasting in the dining room called Restaurant 301 would take place in about eight minutes. Running to our room to change, Chad and I threw everything on the bed. Having freshened up and changed clothes, we were down in the dining room in record time. Chef Bob Bennett wanted to spend as much time with us before his supper rush began.
Karen Pionk, the Sheraton’s Director of Sales and Marketing, invited Chad and me to a private dining area in Restaurant 301, where our friends, Jonathan and his partner, Billy, already were waiting for us. I sat down, and instantly, the food began to arrive.
First out of the kitchen was Arizona Egg Rolls ($9.95)—beautifully stuffed egg rolls with roasted chicken, julienne carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and red onions, seasoned with chili powder and cumin, served with ancho chili dipping sauce. I’m not a fan of extreme heat, but this was the perfect temperature. The heat was a complement to the dish itself. Bennett was not out to abuse our palates, but rather to astonish them. Arizona Egg Rolls would be the right start for any meal, but especially on the perfect birthday evening for Chad—an ideal intermingling.
Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare ($12.95), which consisted of cucumber, picked ginger, red onion, rice vinegar, and wasabi, was next to arrive for our tasting pleasure. As with heat, I usually shy away from wasabi (I always get the wasabi bomb), but the combination was so exciting that I couldn’t help but try it. This was one of those rare occasions where I actually took the dipping sauce back to the room with me after dinner. The flavors blended together like fine wine with a meal. Our appetizers were leading up to something grand from the entrée menu.
Restaurant 301 has a wonderful wine list, along with domestic and imported beers. I ordered Marrietta Old Vine Red (California). This red wine was robust, filled with flavors that matched my good mood and the excellent flavors of the foods we tasted.
Our conversations were filled with stories and laughter. The party had begun. I was happy for Chad that he could have an exciting birthday with friends, and away from home. Sheraton Duluth Hotel was the perfect destination. Only two-and-a-half hours from the Twin Cities, it’s an easy drive, with many fun places to stop along the way. Once you arrive, it’s easy to find the hotel, only a couple blocks off I-35, and just blocks away from the majority of popular attractions—the perfect getaway.
Next, Bennett pulled out the big guns. His Grilled Beef Tenderloin ($28.95), with caramelized sweet onions, bleu cheese sauce, and a round of potatoes, was poetic as well as stunning. I was truly fascinated by the fried mashed potatoes. In the shape of a small round plate, Bennett simply deep-fries them to a golden color, and serves topped with caramelized sweet onions. The beef tenderloin was cooked to the just the right temperature. It was presented on the plate surrounded by a delicious lake of bleu cheese sauce, and topped with steamed asparagus. You should have heard the “ohs” and “ahs.”
And the salutes didn’t end there. Bennett and crew sent out to our awe the Seafood Trio ($24.95) of giant scallops, jumbo shrimp, and Maine lobster. It was served on a nest of fresh spinach, housemade mozzarella cheese, fresh pasta sheets, and brandy basil cream sauce. Being a seafood lover, I fell absolutely in love with this dish. Bennett tucked most of the seafood under a fresh sheet of pasta, and surrounded it with his amazing brandy basil cream sauce. Each piece of seafood was succulent and full of fresh flavor. I was so thrilled by this dish, you would have thought it was my birthday.
To show off his creative side (not that he had hidden it up to this point), Bennett presented the Wild Caught Gulf Shrimp ($21.95). This entrée was a visual stunner of tempura-fried gulf shrimp, with essence of coconut beautifully set on top of wasabi rice egg rolls—a blending of precious flavors and creativity that only made our hearts jump by the sight and taste.
The items on the menu change with the seasons and the taste of the chef, but I can guarantee that no matter what Bennett chooses, each appetizer, pasta, or entrée will be a winner, handsomely adorned by correct flavors and accompaniments.
We had the rest of the evening to enjoy our gorgeous guest room at the Sheraton Duluth, work out at the state-of-the-art gym, or enjoy the pool and spa. Always following the rule of “the world is my oyster,” we chose to do all three. The only thing we didn’t do was visit the nearby Fond-du-Luth Casino or Duluth Family Sauna.
Once back in our room, both Chad and I really got to take in our view of Lake Superior just a couple blocks away. I enjoyed watching the lift bridge, while sipping a bottle of wine our hosts secretly had brought to our room while we were dining. They also left a tray of cheesecake, sliced fruits, assorted cheese, and olives. What a marvelous way for Chad to enjoy his special day…and look forward to a fun midnight snack!
Internet access, a great view of the lake and wharf area, oversized bathtub, plush-top mattress, sheets and duvet cover, flat screen TV, and Starbucks Coffee in the coffee maker in our room made for one fabulous experience. I didn’t want to leave the room.
However, we made plans to meet our friends in the fitness center. It has a whirlpool and swimming pool, along with cardiovascular and workout equipment. It’s available for use 24 hours daily, and with my schedule, that’s a perfect match. We had fun in the whirlpool and swimming pool for a while.
We decided to hit The Main Club in Superior, Wisconsin. The Sheraton Duluth’s shuttle service (limited free service) drove us to the “original” GLBT club in the Twin Ports. We had a great time at The Main, but didn’t have time to visit the other Superior bars, The Flame and J.T.’s Bar & Grill.
I wanted to return to our handsome room, with our spacious bathroom, plus the magnificent view of the lake and wharf at night. Of course, we did devour the cheesecake and treats our host, Karen Pionk, sent up to our room.
If you have a dog, the Sheraton Duluth offers “Sweet Sleeper” Dog Beds. They know how to take care of their guests and their guest’s loved ones.
The Sheraton also offers turn-down service, wake-up calls, and business services (photocopying, faxing, and computer use).
Sunday morning arrived, so we needed to think about driving back to the Twin Cities. It was Easter Sunday, and we were serving an afternoon dinner back at our home. The most disappointing thing about our weekend was having to leave the wonderful hotel.
I do know Chad and I will be traveling back to Duluth for another fun weekend, and we’ll be staying at the Sheraton Duluth Hotel. The food is unbelievable, the rooms are inviting and relaxing, and the staff cares for guests like they are royalty. It’s picture perfect for any king or queen.
Sheraton Duluth Hotel
301 E. Superior St.
Duluth, MN 55802
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, and private events, as well as culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. Visit www.GardenCountyCooking.com. Check out his “Word of Mouth” Blog under Extras at LavenderMagazine.com.