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Sep. 20th, 2010

East of Ole Miss


Moose Country. Yes, you remember it. Used to be Ponies and long before that it was Diamond Jim’s.

But whatever the name, it has been around forever in Lillydale and still going strong. Not a lot to say but wanted to give it a shout out because there were some major goodies we found there last Saturday. First of all, Janelle, our server…. She was fun and funny and good at her job. We all wanted to adopt her and take her on our bar crawl with us. Shame on you (Mr. Manager) for scheduling her alone to open that day.  She still did a great job but that is just wrong. Second of all, the bloody mary bar…. All the vodka you want to pour into your glass and all the fixins you could possibly ask for in your bloody. Yummm! Third, the Minnesota wings… these came highly recommended by Janelle and she was right. They were delicious and not the run-of-the-mill messy, saucy wings one would expect from a bar like this. Great! Lastly, the patio… it was a beautiful pre-fall day and the patio was a perfect place to spend a few hours. Enjoyed it – thanks!

Then off to Lucky 13 for bingo. Super fun – great staff (Thanks, Katie!) and again a great patio to heckle the bikers peddling by.

From there we went to Bogey’s. I have nothing of note to add about that place. Mostly because I barely remember any of it except that I thought it smelt bad. But that could have been my breath.

Lastly, Dunham’s.  Had burgers and one of the best $1.50 tacos I have had in long time. Great bartender, too!


Jul. 28th, 2010

Hey! What the...?

Really? Bar La Grassa? Really? If you are going to so drastically change a dish on your menu, you might let people know when they order it. When I ordered the scallops, I expected the legend-in-my-own-mind preparation that I have come to know and love. When I received the scallops, I had to check myself – was I in the right place? Where was the bed of braised pork and that luscious sauce that I have had so many times and loved? What I was seeing were two seared scallops in some sort of shallot broth. I mean, why would you change an uber-successful dish like that? Then I thought, if they changed it, they must have changed it for the better! It is summer, after all. Perhaps they came up with a lighter seasonal version of my favorite. Not better. Not even close. So as our motto goes… a French fry never broke anyone’s heart… but watch out for the chefs.


Jul. 23rd, 2010

Be quiet and have some Gougere


This week we went to FACES mears park in St. Paul (guess what... it faces Mears Park).

http://www.facesmearspark.com/

On the corner of 5th and Sibley downtown, it was easy to find and parking was a breeze (there is a lot just before the restaurant on 5th – in the elevator push the button that says something like “dining” and it opens up on the same floor as the restaurant! You don’t even have to go outside. Although I’d recommend you do check out their patio.)

FACES has 2 faces, so to speak… the deli where you can pick up bread, rotisserie chickens, olives, baked delicacies and lots of other lovely deli offerings… and the bar / restaurant. I rolled up on the bar to join Brad and Lynda who were already enjoying refreshments. Blueberry Lemonade (apparently to die for, it was a favorite with the group) hand crafted by the bartender with love. There were many rounds of this cocktail ordered and enjoyed and while I didn’t partake, there was no mistaking this was at the top of the list of favorites overall.

We were seated in the middle of the dining room at a great table with a great view of everything - including the Chef's Table which seats up to 12 where you will be treated to a multi-course tasting menu and wine pairing. The staff didn’t bat an eye when we had 3 additional guests crashing our party (glad you could join us boyz!). It seemed whatever we needed, whatever we asked, whatever our desire the entire crew was ready and willing to accommodate. Not only that, they were funny and personable. Laura, our main server was phenomenal.  At one point I had misplaced my napkin and under my breath to myself I said “did I lose my napkin?”… she heard me and made it a point to check and see if she needed to bring me one. I didn't even realize I had said it out loud! And every once in a while she would disappear very mysteriously into this Wizard of Oz-like curtained booth which smartly hid their server station.

David Fhima came out and chatted us up for a bit. He was charming and full of passion for his newest venture. The concept? American food made with natural, local, sustainable ingredients. And while the website says “American” food, there is no denying his influence and the international undertones.

So Laura comes out with a basket of Gougere: What? Never heard of it? Me neither. They are essentially French cheese puffs and they are little pillows of heaven. Where have these been all my life? And the first batch is complimentary. I contemplated ordering another batch all for myself to eat in the car on the way home.

Rice Cakes with Tuna Tartare – the textures of the cakes and the tartare together were lovely but there was just a bit too much vinegar in the tartare.

Olive sampler – you can’t really go wrong here, can you? There was a good selection of olives, cornichon, etc.

Sea Salt Fries – Mommy.

Bex and Jill had the Mediterranean and Californian salads and both said they loved them. Lynda and I both had a dish from the specials menu which was a sort of chili… an assortment of beans, chili and other spices, blue cheese and diced apples and had completely opposite reactions (which proves that taste is in the bud of the taster). I just found it, well, odd. I was expecting a sort of lighter, summery twist to chili with the apples and blue cheese. That was not my experience. Serve me this in late October / early November and you’ll get a completely different reaction. I shall embrace it whole heartedly. Lynda, on the other hand, absolutely loved this dish (as did Bex who thinks I am crazy). Lusciously sweet, spicy and creamy all at once. So, there you go!

On to Entrees… I ordered the Sea Bass. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned. I loved it. The potato puree and brocollini that accompanied it were unremarkable but the fish more than made up for them. Bex had the salmon which she said was also perfectly cooked to her liking but unfortunately it was lacking flavor. Brad had the Filet which I believe he referred to as “maybe the best steak I’ve ever had in my life”. Ok then, nuff said! Jill had the Brisket which she said was so tender she could cut it with a fork, but not a huge fan of the sauce.  Nell and Lynda both had the special of the night, the Shrimp Scampi. Both thought it was delicious, perfectly prepared shrimp over perfectly cooked hand made whole grain pasta. I’ll admit I was eyeing Lynda’s plate to steal a bite while she wasn’t looking.  

Desserts… strange outcome here. We were recommended by the house to order one of the butter creams. We ordered both. And in both cases, the butter cream was perfection but the cake itself was dry. Bummer. Thankfully we ordered 2 others that surprised and delighted us: the Dark Cocoa Martini Mousse (chocolate fantasy served in a fish bowl) and the Carrot cake (moist and delicious with hints of orange and the cream cheese frosting that is always to die for).

I will definitely go back as there is so much more that I want to try! The short ribs, the wings, the pizza, more Gougere, the puff pastry prawns and the hot brown sammy. The list goes on. Meet me at the bar?

 


May. 14th, 2010

Haute Dish

Remember that place down by Sex World that used to be called Café Havana? Yeah, you remember… when smoking was still allowed in bars, we’d go there and smoke cigars, which we never really liked but it was the cool thing back then, so what the heck?

Well, it’s been redone and reopened as a new restaurant…

http://www.haute-dish.com/

Think upscale comfort food. Think a long and welcoming bar at which you could picture yourself sitting for many comfortable hours. Think professional and friendly service. Think Pig.

Chef Landon Schoenefeld, previously of Bulldog fame (we all heard the story right?), is serving up an inspired menu featuring a great selection of Firsts, Middles and Lasts. You can look at the menu; you don’t need me to tell you what they have. I will, however, tell you what WE had.

We started with Minnesota Mules served up properly in icy cold copper cups. I followed that up with a lovely Side Car. Firsts: “Steak & Eggs” and Asparagus salad. Both terrific. Seconds: Mac & Cheese and Flavor Country Burger. I didn’t get a bite of the burger but people were absolutely raving about it so I am going to have to make a special trip back just for that. Lasts: Steak & Potatoes, Tater Tot Haute Dish (I want to eat this meal every day of my life and I didn’t even order it!), Salmon (Fish Du Jour) and Duck in a Can. I had to do it! So they come to the table with a plate of toast with some sort of ooey gooey goodness spread on it. Then they present you with a can that has a label that actually says Duck In A Can. They open it with a can opener and dump a juicy concoction of perfectly cooked duck, duck liver, cabbage and garlic over the top of the toast. I’m sure there are ingredients I’m missing but it was dark in there. I was afraid that the dish was going to be more about the presentation than the taste but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food that came out of that can. On the flip side, while the whole gimmick was fun the first time, I think I could skip that if I ever had it again. The gimmick is only worth $33 once in my life.

 My only criticism… parking was kind of a pain. Otherwise, this is definitely someplace I will repeat!


Jan. 19th, 2010

Nordeast


No, MDC has not disbanded. Just not a lot of luck getting us all together. FINALLY, last week 4 of us were able to make it happen. I know what you are expecting… we went to Bar La Grassa, right? Wrong. Not that I / we haven’t been there. In fact, I’ve been there 3 times now since it opened. But there is just too much hype surrounding the place. Everyone and their brother has written about it. I liked it. But it wasn’t the pinnacle of my food experience. It was good and I'll go back, no doubt. Just not great. There I said it. So sue me.

http://www.northeastsocial.com/

Last Thursday we went to the NE Social Club. I would like to say, right off the bat, this is the best service I have had anywhere in a long time. Our server was Katie. She was personable but not overly familiar (hate wait staff that kneel down next to your table or actually sit down with you while they take your order ala Applebees or TGIF). She was there when you needed her but not hovering. Our water glasses were always full and we never waited for a drink.

LZ had the calamari while she waited for us to show. I didn’t try it as it was pretty cold by the time I got there but she said it was good. I ordered the carpaccio. It was fresh, citrusy and melt-in-your-mouth good. We tried both salads and the squash soup. I didn’t try the spinach but Nancy and LZ raved about it. Nell and I shared the mixed greens. Again, I can’t say enough about a flavorful salad! Thank you for recognizing that a good salad dressing is just as important as any sauce you put on a main course. I don’t know why so many chefs over look this! The squash soup was the perfect consistency but a bit sweet for my taste. I like the balance of sweet and savory that squash soup usually offers up. This was just a bit different for me but LZ and Nancy really liked it.

For the main course: LZ and I had the gnocchi. Holy cannoli. Luscious little pillows of goodness, those are. And I didn’t even mind that they obviously added crack to the sauce! Janelle had the barbecued scallops which were on special. I didn’t think they were that “special” but, to be honest, it probably didn’t get a fair shake when compared to the gnocchi. Nancy had the spaghetti which was also on special. I remember trying it, saying “mmm that is good” but I can’t remember a thing about it other than that. Apparently the narcotic properties of my gnocchi had already started to kick in at that point.

The NE Social Club is the kind of place you can sit in all night. Let me rephrase… the kind of place you WANT to sit in all night. From the art on the walls, to the doting wait staff, the cozy warm room and the terrific food and drinks all the details are there to guarantee a good time. Wanna meet me there? I’ll be chatting up the homeless accordion player who came in and serenaded the room as we were leaving. And yes, even that was charming.


Nov. 11th, 2009

Forgotten entry!


This shouild have been posted back on Sept. 29th. Apologies!

So yesterday was Lynder’s birthday. Happy Birthday! To celebrate we went to Trattoria Tosca.

http://www.trattoriatosca.com/

This is in a great little neighborhood in S. Minneapolis next to the Turtle Bread Company. Leave yourself some time to wander over there, too. It is so great!

Lynda and I got there early and sat at the table (no bar). Lynda went to order a Prosecco and the waiter promptly said “you already have one coming” (for her birthday!). She asked if I had set that up but I said no, this must be just what they do for birthdays. And this couldn’t have been more perfect for our Prosecco loving Lynda. We also ordered the “Flavors of Summer Plate” – odd – wasn’t the first day of Autumn last week? They must have had some Arugula to get rid of before they put together their Autumn plate. But wait, I digress, I am VERY glad hadn’t switched over yet. It was GREAT! The figs and goat cheese and pesto and duck liver… Mmmmmmmm. And not to mention the tomatoes. What was on those tomatoes??? The butter that came with the bread basket (which was never empty for more than a minute or two, thanks to our attentive waiter) was something divine. That was no Parkay, if you know what I’m saying. I think if it could speak, I think it would moo in French (la moo?).

At one point Bex asked the waiter “what is it I’m eating again?” and he described the dish in such detail that you’d think he was the one whipping up the magic in the kitchen.

In a world where the trend is for restaurants to say “no”, Tosca bends over backward to say yes… Yes to a table of 6, yes to being seated an hour before our reservation while waiting for our others to arrive, yes to more bread, and more bread, and more bread and more butter (and I say “up-yours” to those restaurants who CHARGE for a bread basket. I mean really? What is wrong with you?) … and more water? … and more wine? Of course! Yes! Yes yes yes yes yes!

And will I go back? Yes.

Sep. 18th, 2009

Butcher Block


FINALLY.  We had the whole group together for a dinner on Tuesday night. The 6 of us went to the Butcher Block in NE Minneapolis.

http://thebutcherblockrestaurant.com/

Formerly Fugaise, nothing much has changed on the inside. Cozy and comfy just like I remembered with the same quaint little 3 person bar in the front. The bartender was incredibly friendly and gave us a lot of info on the place. The chef is Filippo Caffari who was a butcher in Rome for years (he cuts up his own meat downstairs!). If you are familiar with I Nonni in Lillydale, he and Darin Koch were both chefs there before moving to NE Minneapolis. You can see definite similarities in the menus (the crostini in particular). We started with cocktails and wine. For apps we had the carpaccio and a variety of the crostini. They were all good, however, we ordered a second plate of the Tuscan Chicken Liver so what does that tell you? Becky and Jill both had salads which they shared with us. One of my biggest pet peeves of any restaurant is a flavorless vinaigrette and I was so pleasantly surprised! Bursting with bright flavors yet light and not overpowering, it is what I long for in a salad. And I think there were some little sweet potato gems floating around in that salad too which the girls seemed to like, though I didn’t try one. For entrees… Braised Short Ribs, Ravioli, Chicken Marsala and Pork Ragu. I’ll let the ladies talk about their experiences but I can say everyone at the table was happy and raving about their meal. I was in the mood for pasta so the Pork Ragu hit the spot. It’s like the best spaghetti you’ve ever had - times 10. I loved it and ate every bite. Filippo came out and chatted with us. He is a lovely character and very charming. Dessert… Chocolate torte with caramel, sea salt & olive oil. Just lovely. Thanks, Butcher Block – had a great time – the night went far too fast. We’ll see you again real soon.

Things to note: the menu on line is not quite the same as the current menu at the restaurant. Along with this main menu they also have a menu of daily specials. They are no longer open until 4am. Too much riff raff attracted at that late hour. But they are open until 2am for you semi normal riff raffians.

Jul. 28th, 2009

Town Talk

I'd like to thank Bex for contributing the following review of our recent experience at Town Talk.
http://www.towntalkdiner.com/

A Finer Diner? That would be Town Talk Diner. 

 

Loved it. Met some friends to celebrate a birthday and what a perfect place. 

Our bartender mixed us cocktails simply by what he thought we would like. He picked the Blue Hi lls Julip for me. It was very good, but then I decided on the Watertight. Watermelon juice and rum? I would like six of those....ok, I had to drive, so I had two. 

 

We like to try several different features on a new menu, so we decided on the scallion caper battered cheese curds, garlic parsley fries and the duck burgers. The fries were delectable. Truly, anything with garlic, other than dessert, is divine in my book. 

Duck burgers? Whodda thunk. Those were fantastic, but I love duck. AND deep fried cheese curds?! I'm from MN and have spent a few formative years in WI and those cheese curds had WISCONSINALITY all over 'em! Scallions and capers i n the batter? I wanted to roll in them. Perfection. 

 

Now, let's talk about that Tomato Gorgonzola soup w/bread. I don't eat tomato soup. Campbell's destroyed that desire back in the 70's when my mom made it once. Gross. But, being the open-minded individual that I am, I was thinkin' that my love of the gorgonzola cheese may make me at least try it. 

So, I did. Deep breath. One bite. Wait for it.....There is a god. Fantastic. 

 

My only "complaint" about my dining experience was the bread served with my soup. Boring and nothing special. Though, I did use it to get every bit of delicious goodness that once filled that bowl. The Beet (yes, BEET) Carpaccio was lovely, fresh and the herb crusted chevre balls that accompanied it were fabulous. I would have enjoyed just dining on those. I love cheese. Can you tell? I tried the other girls' cocktails and the Jackson Pollock was beautiful and delish. 

 

Good work, Town Talk Diner! I'll be back.

A Finer Diner? That would be Town Talk Diner. Loved it. Met some friends to celebrate a birthday and what a perfect place. Our bartender mixed us cocktails simply by what he thought we would like. He picked the Blue Hills Julip for me. It was very good, but then I decided on the Watertight. Watermelon juice and rum? I would like six of those....ok, I had to drive, so I had two. We like to try several different features on a new menu, so we decided on the scallion caper battered cheese curds, garlic parsley fries and the duck burgers. The fries were delectable. Truly, anything with garlic, other than dessert, is divine in my book. Duck burgers? Whodda thunk. Those were fantastic, but I love duck. AND deep fried cheese curds?! I'm from MN and have spent a few formative years in WI and those cheese curds had WISCONSINALITY all over 'em! Scallions and capers in the batter? I wanted to roll in them. Perfection. Now, let's talk about that Tomato Gorgonzola soup w/bread. I don't eat tomato soup. Campbell's destroyed that desire back in the 70's when my mom made it once. Gross. But, being the open-minded individual that I am, I was thinkin' that my love of the gorgonzola cheese may make me at least try it. So, I did. Deep breath. One bite. Wait for it.....There is a god. Fanta stic. My only "complaint" about my dining experience was the bread served with my soup. Boring and nothing special. Though, I did use it to get every bit of delicious goodness that once filled that bowl. The Beet (yes, BEET) Carpaccio was lovely, fresh and the herb crusted chevre balls that accompanied it were fabulous. I would have enjoyed just dining on those. I love cheese. Can you tell? I tried the other girls' cocktails and the Jackson Pollock was beautiful and delish. Good work, Town Talk Diner! I'll be back.


Jul. 23rd, 2009

Straight to H-E-double hockey sticks with you!


My coworker, CM, went to Smashburger on Tuesday. Later that day I asked her how it was. She said she thought her expectations might have been too high. It was plenty good, but it wasn’t as “great” as she had hoped. I found this extremely disappointing because I hadn’t yet been there and I, too, had very high expectations. So I was thrown a bit off guard when, on Wednesday, she popped her head up over the cube wall and said “Smashburger?”

Me: I thought you didn’t care for it.

CM: I’m thinking I want to give it another try. Actually I’ve been sort of craving it since I got up this morning.

Me: I’m in.

So we go to Smashburger and have the All American, the smash fries and the haystack onions. It was good. It was very good. In fact, I would even go as far as to say it was great. Fantastic even. Terrific.

OK, this was the best  $%#@* burger I’ve ever had. And I woke up Thursday wanting another. So I said to CM over the cube wall… “Smashburger?”

And it is a good thing that she had a meeting because we would have gone. And I think we would have started a daily Smashburger habit that would not only have been fiscally unsound but would also have been detrimental to our health. Like smoking. You want to stop. You can’t. And when you don’t have one, all you can think about is getting one until your craving is fulfilled. Damn you Smashburger and your soft buns. You and your lovely meat patties cooked to perfection with the little crunchies around the edges should be ashamed of yourselves. And your smiley, helpful staff… what’s up with that? Hrmph.

Jul. 17th, 2009

Comfortable Sigh

There are just certain places where, as soon as you walk in, you feel like you are visiting family. Sanctuary is one of these places. LZ and I went there again last night for an impromptu happy hour that turned into dinner (as it usually does).  We like to sit at the bar and visit with the bartender who always has all the answers to all the questions and a fresh idea in his brain whenever you can’t decide what to drink. I had a Lemoncello / Sambuca / Soda / Cream something or other that I, surprisingly, loved. Then some fancy Vodka that I just tried to look up on the internet but couldn’t find. It had a number in the name, that is all I know (far left on the vodka shelf). Anyway, it was OK. It had a bit of that musty taste that I don’t care for, similar to Grey Goose, but with a bunch of limes and ice it was quite refreshing. We had the Tartlets which were a “cascade” of flavor – note there are 4 steps to the “cascade” process so make sure you ask the proper order to consume them in. We also had the Tartar. Had this before and it didn’t disappoint. Delicious. (except the sauce which LZ equated with Hispanic b.o.). LZ had the hen – she loved it. I had the tenderloin – I loved it. Then we got talked into trying the Absinthe. I didn’t care for it by itself (even with the sugar and water and even after it “manifested”) but when he added a little lemonade it was pretty darn good. Great service, good food, good conversation… what more can I say? Love this place.

www.sanctuaryminneapolis.com
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