1st- meritage, st. paul
6th- brit's pub, minneapolis
12th- toast wine bar and cafe, minneapolis
18th- best of the best party, minneapolis
19th- little szechuan, st. paul
21st- da afghan, bloomington
22nd- best of india, st. louis park
24th- twin cities food and wine experience, minneapolis
25th- dangerfield's, shakopee
29th- grizzly's grill n'saloon, apple valley
1st- meritage, st. paul (b)
interesting way the menu is divided. at the front end of the meal, you have the possibilities of amusements (amuse bouche), soups and/or salad, or 'introductions.' then you can move on to the main course, then there's the optional cheese cart service (i would like that to follow me, or at least be at every restaurant i eat at), then dessert.
admittedly, amuse bouche are usually not something you pay for, but here you can build your own appitizer plate of a bunch of different tastes if you wish. we decided to have a bite each of the mushroom ganache and the duck liver mousse. the ganache was interesting and probably used sweet cream in it. it would've been at home in a ravioli. the duck liver mousse was way tasty, and served on a potato chip. which amused me and my bouche. (ahem.)
and since i was there, you knew fries were going to come up at some point in the meal. i was debating if i wanted to see if i can get the half-chicken with them (compared with cafe levain, i guess). it's a typical bistro dish that anyone even with remote thoughts of being a bistro should have down cold, and everyone knows what's good, so it may've been a way to go on the first time out to a place, but i wasn't in a chicken mood.
anyway, the fries were good, almost enough salt for me (so it's right for everyone else), served with what's billed as bernaise, but tasted is more of a mayo or aioli bernaise hybrid, as it's thicker than a true bernaise. warm, served in a paper cone in a silver-colored cup. they could've used another minute or so in the fryer, though, as they were just a shade too limp for proper dipping.
since we were heading towards the cheese cart (!), we both decided to go with something of the introductions list rather than the main menu. i was thinking of going for the matzo ball soup, but wasn't quite sure if this was the place to get it (though mid-dinner a rousing version of 'hava nagila' came on... very odd). kind of odd for the french bistro-ish place.
so parisian style ricotta gnocchi for me (which i constantly mispronounce then apologize for... i should just pronounce it correctly, it would take less time...) with arugula walnut pesto and tomato concasse. the other choice at the table was a wild burgundy escargot with potato, carrot, and port-wine sauce with sage, served on toast. and once more i got the better dish (i ate with the same person i went to d'amico cucina with).
i wasn't a bit fan of the pesto, which was a bit bitter for me with the dish, or the concasse (even heirloom tomatoes are sad in winter), but the gnocchi were tender and crispy and light and wonderful, with a sprinking of tasty parmesan. the snails were also good, though i can't recall eating snails before (maybe one escargot a few years back) so i have not a lot to compare it to.
and the cheese cart. you get a choice of five cheeses, plus the cheese cart show (explanation of the cheeses... do i get points for asking a question fromage man didn't know the answer to right away?). we went for three of five. the brie de mieux was tasty, but too cold, the rogue river blue was nice with the sauternes we had with the cheese, and i completely forgot the other cheese because i can't remember things, except it was like a cheddar, but smoother (it was kind of shiny) and a bit grainier (if that makes sense) in a good way. we got some almonds and 5 whole dried cherries with it. some honey and balsamic would've been nice, as would toast.
but all we got is the same bread from the basket, and they just give it in one-slice intervals in most cases. the poor bread guy, he had to hit us every few minutes. seriously, leave a few slices, cut yourself a break. he did pretty well until the end of the meal (when the place was crowding up). though i am not sure why i ate so much of the bread, it was oddly not that great of a baguette. it needed to be warmer, and some of the slices tasted a shade stale. good butter, though. anyway, toast for the cheese plate would've been good. that was my point.
the bread boy also did most of the water duty, and water service was spot on. service in general is pretty good, but it's way apparent whom the hostess favors. and it's a bit loud- the server couldn't hear half of what i said. they were. however, authentically french. the place looks like it did when it was a rebours, only lighter. i'd be back if i wanted an upscale place in st. paul, but if i wanted french bistro, levain's closer and better (and you don't have to trek across an office building to get to the restroom).
6th- brit's pub, minneapolis (b-)
vincent's was crowded out by orchestra hall-ites, so we ate here before pub quiz. a round of apps for dinner. the artichoke dip still had too-big chunks of 'chokes, but was better than the last go-round though could've used a bit more bread. the wings are now in one big wing-piece instead of the drumette, and the other bit, and include the inedible part on the end, which makes them harder to eat. also, the sauce isn't quite as good.
the samosas were pretty decent (as good as it gets around here anyway), and the cod pieces were also pretty steady on. however, the soup order was mucked up. the server called it boston clam chowder. what came to the table first was the cock-a-leekie (go ahead and giggle, i know you want to). the second was a manhattan clam chowder, as it wasn't boston at all. the clams were chewy. and we had one of the better servers, so that's always a plus.
12th- toast wine bar and cafe, minneapolis (a)
as i was headed to a show at acme comedy co., and won't eat at their restaurant, this seemed a good alternative in walking distance. it was more crowded than i recall from last time, and service was a team effort, which is this case was a bit distracting, as two of the servers (i think one's the owner) were so much better than the one i ended up with for most of the meal (that one seemed like they didn't want to be there at all, let's just say). not that it impacted the experience much, but it was a bit of a 'suck the joy out of dinner' type of thing.
other than the not happy server, the food and wine were tasty. well, i started with a cava, which turned out to be a rose and not sweet enough for my girl-drink palate. when the server saw me make a face after trying it, they let me replace it with a different wine, so points there. i ended up with a slightly more spendy riesling.
pizza-wise, i got the goat cheese, spinach, artichoke heart,and black olive (and possibly something else i can't remember). it vaguely reminded me of one i used to get at luce that fell off their menu a while back, but was better. the crust was perfectly crisp, the toppings played nicely together. i think this may be my new favorite place to get a pizza. they have a nice selection plus as the owners are former auriga people and they always had tasty pizzas, hey... it makes sense. a plate-sized one makes a nice dinner.
that being said, the place is more affordable if you come with others. the by the glass prices seem mid-range, but there's deals in bottles of wine, and it's nicer to be able to sample more of the menu than one or two items. i wanted to try the french lentil soup, but knew that plus pizza would be too much, and i didn't want to leave pizza sit in the car for hours when i was at the show.
they got their act together a bit more now they've been open longer. but hey, hooks on the restroom door and/or a place to put your purse (a chair, even), and a paper towel dispenser in there too, please.
18th- best of the best party, minneapolis (c)
held at the walker art center, the 'best of the best' party is mpls.st.paul magazine's features food from supposedly 'premier' local with food, cocktails, wine, and music. as it's held at the walker art center, you also get art. it's a benefit for second harvest heartland, and you find out the results of the annual reader's poll of 'best' restaurants in the twin cities.
who was there? well, not many of the best restaurants in the twin cities. 20.21, sure, but i think besides a few arguably best (oceanaire, saffron, solera, masa), there's above average (mission, lurcat), and a bunch that are not the best at all, and i wondered why they were there (lord fletchers, herkimer, stella's, melting pot), and a few too new to know (r. norman's).
the food was generally average when you could get to it through the crush of people surrounding most places. a few highlights for me were the chili lime marshmallows at 20.21, the sweet potato and seafood chowder at oceanaire, and the homemade hoho at... well, i can't remember and/or couldn't see the sign but maybe someone out there can recall (they were near via and mission, over in the corner by the gift shop, if that helps... all that i can remember, plus they had very spicy spring rolls.... chambers?).
there was lots of tuna and salmon that were hardly distinguishable, lots of chicken salads, a few places with oysters, and some that did a bit more (conga latin bistro had four things that were unique to the event), and some that were half-assed (um, toast in tomatoes... well, bruschetta, but still..., i think that was r. normans). for me, there was a disappointing lack of cheese. and i think a lot of places were relying on sauces for flavor, maybe that works better with large crowds and several hours of serving. the best it was not.
there was wine and cocktails, but no place to get anything nonalcoholic, even water that we could see (maybe at the crush at the 20.21 bar?). interesting considering the open bar of the rest of the place. i ended up ordering a few pomegranite martinis sans the martini.
the traffic patterns were horrid, which dimished the event quite a lot, and the lack of seating also wasn't good. i think we got by a bit better than some others, as but my theory is at this sort of events is to start at the end and work your way to the front (against the crowd). it also helped that i have tons of concert-going experience and can part crowds well. so we started at the picture booth (y'all need to see those, quel amusant), and ended up at the front, along the way answering questions from other random party-goers because we look like we know what we're doing.
they had fake madonna, fake beatles, and fake elvis there, music-wise, plus a loop of other songs in the rest of the place... all of which were A BIT TOO LOUD so you couldn't hear the person next to you. it was nice to go through some of the galleries that were uncrowded and mostly quiet.
kinda sweet gift bags, though... for my $25 ticket (plus $7 event parking) i ended up with $40 in gift cards from three restaurants plus a few other lesser ones. not the best restaurants (ironic!), but still. and apparently i got a good bag, there were others with nothing like that in them. and of course, it helped a good cause. but i'm not sure if i'd go back unless the traffic flow is improved, and perhaps they get some better restaurants.
19th- little szechuan, st. paul (b)
i suspect i got the american treatment here... i may have been the only table with someone who did not appear to be chinese when i was there. my spicy (as denoted by a red pepper) general tao's (that's how it is on the menu) chicken was at most a bit more spicy than mild salsa. kind of disappointing, i could've used more heat on a day like today. but the chicken itself was tender (no chewy bits) and done properly and it tasted freshly made. a lot of places it tastes like it sat around a while.
i got the lunch special, where for $6.50 (a buck more for seafood) you get your entree (mine came with steamed broccoli) and rice- a lot of each, plus a soup (i think it was vegetable tofu), and an egg roll. reasonable, right? but the pop was $1.95. not reasonable. at least you got refills, and i made the most of mine.
you can order off the more interesting looking regular menu at lunch, there's a lot more options there (and a lot more offal). but prices are a lot higher off that one. at lunch, the fish-scented chicken (something like that) looked interesting, but i like to go a bit more towards something i've had on the first time out at a place, so there's some context.
service was quick, the soup and egg roll hit the table in minutes, and i wasn't even done before the rest of the food came out. plus on refills, they remembered i didn't want ice in the beverage. the room is large, and kind of bare, with red walls and a few large photos here on there of things like veg. odd there's no condiments on the table, not even soy sauce. they had the tyra banks show on the tv in the corner, that was odd. above average, maybe with a dinner go with some others to test the menu more
21st- da afghan, bloomington (d+)
we go in. we wait. we wait more. as we can't see any staff after 5 minutes, we go a bit further into the dining area. no staff. we wait a few more minutes before poking our heads in the back area to locate people... and still have to wait for someone to come out. i am then told that the discount i have is not good on the buffet, even though it says that no place in the program's web site or other materials. i am also told i shouldn't use it on lunch, using it dinner would save me money... very presumptuous... thinking i'd be back even before i had the food. so yeah, service left a hell of a lot to be desired. ironic, as their web site sports 'home of hospitality' on it.
we decided to go for the buffet anyway. i like to sample lots of things from a place if i can. but even at the buffet i couldn't. they had tired salad (they made three homemade dressings for it, but i still wouldn't go near it), pretty decent bread, one spoonful of a veg dish, dal that had been sitting so long it was crusty around the corners (the stuff in the middle was ok), white rice with tomato sauce, brown rice with raisins, nuts, carrots, and a few dry bony chicken bits (ok except for the chicken bits), tandoori chicken legs (probably the best thing there, but nothing compared to any indian place), and the least visually appealing dish i've seen in a long time, kofta shaped in... well, brown, lumpy sausages. those i avoided.
it's like once it's past noon (we were there after 1 pm), there's no reason for staff to attend to the buffet because most people have eaten. a few things were coldish, and as mentioned, at least one thing was pretty much done for. and it's $8.95 for that. so no. i won't be back to use my card for lunch or dinner. the food wasn't impressive at all. you can get a better selection, lower prices, and better if not the same food at any indian restaurant in town, pretty much and if that services passes as hospitality, that's a bad sign.
22nd- best of india, st. louis park (b+)
wow, completely different from yesterday. great food, lots of choices that are replenished, no one working there arguing with you about things, crowded.
not surprisingly, i ended up with lots of the palak paneer, one of my favorite indian dishes. it's one of the top versions i've had. but they also had a much better tandoori chicken than yesterday (plus all sorts of chicken parts), two kinds of rice (better than yesterday's, too), an addictive onion pakora, a nice vegetable pakora, and quite decent renditions chicken curry, chicken with mushrooms, and a dal dish the name of which escapes me.
there were a few disappointing dishes, like the naan could've been a bit hotter, but they had regular and garlic versions which were both solid, plus something i've not seen on an indian buffet before, crisp and tasty papadums. condiment-wise there was an interesting raita with shreds of carrot and something else that i couldn't identify (corn? tiny onions? peas?) that made the texture different from what i've had before. the tamarind chutney was spicy hot and the mango pickle flavorful.
mango pudding, well, i should just learn to avoid that. it never tastes enough like mango for me, and that fruit cocktail that everyone puts in it just creeps me out. though this one was better than most. the kheer was thinner than i like, plus a bit watery. though hey, i'm not sure if what i like is the americanized version and this is the original. since this place is more authentic in their buffet than most places are (for instance, besides the papadums, there was goat curry, which i've not seen anywhere on indian buffets before).
the place was more filled than it was when restaurant club went to dinner here. when i got there soon after they opened, there were a few solo diners like myself. when i left there was a big table of people either from india or of indian descent (about a dozen), a few solo diners, and most tables were filled with groups of 2-4. the decor is still pretty sparse, which is fine. the music was some sort of indian almost techo mix, which i quite liked.
service was good both on the front end (water glasses filled, plates taken away quickly when you're finished with them, but only after asking) and the back end (getting the buffet refilled when things were running low). and it was only $7.95. compared with yesterday's experience, it seems a bargain price.
24th- twin cities food and wine experience, minneapolis (b)
i figured since i did the best of the best show thing, may as well do this. seems somehow fair, though the two things the events seem to have in common: sue zelickson, and lots of people drinking lots of wine. this one had a better flow, but they have the advantage of being at the convention center with orderly aisles rather than a multilevel party in an art museum. and i liked the food a lot better.
why? well, quite a lot of it was cheese. lots and lots of cheese, and many of them very tasty, like the local amablu (love it), which was at two different booths, which made for generous sampling (and i loved how at the end of the show you started getting quite huge chunks of it). the surdyk's booth had a miniclass on wine and cheese pairing. i figured, why not, and ended up with even better stuff than what they had out (humboldt fog chevre, for one). i think i actually had, quite possibly the first time ever, enough cheese for me. if not more than enough. there was that much cheese. there was nothing particularly new there, but it was all good.
though hey, stop with those wafer crackers that break, those help no one. get something sturdier. those are only good for palate cleansing.
queen of the girl drinks that i am (and unlike probably most everyone else at the show) i had no wine or beer. i can tell you that the lemon drop mike's is decent, but no more than regular hard lemonade, and avoid their fake margarita at all costs. also, tea source makes their chai not to my taste quite but it's still good in a peppery way. legacy chocolate's drinking chocolate kicks major ass over any other kind of chocolate beverage. airforce nutrisoda can be good (the kind i had reminded me of the raspberry blackberry sparkling water from market pantry, which i quite like) despite the stupid name and high price. i did like you get lots of free water, though it's amusing that the pelligrino people wanted your wine glass to pour it in. quel pretentious. i did manage not to laugh at them directly.
for the other food, let's see... i was kind of disappointed that bon ami didn't have their wheel of bread this year (answer a question, get a free baguette), holy land had a nice spread, but nothing i hadn't had before. i enjoyed midori's floating world cafe's offerings the most in the non-cheese area (soba, sushi, and here's something i wouldn't have guessed, they had tasty seaweed... my favorite new thing i had at the show), major props to the lake street business association for sheer variety and tastiness. too bad i missed town talk diner's samples, those looked like they'd be killer.
i liked the emphasis on minnesota foods, that area had the hope creamery butter (yum), cedar summit farm ice cream and cheese (ditto), the aforementioned amablu from faribault dairy, minnesota wines, and more.
the simon delivers area had some interesting samples, including izzy's ice cream. the tco array of samples was kind of disappointing (not surprising given what's left of their participants), and many upscale local places were also not at their best (let's just say there was some discreet ditching of samples throughout the tasting).
there was more shrimp and crab in general than last year (including an shrimp ice castle, which was a bit on the disturbing side), plus more grilling. there was also an area set aside to sell spendy cars. um... ok? the haul of handouts was not as good as last year's. i got the wine glass, a grapefruit (for all my grapefruit needs), a small surdyk's cheese knife (from the miniclass), lots of chocolate, a packet of kettle corn, and coupons and handouts. plus an orange thing that may possibly be a juicer. or not.
25th- dangerfield's, shakopee (b-)
after having worked in the area for almost 5 years (is that a record for me?), i hadn't been to what is arguably the city's nicest restaurant (think jax, not vincent), though i had been to the company's panzanella and fajita republic offshoots with varying success.
i ended up with the buffalo chicken salad, thinking i should probably eat some green stuff after yesterday's cheesefest, and also wanted buffalo chicken wings (or probably just the blue cheese dressing). the flavors were ok (chicken breast in buffalo sauce, romaine, blue cheese dressing, chopped tomato that should've been left out as they were sad, black olives, blue cheese crumbles, and red onion), but the chicken chunks were too big and hard to cut.
it was also a problem in the oriental chicken salad (teriyaki chicken breast on romaine with peapods, red pepper, jicama, mandarin orange, fried won tons, and roasted cashews with a sweet and sour dressing on the side). odd- though the chicken bits were too large, they took the time (and odd effort) to cut pea pods in half on the oriental chicken salad the long way.
the chicken got a bit cold while waiting for the tasty popovers to be baked. the popovers are served with a nice honey butter and were the best thing in the meal. but they made it take over 20 minutes for two salads to hit the table, that seemed rather long.
service was good, but there was some sort of cleaning frenzy happening, so over the light jazz soundtrack we heard vaccuming and scrubbing. i think we were the youngest people in there by decades (see: previous jax reference). it is on the spendy side of things in town, but i had a discount card so that made the prices as reasonable as panzanellas. apparently now is a good time to go, the place is packed on a lot of nice summer evenings (it overlooks water).
29th- grizzly's grill n'saloon, apple valley (c)
why here? it's the only place that the mpr memberconnect card had for a discount in apple valley... bloody strange indeed, yett true.
grizzly's? it's some sort of northwoods theme. i didn't know it was a chain until too late, they're apparently located in tinier cities, not in metropolitan areas usually.
if i go somewhere expecting it to be an average (c-level) experience, and it is, should i give it an a for living up to that? i don't think so either.
what was weird? it had the food that didn't taste like food (mostly texture, not a lot of flavor).
what'd i order? sample appitizer platter (4 buffalo chicken wings, blue cheese dressing, 2 sticks of celery, half a chicken quesedilla, salsa, 4 onion rings, seasoned sour cream, 4 mozzarella sticks, marinara, garlic chese bread- all the food products were crunch, but not salty or flavorful, the red and white dips were indistinguishable from one another in flavor also, red taste red, white tasted white no matter what they were, very odd).
why? pms... salty crunchy fried things with cheese sounded really good. i was wrong, the food was about a d grade, as it wasn't inedible, per se.
and the other person ordered what? the all you can eat fish fry, also crunchy, with garlic bread, which was buttery and squishy and a bit toasty, but also not flavorful. she said her tequila lime chili was good.
service? above average, about a b, thus the final grade.
final analysis? i like my food to taste like food, so i'd not eat here again.
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