3th- heartland, st. paul
4th- whitney bistro, bloomington
5th- mickey's diner, st. paul
11th- sonic, savage
16th- vincent a restaurant, minneapolis
24th- barrio tequila bar, minneapolis
26th- cici's pizza, eagan
28th- rudolphs, minneapolis
3th- heartland, st. paul (a)
the fauna prix fixe menu (a cherry of a menu?) of the evening ($40), had by one of the members in my party:
- free range chicken-tart cherry sausage with lamb bacon polenta, bell pepper-sweet corn relish
and fried pheasant egg
- herb-crusted money creek ranch wild boar roast with organic broccoli, roasted shallots
and cherry-ginger sauce
- smoked michigan cherry-chocolate gateau with sambuca-green peppercorn ice cream, cranberry conserve
and passion fruit sauce
verdict- pretty much all excellent, per usual, with the balance of flavor and attention to detail (plating, quality, seasonality, etc), that is heartland. besides a bit of cherry-ginger sauce, i had a bit of this dessert. the gateau was a bit dense. you had to get a bit of everything else on the spoon to balanace it all out, but when you did, you understood.
the flora prix fixe menu (sgt. pepper) of the evening ($30), that i and the other member of the party had:
- we replaced the listed first course on the menu is with house-cured lake trout gravlax with a crème fraîche mousse filled zucchini blossom and pickled pepper-sweet corn salad for a $2 charge. (it was a bit cold that day for minnesota cucumber-sweet pepper gazpacho with opal basil crème fraîche and snapdragons)
- rose potato-kohlrabi gratin with sunrise farm prairie spy apples, mascarpone cheese-fennel cream, wilted frisée
and purple sweet pepper vinaigrette
- minnesota sweet corn-fresh mint panna cotta with an ancho pepper-spiced chocolate-pumpkinseed macaroon, chestnut honey tuile and black currant curd
the verdict: due to some allergy issues, i think my taste buds were a bit off. for one. let's just say i was the only person who was into the black pepper (pumpernickel? rye?) rolls that were a bit too aggressive for everyone else (the semolina were also good). the gravlax was probably the best smoked whitefish i've had the sides made the dish more interesting (as opposed to the lox-style method i usually use with smoked whitefish- on a bagel with cream cheese and a bit of onion).
in the gratin, the apples were a bit subtle for my allergy-overwhelmed tastebuds. the bits underneath felt like they had a sauerkraut texture to me, not in a bad way, but in a way that made the dish feel quite german (the other person didn't think so). the cheese-fennel cream was very subtle, too. it was good to try it once, but i don't think i'd get something like that here the panna cotta had a lot going on, as you can tell from the menu description, but it was all good. i even ate one of the macaroons, and i usually hate that sort of cookie.
even packed with republicans, service was excellent (i'm glad they found the place even if the strib left them off the list of recommended places to try during the convention... heartland deserves the businesses more so than the vast majority of places in st. paul. or minneapolis....). they were adaptable, too (we were running a bit late because the daily show taping got out later than we thought, and they held our table).
4th- whitney bistro, bloomington (c)
i ordered wrong under pressure.
someone else got the grilled salmon that i liked with fingerling potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and olives in a balsamic white wine sauce ($18.95). still wonderful. another person got a dish i was looking at, in a similar style, the mediterranean grilled chicken pasta with penne, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, and spinach in a garlic white wine sauce ($12.95). both of those were really quite good, as was the french dip, prime rib and provolone pon a hoagie with au just ($11.95) with fries.
i guessed i panicked when it was my turn, or was distracted. or didn't really find anything else i wanted. something. though i knew i wanted a sandwich, with fries (i knew these were just ok, but i was craving fries).
so i got the smoked turkey and avocado club with mayo, lettuce and tomato on multigrain toast ($9.95). i left off the bacon, but put on the excess provolone from the from the french dip, which it sorely needed. it was a bit blah, and the turkey tasted too processed. not my favorite style. i generally don't favor lunch meat. it was ok, not great. an average meal.
i won't make that mistake again. at least here.
mrs. brk spooked the original server (not me) somehow, so we were switched halfway through. service was still decent (ok with water refills and the like. still don't like the open bowls of salt and pepper instead of shakers. we sat in the atrium, as it was cloudy and not at all blinding like it can be during sunny times. though they have shades in there, who knew? it's very nice in there, all marble and chandeliers. and for what it has been usually (almost empty), it seemed packed with about a third of the tables filled in there.
5th- mickey's diner, st. paul (a)
went here post-daily show (as opposed to wednesday's post-daily show dinner at heartland... fewer republicans here, but then again the convention was officially over). it's the only place in the twin cities metro area i can get breakfast (24/7/365) without brk attacks, so i got brinner (breakfast for dinner, for all of y'all that don't watch scrubs.)
since a full stack of pancakes and eggs were cheaper, if i recall, then just getting pancakes (i think the pancakes and eggs were $6.33 and the pancakes were $6.50, but i forget things, so it could be the other way around, or completely different. cope.) i got those. and they were very good indeed. they almost wiped the memory of the previous horrid pancake experience i had the last time i ordered pancakes. of course, the hash browns ($2.50) kicked the other hash browns hinders.
11th- sonic, savage (b-)
since they hype has died down, and it was gray and rainy (thus bound to be less crowded) i finally hit the sonic drive-in. there was no police or security presence that i saw, other than a security guy eating lunch, but i wasn't sure if he worked there or not.
anyway. i haven't been to a drive-in in many many eons. from what i recall, you got a tray on your window with the food. here, not so much. you do get skating, maybe (mine was skated out, most were walked, probably due to the weather), which isn't what happened before (at least in the 80s in a&w in hinkley, as my bad memory recalls). no tray, though. just a bag of food. like your average drive-though. and there is a drive-though option.
i pressed the button, and waited. and waited some more. and pressed the button again, just in case. and waited. that seemed to take a bit too long, unlike drive throughs where you get the 'we'll be with you in a moment.' the speaker was fuzzy and the service was a bit brusque. they didn't ask if i wanted fries or tots or what have you as the option for a side, i thought there was a choice.
since i was in the mood for fried things, i got the popcorn chicken combo. you get a good amount of chicken in it, and it was pretty good. it tasted like chicken, it wasn't greasy. not the best thing i've eaten, not the worse. odd, i ordered bbq sauce, and they gave me ranch. since i opened the bag after the person skated off. i coped.
the diet cherry limeaid was actually quite good, and it's nice to have some other diet beverage options than the usual diet coke or water. it could've used a bit more lime flavor- there were some slices in the bottom and if they had squeezed them into it, it would've been perfect. the fries were sad. the less said about them the better. ($6.41 with a $.10 upgrade for perhaps the non-fountain beverage).
it did take a while for the food to get out, too, besides taking a while to order. i think maybe the drive through is faster. you just end up eating in your car, anyway, without a tray or anything. which always makes ketsup for the fries an interseting proposition (i dumped mine in one of the two ranch sauce packets).
it was worth one stop, not a place i'd rush back to. a drive though from drinks when it's 'happy hour' maybe.... it's better than a lot of in that it did taste like food, at least. but it's not worth waiting for.
16th- vincent a restaurant, minneapolis (a-*)
time to use the pub quiz winnings of the gift card. and though mrs. brk would've liked the burger, she can't do the cheese. quel dommage. we decided to get a few different things on the table: the chicken a la plancha ("seared chicken "morsels" marinated in coconut milk and served with macadamia nuts, a fish tempura with a basil-ginger sauce (both $4 for happy hour pricing), fries (yeah, you're surprised at that) ($3.50 happy hour pricing), and after a disasterous outing, i went back to the sweet corn veloute ($8 for the bowl).
and the soup was back on form. maybe the best non-truffled version i've had, all sweet and delicate and creamy. and summery. and i used the requested bread to mop it up. the fries were great, per usual, the chicken also good (hard to eat macadamia nuts with forks, that's for sure), and the tempura today was a very tasty salmon (they switch the fish up) and the sauce was good on everythying.
mrs. brk opted for the 'napoleon' for dessert ($8), with strawberries and lemon sabayon. i ate the white chocolate ice cream with it, which i found fine. the napoleon was an interesting interpretation, with a crackery sweet bread standing in for puff pastry (it's not on the online menu, so i can't be too specific, alas.), and i liked it wasn't sweet. the lemon was the standout flavor in it.
service was much better than i've had in a while. good water refills, nice timing on removing plates and bringing things. quite decent.
(*= the weird thing. i didn't think it should hurt the grade any, but yet feel compelled to mention it.
after dinner, mrs. brk was in the restroom, and a server passed by- not ours. i was pretty sure he insulted me. in french. i had been wondering what they were muttering to themselves when the passed by earlier. now i wish i didn't know.
i decided to speak to the manager... mentioning something along the lines of... it's not good that servers are saying things that sound like they could be insulting to the customers. even if it is in french. the manager said it would never happen there. and seemed surprised i could comprehend french- the manager was french, too, btw. they did apologize.
but there's no way that the whole thing wasn't awkward. i felt like i should say something about it. so i did. maybe i shouldn't of. so. my choices are to go back to a place that had a waiter that insulted me, or on offchance that they didn't insult me, go to a place where i likely was mocked at some point by the servers and i'd be remembered as 'that' customer.
hey, at least i went out on a good dinner.
anyway, any suggestions on how to handle this dilemma? go? not go? pretend it didn't happen? wear a wig?)
barrio tequila bar, minneapolis, c-
this place combines the things i dislike about masa with the disappointment i frequently feel in thoma/mckee ventures (go to the bitedex and solefood and track down la belle vie and solera if you feel like it but long story shorter, they have the capability of having better food and service and places, as witnessed by the original la belle vie and special events at solera, but frequently one or both don't happen).
so service on the crap side, with food that's uneven and can be overpriced, but sometimes manages to shine. and toss in a place that's VERY LOUD INDEED, well....
but i had to go after everyone i know who'd eaten there urged me to get their corn soup, knowing my affections for vincent's sweet corn veloute (scroll up to start) when they do it right. the one here is a fresh corn chowder with roasted poblano peppers and queso fresco ($7.50). and quite rewarding it was. not *quite* as good as vincent's, but still a solid contender. some bread to wipe it up would've been nice (like it would be nice at solera).
so. that was the good part. the soup.
when i got there before 6 pm by several minutes, the server didn't hit the table until it was too late for me to get the happy hour specials. i had seen him pass by the table many many times, too. yes, you're busy, but i sat there way too long before they stopped by.
when we ordered, we asked for made to order guacamole with 'fresh' torilla chips to start, then we each ordered a soup and a taco or enchilada. we were told the guac would be out first, then the other things in whatever order. nope.
the rest of the food was a mixed bag. the fried mahi-mahi on the taco ($4 for one small one) was tasty, but the citrus-cucumber pico de gallo didn't have much zing to it. the chicken enchilada as pastor ($4 for one small one) with salsa verde, crema, and radish bits was just kind of ok. i expected more flavor from it.
the guacamole with 'fresh' chips ($7.50) that arrived as our dessert was... well, served in an impressive bowl. the masa guacamole is better. this one lacked salt and... zing. lack of lime, maybe? the masa chips are better, too... ours were cold, and underdone. for something that was supposed to be fresh, well, i don't think so. and when does it take upwards of half an hour to squish some avocados? bad and wrong. plus we were told the chips may have sat around for a while, too. they don't fry up yours for you. so um... not fresh. maybe the fresh refers only to the guacamole.
as for the service, it was one of those places where minutes tick by when my empty water glass was on the far edge of a four-top with two people on the bit near the wall (more than five). and i count how many people walk by with water pitchers (way too many, coming as close at the table next to ours). so way sucky water service, plus a dour server who didn't want to be there (shades of corner table), and couldn't answer many menu questions that were not that complicated.
the decor, upstairs in the restaurant, is very red-walled, with framed pics of che guevara and suchlike in heavy gilt frames. downstairs it's more kitchy, including a very melty-waxy candelabra thing, videos of mexican movies, and such. and did i mention it's LOUD? even outside, it was loud.
and i wouldn't recommend going to the bathroom when here. unless you get the handicapped stall. way too freakin' small... the door and the toilet almost meet, so where do you stand when you shut and open the door? no good place. and the soap dispensers already need fixing.
my friend, who also had the cobra verde ($9) margarita (with tequila, absinthe, and other things i forget) like the place better than i did, they'd rate it a b-. the more they thought about it, the more they liked it. but hey, this isn't sole, so i get to choose the grade. ha. and they would go back.
me, the more i thought about it, the less i liked it. the food was generally unsatisfying (other than the soup), they have no happy hour food specials that i know of and tiny tacos and enchiladas for $4 a shot seem spendy, the service was just plain bad. i can get that sort of experience in many places. for less money. where i can hear the people i am with (hi, i'm old!). i'm not rushing back anytime soon.
26th- cici's pizza, eagan (b)
unlike many places i go to, i was surprised it didn't suck (mostly i'm surprised when it does suck). i've kind of been wanting to see this concept since i've been seeing ads for it for years, but never was really near one until they hit minnesota. well, i'm not *near*one now, but i was in the hood, so...
for $5.49 (used to be $4.99) you get all you can eat soup, salad, pasta, pizza and dessert. i skipped the soup (chicken noodle soup on an 80+ degree day, not so much), the pasta (corkscrews in marinara, not so interesting), and i didn't skip the salad. (i had one of the two on offer, a 'classic italian' that was rather boring. odd, on their web site they do say say they have salad bars and imply that the pasta is also done that way, but the pasta i saw was dressed, and only marinara sauce was on offer. the garlic breadsticks were boring, too.
pizzawise everything was ok enough to 'need more *now*.' oddly, most of them seemed to have white sauce, so i got a bowl of the marinara, which made it taste better. i had, in order least to most favorite: alfredo (nothing exciting), classic chicken (not so much chicken), spinach alfredo (somehow adding spinach gave it a bit more oomph), buffalo chicken (this one was nice and spicy and had a bit more cheese), and the one i couldn't stop eating, no surprise... the macaroni and cheese. yes, take pizza, add more cheese and more starch, and why would i not be all over it?
the pizza is better when the bring it out right away, but they do have heat lamps and it stays decently under them. if you go during the busier times they replace the pizzas quite quickly. i just beat the lunch rush, so was able to get mostly fresh stuff. there were some i see on the menu that never made an appearance (zesty veggie, pepperoni japaleno, deep dish, bbq) but there was a decent array.
they had three types of desserts. an apple 'pizza' with weird hard bits on top, an ok brownie, and some cinnamon rolls that were the most decent of the lot.
my beverage of choice was water, which is usually free, but does cost $.10. they have a rather long note near the cash register as to why it does (eagan water is hard, they filter, etc., and so on). the plates are cleared at a decent clip, pizzas and other items are put forth on the buffet with the cry (of varying loudness) of something like 'fresh hot (whatever) pizza on the buffet.' staff is friendly and earnest. mostly 80's tunes come from the speakers, cnn was on the tv. the decor is very basic, but very clean. the place was quite full of office workers.
probably the best pizza buffet i've been to, but i only recall godfather's (c) and broadway (c+). the stuff's better than some delivery places (domino's, pizza hut), and it's a lot cheaper. no, not the best pizza in the world, but for a $6 lunch, hey... it works quite well.
28th- rudolphs, minneapolis (b)
been a while since i've been here, and last time i was here i thought the key to a better experience was bbq, but quite frankly it could be... just not being me (what with the brk). because i had the half bbq chicken meal, which was decent, but mrs. brk's rib tips meal was just... better.
for starters, she had the slaw, which was tasty. i had the garden salad, which was not so exciting. lettuce, one tomato wedge (not quite sad), a few wee slices of cucumber, a few red onion rings, and 8 croutons. good blue cheese dressing, though. that counts for... something.
for sides, i went with the not quite cooked enough baked potato (just a shade underdone, so it was hard to mash up with the stuff). not so thrilling. mrs. brk's fries were crispy, warm, and salty. so i ate some of her fries instead. she did offer, though.
as for the main course, as mentioned, there were a lot of rib tips on her plate (one and a quarter pounds, per the menu). perfectly done. she took half home. the bbq half-chicken was all white meat (i prefer a quarter of the white and a quarter of the dark, i may be in the minority here... i wonder if the dark meat goes into the pulled chicken sandwiches), a bit overdone on the outside, and was not so big of a chicken.
the slice of toast with each meal was about the same. that must count for something?
so for $15 per meal, hers was quite a bit tastier and larger than mine. but i will cope. (and hey, we had a buy one get one, plus we got open table points, and tco points... so....). so if you do come here for bbq, make it ribs, won't you?
service was quite good for both of us. the salad and slaw hit the table maybe three minutes after we ordered, and the food came as we were finishing (which means pretty much it was done before we got there). a good clip on the water refill, too. a manager stopped by the table to see how things were, too. the warm, large towlettes at the end of the meal are also very nice.
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