1st- pizza luce, minneapolis
5th- umbria, shakopee
11th- joe's garage, minneapolis
21st- malt shop, minneapolis
24th- highland grill, st. paul
1st- pizza luce, minneapolis (d+)
i got in the door and stood by 'wait here to be seated' sign for a few minutes. a person standing to the side of the podium stared at me. i made eye contact. after a while, they asked... if i was waiting to be seated. um. yes, thus my standing by the 'please wait to be seated sign.'
it turns out they were the person who was supposed to seat me (why they were not behind the podium i know not).
so perhaps i should've been a nonconformist and sat myself. because in the process of being seated we had a slight disagreement as to the availability of being seated not at a high table near the front. since i saw a shorter table with no one at it and nothing on it in the back of the room, i said there was an open space there.
the person claimed there was no space in the back. they had just seated people there.
i had to convinced them to go back and take another look... and yes, it turns out that was indeed empty. as was another location back there.
so um.... wtf was all that about?
so that started the whole thing on an off note. and speaking of... the music was also off for me. .38 special isn't hip and/or ironic. and it doesn't suit the place. that was the worst of it, at least it was only one song. the rest was... not quite as bad.
our service was off, too. after bringing water and a pitcher, the server disappeared for so long a while a search party was sent to find them so we could order.
and the food, well, i should've gotten the usual.
i had a coupon for a free appetizer when you order $20 worth of stuff. we went with the appetizer sampler (listed price $10.99). it's smaller portions of four dips plus two focaccia loaves.
the artichoke dip was about a million times better than brit's last go around (which was truly dreadful), the fresh tomato bruschetta was indeed fresh, but not prime. it had a nice basil flavor but the tomatoes, were more of a texture. the sundried tomato tapenade was a standout that had the right mix of tomato, olive and spice in it. the red sauce they serve on the pizza i would not have missed had it been left off, it seemed a space-filler. the eating of the dish would've been easier to manage if the focaccia had been sliced all the way through (bread wrestling is not my favorite sport). all in all, not bad.
instead of getting the athena pizza, which i know is good, i was talked into ordering 'something different.' in this case, it was probably my third choice after the athena (my first two choices were shot down), a spanish chicken pizza ("marinated chicken breast with red onions, toasted garlic, mushrooms, mozzarella and smoked gouda cheese on red sauce" $15.09 for a medium as listed on an online menu, i think it runs a bit higher on the actual menu, closer to $16). not sure what made it 'spanish' and forgot to ask.
it was kinda sorta ok but underwhelming. the dominant flavor was bad breath (onion, followed by garlic). the chicken bits were small and didn't have much flavor, mushrooms were just there- they didn't really bring anything to the party if i may steal an alton phrase there. the smokiness of the gouda was subtle in the red onion and garlic onslaught. the only thing that stood up against it was the red sauce. which was on the sweet side for me. ok maybe for dipping (or not), but not my favorite on a pizza. they do the crust right, though. it doesn't collapse, the crust is just crisp enough.
the pizza was edible, just not thrilling. the app had its highs and lows, but the service was from another planet, somewhere between bizarre and absent. a disappointing luce experience... there's lots of places i (and i do mean i as in the solo sense... see also: bad restaurant karma) can go to get ok pizza and bad service. i'd like this to be not be one of those, please.
5th- umbria, shakopee (b)
either i have no imagination or i just wanted something better, but i ended up at pizza again. and since they list about 12 different catch phrases after their main name, i thought i'd just go with what was listed first. after a last-minute lunch cancellation, i was given the opportunity to get to someplace that isn't within usual reach for lunch or dinner. i've been wanting to try their pizza, so i ended up there at their lunch buffet ($8 or so with tax, beverage not included... most small pizzas in the gourmet area are about $14 for a small, though cheese plus one topping looks to be about $8 for a small... for what little damage i was able to do maybe i should've gone for a small, then i could've had breakfast, too... but a very reasonable buffet price).
they have salads (skipped) and pasta at the buffet. i tried the chicken fettucini (not a lot of chicken) with both the alfredo (average) and the red sauce (sweet, which is not my favorite, but it had an interesting texture with the stuff in it). i'd skip both, unless you want some sauce for dipping stuff in. or like plain pasta. but the garlic bread was way lovely and nice if you, like i, enjoy the squishy kind.
as for the pizza, i would've liked to see at least one non-red meat one on the buffet- they had pepperoni, sausage, and for their 'gourmet' selection today they put out the "sicilian classic" ("pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, red onions, sliced roma tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese"). i got the sausage one and removed the meat. but hey- the crust was crisp on the edge and bottom even, and tasty, the cheese covered nicely without having too much or too little, and the sauce, if it was the same as the pasta, was not sweet.
from what i can recall, this is the best tasting pizza i had at a buffet. places may have had better selection and decent pizza, but this is better pizza, maybe an a- (even with having to take the stuff off the slices). the grade reflects the sad pasta and the lack of selection. though i will also give them points for not having the buffet out so people can sneeze on it- though if you eat tons, you have to go back a lot... i don't think the people there care, but you may.
the place was decorated a la noodles and co. (but brown instead of red) with a italian bent, and the music was interesting- sounding like everything from dance to classic italian. the tvs were on a soap opera, which to me is a nice change from news channels... i'd go back, but maybe i would check to see what the gourmet one was first. and be hungrier.
11th- joe's garage, minneapolis (d+)
i can see why it's been almost four years since i've been here. it doesn't really stand out in the crush of restaurants in and near that area, except maybe for the patio upstairs. this time it was less loud, though. and different things were disappointing. and this time they kind of didn't serve any bread, so the $1 for more bread isn't in play.
my option was for the southwestern veggie ("a black bean, corn, and falafel burger with asiago, avocado, and pico de gallo served in sun-dried tomato tortilla and comes with a side of ranch, "$11). it tasted like mostly a giant falafel patty and some lettuce in a flour tortilla. the rest of the flavors didn't come through at all. i didn't taste any black bean, corn, cheese or pico de gallo, and there was around a quarter of avocado floating in the tortilla. the falafel gave it a bit more of a hockey puck hardness to the outside of the thing, making it a bit hard to eat. i guess i was expecting something more burger-like and less falafel-like. southwestern? not so much. it wasn't a horrible thing to eat, just not really what i wanted.
however, the fries were better than last go around. a solid effort, with no hard, crisp ones, just nice, potato-flavored, soft to mid-range ones. warm, too. they were very tasty dipped into the cremini mushroom cream sauce i pilfered from mom's plate. she had the wild rice meatloaf with their roasted garlic mashed potatoes that comes with steamed broccoli ($15, $14 listed on the online menu). she was very enthused about the meatloaf. the roasted garlic mashed needed more salt, but were fine. the broccoli were steamed perfectly but seemed to be naked (no seasoning, butter, olive oil or anything seemed to be in their neighborhood). it needed the mushroom sauce.
i had gotten a $25 gift certificate (off $35 worth of food) for about $2 or so to use here. and since with the above we hadn't hit $35 yet, i got some of the red thai curry risotto ("potatoes, shiitakes and peas tossed in a red thai coconut curry and topped with crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and cilantro" $12, $11 listed on the online menu) to take home. i had a bite, and it was nicely hot, but lacked the nuts and seeds. and weirdly, they threw in some slices of bread with it, which is nothing but confusing. mom didn't get bread with a dinner entree, but with the double-starched (potatoes, rice) risotto, they throw in more starch? why? anyway, i may be more specific about the food in a few days when it's consumed.
well, that was disappointing also, so much so that i'll lower the grade now that i've had it (a few days later). it was basically rice with a few too-chewy mushrooms, a few tiny bits of almost raw potatoes (even after a reheat in the microwave) and some peas. nil on the peanuts, one spring of cilantro, and a scant amount of sesame seeds. boo, hiss. it just tasted... a bit spicy and somewhat creamy, but not flavorful or complex as a curry should be.
(back to the original review)
service was a low point. no water refills, no place to refill water that i could see, and there was no mid-meal stop to see how things were. and yes, the server was in the room several times while we eating and just never looked our way. so the water in the 'help i'm dying of thirst here' position did nothing. they also ignored the check to pick up for a strangely long time (and they were in the room at least twice). they also chose to seat people in an very cold area of the building instead of a warmer one, which seemed very odd to me. i had on my gloves when we were waiting for the food, and several people kept their jackets on.
at the end of it, we agreed that it's not a place we would specifically head to on our own again. we wouldn't go out of our way to avoid it (the way i do most of the places where i find stuff in my food, for instance) if other wanted to go. the food was maybe a tiny bit above average as a whole, the service a bit more below. probably worth the total with the gift certificate price for the 4 meals (mom had leftovers) we got it for.
21st- malt shop, minneapolis (c)
i wanted a grilled rachel and onion rings. they had them. ($7.99 + $1 upcharge for the o-rings as listed on their online menu). and now that i'm done there, i want *good* onion rings. these were not. their fries were also not good- mom got them with the walleye sandwich ($7.99 on the online menu, i think it's a bit higher in real life right now).
both of them didn't taste right, like they were unthawed before serving (aka not real) or maybe not thawed enough. the onion rings had a weird coating on them, too. there were only maybe half a dozen small to midsize rings, which seemed odd for an upcharge. there were about 2-3 times more fries with that. they were also underseasoned.
at the sandwiches were ok, with the walleye tasting a bit better (more mayo, perhaps, from the tartar sauce, plus more fried). the rachel had real turkey (vs. the weird processed kind), but needed another minute or two on each side to be done and the thousand island was lacking.
i believe the highest praise food item got was that it was hot (they got out of the kitchen quick also). that gives you some idea of what it is here. it's not horrible, but it's just not that good. maybe we should've just had malts, it is the titular food. anyway, we had a dining card for up to $7 off two meals, but you have to get to beverages. they do get points for having diet sprite (a rarity), but since each one was $2, that's $3. barely worth it.
service was decent and cheerful (and yes, good on the refills). the large maroon and wood room was a nice place to be in on a rainy dark evening, kind of homey with the family pictures on the wall. it was about three-quarters full of local families when we got there, but when we left (before 7) it was almost empty.
24th- highland grill, st. paul (d)
i'd actually give it a lower grade had others not liked their food. we got takeout for four. called in about half an hour before we came in, saying we would be there in half an hour. the only thing that would explain the way my food turned out (and the temperature of all the food) is that they made it as soon as we called, and it sat out on the counter until we picked it up.
my meal bore the brunt of that wait plus the extra wait after i got there at the doorway for a bit too long waiting for someone, anyone to ask where i picked up the food.
i got the harvest chicken salad, which i thought would be fine for at least the drive from there to where we were eating ("all white roasted chicken blended with sweet corn, wild rice, dried cherries, celery and a touch of onion. (s)easoned with mayonnaise, lime juice and roasted garlic. fresh greens, grilled wheat (toast, maybe?) and crispy onions make this a grill classic." $9.45 on the online menu, and since they just changed the prices all the ones listed are on the low side, they're actually more in real life.). anyway, the sitting around unrefrigerated made the mayo and lime juice dressing fall apart. salad taste mainly of failure.
see all the ingredients listed? i tasted dressing. i saw quite a lot of greens, some chicken, a few cherries, and afterthoughts of everything else on that list. i had the same problem the last time i was here- the menu is way overpromsing flavors it does not deliver on, and underseasoned, too. and where they packaged everyone else's food so that the sides would stay away from the main course, setting the toast on top of the salad did it no favors. not buttering it did it no favors either.
i mostly ate the appetizer size portion of the sweet potato fries with chipotle pesto aioli ($6.95), which were fine. larger than i remember them being- more steak fry size than anything. they were decent enough but could've used seasoning on the fries. they don't work well reheated in the microwave.
the appetizer size steak bites ($9.95) work out to be about a small cupful, and for some reason there was lettuce underneath them. the gorgonzola cream needed more cheese flavor, but the people who ate the bites thought they were fine. i thought the dish was a bit spendy for what you got. the reuben ($9.95) was also given the ok, though the fries with that were no great shakes (mostly reheating problems, i would guess). 'peter's burger' (a 'burger patty, sweet mustard pickle relish, caramelized onion, over-hard egg and ketchup on grilled sour dough' $9.45) ordered with coleslaw was also ok, but the coleslaw was also a bit broken in the dressing. again, it should not have sat out that long.
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