7th- umbria, eden prairie
9th- strip club, st. paul
12th- solera, minneapolis
20th- mort's deli, golden valley
23rd- meritage, st. paul
27th- norway ridge, ideal corners, mn
28th- sunshine factory, new hope
7th- umbria, eden prairie (b)
had a two for one with beverage purchase for the lunch buffet, so it was around $11 after tax for two people. the lunch buffet with tax is about $8 without a beverage. those were around $1.70 each i think for a 20 oz. bottle, they don't have a fountain for their pop, which allows them to make a lot more money on that end of things). you do the math if you must.... as math is hard.
this location had two vegetarian pizzas, unlike the other one i went to with zero, one being plain cheese, which i avoided, as they had the one pizza i've always wanted to try here... the mac and cheese. because cheese is my favorite sort of food, followed by carbohydrates, so twice as much has got to be all that and a bag of... artery-clogging tasty.
i've had mac and cheese pizza once before (i believe it was the main reason why i headed to cici's, it sure as hell wasn't their annoying ads). that one was with a white sauce and a thin crust. this one was on a tomato sauce with apparently with the big name mac and cheese and a regular crust. the quality was better and this seemed more gourmet. and i quite liked it enough to hit the buffet more than i should have... but i am not sure if i would order it if i got pizza from here. the mac part was ok, but there wasn't quite enough of the cheese for me. but it hit the right notes.
i am probably not the main audience the mac and cheese za, it seemes more aimed at kidlings. and of all the pizza offerings on the buffet it looked to be the least favorite choice- it sat around while all the meat-topped and even the plain cheese one disappeared rather quickly. so why was on the buffet during a weekday when the workers come in i'll never know.
as for the rest, the 'field greens' salad with ranch i tried was skippable (i was right last time), the garlic bread was not quite as good (probably it wasn't right out of the oven) but still quite decent, and the bit of chicken and i think it was penne pasta sans sauce i tried was fine.
9th- strip club, st. paul (b)
i don't do brunch, so i took my mom to dinner on mother's day. i selected strip club because i knew she would get a kick out of telling her friends where we were going to dinner tonight... and she likes steak. i also wanted to go back here and meant to much sooner... because the menu changed about a month or so ago, and i knew i wasn't going to be able to have the sort of confluence that served me up food that was almost too good to share with restaurant club (and the bit i did share i did so reluctanly).
she was pondering steak frites, but instead mom went with the daily meat on a stick ($6.50), the french fries served with a subtly bacony ketchup and remoulade ($7.00) and abondanza siciliana ("scallops, shrimp, calamari, tomato, citrus, garlic, chilies" $12.00). i think they thought the steak was the app, and after the long walk upstairs in the colder room after sitting, it wasn't lukewarm even when it hit the table. they replaced it.
anyway, the chili sauce with it was just the right spicy and it was the right amount of steak for her. she also enjoyed the seafood mix and we both enjoyed the quite lovely fries (even good without the gravy, cheese, and truffle oil goodness on them, i'd give them a high b+ solo) with a strong in a good way salt, though i would've liked aioli or plain mayo would've worked better texturally for me. enjoyed the flavor though.
and after i scanned the menu ahead of time, i was pretty sure i wasn't to be swayed from my selection since the only daily specials are now fish and soup and meat on a stick (versus foie). it was the boneless duck (quack) breast with (wait for it...) deep-fried mashed potatoes. even if it did have brussels sprouts with it. it was in a ginger-soy broth ($21.00). because deep-fried mashed potatoes... so me.
duck can be chewy and not so good when done wrong, which is why i don't seem to order it as much anymore. not everyone has the skill to pay the bills (ahem). here it was one of the better ducks i've had in a while (possibly since the sadly departed fugaise) at a lower price with interesting sides- deep frying kept the inner bits creamy and smooth and added textural depth to them on the outside. and i ate my brussels sprouts too.
the broth was probably a shade to salty for most people, as i ate it without salting it and enjoyed that. and it would've maybe worked better as a sauce as (a) it kind of overwhelmed the dish (b) it made the presentation pretty boring visually- it's a brown bowl of stuff, (c) the duck would've been way easier to cut on a plate instead of the bowl and (d) i'm guessing the deep fried goodness of the mashed potatoes loses something when sitting in a liquid. and i am more interested in those than any sauce. well, maybe not a cheese sauce. but any sauce that would've been on that duck. unless it contained foie and/or truffles... but that has nothing to do with this dinner.
the server was techincally adequate and the water refill good, but something about them seemed just not hospitable (and they struck me as kind of bitter to be there). when i ask to hear the specials, i don't want to be told i have to wait for the others at the table. asked, sure. told, no. and grilling us (ha. ha.) for several miniutes when we said the meat was too cold and asked for a quick reheat wasn't the right way to handle that.
and apparently i may not have gotten to the restroom last time, as it has the kind of fake-scent air thing where for me it ends up being... do i want to breathe or do i want to use the restroom? because both can't happen. that i would've remembered.
12th- solera, minneapolis (a-)
when i heard tim mckee was taking up residence at the tapas bar here mid-week during the month of may, i thought... it's not often that a james beard award winning chef will cook your dinner while you watch, i need to get down there. and when i did i found that jp samuelson, no slouch in his own right, was there also... it was very promising indeed. i was amazed that when we got there the tapas bar was empty of patrons, what with all the foodies in the twin cities. i was thinking it would be packed. it was odd that at most there were six people there.
after we took a look at the tasting menu and ordered our happy hour sangrias ($3, and a better than i remember them, less watered down), and consulted with chef mckee if we could get replacement for the food allergy items, we went ahead with the chef's tasting menu at the tapas bar ($35). the tasting menu is there to help shape the future 'real' menu of the place, and do some testing of new dishes. i figured i could eat around the things i don't eat, otherwise what's the point in getting that?
one thing that was a 'seasonal' dish that won't be on the regular menu is the locally-sourced sauteed ramps with romesco sauce and grated manchego. the nuts in the romesco gave the dish a nice layer of texture and you could taste all the flavor components in the romseco- it didn't just taste like red sauce with nuts, it was very balanced. at the same time a veal and green pepper terrine in a tomato-mustard reduction and pickled veg came out, which other than the pickled veg, my friend ate. i was glad to have more of the romesco to myself. i even ran the grilled bread with tomato that was brought out through it. i am a bit sad that i wasn't here last week... there were morels.
next, instead of the tasting menu "stewed laughing bird shrimp with artichokes and thyme" we got a menu 'classic,' the piquillo peppers stuffed with herbed goat's milk cheese. it was warm, which i don't remember, which brought out the flavor of the herbs more than i recall from before.
after that was the escargots with sobrasada and herb butter came with some grilled bread so that we could get all the lovely butter that came with them. and the snails were not in the shell, and they were nice and tender (i handed over their sobrasada 'hats'). it got a bit messy though, trying to get them out of their dish. i kept getting snail butter explosions.
the other replacement dish (for 'steamed manila clams with tomato and sea urchin' which smelled lovely) was the menu's monkfish with white asparagus in chorizo broth. the fish was a shade past where i like it (i tend to like my fish a shade underdone) but the flavor was all in the broth. the fish itself was quite plain. overall it didn't quite seem as good as the rest of the dishes, though. perhaps it because it wasn't made at the tapas bar?
when asked by chef mckee about the menu, i mentioned that as a minnesota, since deep fried things on sticks are in our blood, this was my favorite dish... the cumin fried chicken (though because it's a bit too LOUD in there with the music and the happy hour people, i heard it as 'human fried chicken.' which will amuse me possibly forever ) with watercress and blood orange aioli. the chicken is so the perfect state fair food. it was on a stick! it was deep fried!
but it wasn't greasy or anything, it was crunchy and spicy and tasty and beautiful. i could smell the fair in it, seriously. and the blood orange aioli came out pink, which is so a state fair dipping sauce. could you not see a thoma/mckee booth at the fair doing some of the greatest hits of their menus? maybe some johnny michaels cocktails frozen on a stick.... i can see it now.
and i miss the chicken already. i want more. i am happy that'll be on the menu.
so then the 'braised rabbit with artichoke, lemon and egg.' though apparently overall more tender and less stringy than rabbit usually is, it felt a shade like a hot dish to my friend... meat done up in a thick sauce/gravy. better than most rabbit dishes, but hopefully it doesn't end up on a summer menu. i can't see it being overly popular. the sauce was nice, as were the artichokes, but i could see the point there. it didn't seem as 'on' as the rest of it.
but then the 'grilled quail with honey-harissa glaze and saffron rice salad' hit the table and we were back to the groove. i would also like to see more of the honey-harissa glaze, the perfect mix of hot and sweet on the tender quail, and the cold rice salad is there to cool it all down. my second favorite dish of the evening... the ramps were a close third.
for dessert, we eschewed the regular sweets menu in favor of something off the tapas menu (why it isn't with the desserts i can't say)- a selection of spanish cheeses with quince preserves and a mix of candied nuts with honey ($8.50). there was a mahon and a blue (cabrales, i think) for sure, and possibly an iberico and a garroxta- the person who dropped the plate didn't say, and when we inquired we got a very quick answer. that would be the only very small service glitch we had. other than that it was quite good, water refills and all.
not surprisingly, the food was way better than the last time i was here even for the bourdain event... but prior to that i had felt the place had gone kind of average since they opened... perhaps that's why i avoided the place. i'm assuming others did too, as it ended up as a restaurant.com coupon place, plus on open table there were times where you could get 1000 points for your booking. it'll be interesting to see what happens after their menu redo.
20th- mort's deli, golden valley (c-)
not as train wreck-y of a time this time, but ok, i got food they didn't have to cook. maybe that's why i gave them a second chance? maybe? anyway, there's probably not a third coming.
the bagels and lox platter ($12.99) comes with one h&h (of new york) bagel, toasted, some too-cold cream cheese (not quite enough), chopped and sliced sad tomatoes, chopped and sliced red onion, capers, and two leaves of lettuce for the lox, which was just enough to cover the bagel, and not the best quality i've seen. it wasn't the best quality platter i've seen of any of the ingredients.
mom got the 525 platter ($12.99)- three slices of untoated, cut in half bread (she got marble rye) and a scoop of cole slaw and scoops of potato, egg, tuna and chicken salad. they all were just kind of ok, and all needed seasoning or something to make them less blah.
neither platter came with chips or anything. you do get pickles to start with still though. the highlight of the last trip, now they were supposedly maybe a quarter-sour pickles (apparently the others were too... strong? authentic? jewish? for the vast majority of people... who apparently dig what is cucumbers that sat in vinegar for a few minutes without spices) that were mostly cucumber. bleah. so now it's less authentic deli than it used to be.
the server had on way too much scent, which besides causing me to have an allergy attack when they came near, kind of ruins the thing you're supposed to be enjoying the scent of- the food. if you must wear it, spray, delay and walk away, as kyan always said. then you won't be soaking in it.
this is also one of the two places that i recall that added the 18% tip into it already with the restaurant.com gift certificate. i find that interesting.
and also? they so need to look at details. on every table there were notices telling you to register the matza ball eating contest... open only to 10 people that they pick. that you have to register for by may... 1st. yep, time travel almost three weeks back to register for a contest you probably won't get to do. plus there was another contest sign saying... stay tuned for details. it's in two days. so... no.
23rd- meritage, st. paul (a)
i always wanted to go to bayport cookery's morel dinner, but never made it. i missed the morel dinners last year that the former chef of bayport did, and wasn't quite into the cruise one this year (and not sure that would've been my best option), but i did finally get to go to one, albeit one without bayport's people. i can cope with klein for kyndberg.
last year wine pairings were $25 and the dinner $75. this year wine pairings were $35 and dinner $95. yes, high priced, but consider i saw the mushrooms for $20 for a half-pound at the farmer's market last week if i recall correctly, not out of line for a five course dinner with them. they didn't put the full menu anywhere that i could find online in advance, but i saw a few courses and figured out of five, there was only one i was allergic to and one i wouldn't eat. they said they could work around the allergy, so i went ahead and made reservations.
it turns out the allergy course was the bonus course- the amuse bouche was a lobster morel beignet. they forgot i was allergy person and gave me one. they quicky replaced it with a tiny tuna tartare taco with wasabi in there someplace. good, but i was kind of bummed there was no lobster in it. ah, well.
this course has a bonus wine pairing, so $35 for the wine was a very good deal indeed. i just got one glass, as i am a lightweight.a lorredona riesling for $8, which went with everything and was girly enough for me. per the person who had them, the wines were pretty good. one was even a croatian wine, rarely seen stateside. (wines served will be provided upon request.)
the first course was a "salad of fresh heart of palm and morels, marinated artichokes and arbequina olives with tarragon aioli." it was a nice cool start on a hideously hot and humid day, and it was plated to look like a tall forest. nice. a bit difficult to eat, but nice. the olives are something we both liked enough to try and seek out.
i was most impressed in total with the second course, the "grilled oregon sturgeon with creamed morels, asparagus, ramps and morel mustard." it was a combination of seasonal ingredients and a protein that was relevatory- the sturgeon was like a well-marinated turkey in texture, and almost in flavor, which is not something you think of when you think fish.
however, i was most impressed with the bits i ate in the fourth course- the "morel dusted loin of iowa lamb en sous-vide with smoked morel pain perdu, sweet pea puree and green garlic." i traded the lamb (don't eat that) for most of the other pain perdu, as (and i may have mentioned this to many many people), that was a gorgeous dish that may be the first non-cheese food that i would marry. it did taste it had some sort of cheese in it (gruyeresque) or maybe some cream in it, but the server was unable to verify that. that was my favorite thing to eat all evening.
oddly my lamb was nicely plated and had carrots. the other person's lamb looked more thrown together and had no carrots. they were busy people that night, but that's odd. they deliberately tried not to advertise too much, as last year they were swamped, but they still got a larger than expected crowd.
in fact i would've swapped it for dessert. not that it was bad, but i'm just not that into sweets. i liked the morel-marscapone mousse. chocolate crepe and the pinenut caramel (somehow i thought it'd be solid, it was more a sauce with nuts) would thrill most people. oh, the dessert wine was nice. but again, more pain perdu. though i may be lucky- it looks like they serve a version of it (probably sans morels) on their regular menu. i should check that out sometime. and not wait a year and a half before going again. i thought we had been here for restaurant club, i was wrong.
service from the main server was great, service from the host was good. the bread and water guy fell down on the bread side- we had to keep asking the server for more. disappointing, especially after last time (and telling him that). and one server kept using the side door they were not supposed to right by our table, thus letting in tons of hot humid icky air, especially when they held it open for serveral minutes. (i think the host caught my 'close it now' hand wave and went to do just that.)
klein did come out near the end of dinner and stopped by all the tables. always nice when that happens. our table chatted about sturgeon and the wine choices.
all in all, we were glad that we went, but we're not sure we'd go back and do it again next year. maybe in a few years?
27th- norway ridge, ideal corners, mn (b)
since we're up nord at the lake, i had to order the walleye. it's mandatory?
we were there early enough (before 6 pm) to get the early bird special prices, where you get $3-5 off a lot of the entrees.
they all come with a decent breadbasket (though the butter is left on the table, which i am always leery of after a bad experience with butter that went off when i was much much younger...), a dinner salad of mixed darker greens, a few grape tomatoes, and a few slices of red onions. the dressings are all house made and very very good, plus you get a plate of bacon bits (the jarred kind i think), shredded cheese, and sunflower seeds to add to the salad if you want.
the (slightly misnamed) whale sized walleye ($19.95 for the early, regularly $23.95- oddly the stuff with almonds is usually $1 more in regular times, it's $2 more during early bird).
mom got it broiled, i got it pan fried, we swapped halves. oddly the broiled came only with tartar sauce, i also got lemon (it was provided upon request). both were pretty good (though a bit overdone for my tastes). mom's had a few bones here and there. i went (quel suprise, not) with the deep fried skins with mine, which came with not quite enough sour cream. plus they should've removed the black spots or not served those with them, those were a wee bit disappointing. they came with parmesan, but it was event and it wasn't good.
the other person with us got the smoked ribs, but she's not a smoked and tender ribs person, she'd rather have chewier ribs. though the table next to us that came in after we did talked them up a lot. they did like the sour cream with capers served with the baked potatoes though.
service was fine. i kind of wonder why they weren't more 'on,' maybe they're all saving it up for what will probably be a huge and busy weekend.
the decor is what you think a 60+ year old supper club at the lake owned by sisters (and sisters before them) would be, with stuff for sale too.
28th- sunshine factory, new hope (f)the last time i was at the sunshine factory, they still had their groovy electric company-looking 70s logo and accompanying brown, orange, and yellow decor... well, it was probably still the 70s at that. our family used to go here quite a lot.
this place has been here a long time for sure... but now i wouldn't recognize it at all from before. it's an oddly generic restaurant in theme... no color scheme, little decoration and what there was had very muted colors, and the menu is basically burgers and barbeque and a few sandwiches, plus some appetizers. i can't recall the menu from all thos decades ago, but i'm pretty sure that's back when i mostly ate burgers (hey, i was under 10 at the time). the menu seems designed to offend no one... which may explain the high number of seniors eating there.
mom really really liked her hot pastrami with slaw ($9.95, fries are around $2 or so extra, give or take) on really caraway rye. apparently it's sy ginsberg's gold label pastrami. for all your sy ginsberg gold label pastrami needs.
my meal was more brk-esque. beyond the pervading thirst (refills were almost nonexistant and there was no one else to ask or pitcher in site) the best thing about the pit smoked barbeque half chicken with fries (listed on the menu as $12.50 but it appeared on the bill as $10.95 possibly for reasons to be explained), cole slaw and toast was the barbeque sauce.
the toast was ok, it was (sadly) the second best thing on the plate. the cole slaw tasted a bit odd and gritty, like it had dirt or sand it in (or wasn't rinsed well before or after packaging). not sure why mom liked it. the first fries were underdone, soggy and raw in the middle of many of them. i asked for a reheat, got a new batch that was cooked through but still not crisp... they were almost average after the redo. and needed seasoning. i should've went with a baked potato (though until asked, that didn't appear to be an option, it doesn't say potato choice on the menu). i was thinking that's why the money off the menu, but we were never told.
and i do realized smoked chicken can be pink near the bone and cooked through but i'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be bloody looking, which this was. i ate the thigh and leg for dinner, which were fine. i was deboning the breast and wing to take home, and that was the hot mess part... but that wasn't until we were done with dinner and had containers to box up leftovers.
when asked about our meal, mom said hers was fine. i said nothing, but mom prodded me to mention the bloody looking chicken... and was told i should've said something earlier so they could've replaced it. ok, but i didn't know until the end, i said, but was told again i should've said something earlier... i said nothing so we woudn't get caught in an infinite loop. they did take the chicken off the bill entirely, but after they checked with the kitchen, the server did mention the pinkness being fine... ok... again, pink smoked chicken, fine, bloody looking smoked chicken, not fine.
how underwhelming the server was (another example besides the lack of water)- while standing in the lobby waiting for mom and holding the three leftover containers, another busy looking server we had never seen before passed by and asked if i wanted a bag for the containers, and got me one when i said yes, that would be lovely.
i know my tastes have changed since the 70s, but i'm pretty sure dad wouldn't not gone back if this kind of thing happened when he went there....
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