6th- hell's kitchen 2.0, minneapolis
12th- st. clair broiler, st. paul
13th- rye deli, minneapolis
20th- chatterbox pub, minneapolis
25th- fromagination, madison, wi
25th- l'etoile, madison, wi
28th- stillwater restaurants, stillwater
6th- hell's kitchen 2.0, minneapolis (c-)
went to the 10th anniversary brunch at lunch time (see: brk for brunch is worse than others)- somehow i thought it would be a lot more crowded than it was. there were tables empty all around us.
maybe that was due to the server we had, a blob of a server with no personality (odd given the venue) who half-assed their way through thing (no coffee refill offer, one water refill when two was needed- i ended up drinking someone elses)- the fewer people in their section the better.
mom and i both had one of the $10 specials- i had talked her into the shrimp & and crab cake with poached egg, red bell pepper hollandaise sauce, fruit and toast ($13.45 online menu price). she gave an a to the food, well the cake. her toast was closer to being bread than anything. the house made jellies and peanut butter helped a lot. she thought the coffee ($2.35) a bit strong, but were both girly flavored coffee people so take that for what its worth.
and her hollandaise, the house made ketsup and hot sauce helped somewhat with the a shade too cold mess that was the huevos rancheros ($11.25 online menu price). the hash browns were underdone, i couldnt taste any of the three cheeses mention in the description (there wasnt a ton of that), and the eggs that were supposed to be soft-scrambled? quite the opposite. too bad the eggs and hash browns couldnt switch places. id give it a c. it was below average but not horrible. it tasted like food and had fresh ingredients.
oddity alert- they house made condiments in most cases yet bring you a bottle of hot sauce if you want that has corn syrup in it.
we stopped at the angel food bakery upstairs for our dessert- $1 gets you a crispy on the outside, tender on the inside chocolate chunk cookie. thumbs up on that. cynthia gerdes, one of the owners of the restaurant was walking around thanking people when we were eating (and unlike some restaurant people she did mean it), shes the mastermind behind the bakery.
we didnt win a prize (though we each had coupons for a free sample size peanut butter), but every table got an envelope of coupons. ours included a free drink and... a free huevos rancheros (no, we were not able to use it right then).
12th- st. clair broiler, st. paul (f)
i can not really catch a break these days. i've not had a restaurant experience above 'meh' since restaurant club last month. i've been wanting to get to the st. clair broiler for ages, but perhaps i should've made more of an effort when it was in the hands of the original owners because it was so not worth the wait.
the grilled rachel ($9.25 is what i paid, the online menu lists it at $9.50 but hell, either way it's crappy sandwich that seemed overpriced) was half-assed. though real, the turkey was full of gristle and chewy, the bread was barely toasted in a way that makes me think the sandwich was microwaved, the sauerkraut was so tasteless as to really not exist. actually the sandwich had no defining flavor. it looked like a sandwich, it tasted like nothing.
the fries i got with it were limp and cold. touted as 'hand-cut' or some such on the menu, i'm willing to bet that didn't happen on the premises as the fries didn't taste like potato nor salt nor anything. they were so bad i stopped eating them... and since the server never checked in before i was done with my sandwich, i ended up eating the potato chips i got as a replacement (no point in replacing crap fries with slightly less crap fries) afterwards. the chips were crispy but also lacked potato taste.
as mentioned, no checking in, no water refills, and generally crap service. that just added to the whole horrible time i had.
13th- rye deli, minneapolis (a-)
finally, a restaurant that wasn't crappy. apparently many things about this place have improved since they've opened and had many not so nice things written about them. though sadly i do wonder how long they'll stick around, judging by the emptiness. maybe everyone ate brunch with mom and skipped dinner? i hope so, as i would like to try more things off the menu,
the poutine ($5 happy hour, $7 when not) i had here was the best of the ones i've had in the twin cities that are currently available (the strip club version with truffled gravy, alas, has changed up to a pork belly version instead). it's a small portion, but especially with the happy hour price, well worth it. the turkey stock gravy was rich, the fries started out crisp as they should be, and the cheese melted. i would've liked more salt, but it's rare when i don't.
mom and i split the pickle plate ($3.50). strangely, the white and orange beets were my favorite- maybe i just don't like traditional red beets in any form? because the only beet dish i liked before 2/3rds of this one was mostly not red beet but various other colors from pink to white. i didn't try the red ones, so i will never know. the cucumber pickles need a bit of retooling- they needed more pickling (garlic, vinegar, salt) and maybe a bit more snap. they were passable, but at $3.50 for two cucumbers and three beets, they need to step that up a bit.
mom chose the bowl of mish mash soup ($9), a soup for those who can't make up their minds. it's a smallish bowl of chicken soup with everything possible- kahsa, noodles, matza ball and kreplach (that's a dumpling, usually meat stuffed, fyi). everything in the soup was tasty, but the chicken broth needed a bit more schmatlz (chicken fat), it was a bit on the watery side. not much, just a bit. but again, it's maybe a price thing, if you're paying $9 for a not large bowl of soup? it should be spot on.
we also did a sandwich, though turkey isn't usually a choice served with a pickle and slaw ($11.50). lettuce and tomato were an extra $.50 (you can add onions in there too if you wish). unlike the soup and pickles, the sandwich was worth it (esepcially compared with the crap one from yesterday). this one had in-house roasted turkey that was tender and juicy and tasty. loved it. it reminded me of the lincoln del turkey. sigh.
and the challah? eggy and light and my new favorite. i would've bought a loaf to take home ($6, they do that in house also) if they had an extra. they didn't. i also contemplated taking home a pound of the turkey ($12). it was a jewish sandwich (about the size of your head)- both very wide and very tall, mom and i split it and made open faced sandwiches of it as it was easier to eat. we got mayo on it besides the lovely spicy brown mustard.
i'd like to go back and order more stuff off the menu- the challah would make killer french toast, to start. i'd like to try some of their smoked meats, sample the bagels and bialys. i could take the counter ordering on a slow day like today, i could see where a rush would make that a bit more difficult to cope with in the not so large space. maybe call ahead and get stuff to go, that may be the answer...
oh, and other than the shape of the space and the darkness of the bar area, it doesn't remind me so much of auriga... the deli case and chalk paint wall and new furnishings took care of that.
20th- chatterbox pub, minneapolis (c)
mom had a groupon, so here we were ($10 for $20). i knew i should've followed my instincts and gotten the fondue off the appetizer menu, but the 'mushroom bleu burger' ($9.50 for the ground chicken, $8.50 for beef- they used to be the same price back in the day) sounded promising- 'bleu cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms in a savory reduced red wine sauce.'
i should know better than to believe the hype, er, menu- there was not a lot of a cheese, maybe less than one mushroom total, couldn't find or taste onions or the sauce for the most part, plus the burger was underseasoned. i dumped the marinara that came with my side dish on it plus some ketsup and salt, and it was... slightly less boring.
on one hand i was happy i upgraded my side to cheese curds, even though for the wee amount you get it wasn't worth the $3 extra. even if it did come with marinara. the marinara, which had very large chunks of tomato in it though didn't taste like it, quite. i went with ketsup for my dipping sauce for those as the chunks of tomato were bigger than the cheese curds and i really didn't feel like fighting with it.) better than the state fair versions? not at all. better than anything else we ate there? sure. a full appetizer order is $8.95, fyi.
mom opted for the fish and chips($10.50). she liked them better than i did, for me it wasn't quite crisp on the outside and it was bland throughout, despite the beer batter. the tartar sauce was fine, though (they make it there). the pub fries were somewhat misnamed- fries make me think of crisp things, these seemed more like oven-baked potato slices that were slightly underdone. not crisp, and again, lacking flavor.
service was ok enough- did get a water refill, they did check in with the table, but not until we were mostly done. like the other chatterboxes at dinner it was really loud between the games and the kids, at lunch was pretty quiet. i still like the st. paul one slightly better, desipte the more difficult parking, but not enough to drive across town to go there, generally, when there's similar places closer that are better with food.
25th- fromagination, madison, wi (b)
i know it comes as a complete shock that i got my lunch in madison at a cheese shop. how unlike me. i went with the "nueskes smoked turkey breast, lettuce, quince & apple cranberry relish, creamy brie on a honey wheat sunflower roll." i just wish it had been balanced a bit better, by which i mean a bit more cheese. what came through was rather a lot of bread, slightly too agressive lettuce, a bit too much cranberry and not quite enough cheese or turkey. good flavors, all, but i expected more cheese from the cheese shop.
25th- l'etoile, madison, wi (b)
because of recommendations, i made my reservation here early, before the chef, tory miller, won a james beard award (best chef, midwest). good thing, as the place was pretty packed by the time i left. though after reading a bit more about the place online i moved up my reservation to the early side of things so there'd be a better chance at a window table in the atrium-like glassed in area in the front. i did get one, though i have a feeling that's more interesting at night. however, at least it gave me street theater with my dinner
the single-chaired table was ready when i got there. i'm not sure why just one chair, another would've been nice for my purse, but it did show they were ready and waiting for me, as was the personalized menu. that's a very nice touch, more places should do that... you get an instant souvenir of your fancy dinner out that way, plus remember what you eat.
after perusing the wine list, i opted just for a kir royale ($8). the list is very impresive in all ways (lots of choices, many price points, may regions, etc.) but one- their single glass list. since i didn't see anything i could have more than a glass of and still drive (i'm an alcohol lightweight), so the cocktail fit the bill. champagne goes with everything, no?
after i got my cocktail, they served house-made rolls with with local butter (i think it was hand-rolled, but can't quite recall). the butter was lovely, the rolls were a bit chewy for my taste. i expected stellar bread (yes, pun intended) but it was just... good.
all of the table got two amuse bouche- a tiny toast with mushroom mousse (wee but nice) and the other was a local cottage cheese blended with pumpkinseed oil (made in a mortar and pestle there for more flavor), pumpkinseed, and i think pea shoot tendrils, which i almost wish was on the appetizer or soup menu. it was cool, creamy and crunchy and would make an excellent thing to serve in summer, if i could remember the name and look up the recipe.
i used it to wipe the plate of the baked cesar's mozzarella with slivered marinated olives, sylvetta (arugula), slivered hazelnuts and aged balsamico ($12) i got as a starter ( had them leave off the la quercia lonza (a.k.a. the pork bits). i will say i was a bit disappointed they didn't have the menu that was listed online, they had a take on mozzarella sticks that looked amusing and way tasty but this was a good substitute and a nice starter. a bit too much arugula for me and that threw off the balance of the dish a bit- i forgot to ask was sylvetta was in advance, it wasn't listed by any other word but that.
and since once more i had the server who was competent but not good like the other servers i could see (oh, table to my left, you had it so much better than the tables that my server was at, you lucky people) that didn't so much explain anything on the menu (other servers, not just the one to my left, did that, mine didn't for any of their tables that i could hear) i didn't know.
one of the reasons i wasn't entirely 'a' for this place was the server. everyone else who worked there seemed to get it- even the staff i didn't see. if you make a reservation, you get a personalized menu (handed back to you with your check). i mean, the host desk staff rememberd my name when i headed out. that? i have never seen. also unique- not only did random staff did do the 'goodbye' when i left, i got greeted when i came in by random staff- again, have not seen that anywhere else. everyone else set such a high bar, having a 'meh' server just made me sad that i had to sit in that section. sigh..
anyway, back to the food. i should've probably ordered off the midcourse menu after the starter (a pasta dish with mushrooms and truffles looked promising) so i could've maybe sampled dessert. i didn't know the entrees were very large (very splittable, even for big eaters, if you go with another course and dessert) and filling. i heard later on the server next door tell a table that. sigh.
i opted for a different mushroom dish, the 'herb n' oyster mushroom strudel' with 'marinated cherry tomato-farro salad, spring vegetable ragot, goat cheese fonduta, tomato oil' ($33). it wasn't an attractive plate at all- too much brown, even with the wee edible purple flowers (all the food except the rolls had edible flowers, it does make things very attractive in most cases) and it was a bit too heaped. everything else i saw plated was stunning. this? not so much.
it was a bit too much farro too, that made the plate very heavy with everything else on it- the spring veg was mostly carrots and some radishes (roasted radishes, they're hot now), the tomatoes weren't as sweet as i thought they would be (they were small ones), and the strudel lacked a bit of cohesion (a bit of fat may have helped hold it together more and improved the taste/texture slightly). i'd call it a good version one of a dish as didn't seem quite finished/though out. i bet version two (if they do it) would be excellent.
the dessert menu looked ok. i'm not sad i was full, though. at fromagination i had gotten some 'orphaned' cheeses i had left out for my own cheese plate (bad axe sheep cheese, gorwydd caerphilly via neil's yard dairy, as a nod to my london trip, vintage van gough gouda roth kase- that was my favorite- widmers 2 year cheddar, and the new hot cheese, bandaged cheddar from blue mont dairy) later on. perfect for a make your own cheese plate option (locally random cheese bits are at whole food and lunds/byerly's for sure, probably also at many co-ops).
you get tiny desserts with the check- they had a very chocolatey chocolate (most people would like it, for me it was a bit too chocolate), a tasty jellied quince and a piece of fiddle-faddle like candy that i quite liked. a nice touch, always.
nothing that happened would make me stay away from here if i had to go to madison again (i would like to bring someone and have a shot of doing the 'all 30+ cheeses on their menu' option to see if we could finish it, i'm guessing the servings would not be large). i'd not get an entree by myself and ask for a different server if i saw that one again, sure.
28th- stillwater restaurants, stillwater
smalley's caribbean barbeque (f)
you're not running your business well if you don't see that you are going to get slammed on summer weekends, especially holidays, if you're in stillwater. the limited menu was more limited by them running out of many things they were unable to replace (mostly sandwiches, not sure why they didn't run to a bakery or store for buns), plus it was way understaffed- one person cleaning tables and handingly the door? no.
my friend and i ordered the sweet corn fritters with rum butter ginger sauce to start (i think they were $6.50ish). they were cornmeal fritters. not sweet corn, that's a whole other kind of fritter. the sauce tasted like pancake syrup (buttery) but not like ginger or rum. we ended up stealing bbq sauce of another (empty) table to dunk them in to make them better. we also ordered the bbq half chicken ($13) that came with two sides. side one- beer battered plank fries- edible. side two- mac and cheese- way undercooked noodles with glue sauce. gross. very gross. possibly the worst mac and cheese i've had, and that includes the instant kind.
the chicken was red inside (it looked way redder than the usual smoked chicken, which usually runs a bit pink, but this was red). between that and the horrid mac and cheese (we were only a few bites into the meal when we saw the problems) we asked to return it. we just paid for the fritters.
river market (c)
deli counter sandwich of turkey, veg- tomato lettuce, red onion and cheese ($5.99) that i added avocado too for $1. undertoasted and the sourdough wasn't much. the staff was also a bitunhelpful but more in an... um... spaced... way than deliberately i think.
mara mi (f)
stopped here for ice cream and beverages. the counter staff seened dumb as rocks (and unhelpful to boot) but i feel they were doing it more deliberately than the river market staff. they need to hire people from outside their lack of talent pool in stillwater for the stores on main street (though this one won't be around long, i think- people were swarming in stillwater on that street... but here... plus a stationery store with a cafe is a bit of an unfocused idea, as it's more of a coffee bar with pizza and ice cream at that. i don't get it either.)
anyway, they didn't understand that the sign on the board behind them had different prices than the sign above the ice cream counter. it took three people to look at and they still didn't get it. at least the ice cream was izzy's but really? to this place? no. just no.
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