01 November 2015

The Jaguar Question: New or Classic? Answer: Yes!

If I had discovered Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube sooner, I might be driving a different car today.

As I’ve written in a previous post, I bought a Jaguar when I retired. Easy to say. But after I finally decided to do it, I had to decide whether to get a new car or a restored classic. I fairly quickly discovered that the price would be pretty close to the same. You can pick up a classic E-Type for less than I paid for the new XK that I was looking at. But then I’d have to pay for restoration (because I have neither the ability nor inclination to do the work myself, not to mention no garage to do the work in or tools to work with). So a nicely restored E-Type would have cost about the same as the new car.

Ultimately, I let ‘practical’ considerations carry the day. Now, I know it’s probably a stretch of the definition to say that buying a Jaguar is a practical thing to do. But my considerations all were practicalities about what I needed in my retirement car. I only have a two-car garage at my house. So ‘my’ car had to be one I could rely on and drive anytime I needed to go somewhere when my wife was already out with ‘her’ car. That also means it has to be mechanically reliable. I’d always heard how temperamental the E-Types used to be, and I didn’t want to get caught in a situation where the car would be disabled by mechanical problems. ApplePicking Jaguar

So I decided to buy the new one. So now I have a mechanically reliable car and one that will maneuver through our Minnesota winters (with snow tires). It had been a while since I’d bought a new car, and I have been amazed and delighted by the electronics and how they enhance the driving experience. I was pretty skeptical about the back-up camera and parking assist. But I’ve become a convert. Now when I’m driving my wife’s Honda CRV, which does not have a back-up camera, I’m constantly twisting around to make sure I’m not backing into something, something that the camera and parking assistance in my Jaguar would detect and alert me to. And that’s just one example. I really am impressed by the electronics in new cars these days.

I probably never would have entertained second thoughts about my decision if it hadn’t been for my experience driving a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider. (If you want to read about that, click here.) There were a few things about that car that made me really start to wonder: What did I miss out on by not buying a classic E-Type? Despite my fascination with modern new car electronics, I was totally enthralled by full instrumentation in the Alfa. So tell me – with all the fancy electronics, why can’t they have a virtual dashboard in new sports cars? And it was a roadster, so for two days my wife and I had fun tooling around town with an open top. Again with practicalities, regardless of my decision of new vs. old, I planned to get a coupe in either case.

The whole experience with the Alfa made wonder what it would be like to drive a classic E-Type. So where else would you look to find out? The internet.

That’s how I stumbled onto Jay Leno’s Garage. He has several Jaguars in his collection. The first video I watched, he was proudly showing off his 1963 Series I E-Type. Leno tells the viewer that the car is original and unrestored. As he’s showing it off, he remarks at least twice that the dashboard clock still works! During the program, he makes a comment along the lines that the E-Type really was a reliable car, at least in its day. (Of course, he has a staff of mechanics to make sure the cars stay in good running order.)

Then he takes the car for a drive. Wow! As he drives along, he delivers a steady patter of tidbits about the car and his views about the Jaguar and cars in general and car culture especially as it was in the early to mid 1960s. For me, it was totally enthralling. I know if I had seen it before I retired, I would have more seriously considered finding a classic.

Now, my bottom line, I have no regrets about the 20014 XK that I bought. It’s a great car. But, if I ever win the lottery, I’m getting an E-Type. And as much as love the coupe, it’ll be a roadster, like the one below.


28 October 2015

A Peachy Outcome from a Musical Encounter

I always said that while Krik’s Picks is mostly about food, it also would include thoughts about other things, such as music and politics. (And lately, cars too.) But this post ties together several different strands. Kinda what makes life interesting.

So let’s start with music – Edina Bands. You may know about Next Door, the online social network for neighborhoods across the nation? My neighborhood, Parkwood Knolls, participates in Next Door. One day in early August, I got an email alert from Next Door about a kid selling peaches as a fundraiser because he was going into the Edina Marching Band in the fall.

Ok, as a band kid myself (Albert Lea High School band, 1968-70; University of Minnesota Marching Band, 1970-74) I was sympathetic to his appeal. My own children graduated from Edina High School, but they weren’t band kids. But the clincher (and segue to the next strand) – I saw that he’s the grandson of a former Member of Congress who I knew fairly well – David Minge. I had met the student’s parents at another Parkwood Knolls event, so I knew they lived in the neighborhood.

David Minge served in Congress for 8 years. I was an ag lobbyist before I retired. Rep. Minge represented a very rural agricultural district in southwest Minnesota and he served on the Ag Committee. I got to know him quite well. But more importantly, I had a very high degree of respect for his sincerity and commitment to public service. There was no question that Rep. Minge was in Washington to serve the interests of his constituents and the nation.

He lost his re-election bid in 2000 by 155 votes. It was the final year of Bill Clinton’s Presidency and a tough year for Democrats. Minge knew he’d have a close race. It’s often the case that if Congress has not finished its business by October before an election, they’ll take a recess and come back after the election to finish up (in a Lame Duck session). Unfortunately for David Minge, Congress held votes all thru October, right up until a week before Election Day. I, for one, am convinced that if Minge had decided to skip votes and campaign in Minnesota, he would have gotten the votes he needed. But instead, he put the people’s business ahead of his political interest, stayed in Washington, and ultimately lost the election.

Unlike many defeated politicians, David Minge did not stay in Washington and join a lobbying firm. A year after he lost his election, then-Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed him to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. He retired from that position in 2012. 20150916_235325701_iOS

So with that little political side note, and my predisposed sympathy for band kids, I ordered a case of peaches from David Minge’s grandson. $30. The case had 45 peaches. They were big beautiful and lusciously ripe. We ate a lot of them just straight, and we gave some to each of our kids’ families.

Here’s what I cooked with the rest of them:

Grilled Scallops with Peaches, Corn and Tomatoes: I grilled the scallops and the peaches on a stove-top grill pan, not a charcoal grill. But it still turned out great. Here’s a photo =>

I made a Peach Vinaigrette. I had a recipe for a salad that called for it. But I can’t now find that recipe. But here’s the recipe for the vinaigrette. It was good, but not something I’d make regularly.

Ginger Peach Jam: This turned out really nicely. Definitely worth making again.

Sam Sifton’s Perfect Peach Pie from the New York Times. This was my first time making a peach pie; I usually make apple pie. I really liked how it turned out. But I substituted a butter crust from Land O’Lakes. This is my favorite pie crust, and I routinely use it instead of whatever other crust might be called for in a recipe.

Peach and Coconut Macaroon Cake: This has been in my recipe file for so long I almost forgot where I got it. But it’s from the Washington Post. I love this cake. But even more importantly, my wife loves it. I made it for her birthday cake in September.

Of course, all of this is sort of moot, since it’s long past the season when you can get fresh peaches in the market. Sorry. I think you could use frozen peaches for the cake and for the jam. Otherwise, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until next summer when peaches are available again.

By the way, here’s a picture of the peach pie:


18 October 2015

La Fresca is a breath of fresh air in S. Mpls.

There are so many good restaurants in the Twin Cities. Yet I still get excited when I find another one that’s truly delightful. As my wife and I walked out of La Fresca with a couple of friends, we were already talking about when we could plan a return visit.

Not that we should have been surprised. La Fresca is the self-described ‘nouveau Mexican’ iteration of Chef Hector Ruiz family of restaurants. ‘Family’ is a good term to use. Each of the restaurants in his small group (now numbering 4) shares familiar similarities – Latin influences and creative combinations in generally small neighborhood locations that appeal to local residents and, yes, families. But like a family, each individual member has it’s own distinctive features.

Café Ena, where we have enjoyed many delicious meals, is ‘Latin fusion’ with influences from South America and Central America. Click here for a previous blog post.

Rincon 38 features Spanish and Latin small plates, tapas if you will. We’ve enjoyed dropping in to enjoy its exciting variety by sharing several items on the menu with a glass of wine. Click here for a previous review.

El Meson, now sadly closed, was the grand dame of the family. But a newcomer, La Ceiba, that opened early in 2015 promises to satisfy fans of El Meson’s Caribbean inspired dishes. We haven’t been there yet, but it seems like we should.

I can’t really explain why we haven’t eaten at La Fresca sooner. It’s been open for a year and a half. But we just hadn’t gotten there yet. But after last Saturday’s meal, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite of the group (while reserving the right to change my mind whenever we try La Ceiba.) 20151018_014603004_iOS

Like the others, La Fresca does take reservations. (Thank you for that courtesy.) We arrived on time and had a very short wait for our table to clear. The dining room is smaller than Café Ena, maybe about the same size as Rincon 38. But the tables are not crowded, just comfortably cozy. There also are a few seats available around the bar where wine and beer are served.

For a starter, my wife and I split a small plate called Puerto Morelos. It was a lobster and shrimp medley on a block of avocado polenta and topped with roasted corn cream sauce, jicama and cucumber slaw, and fried leeks. It was small, but delicious. Our friends split a salad from the ‘segundos’ part of the menu. It was roasted squash and beets with mixed greens, a light dressing, and crumbled goat cheese.

The entrées from the Terceros part of the menu run heavily toward fish and seafood. There are beef and pork and chicken and vegetarian choices. But we all opted for seafood.

My wife ordered Aguascalientes, pictured above. It was pistachio crusted halibut on potato gratin and served with roasted king oyster mushrooms, baby spinach, cauliflower puree sauce, and fried leeks. It was fantastic.

Across the table, one of our friends ordered Yucateco, which was sea bass with a Mayan sauce, zucchini, squash, charred corn, leeks, radishes, scallions, and onion. I didn’t get a taste, but it looked great.

Our other friend ended up with the most fantastic meal of the evening, the Mariscada. It was a fish and seafood soup with red snapper, shrimp, calamari, scallops, potatoes, onion, carrots and celery all swimming in a flavorful pepper broth. First of all, it was a very generous serving; he couldn’t finish it all. But he was surprised that it didn’t come with bread to soak up the wonderful juices. However, our resourceful server managed to find a baguette and brought it to the table.

I chose the evening fish special. It was coconut crusted grouper also served on a block of avocado polenta. It was accompanied by roasted zucchini, corn, onions and tomatoes. Excellent!20151018_014607549_iOS

If I had one quibble about the evening, it would be timing. We ordered a round of drinks (sangria, wine, and a beer). Our appetizers came very quickly after the drinks were served. But then it seemed like we had a long wait for our meals to come out of the kitchen. We were having a nice conversation and were not in any rush. So we didn't complain. But the wait was noticeable.

So once again, Chef Ruiz has provided delightful neighborhood restaurant that was thoroughly enjoyable. We do have to plan a return visit soon.

11 October 2015

Lunch overlooking the scenic St. Croix at Dock Café

In a recent post (click here) I wrote about a day driving an Alfa Romeo sports car. As our destination, my wife and I took the car to Stillwater for a late summer lunch. Our only requirement was that our restaurant had to have a view of the St. Croix River.

Actually, we’ve been to Stillwater often enough so that we had a pretty good idea where we’d like to go. The Dock Café was the first place we checked.

For a mid-week lunch we had no problem getting a table right away. We chose a table on the patio. The weather wasn’t the most pleasant (overcast and a little damp from overnight rain). But it turned out pretty nicely for us anyway. You actually can’t get any closer to the river. From the Dock’s patio, the river bank slopes steeply to the water. You’re right there with nothing to block your view. IMG_0689

The lunch menu at the Dock offers a lot of variety. There are several appetizers and small plates. More than a dozen sandwiches, salads, soups, and combo plates are available. And for heartier appetites, a handful of entrées.

I ordered a walleye sandwich with fries. The fish was lightly breaded. It was moist and flakey, topped with a lemon-caper sauce plus a slice of tomato, onion, and greens. Sandwiches come with kettle chips, but for $2 you can get fries, which is what I did.

My wife ordered a grilled scallop salad. It featured four nice-sized sea scallops skewered and grilled. When I cook scallops at home, I don’t usually grill them. It’s so easy to overcook scallops so that they get tough and rubbery. The scallops on this salad at the Dock were done just right. They were cooked through, but remained moist and tender. The salad was a generous plate of mixed greens, asparagus, sundried tomatoes all topped with a Champaign vinaigrette.

Service was friendly and relaxed. I suppose if you were pressed for time, you might want the server to be a little more prompt. But we weren’t in any rush. We had a very enjoyable time eating our lunches and watching the river.


07 October 2015

Bogart’s Doughnuts trigger happy memories

I love doughnuts.

I have a particular happy memory about doughnuts. When I was in the University of Minnesota Marching Band (oh so many years ago) we had a couple of food rituals. One was apples. We always got apples in the stands after the halftime show. The other was doughnuts. After the game, we’d march back to Northrup Auditorium (the band office was in Northrup in those days) and there’d be boxes of doughnuts (and apple cider) for us in our main rehearsal room. (I think it was Room 5, if I remember correctly.)

I have no idea where the doughnuts came from. I particularly liked the cream-filled ones, either the vanilla cream or the chocolate cream. I didn’t particularly like the lemon filled doughnuts, which perhaps should be more properly called a Bismarck or Berliner. (Check the definitions from Serious Eats: Click here.)

Any of my old band mates who happen to read this post are welcome to fill in the blanks or correct my memories. But, I loved the marching band, and I loved the doughnuts after the game.

As much as I love doughnuts, I don’t eat them very often. I tried to make them several years ago; too much work. (Although, last year I found a recipe for Apple Butter Baked Doughnut Holes. They were fairly easy to make and turned out great. I served them for dessert after a Friday night dinner with our kids and grandkids. But a baked doughnut hole just isn’t the same thing as a crispy, hot fried doughnut.)20151006_145050384_iOS

Earlier this year, I became aware of a neighborhood doughnut shop in South Minneapolis – Bogart’s Doughnut Co. “Hmmm,” I thought. “That would be a fun biking destination. It’s about a 7-mile ride. I could ride over, eat a doughnut and ride home.”

Well, you know how it is with good intentions. (The road to Hell is paved with them, they say.) So here it is October and while technically I probably could still be riding my bike, it’s starting to get cold (and dark) in the early morning when I ride. So, it’s probably not gonna happen.

But the other day, I happened to be in the neighborhood around mid-morning, and I just parked my car and bought a doughnut. They have a vanilla bean and butter cream filled doughnut made from brioche dough. I was tempted to see how it compared to my memory of the vanilla cream doughnuts from my marching band days. But instead, I opted for the Nutella filled doughnut (also made with brioche dough). It was great, and nothing like the chocolate cream filled doughnuts that I liked in my band days.

Bogart’s gets a lot of favorable press. They deserve it.

30 September 2015

Italian fantasy–behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo

When my wife and I were in Italy (April 2013), we rented a car for a few days of driving around Tuscany. It was a Fiat Punto. It was a nice little car. In Italy it’s classified as a ‘super-mini.’ Here in the U.S. I guess it would be called a subcompact. It was reasonably fun to drive while visiting the medieval hill towns. On the highway, it would cruise along fairly easily. I think the fastest I pushed it was 120 km/h (72 mph).

But, it was basically just transportation. And being on vacation in Italy, I couldn’t help but wish for a more stylish ride. AlfaRomeo1

Fast forward to 2015. I had an opportunity to drive a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider ‘Quadrifoglio.’ One of our auto dealers in Minnesota has a collection of ‘heritage’ cars available to rent. (Check out Morrie’s Heritage Car Connection.) When I first heard about it, I wondered why ‘heritage’ and not ‘classic’ cars. At least according to Wikipedia, the most common definition of a classic car is 25 years or older. (An antique car is 50 years or older.) At least according to that definition, the 1987 Alfa Romeo I checked out from Morrie’s would qualify as a classic. But some of the other cars available are newer than that.

But I wasn’t so much interested in whether or not I was driving a classic. I’d never driven a sports car like the Alfa. I was just interested in the experience. It was great!

When I started planning the outing, at first I thought about taking a day trip along the Mississippi River to Red Wing for lunch. But within a few hours of picking up the car, I changed my mind. A trip to Red Wing would involve too much highway driving, and for this car, I wanted more of an engaged driving experience.

Morrie’s recognizes the character of the car. On its web site description it says that the Alfa “may not please your inner speed demon.” That’s true. The car has a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine. Again, the web site says it best: “It needs to be coaxed a little to make the most of it.” But the coaxing is fun. The engine revs eagerly and shifting is quick and smooth.

When I picked up the car, I drove it around the parkways and lakes in Minneapolis, just to get a feel for its personality and to get used to driving a stick shift again. When I learned to drive, the car had a manual transmission. And since then, I’ve driven manual transmission cars, like the Fiat in Italy. But I don’t do it every day, and it does take a while to get back in the swing of it.

There were a couple of notable things about the car. First of all, it was a convertible and it was small. We kept the top down thru the whole time driving it, only putting it up at night. It made a big impression on me how close everything seems while driving it. For example, backing up – I twisted around to see where I was going, and the back of the car is right there. I could reach back and put my hand on the trunk. And driving down the highway, even small American cars seem to loom over the Alfa. IMG_0685

Another thing that I really loved was the dashboard. The car had full instrumentation. Besides the speedometer, tachometer and fuel gauge, there were little gauges for oil pressure, water temperature, and ammeter. That was another flashback to my early days of driving. It used to be that those instruments were important things to watch, to make sure things were running smoothly and you didn’t overheat the engine.

Like I noted earlier in this post, I abandoned my original plan to drive to Red Wing. Instead we drove to Woodbury and then cut across country to Afton. Then we followed the river road north to Stillwater where we had a nice lunch overlooking the St. Croix. It wasn’t exactly like driving through Tuscany. But it was fun.

And really, that’s why you’d rent a car like this. Or own one, if you have the garage space and if you have the mechanical ability to tinker with it. (It is, after all, an old car. It had 91,000 miles on the odometer. It rattled a little bit on rough roads.)

You’d also drive one to be noticed. That worked for us, too. As we were cruising along the freeway, in the middle lane, 60-65 mph, there was a steady stream of cars in the left lane zooming past us. We saw a few look over with a combination of curiosity and (dare I say) envy. One of the cars that blasted by was a Maserati. I’m sure I saw the driver ease up a bit as he passed us and give us a respectful nod.

28 September 2015

Riverview Wine Bar, Mpls., hits the right notes

Sunday of Labor Day weekend seems to be lucky for us. (Yes, I know. Labor Day was almost a month ago. But keep reading.)

We were just looking for a relaxing place to have a light bite and listen to some live music. Several years ago, that’s how we discovered Nikki’s. (Now sadly defunct.)

There aren’t a lot of places in Minneapolis that offer live jazz on a Sunday night. So it’s a wonder why we hadn’t discovered the Riverview sooner. It’s a cool and inviting locale in the Longfellow neighborhood. It was just what we were looking for.

The interior is warm and comfortable. Customers can choose to circle the bar or take a table. There is a fireplace which I can imagine would add a lot of ambiance on a cold evening. At about 7 p.m. on Sundays, the band sets up in a corner by the door. Looking at the Riverview’s online entertainment calendar, it appears that the Zacc Harris Trio plays nearly every Sunday. The trio’s music was very engaging and easy to listen to. RiverviewWineBar

Riverview’s menu offers a lot of variety. They have a nice selection of cheese and charcuterie and a lot of small plates. If you have a heartier appetite, they do offer 6-8 full-sized entrees. They also have salads, sandwiches, and flatbread/pizzas. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from $6-$15 for the small plates and $15-$25 for entrees. All of the pizzas appear to be $12. Their burger is $12 and three-cheese grilled cheese is $13 and comes with a choice of salad or soup.

We started with duck pate from the charcuterie menu. It was rich and smooth and delicious. It was served with bread, spicy mustard and cornichons.  Next we split a ‘Figaro’ pizza with figs, caramelized onions, almonds and chevre cheese. It was excellent. We tend to be light eaters, so that’s all we ordered. But I think most diners would probably order one or two more small plates. The menu offers a lot of intriguing choices including spinach and artichoke spread, caramelized Brussels sprouts, mussels, seared scallops, and mushrooms. Lots to consider for our next visit.

Of course, it is a wine bar, and it has a very extensive and interesting wine list. I felt the wines were pretty reasonably priced. Not inexpensive, but good value. Since we planned to spend the evening there, we ordered a bottle of wine to go along with the food and continue sipping while we listened to the music. I saw several interesting Italian wines, but unfortunately, they were out of most of them. Still, we ended up with a Valpolicella that we liked quite a lot.

So for us, the Riverview goes down as a place to definitely return to. Especially if we’re looking for music on a Sunday night.