18 December 2014

Victory 44 Mpls wine dinner shows off chef’s skill & Italian wine

This post and the next one explore some of the creativity that’s occurring in neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. Victory 44 is in the Victory neighborhood of North Minneapolis near where my son lives (in Lind-Bohanon). It isn’t a neighborhood that you’d think of as being a destination dining spot. But Victory 44 has been winning kudos and drawing people in while still maintaining an ambiance as a neighborhood restaurant.

I’d only been there once before, with my son for lunch. (Click here to read that review.) I always intended to go there again. So when I saw a Facebook post about a wine dinner in early December, I made a reservation. I took Ben again because I knew he’d enjoy it, and because my wife isn’t so fond of tasting menus.

One of the things that appealed to me about the early December dinner was that the food courses would be paired with Italian wines. Nebbiolo was the featured grape, and the six wines were selected to show the variety of ways the grape could be used in wine-making. To date, my only experience with Nebbiolo has been in a couple bottles of Barolo that I’ve had. So I thought this would be a fun way to sample a range of wines made from Nebbiolo, including Barolo.IMG_0114

The first wine we were served was Poderi Rosato, a rose made from Nebbiolo. It’s sort of an unusual way to use the grape. The winery is Poderi la Collina and the rose isn’t even listed on its web site. It was good but not noteworthy, a nice way to start the meal. It was served with a selection of ‘amusements’ served on a slate slab. The second one from the left is ‘trotters’ with a mustard seed ‘caviar’ topping. I think a lot of people thought the chef said ‘fritters’ and didn’t realize we’d been served pigs feet. The crostata on the far left with thin-sliced radishes was my favorite on the plate.

So that’s how the meal began. I’m not going to post a photo of every course, only my favorites. But if you want to see some of the plates that I don’t post, go to Twitter and search for #NebbioloWineDinner.

The next wine was a Nebbiolo varietal from Vigin winery. It was a nice choice for the next two plates – shaved beets with powdered raspberry, crème fresh and blue cheese and a deconstructed pepperoni pizza. I’m not a big fan of beets, but the pizza was delightful.

Next came two Barbarescos, one of the two classic wines made from Nebbiolo (along with Barolo). The two wineries were Sottimano and Moccagatta. Both were excellent, and it was interesting to taste the variation that different wineries produced. The four plates served with the Barbarescos were:

  • Green eggs & ham – the egg was slowly cooked until it just barely curdled;
  • Foie gras – shredded and served with figs. The chef asked if anyone at the table objected to foie gras; no one did;
  • Boudin Noir – blood sausage. This was the only course that I just didn’t like.
  • Chocolate pasta with walnut Bolognese – I thought this was extremely flavorful and creative. The pasta was not at all sweet, and the walnut Bolognese was great.IMG_0130

The final two wines were Barolos, what I’d been waiting for. The first glass was from Mauro Molino and the second was from Fratelli Revello. I loved both; I might have slightly preferred the Revello, though that might have had more to do with the fact it was the last wine of the evening. With the Barolos, the chef served his version of a rib eye steak. It was a small medallion of beef, seared, and served with charred potato and onion. It was my favorite plate of the evening.

My only quibble about the meal was that he served three dessert courses with the Barolos. The wines were still enjoyable, as were the desserts. But they didn’t really compliment each other like they should have. The final three courses were (I call them desserts):

  • Pumpkin granita with cranberries
  • Beer and Bread Porridge
  • Chocolate Raspberry

Of the three, I really liked the porridge. The other two were good, but I’m not big on either pumpkin or chocolate.

All told, this was a very enjoyable and unique experience, just the kind of thing you wouldn’t normally expect to find at a small, unassuming neighborhood café. The explanation for the dinner was that Victory 44 is planning a new restaurant in the Linden Hills neighborhood of South Minneapolis. He wanted to try out a few concepts as well as refresh the menu at V44. Cool. I was glad we could participate in his culinary experiment. IMG_0968

At the end of the dinner, I took this photo of my son and the chef, Erick Harcey.0

The Nebbiolo dinner was actually the first of four wine dinners planned. Regrettably, I don’t think I’ll make it to any of the others. But I am looking forward to trying the new Linden Hills restaurant when it opens.

11 December 2014

Ice Skating: How Do I Know When to Quit?

When I decided to go ice skating last week, I knew I was going to fall down. The only questions were ‘How long will it take’ and ‘How badly will I get hurt?’

I never was a very accomplished skater. I never played hockey. I couldn’t master skating backwards. But when our kids were little, I used to go skating with them a few times every winter. Eventually they grew up and I stopped skating. When we moved to our current house – 18 years ago – I put my skates out on a table for our garage sale. I marked them $1. No one bought them. When we moved, a box with my skates and a few other unsold items went into our garage. IMG_0032

Last week my wife and I took care of two of our grandchildren while their parents took a well-deserved vacation. We went down to the park one day and discovered that the ice rink had been flooded. The kids loved ‘boot skating’ on the ice.

So the next day, I went into the garage and dug out my skates, laced them up and brought them along to the park. The first day went pretty well. The kids were impressed that I could glide around the rink pretty smoothly. They didn’t notice my tentative movements or my frequent wobbling when I nearly toppled.

I enjoyed it. I remembered how ice skating was pretty good exercise. I’d work up enough body heat to have to unzip my winter coat and sometimes take off my mittens. I can use the exercise. But I was concerned about falling.

The next day, when we went to the park again, I brought the skates again. And that’s the day I fell down.

I’m not a big fan of Garrison Keillor. But I remembered an essay he wrote in 2009 about his brother. He died at age 72 when he fell down while ice skating and cracked his head. Other than dying, I wondered if I’d break a bone. I think I’m still pretty resilient. But I am 63. How do you know if your bones are getting brittle until you break one?

The falling down part felt like slow motion. I started to wobble as I was making a turn. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I’m going to regain my balance this time.” And then the next thing I knew I was on the ice. I don’t think I swore. A guy walking his dog on the nearby path asked if I was OK. I said ‘yes’ even though I wasn’t at all sure.

I landed on my left hip and caught myself with my left arm. My hip hurt. I could feel right away that it was bruised. My elbow also hurt. At the time I didn’t even notice that I jammed my wrist as I tried to catch my fall. Now, several days later, my hip is still tender but getting better. My elbow is just fine. But my wrist still feels sore and is sensitive to pressure. Maybe I should have gotten an x-ray. I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a broken bone. (Ah yes. Dr. Denial is my primary physician.)

As I think about it, I wonder if I should have fallen differently. Would it have been better if I’d fallen flat on my tush? I don’t think so; I think that would have hurt more and increased the chance that I’d fall backward and hit my head. I wonder if there’s a class to teach older people how to fall?

I’m not going to quit skating. My grandchildren are getting to an age when they’re likely to strap on skates pretty soon. I think it will be fun to glide around the ice with them and help them master the skill. I hope they’ll be better than me.

For myself, I found a workout app for my iPad. I’m going to focus on exercises to increase balance and flexibility. But the question still remains: How will I know when I should quit? I don’t know. Just not yet.

28 November 2014

My last Thanksgiving post

For lunch I made a simple turkey salad with chopped turkey, a little mayo and a little mustard. I toasted some of the sourdough rye that my sister brought and laid down some roasted bell peppers. Then I spooned on the turkey salad and topped the sandwiches with my cranberry orange relish. It was pretty good.

27 November 2014

Thanksgiving postscript: This year's buffet

My last post was dedicated to the memory of Thanksgiving 2011. So this is just a brief post with a photo of our buffet this year. The potato gratin turned out nicely. I thought it could have been creamier, but the capers added an unusual touch. Besides sourdough rye bread, my sister brought asparagus and fennel which we roasted in the oven before serving. My daughter and son-in-law brought stuffing and pumpkin cheesecake. He also helped me finish the gravy, which was very tasty.

I got the recipe from PBS Food. We had to modify it to use the drippings which we siphoned from the grill. Click here for that recipe. Scroll down to the next post for links to the potato recipe and the cranberry orange relish.

Happy thanksgiving to all of my readers.

Is Thanksgiving the ultimate Throwback Thursday topic?

I liked Frank Bruni’s Thanksgiving column: When Italians Meet Turkey. It’s about great family traditions and overwhelming feasts. It certainly called to mind some of my own fondly remembered Thanksgiving dinners.

For Throwback Thursday, I’d like to offer a reminiscence of Thanksgiving 2011. While it pales in comparison to Bruni’s 40-person extravaganza, at 27 people it was the biggest one my wife and I have ever hosted. It also was my 60th birthday. My blog post about the meal featured a recipe for squash lasagna. The post includes a photo of the entire buffet, which included:

This year, we’re hosting again. We only have 11 people, and the menu isn’t nearly as extensive.

  • Turkey (roasted on the Weber, of course)
  • Cranberry Orange Relish (it’s a winner!)
  • Sicilian-style potato gratin
  • An unspecified stuffing from my daughter and her husband
  • Gravy
  • Sourdough rye bread (from my sister)
  • An unspecified vegetable (also from my sister)
  • A dessert from my daughter
  • Apple crisp (from me)

It should be fun.

26 November 2014

I guess it’s time to reboot my blog

One of the things I thought I’d do more of when I retired was writing, including – maybe especially – my blog. So I’m personally a little perplexed to observe that 17 months since I turned in my Land O’Lakes badge, Krik’s Picks has been grossly neglected.

I also observe that no one seems to be complaining. I thought about just pulling the plug, but before I give up on it, I decided to give it another try.The problem isn’t lack of material. Here it is six months after our fun and exciting trip to Italy, and I still have notes for at least four posts on our time in Tuscany.

I always said that while this blog would be mostly restaurant reviews, I also would be writing posts on other topics. So that’s my plan for rebooting Krik’s Picks. I’ve been posting a lot of commentary about food-related issues on my LinkedIn page. From now on, instead of LinkedIn, I’ll put more of those posts here on Krik’s Picks.

Maybe with some revitalized content, I’ll attract more followers. Anyway, it’s worth a try.

09 October 2014

Buttered Tin worth crossing the river for

I often tell people there isn’t any reason to drive across the river (from Minneapolis/West Metro) to St. Paul to dine. Sure there are good restaurants in St. Paul. But there are so many more in Minneapolis. When I say that, I’m (mostly) joking of course. There’s Meritage, which is my favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities. And I’ve enjoyed a couple of great lunches at Ngon Bistro.

Now I have another really good reason to come to St. Paul; my son-in-law recently became the kitchen manager and chef at The Buttered Tin in Lowertown. My wife and I met friends for brunch there on a Thursday late morning. TBT2

Buttered Tin is a bakery and café. Peter’s involvement is mostly with the kitchen, but the bakery gets a lot of media attention. So if you think of Buttered Tin as primarily a place to pick up good-tasting, creative baked goods, you really should give the café a try. It’s open for breakfast and lunch (until 3 p.m.)

Personally, I’m a fan of breakfast, and Buttered Tin has a great breakfast menu. On this visit, all of us had breakfast food. I normally prefer a restaurant where you are seated and place your order with a server. At Buttered Tin, you place your order at the service desk and receive a number. Then you’re seated and the food is brought to you. We arrived at a good time. We got a table as soon as we placed our order. But sometimes, customers have to wait for a table to open up. The service staff is very good about helping customers find a table before the food is ready.

Peter had previously told me about TBT (The Buttered Tin) Hash, so I came primed to order it. I did look at the other items, but stuck with my original intent and ordered the hash. I had an ‘appetizer’ after ordering my meal. It was an oatmeal cookie Moon pie – two moist and tasty cookies stuck together with a white creamy filling. They were in a display next to the register. They looked so good I couldn’t resist, so I had one with coffee while waiting for my hash.

The hash was excellent. There was a wonderful variety of vegetables, crisply cooked and served in a small cast iron pan. Particularly noteworthy were the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. It was topped with a sunny-side up egg. The egg was expertly prepared with fully cooked but still tender whites and a creamy yolk that bathed the hash in a rich coating when broken.

My wife had crab eggs benedict. It was two beautiful thick crab cakes each one topped with a poached egg. Instead of Hollandaise, these had a rich, herby white sauce. It was served with crisply sautéed asparagus and a small mixed green salad. She said she was pleased that it wasn’t served on an English muffin, as eggs benedict usually are. She also really liked the asparagus, though that’s not normally one of her favorite vegetables. She also liked that the dressing on the salad was very light.

Everyone at the café was very friendly and accommodating. Peter was able to stop by the table and chat for a few minutes. (That’s when we had the picture taken.) The ambiance is very bright and open with big windows looking onto 7th Street. When the weather is nice, they have sidewalk tables for customers to eat outside.

Besides breakfast food, the menu has a nice selection of lunch items. Linda and I both were intrigued by the short rib Reuben sandwich that sounded particularly innovative and good. When we make our next return trip to St. Paul, she likely will order it. I’m sure I’ll end up ordering off the breakfast side of the menu again.

26 August 2014

Recipe: Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab

After a visit to the Minneapolis Farmers Market, I came home intent on making gazpacho. Not just any gazpacho, however. I remembered making an amazing recipe for a dinner party … a few years ago. I couldn’t remember what year it was. But I was very sure the recipe was from Bon Appetit magazine. I remembered a couple of very distinctive things about the recipe. There was no bread to thicken the gazpacho. I remember pureeing the vegetables and then pressing them through a sieve, so that there was no pulp in the soup. But the most distinctive part was a ‘tower’ of crab salad, molded and placed in the center of the bowl with the gazpacho spooned around it.

No problem, I thought. I’m sure I’ll find the recipe on Epicurious. Nope. Well, I thought, maybe it’s on the Bon Appetit web site. Nope. Now I was starting to doubt my recollection. I tried a general Google search. Lots of gazpacho recipes, but none with a tower of crab salad.

I pretty much gave up on finding the recipe. I became convinced that I found the recipe in some obscure publication and only thought it was from Bon Appetit. I started looking for alternative recipes and found a couple that sounded intriguing. But for some reason, I tried a few more Google searches and changed the order of the words in the search “gazpacho” “crab” “tower” “tomato” and sure enough, I found the recipe I originally wanted. It appears in a few locations, but the one that was most helpful was a blog called Black-Eyed Peas, a blog that now appears to be defunct, last updated in 2005. That post credited the recipe to (wait for it …) Bon Appetit, June 2004!IMG_0022

To make the incident even a little stranger, I decided to check my back issues of BA to see if I happened to still have that issue. What are the chances? Ten years ago, and since then, I quit saving old issues. Why bother when all the recipes are available on Epicurious?

But, buried near the bottom of a stack of magazines, voila – there it was, June 2004. I opened the magazine; it was still bookmarked to the recipe for Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab. I quickly saw why I kept that issue. Besides the fantastic gazpacho recipe, there are several other delicious recipes for party entertaining.

So I made the recipe and served it tonight. Just as fantastic as I remembered (if I do say so myself). I made two modifications. As printed, the recipe calls for garnishing with croutons. I deleted the croutons. And, the recipe calls for garnishing with minced chives. But my garlic chives are blooming right now. So instead of garnishing with minced chives, I sprinkled the soup with snipped chive flowers. If you look closely, you can see them in the photo.

I fully intend to keep that magazine in my stack. But just in case, I’m posting the recipe on Krik’s Picks so that if I ever lose the magazine, I’ll still have the recipe online.

Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab

2 lbs of plum tomatoes (about 12 large), cored, quartered
1 1 lb English hothouse cucumber, peeled, cubed
1 large red bell pepper, quartered, seeded
1 large yellow bell pepper, quartered, seeded
1/2 8-oz white onion diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Crab Salad

1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over, broken into small lumps
Finely diced peeled English hothouse cucumber
Finely diced red bell pepper
Finely diced yellow bell pepper
Chopped fresh chives

For Soup: Working in batches, puree tomatoes, cucumber, all bell peppers, onion, garlic, oil, and vinegar in blender. Strain puree through sieve into large bowl, pressing hard on solids to extract as much pulp and liquid as possible.

Whisk cayenne pepper into soup, season to taste with salt. Cover: refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated)

For Crab Salad: Combine shallots, mayonnaise, minced chives, lemon juice, ketchup, and cayenne pepper in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Fold in crabmeat. Season salad to taste with salt. Line 8 small deep glasses or custard cups with plastic wrap, leaving overhang. Divide salad equally among prepared cups (about 1/3 cup for each). Press salad to compact and conform to shape of container. Cover with overhang. Chill until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

Open plastic on top of salads. Turn out each salad into shallow soup bowl. Peel off plastic. Carefully pour soup into each bowl around crab salad. Sprinkle soup with croutons, finely diced cucumber, bell peppers, and chopped chives.