28 October 2006

Happy hour at the Sample Room

A group of us from work recently went to the Sample Room in Northeast Minneapolis for happy hour. Most of us have worked together for many years. So we had a fun time reminiscing about past adventures and misadventures.

The Sample Room was a great place for such an event. It’s fairly small with booths along the walls and tables on the floor. We commandeered a bar-height long table for our group of seven.

The bar is located close to the Mississippi River in a historic part of town. The neighborhood is laid back and unpretentious. As the name implies, the Sample Room’s theme is small plates and selections – just right for sharing by a group. The night we were there, they offered half-price bottles of wine. They also have flights of wine – three small glasses of different varieties of red wine or white wine. They also have flights of tequila and single-malt scotch.

For drinks, we did the half-price bottles of wine. A couple people had beer. Our guest of honor for the evening had martinis. One person had a red wine flight. I and one other had the scotch flight.

I am a scotch fan, and I was familiar with all three of the selections. Oban, Dalwhinnie, and Balvenie. I think I liked the Balvenie the best, but it also is the one I’m most familiar with.

On the menu, the small plates are grouped in categories – cheese, seafood, meat, vegetarian. You can order a sampler selection which allows you to mix and match four plates from among the categories.

We had two orders of the sampler selection. Our choices were shrimp, goat cheese, camembert, and olives on the first order. The second order had meat loaf, sugar snap peas, more cheese, crab cake. Everything was a solid notch above ordinary bar food. The flavors were good and the items were well prepared. Our choices were easy to share.

The menu does have some entrées, and one of our group did order a pasta dish. It looked fine. But the on-line reviews on CitySearch indicate that others feel meals are not a highlight of the restaurant. That’s the way it looked to me as well.

We did also order a dessert sampler. We had cheese cake, crème Brule, and a berry tart. All were good. Nothing to brag about, but satisfying.

Finally, a word about the service. It was adequate. Not particularly attentive – we had to flag our server down a couple of times to order food and drinks. But we were there to party, so no one minded too much. The bartender was very accommodating, coming to our table to take our photo. For our group of seven, they added the tip to our bill. I understand why. I’m sure the server gets a substandard tip when there are groups partying like ours. But it still kind of irks me. I at least wish they would point it out when they do it, or if it’s a policy, to have it noted in the menu or on the bill.

I definitely would go back to the Sample Room. But it would have to be with a group. I don’t think my wife and I would have nearly as much fun going there just the two of us.

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