31 December 2008

Guest post: Holiday dinner at Graham Elliot, Chicago

By Tovah Domenick

When Peter and I decided to spend part of our holiday money on going out to a nice dinner, the possibilities were endless. Chicago is definitely a foodie's world and since it's rare that we treat ourselves to a nice dinner, we wanted it to be a memorable one.

After much debate, we decided on Graham Elliot. Graham Elliot is a celebrity chef in Chicago and is known for being at the forefront of the molecular gastronomy trend at Avenues, the restaurant in The Peninsula hotel. Creating dishes such as fois gras coated in Pop Rocks, Elliot took fine dining to a whole new level – though the prix-fixe menus were out of reach for everyday people like us. In June Elliot opened his own restaurant, coining the term "bistronomic" for his new approach, blending everyday bistro ambiance with modern haute-cuisine.

As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by friendly staff and an amazing smell, which turned out to be a bowl of juniper and rosemary boiling in water at the host stand. The restaurant decor is simple yet classy. The drink menu boasts of exotic drinks and a fine wine selection, but since we don't drink the bartender made us a "mocktail" of a passion fruit and ginger fizz.

The menu is divided into 5 sections- Cold, Hot, Sea, Land, and Sweet. The Cold and Hot were first courses, the Sea and Land were main courses, and of course the Sweet was desserts. We decided to order one of each. After placing our order, we were given a basket filled with not bread, but garlic butter popcorn, which was delicious!

For my first course I ordered the Bagels and Lox, a play on the classic Sunday morning favorite. The dish came with two thin bagel chips on top of thinly sliced tomatoes sitting in a herb puree, and topped with slices of smoked salmon. The salmon was very fresh and the whole dish tasted great. Peter ordered a sausage risotto topped with a nice layer of provolone cheese and fried basil. Yum!

My second course I ordered from the Sea menu, the Roasted Monkfish Wellington. Delicious! The monkfish was cooked perfectly in the breading and it was served with French lentils, glazed carrots and melted leeks, and a truffle coulis. Peter ordered from the Land menu, Beef Tenderloin, served with parsnip tater-tots, mushrooms, creamed watercress, and smoked Béarnaise. The dish was simple but great, fresh flavors.

For dessert we couldn't resist ordering the Deconstructed Snickers, which was a fudge torte topped with peanut nougat, toasted peanuts, and salted caramel.

Overall the meal was great and we would go back again as they change the menu seasonally. We were expecting to be wowed a bit more, given Elliot's history, but everything was flavorful and fresh, and the portions were plentiful for the prices (appetizers were all around $11 and the entrees were $30-40). When in Chicago I would definitely recommend giving it a try!

30 December 2008

Mark Bittman: Dairy Hero

I've always felt that the dairy promotion organizations should give a "Dairy Hero of the Week" award to the most favorable portrayal of milk or dairy products in public media. In the absence of such an industry recognition, let me forthwith offer my nominee for this week's Dairy Hero of the Week - Mark Bittman, New York Times food writer, AKA "The Minimalist."

His column in today's food section extols the simple joy of northern Italian buckwheat noodles "bathed in butter." You can read his column online, but I think you'd enjoy watching the video. (My favorite ad lib from the video, when commenting on the amount of butter in the recipe, he suggests that you could double the amount, or even triple the amount, if you want. My hero!)

Click here to watch the video.

29 December 2008

Sunday brunch at Hell’s Kitchen, Minneapolis

I like Hell’s Kitchen. I really do. But after my most recent visit, I’m concerned that it’s focusing so much on the schtick and losing sight of the food.

Hell’s Kitchen moved to a new location not too long ago. The new venue is great! It’s a basement/cellar space that used to be a jazz club and steakhouse. It lends itself wonderfully to the ambiance that Hell’s Kitchen cultivates. And they’ve done a fantastic job with the lighting and décor.

But here’s the thing – when you look at the menu and the web site, they milk every pun and double entendre that you can imagine. “Damn good food.” “Spicy (food)? Hell no.” Gift cards labeled “Ticket to Hell.” You get the idea. It’s all very clever, though they have overdone it a little. But it only works if the food really shines. Otherwise, it’s just a gimmick.

Much of the food is very good. I had the corned beef hash and really enjoyed it. The menu says the beef is house-cured. The potatoes, onions, and celery in the hash are cooked crisp tender. The eggs were fried rather than poached. But they were cooked very well with runny yolks that richly coated the hash. Other highlights are the homemade peanut butter and homemade blackberry jam and orange marmalade.

But my wife had the vegetable frittata, and she had two complaints. One – Hell’s Kitchen has a strict policy of no substitutions or no deletions. She really didn’t want to have the carrots in the frittata, but, too bad. Her other complaint – there was nothing wrong with the frittata (other than the offending carrots), but there wasn’t anything special about it either, and for $8.75, she felt it should have been exceptional. Really, she would have preferred to see an omelet on the menu.

One of our friends who joined us for brunch really wanted to have the roasted vegetable Panini. But since they wouldn’t serve it without the fontina cheese, she got a pancake instead. It was just a pancake.

Another thing. The servers are famous for their attitude. But there’s a fine line between good-natured sarcasm or complaining and annoying excuses for slow or inattentive service. I feel on this recent visit, the line was crossed, and the attitude of the server and hostess was more annoying than good-natured.

(I’ve written about the attitude at Al’s Breakfast, and I suppose there are people who don’t appreciate it there either. But, Al’s really is a dive, and, you’re not paying $9 or more for your eggs.)

So here’s what it boils down to for me: I like Hell’s Kitchen, and I’ll eat there again sometime. But I’ll stick with their specialty breakfasts like the hash and skip the everyday fare (which is just ordinary).

22 December 2008

KwikPicks: Dinner at Wasabi in Minneapolis

Had a very enjoyable sushi dinner at Wasabi with some people from work.

Food: 3.5

Service: 3

Ambiance: 2.5

Value: 3

I’ve been on a project team with a group of consultants from Deloitte. As we near the end of the project, and as the consultants begin to disperse, the project sponsor offered to host an early dinner before people made their way to the airport. I was asked to recommend a venue. Wasabi was the choice.

We don’t have too many sushi places in Minneapolis. I like Nami and Origami. There are a few others like Fuji Ya and Sushi Tango. I hadn’t tried Wasabi, which is relatively new. But a co-worker had, and he had very good things to say about it. The location was appropriate for two of the consultants who needed to leave early and get to the airport.

Ordering was really quite simple. We started with a ‘boat.’ It was, literally, a large model boat with different varieties of sushi and sashimi arrayed on the deck. These items all were pretty basic – a couple of rolls, 3 or 4 varieties of fish and seafood items, and one very attractive maki roll. Our server suggested it would be good for 3 or 4 people, and I guess he was right. He also told us about two evening specials. Ok, I know this is a terrible thing for a food review, but I’m really at a loss to explain them, and since they were specials, I can’t even look them up on the restaurant’s online menu. But they were really good.

Overall, I thought the fish was very fresh and well prepared. The items on the boat were good but not out of the ordinary. The specials were really good. The ambiance of the place was comfortable, but the noise was a little too loud. It was hard for me to hear people across the table very well.

One of our guests for dinner was from New York and the other was from Los Angeles. I asked them to comment how Wasabi compared to sushi restaurants in their cities.

Melissa (New York), thought the décor of Wasabi resembled a Japanese country lodge: “Big points for creativity of the rolls, especially the "lobster-sized" shrimp one - you see a lot of shrimp tempura in rolls these days but rarely one with such an extraordinary specimen!”

Michael (L.A.): “Quality of the fish was at least on par with what I find in NYC and LA. Definitely would consider going back the next time I'm in Minneapolis.”

Recommendation: I probably like Nami and Origami better. But Wasabi is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re in the neighborhood anyway for an event at the Metrodome or the Guthrie Theater.

18 December 2008

Farewell to 3 Fish in Minneapolis

The only thing sadder than a reliable standby that disappoints (see next post) is a reliable standby that closes. I just read in today’s StarTribune that 3 Fish has closed. I always considered 3 Fish to be a hidden gem. Comfortable décor, good food, reasonable prices. I felt it and Stella’s were two of the most reasonable places to get good fresh fish and seafood in Minneapolis. Now it’s gone. Too bad.

KwikPicks: Amore Victoria, Minneapolis

I hate it when a restaurant that I consider to be a reliable standby is disappointing. But that’s the experience my wife and I had with the dinner we had recently at Amore Victoria.

Food: 3

Service: 3

Ambiance: 3

Value: 3

Before dinner, we went to an open house at the pottery studio where our son does his work. We did some light noshing so we weren’t starving, nor were we in a rush to get our food. We started with drinks. I had a glass of wine, and my wife had a cocktail. Our server asked us if we were ready to order, so we did. We had barely begun sipping our drinks when our first courses arrived. We didn’t want to send them back, but we really would have preferred to enjoy our drinks a while before eating. I ordered the Lombardi salad. It was really good. It had romaine, kalamata olives, goat cheese, artichokes, tomatoes, and baby red potatoes. The dressing was whole grain-mustard vinaigrette. Linda had zuppa de mare (seafood soup). It was very tasty with lots of fresh fish and seafood. It also was quite a large portion.

For entrées, Linda had the ‘Italian stallion’ and I had one of the evening specialties, veal Milanese. Linda knew that she was just getting a hamburger, but it was nothing special. I was expecting veal scaloppini. Instead, it was a patty of ground veal, topped with mozzarella cheese and served on a bed of pasta with a pesto sauce. The pasta was very good. The veal was very ordinary.

In retrospect, I would have been very happy if I had ordered the Lombardi salad and Linda’s soup, and I wouldn’t be writing about being disappointed.

Recommendation: I'll give it another try, and you should too.

16 December 2008

Birthday dinner at Porter & Frye in Minneapolis

Back in May, I did a post about a lunch I had at Porter & Frye at the Ivy Hotel in Minneapolis. My comment in the post was that I couldn’t wait to come back and try it for dinner in the lower level dining room.

So I picked Porter & Frye for my birthday dinner. Guess what? When my wife and I arrived for our reservation on a Tuesday night (my birthday), we were informed that the lower dining room was not open that evening. So we ended up eating in the bar, like we did for the lunch on my previous experience.

We settled in to our table and began to peruse the wine list. Porter & Frye has an interesting concept for its wine list. They have a variety of wines listed at several price points. You can choose a 3 ounce sample, a 6 ounce serving, or a bottle. So, for example, they have nine wines listed at $38 per bottle. But if you prefer, you could get a 3 ounce serving for $6 or a 6 ounce serving for $10 of the same wines. They also have a second list of reserve wines.

After discussing it, we decided to order a bottle of Qupe Syrah from California for $38. A few minutes later, our server informed us that they were out of that particular wine. Okay. So we were disappointed, but the cocktail list also was interesting, so we decided to order drinks instead.

While we were waiting for our cocktails, the hostess came over with two glasses of Champaign. She recognized that we were disappointed that the downstairs dining room was closed and that the wine we had ordered was not available. So as a gesture, she gave us a complimentary glass of Champaign. Nice touch.

We started our meals with a scallop appetizer. It consisted of two nice sea scallops, seared and wrapped in lamb bacon. It was an excellent starter and a wonderful blend of flavors. Linda thought the scallops were too rare, but overall, the dish was very enjoyable.

The house salad also was very good. I thought it was like a cross between a Greek salad and a wedge salad. The wedge of iceberg lettuce was served with artichokes, cucumber, feta, and cherry tomatoes. It was dressed with red wine vinaigrette.

For her entrée, Linda ordered halibut. She said it was the best halibut she’s ever eaten. It was cooked through, to her liking. But it was moist and flaky, not at all dry. It was served with snap peas and wild mushrooms. As a garnish, the plate had some puffed wild rice; very unusual.

For my entrée, I ordered short ribs. The meat was moist, tender, and very flavorful. It was served on a white bean mash that was very good. On the side, as a condiment, they served a horseradish foam. It had a good, solid, horseradish kick, but the texture was all light and airy. It was very unique and very memorable.

We didn’t really want dessert, but it was my birthday, and the hostess knew it, so she offered us a complementary dessert. Of course, they didn’t have either my first choice (apple pie) or my second choice (carrot cake). So we got some creamy thing (pane cotta, I think, with berries). Check the photo. They served it with a lit candle.

So what’s my conclusion? I give Porter & Frye a solid ‘B.’ The food was inventive and very good. But the menu is not large, and if you’re not in the mood for something a bit unusual, you might have trouble finding something that you want. The service was attentive and accommodating. But it still was disappointing to eat in the bar rather than the downstairs dining room. I’ll go back someday. But Porter & Frye doesn’t make it into my top 10 Twin Cities restaurants.

22 November 2008

A light dinner at Barrio Tequila Bar in Minneapolis

I have to admit that I’m not a chef groupie. I don’t usually try a new restaurant because of the chef. So when people started talking about this new place that chef Tim McKee had opened on the Nicollet Mall, I didn’t pay much attention.

On the other hand, I started hearing this really fantastic vibe for Barrio Tequila Bar. There was a great Star Tribune review. And my wife (who does pay more attention to chefs than I do) also heard some great things. It seemed like the consensus was that this place would be worth visiting. I even went so far as to recommend it to a co-worker based on the hype. (After her visit, she reported that it was good.)

So the Saturday after Halloween, we decided to try it. I did worry a little bit. Even if the place was good, would it be disappointing compared to my heightened expectations? Nope.

In a word, Barrio is fantastic. The food is great. The drinks are great. The décor is fun. The service was friendly and helpful. And it’s a bargain besides. That all adds up to a great value in my book!

As you might infer from the name, tequila is the star of the bar. The menu lists more than 100 varieties. Prices for a shot range from $4 to $95. I like tequila, and so does my wife. But it’s not something that we drink often. So when confronted with such an overwhelming variety, it’s hard to decide. One suggestion to Barrio – put together some flights of three or four different kinds. I might have ordered that.

Instead, we both had cocktails. Barrio has a nice selection of specialty cocktails as well as traditional drinks, a nice selection of wine by the glass, and a respectable line-up of beer by the bottle and on tap.

All of the so-called ‘small’ plates are $7.50. Take a look at the pictures. Not so small, are they? The range of choices is impressive. We had three:

We started with the diver scallop ceviche. The citrus-cured scallops were accompanied with pieces of grapefruit and blood orange along with avocado. There also was a small handful of fried tortilla strips on the plate. It was an excellent, refreshing, flavorful dish to eat with our cocktails.

Next we ordered the black bean and chicken tostada and the mushroom quesadilla. The tostada had two generous mounds of chicken and beans topped with mango-habanera salsa and shredded romaine. The quesadilla was filled with mushrooms and topped with shredded romaine, very thinly sliced radishes and a cream sauce that had a hint of peppery heat.

Finally, we ordered the fish (mahi-mahi) taco, only $4, if you can believe that. The delicately fried fish was served open faced on two tortillas and a bed of citrus-cucumber pico de gallo.

I continue to rave about Barrio and now can give my personal testimonial. And just today, I saw an ad in Minnesota Monthly for Tim McKee’s other restaurants. They include La Belle Vie where we had a fantastic New Years dinner with friends in 2006 and Solera, a creative tapas restaurant just a few blocks away. Both of those places were truly memorable. I guess this Tim McKee guy must be pretty good.

20 November 2008

Lunch on the road at Wendy’s in Clear Lake, IA

There must be something between me and fast food and Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ve written before that I’m not a big fan of fast food, nor a frequent consumer of it. In fact, I haven’t eaten at a fast food joint since spring of 2007. But a strange thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I was driving home from a meeting in Ames, Iowa. It was around 1 p.m., and I was feeling a little hungry. The next stop was on the freeway was Clear Lake. I decided to stop at the Wendy’s restaurant for a quick lunch.

The last time I ate fast food was at an Arby’s in Clear Lake. Now, here’s the freaky thing. Earlier this year, the same company that owns Wendy’s bought Arby’s. Whoa! What are the odds? I even ignored my own advice. In my posting from my visit to Arby’s in Clear Lake, I suggested taking an extra few minutes to drive into town and eat at a real café. I totally ignored my own advice and swung into the Wendy’s off the freeway.

So I had a BBQ Flavor-Dipped Chicken Sandwich value meal. It wasn’t too bad. The barbeque sauce was a little sweeter than I normally like. But it had a nice tangy flavor. And the chicken was a real chicken fillet. It was tender and juicy, not at all dried out or tough. The small value meal came with a small order of fries and a Coke.

The fries were nice and crisp. Very tasty. And the Coke? What can I say? It was bubbly and sweet and gave me a jolt of caffeine. And get this – absolutely no fat! Wow! What a nutritional deal.

So here’s the nutritional stats for that lunch: Calories = 930. Fat = 28 grams (12 from the sandwich and 16 from the fries). Sodium = 1720 milligrams. The meal provided 2% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, 40% of the RDA for vitamin C, 10% of the calcium and 20% of the iron.

By the way, when you check the nutritional analysis of this meal, the standard serving size for the chicken sandwich is two (2). If you had 2 sandwiches, add another 450 calories and 12 grams of fat.

I still would rather eat Wendy’s or Arby’s than McDonald’s or Burger King. But I still would recommend driving into town for a lunch at a real café.

12 November 2008

KwikPicks: An office celebration at Kafe 421

The communications staff from Land O'Lakes went to Kafe 421 for a celebration lunch in late October.

Food: 3.5
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 3
Value: 3.5

I’ve written about Kafe 421 before, and I like it. That’s why I recommended it for our celebration lunch. Not everyone else is a big fan of ethnic cooking, as I am. But the nice thing about 421 is that the menu has a lot of variety. We started out by ordering a selection of dips – hummus, tapenade, eggplant, and tzatziki. For our group, the tapenade was the favorite. Three of us had the mezedes special, a selection of Greek specialties including dolmades, spanakopita, chicken and beef skewers. Very good. Others had sandwiches. I’ve had the sandwiches at 421 and liked them quite a lot. I think the most attractive meal of the day was the steak Cobb salad. It had such a nice selection of ingredients and was very attractively displayed.

Recommendation: I’ve been to 421 for lunch with just a couple of people. I’ve been there with a group. And I’ve used them to cater a party at our house. They’ve never disappointed. Give it a try.

05 November 2008

Check out a new blog I've found

I added a new blog to my Blog list. It's called matzo&rice. I found it pretty much by accident. I was playing around with Wordpress (another blog publishing site) and saw it listed there. When I checked it out, I kinda liked it.

To be honest, I've been feeling bad that I haven't been including many recipes in Krik's Picks. matzo&rice seems to be mostly recipes and homecooking food experiences. So I thought I'd add it as a vicarious source of that kind of content.

Anyway, check it out.

28 October 2008

Business lunch at Muffuletta, St. Paul

When I first started my career, 34 years ago, the company I worked for, Midland Cooperatives, was located at 2021 E. Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis. Every once in a while, the publications department where I worked would go to Muffuletta for a special lunch.

(I seem to recall that when we went there, the restaurant was called the Lamplighter Inn. Muffuletta’s web site says it’s been a St. Paul mainstay for 27 years. That would imply that it used to operate under a different name, probably different owners. But I couldn’t find anything online to confirm that.)

Whatever it was called, one of the specialties that we all would look forward to was the beer cheese soup.

Things change. Midland eventually moved out of the neighborhood to a new office in Fridley. Then, in 1982, it merged with Land O'Lakes, office located in Arden Hills. Muffuletta has changed a lot, too. The menu is much more up-scale with an emphasis on locally-produced food. But they still serve beer cheese soup, and it’s still worth the drive to have it for a special lunch.

I met Daryn McBeth there on a drizzly October Friday recently. Daryn is the head of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, the organization that planned the AgNite Gala during the RNC on September 2. I wanted to thank him for the hard work that made the gala a success, and we also needed to get caught up on a few organizational items.

The lunch menu is very appealing, and it was kind of hard to decide what to have. In the end, though, we both decided to have the daily special – The Bear Market Special. (Very apropos for the worrisome crash of the financial markets.)

For the special, we had a choice of a salad or … the beer cheese soup. Daryn had the salad. It looked good, and he enjoyed it. But I had to have the soup. It was just a cup. But the flavors were a wonderful blend, very cheesy, and garnished with a few kernels of popped corn.

The entrée was a pumpkin risotto. I didn’t think it had a very distinctive pumpkin flavor, but that was all right with me since I’m not a big pumpkin fan. However, there was a very flavorful variety of other ingredients, including some wonderful mushrooms, and overall, the risotto was very good.

The dessert was a bread pudding with dried cherries. Now, I’m really not a bread pudding fan. I asked the server if I could substitute a different dessert. He apologetically declined, explaining that the portion size for the special is not the same as for the other items on the menu. I didn’t mind too much. I still ate it all, and it was good. For all I know, it was really excellent bread pudding. I just don’t get into it.

All that was just $10. Admittedly the portion sizes were quite small. But that suited us just fine. We had a nice conversation, and I was very happy to have reconnected with an old favorite. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be making my way back to Muffuletta sooner rather than later.

22 October 2008

A birthday lunch at Manny’s, Minneapolis

I’ve written before how my brother (whose birthday is in October) and I (birthday in November) have an annual lunch to celebrate. Well, we missed last year. And we almost missed this year. We agreed on a date, but I didn’t write it on my calendar. I would have totally missed it if he hadn’t had his assistant call and ask if we could meet a little earlier.

Manny’s was an easy choice for this year’s lunch. It never used to be open for lunch. But a change of venue this year, to the swank, new W Minneapolis Hotel (located in the Foshay Tower), also resulted in a few other changes – including, now they serve lunch (and breakfast, too).

We both decided to order the Peppered Bar Steak with Bleu Cheese, Cabernet Butter. Wow! It was fantastic. The steaks were done to perfection. There was a generous dollop of a bleu cheese and butter blend with a hint of cabernet. The steak was a nice size for lunch. That is to say, it was a big steak. Not as big as the steaks they serve at Manny’s for dinner. But their dinner steaks and chops go for $40 and up. This was a nice sized luncheon steak for less than $20. And it came with a pile of really nice fries, crisp and flavorful.

I like the ambiance of Manny’s. The new space is fairly contemporary and not so much like the dark wood paneled cliché of a steakhouse. Our server was very good. He figured out pretty easily that Mike and I were celebrating and he played it up. At the end of lunch, he invited us to come back next year and he offered to join us.

So here’s my bottom line. My wife and I probably wouldn’t eat at Manny’s for just a dinner out for the two of us. We’re just not the kind of people who think that paying $40 for a steak is a good value. But I definitely would go there again for lunch. I thought the menu had enough variety to be interesting, the food was good, the service was pleasant, the ambiance was comfortable. All in all, it was a pretty good value.

21 October 2008

A family dinner at Brasa Rotisserie, Minneapolis

When we have dinner with my son and his wife and daughter, it’s usually at our house. And when it’s not at our house, it’s at theirs. But in late September, after Linda and I returned from our vacation in Greece, we decided to eat out with Ben and his family. He suggested Brasa. It’s reasonably close to their neighborhood, it has a good reputation, and he’d eaten there once before.

It was a beautiful Friday evening. The weather was warm and still. The sky was cloudless. The trees in the neighborhood hadn’t begun to turn color yet. When we arrived at Brasa, we snagged the last remaining outdoor table and ordered a bottle of wine. (No struggling with a wine list here. The menu simply lists “Med. Bodied, Fruity, Red” or “Bold, Ripe Red.” We went with Med Bodied Fruity Red (which turned out to be a Pinot Noir.)

The concept at Brasa is pretty simple and straightforward. Roasted meat – chicken, beef, or pork. Interesting sides. Lots of attention paid to quality and skillful preparation.

On our family visit, we got two orders of chicken and two orders of beef.

The sides we ordered were:

  • Roasted yams with andouille sausage. This was probably my favorite dish. The sweet, roasted yams were nicely complemented by the moderately spicy sausage.
  • Slow cooked collard greens with smoked turkey. Another great combination. We got two orders of this one.
  • Red beans and corn bread. My wife ordered this, but thought it was too spicy for her taste. (I, however, liked it.)
  • Fried, sweet plantains. Very good.
  • Romaine & fresh mozzarella chop salad. I was disappointed by this one. It didn’t have the depth of flavor that I would have wanted.

The one side that we didn’t order that I wish we would have was the rustic style cheese grits. Benjamin says they are fantastic, but I didn’t get to taste them.

The service at Brasa was pretty relaxed. We didn’t care. We just enjoyed sitting around, savoring the meal, and sharing stories about our adventures in Greece. It was a good meal and a good value enhanced by beautiful weather and pleasant company.

A celebration dinner at Gibson’s in Chicago

Our daughter ran the Chicago Marathon in October. This was the second time she ran it. She beat her first time, but she doesn’t run competitively. She’s one of the charity runners. She ran for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.

After she completed the run, she went back to her apartment to rest. Then we met her for a dinner to celebrate her accomplishment. Gibson’s Steakhouse is less than two blocks from her apartment, and she commented that she’d always wanted to eat there. So as my wife and I walked over to her place, and as we passed Gibson’s, we stopped in to see if we could get a table.

“Sorry,” we were told. “No tables are available until after 9 p.m.” We didn’t think that would work for Tovah. After all, she’d just finished running 26.2 miles. We figured she’d want to eat early and go to bed. As we turned to leave, my wife thought to ask about the outdoor tables. “You’ll have to check outside,” was the answer.

Well, we did check outside, and much to our delight, we discovered that we could get a table in a half hour. So we strolled over to Tovah’s apartment, got her, and strolled back just in time to be seated. The weather on the day of the marathon was stunning. It probably was a little too hot for the runners, but it was perfect for an early evening dinner al fresco.

Like any expense account steakhouse, Gibson’s features huge portions and breathtaking menu prices. Like consider this: “Big Porterhouse” = $93. Or this: “Medium Australian Lobster Tail” = $82.25, or with ‘turf’ = $115.

Fortunately, since this was not an expense account meal, they have a section of the menu called “Bar Food” which offers a nice selection of reasonably priced items. My wife went for a half rack of baby back ribs, only $12.25. My daughter ordered the prime rib French dip, only $13.75.

I split a Caesar salad with my daughter and I had a veal chop. Ok, so that wasn’t in the ‘reasonable’ category. It was a nice sized chop, but it was $37.50.

In terms of flavor and quality, we all thought our meals were very satisfying. The service was great. Our server was attentive without hovering. We weren’t at all rushed. In fact, there seemed to be tables open outside almost the whole time we were there.

But the best part of the meal was the ambiance. Across the street was Mariano Park, a little triangular haven of trees, grass, benches and tables bordered by State Street, Rush Street, and Bellvue Place. It was filled with families and lovers and people enjoying the balmy October evening. There was a steady parade of fancy cars, limos, and motorcycles to watch.

After we finished our meals, we walked Tovah home. We hung out with her for a little bit and then left so she could get to sleep. As we walked by Gibson’s, there were open tables on the sidewalk, but it was still jam-packed inside.

13 September 2008

Crashing the Party: Comments on food served during the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis

Ok, I know that the host ‘cities’ for the convention were Minneapolis and St. Paul. I actually spent quite a lot of time during the RNC attending different events. I never got to St. Paul once. I think it’s noteworthy that while the business of the convention was conducted in St. Paul, 75% or more of the social activities were held in Minneapolis. Draw your own conclusion.

The Star Tribune’s restaurant critic, Rick Nelson, wrote about the reception food at two of the events that I attended.

For the delegate reception on Sunday, Aug. 31, he wrote: “This red carpet seemed a bit frayed, thanks to generic, we-could-be-anywhere offerings along the lines of soggy duck spring rolls, drab commodity cheeses, fried and skewered scallops straight out of Mrs. Paul's and a mystery spread billed as olive bruschetta …”

I agree with his assessment. Granted, it’s tough to serve a wide variety of reception food to thousands of people in a space as large as the convention center. But the offerings at the delegate reception were ordinary at best. (Fortunately, I was saving myself for dinner reservations at Chamber’s Kitchen following the reception.)

His comments about the food at the media reception were much more complimentary: “Visitors got a delicious up-close-and-personal taste of Minnesota …”

Again I agreed. The media reception actually was catered by several different vendors. As you meandered through the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater, and the river bank below those venues, guests sampled a variety of reception food, most of it noteable and very good. I thought the food in the D’Amico area (courtyard of Mill City Museum) and in the Guthrie was the best. Nelson heaped praise on the Spoonriver food and the offerings by vendors in the Mill City Market. I quite liked the lamb meatballs and the artisanal cheeses, but I’m put off by Brenda Langton’s ‘healthier-than-thou’ attitude about organics and decline to put her on a culinary pedestal.

Nelson also wrote about ‘crashing’ different private parties during the opening weekend of the convention. I suppose that was part of the sport. But I didn’t want him to miss out on the food at the food and ag industry event, billed AgNite. So I sent him an invitation. He declined, but another Strib reporter, Chris Riemenschneider attended.

Read on for my report on AgNite.

Crashing the Party: AgNite, a food and agriculture industry gala

When I invited the Strib restaurant critic, Rick Nelson, to attend AgNite, I said in my e-mail, “I've gotta believe that the food and ag people will put on the best spread of the convention.”

Being as objective as I can be, I believe my boast was partially true.

AgNite was planned by the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. It was intended to be a non-partisan celebration of the food and agriculture industry. A way to raise awareness among the visiting media and delegates (and a small handful of politicians) of the role of our industry in the American economy. AgNite was recognized as one of the major events of the convention, perhaps the major event on Tuesday, Sept. 2.

We planned for 3000-4000 guests. Like the delegate reception, it’s a challenge to put on a party for that many people and still make the food special.

In the main reception areas, there were several ‘butler-passed’ items. I didn’t try them all. There was a particularly unusual roast beef with horseradish canapé; it was served on a spoon shaped cracker. The visual impact was great (though the taste was just ok). The crab cakes were fairly ordinary. My favorite item was a chicken Wellington, served in a puff pastry shell. I got one while it was still piping hot, and it was very enjoyable. We also had a buffet with mini pizzas and ‘sliders’ – small hamburgers and cheeseburgers. I didn’t like the pizzas at all, but the mini burgers were pretty good.

There was a VIP room, and the food in there was special.

We had a whipped potato station with garlic mashed potatoes or mashed sweet potatoes served in a martini glass with a variety of toppings, including cheese, chives, and sour cream. There also was a carving station with very nicely done prime rib served on rolls. (Inexplicably, there also were very ordinary chicken strips available at the same table.)

Probably the highlight of the VIP room was a seafood bar with shrimp, crab claws, salmon, and ceviche. The quality of the seafood was wonderful.

There were desserts in both the VIP room and the main hall. They disappeared so fast that I didn’t get a taste of anything.

Comparing AgNite to the media reception and the delegate reception, we definitely beat the delegate reception. The media reception had more variety of items, and it probably was better than the food in the main hall of the AgNite gala. But I’ll stand by my assertion that the spread in the VIP room at AgNite beat them all.

KwikPicks: A late evening nosh at Palomino in Minneapolis

My wife and I went to Palomino after a reception.

Food: 3

Service: 2

Ambiance: 3.5

Value: 1

When I set the 1-5 scale for KwikPick rankings, for ‘value’ I said a 1 means “they should have paid me.” For our visit to Palomino, they sorta did. We had a $20 gift card that we used on our visit. As I noted above, we had been to a reception earlier in the evening. There was plenty of food and drink, but we had planned to use the gift card anyway. We were surprised how vacant Palomino was at only 9:15 on a Saturday night. (Labor Day weekend, the waitress complained. She was bored and inattentive.) We each had a glass of wine and we split a salad and a pizza. My wife quite liked the salad; I thought it was ordinary. She didn’t so like the pizza, but I thought it was tasty. 4 items, $40. Not worth it. Take off the $20 gift card, and that was about right

Recommendation: Keep looking. You can find better food, better service, and better value within a few blocks.

KwikPicks: Dinner at Chamber’s Kitchen, Minneapolis

Another amazing meal that confirms my opinion that this is the best restaurant in the Twin Cities.

Food: 5

Service: 5

Ambiance: 4

Value: 5

On my third visit to Chamber’s Kitchen, I wondered, “How could this compare to the wonderful ‘chef’s table’ experience we had on my last birthday?” Though we didn’t get the little extras that go along with the chef’s table meal, we had a great meal. My ‘4’ rating on ambiance reflects the somewhat stark and industrial décor, and it can be fairly noisy. Four starters, four entrées, four delighted diners. Though it can be expensive to eat at Chamber’s Kitchen, I still rate it ‘5’ for value. It truly is worth every penny.

Recommendation: Find any excuse to eat here.

KwikPicks: Lunch at Zelo, Minneapolis

There’s nothing like an outdoor lunch on the Nicollet Mall.

Food: 4

Service: 3

Ambiance: 3.5

Value: 4

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer in Minnesota, and Labor Day this year was a brilliant, gorgeous, warm day, just right for al fresco dining. After a morning of shopping downtown, we picked Zelo for lunch and staked a strategically-placed table near the corner of Nicollet and 9th with the restaurant awning providing enough shade to keep us comfortable. The people-watching was great. Limos kept pulling up on Nicollet, disgorging unidentifiable VIPs to what appeared to be a special event at McCormick & Schmick’s across the street. Clueless out-of-towners drove blithely down the Mall, unaware that it’s for taxis, buses, and limos only. (The only downside to outdoor dining on the Mall is the bus traffic – noisy and smelly.) The menu at Zelo is creative and the food is nicely prepared. We kept it simple and each had a soup and a salad and a glass of wine. The only complaint was our server. She was slow and inattentive. Another server working the sidewalk tables kept noticing that we were waiting and offered to help us. As soon as she did, the person assigned to our table suddenly appeared. We gave a reasonable tip to our server. We wished we would have been served by the other person; she would have earned a more generous tip.

Recommendation: If the opportunity arises, definitely eat here.

11 September 2008

Reflections on September 11

I was supposed to have been on a plane to Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. I cancelled my trip because I needed to be in the office to finish up a project. If I had been on the flight, we would have been in the air for about an hour when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I think the flight I would have been on was diverted to Detroit. I suppose most of the Minneapolis passengers ended up renting cars to get back home.

September 11, 2001 was supposed to have been the kick-off for our company United Way campaign. I was working at my desk when a co-worker arrived and said that he’d heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. My first reaction was – oh, it must have been a small plane and an inexperienced pilot who lost control. No, my co-worker said, it was a jet.

I checked the news on the internet. At that point, it still wasn’t clear what was going on. I read what I could online and then went back to work. Some of the other people turned on a TV and continued to watch. Of course, it wasn’t too much later when shouts rang thru the department. Another plane had hit the second tower.

I went out and joined the small crowd of people huddled around the TV. The images were both riveting and horrifying. Finally, I couldn’t stand seeing people falling from the towers, forced to choose between plummeting to their deaths or being burned to death. I went back into my office.

Not too long after that, another co-worker rushed in. “The first tower just collapsed. I watched it happen on the TV.” I rejoined the crowd in front of the TV. They already had video of the planes hitting the towers. We watched the replays of the first tower’s collapse. Despite the horror, after so many impossible, unimaginable things had happened, you couldn’t help but keep watching. While we were watching, the second tower came down. I saw it live on TV.

Needless to say, United Way activities were canceled.

Former U.S. Representative Richard Pombo used to tell his September 11 story. He was personally taking a group of constituents on a tour of the U.S. Capitol. They were at the very top of the rotunda. They watched as a plane circled the city and came in low. It disappeared from view and smoke started rising from the Pentagon. As Pombo used to tell the story, “It suddenly occurred to us that we probably ought to get out of the Capitol.”

I suppose people naturally connect to a tragedy like this by seeking some aspect that they can relate to. If you didn’t know someone who was directly affected, then you empathize with people from your home state who were affected. It didn’t take long for the local news to start finding stories about victims who were native Minnesotans, or Minnesotans who escaped from the towers, or the Minnesotan who vainly tried to regain control of the plane over Pennsylvania.

In 2001, both of my kids were in the hospitality business. My son had just moved to New Orleans and was looking for a job as a cook. My daughter was living in Boston and waiting tables while she looked for a job in her chosen field. As I watched the tragedy unfold and read the coverage, I couldn’t help but think that under different circumstances either one of them could have been on the breakfast shift in Windows on the World on September 11, 2001.

07 September 2008

Kwik Picks: Bank, in the new Westin Hotel, Minneapolis

(A guest post by Patty Miller)

Out for a business lunch, we decided to eat at Bank on the spur of the moment.

  • Food: 4
  • Service: 3
  • Ambiance: 5
  • Value: 4

Comments: Bank is definitely one of the hot new business-lunch destinations downtown. The surroundings are gorgeous - the lobby of Farmers & Mechanics Bank restored to its arte moderne glory. Former bankers' offices are now private dining/meeting rooms. I had a stellar pannini of asiago, basil, grilled chicken, roasted red peppers and tomatoes accompanied by homemade, super-crisp asiago-sprinkled potato chips. One companion ordered a chicken Caesar salad that was a standout due to the presentation: an assortment of toppings was served in small spoons arranged around the outside of the plate. The other ordered half a roasted chicken that was golden-brown and moist, accompanied by roasted potato salad, which she said was quite good.

Recommendation: Definitely worth a visit.

Sushi dinner at Tsunami, Chicago

An overnight trip to Chicago provided me with an opportunity to have dinner with my daughter. It actually was the day after her one-year wedding anniversary. Regrettably, her husband had to work that evening, so he could not join us.

As I considered where to eat, I thought about picking a place that I know my wife wouldn’t like. So I suggested sushi. A quick check in Open Table revealed that Tsunami is located less than a block from Tovah’s apartment. She likes sushi and was eager to try it, so I made the reservation.

We had a 7 p.m. reservation on a Wednesday night. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived. Maybe it was because if was just after the Labor Day weekend.

We were seated in the upstairs dining area near the bar. We liked the ambiance upstairs better than downstairs, although the dining area in the front of the restaurant leading out to the patio also had a nice atmosphere.

Since I don’t eat sushi very often, I knew I’d need help, and our server was very accommodating. First of all, I asked for advice on sake. Tsumani has a nice selection and quite a wide price range. They offer a tasting flight – two-ounce samples of three different varieties. That’s what I ordered. The flight I chose had momokawa silver dry, dewazakura “green ridge” and wakatake onigoroshi. I actually liked the momokawa the best, even though it was the least expensive of the three.

I also needed an explanation of nigiri and maki. Again, our server was most helpful. He explained the nigiri is fish or seafood over a mound of sticky rice while maki is a roll that contains several ingredients.

Tsunami’s menu lists several ‘maki mono’ rolls and then a section of specialty rolls. We started with one of the specialty makis – sumo maki. It was tempura fried shrimp rolled with cream cheese, avocado, and spicy sauces. That was followed by a fairly plain tuna maki. To tell you the truth, I kind of liked the plain one better because the more complicated, specialty maki had too many flavors competing with each other.

At the same time we ordered our second maki, I decided to try a nigiri. I had una (sea urchin) with a quail egg. For me, this was the only real disappointment of the meal. I’ve never eaten sea urchin before, and I didn’t think that it had much flavor.

We concluded with a final specialty spider maki that included soft-shell crab, avocado, cucumber, and spicy sauces. It was very good.

As I’ve already noted, I don’t eat sushi too often. The last time I had it, it was with my son in Minneapolis, at a place called Nami. I have to say I liked Nami better. To refresh my memory, I looked at the menu online. It has many of the same kinds of sushi as Tsunami, but my recollection is that I liked them better. It also wasn’t as expensive. Tsunami was not outrageous, but I think that Nami was a better value. Lastly, while the ambiance at Tsunami was not uncomfortable, Nami felt more like an authentic Japanese sushi bar. Tsunami had more of a feel of a hot spot for young people, and when you look at their photo gallery online, it sort of confirms that impression.

But these are mere quibbles. We had a good meal, and it was fun being with my daughter for the evening. And I would recommend Tsunami for other diners, at least until I have a chance to try more Chicago sushi bars.

18 August 2008

New feature: KwikPicks Restaurant Ratings

I’ve been doing Krik’s Picks for over two years now. If you happen to be a regular reader, you recognize that I am not the most frequent blogger. Earlier this summer, I went for six weeks without a new post. I went the whole month of July without posting anything. (Shameful, I know.)

I think the blog Chocolate & Zucchini does the best job of having regular posts that are pretty interesting to read. She posts two or three times per week. I very seldom achieve that frequency with Krik’s Picks.

Some of the other blogs that I read post daily or even multiple times in a day. I kind of envy the discipline that it takes to decide to just post a couple of paragraphs on something. The best example of that is the food columnist for the Sacramento Bee. It’s called Appetizers with Mike Dunne. However, even he doesn’t post every day.

The sad thing is, I’ve got notes on about a half dozen restaurants. So I’ve decided to develop a format to do quick reviews of restaurants. So even if I don’t take the time to write a whole post, I can still provide a quick summary of the different restaurants where I eat.

These KwikPick reviews will rate restaurants on four criteria. I decided to use a scale of 1-5 for each. Here’s what the ratings mean:

  • Food: 5 = So good it would make angels weep. 1 = So bad I couldn’t finish it. ((If I ever give a 0, it means it made my physically ill.)

  • Service: 5 = Friendly, attentive, unobtrusive, knowledgeable. 1 = Serve yourself.

  • Ambiance: 5 = So relaxing and comfortable I could live here. 1 = Couldn’t wait to leave.

  • Value: 5 = Worth every penny. 1 = They should have paid me.

I thought about giving either a cumulative rating or an overall rating but decided not to. However, I will have a section for comments and a recommendation..

I hope you find my KwikPick reviews to be helpful.

KwikPicks: The New Scenic Café, Duluth, Minn.

My wife and I went to the New Scenic on a rainy Friday afternoon late in June.

  • Food: 4
  • Service: 4
  • Ambiance: 4
  • Value: 4

Comments: This was sort of an anniversary lunch after a business meeting in Duluth. Since we were celebrating, we ate a little more than we normally would at lunch. I had duck. My wife had lamb. The food was excellent. It’s pretty rustic, but still comfortable. It wasn’t cheap, but I thought it was a good value for what we had.

Recommendation: Worth a visit.

KwikPicks: St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis, Ind.

Went to St. Elmo for dinner with a co-worker while on a business trip to Indy.

  • Food: 4

  • Service: 3

  • Ambiance: 3

  • Value: 3

Comments: Great steaks! Great drinks! Shrimp cocktail features huge shrimp with a homemade cocktail sauce that features freshly ground horseradish. Handsome bar. Classic steakhouse décor. Tables a little crowded. Service was friendly but not particularly attentive. Expensive.

Recommendation: Go there for a special occasion, or when you win the lottery.

10 August 2008

Dinner at Café Maude, Minneapolis

We recently had our second meal at Café Maude in south Minneapolis. Both experiences were wonderful.

Café Maude is one of those great neighborhood restaurants that can be found all throughout the city. Besides great food and an interesting wine list, they have live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

On our most recent visit our friends started with a Caesar salad which they split. They weren’t too fond of anchovies, so I scored the white anchovies that were served on the salad. The salad was unique in that it was served with a “tempura fried egg.” It was a hard boiled egg lightly coated with crumbs and then fried. It had a crisp crust that gave the egg an unusual texture.

My wife had a special on the menu – cauliflower soup. She said it was very good. I also had an evening special of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese. They were lightly battered and fried. I shared all around, and the verdict was unanimous. It was great! I don’t think I’d previously had squash blossoms. Somehow, I thought they’d be stringy, but they were very tender.

For entrées, we each had something different. One of our friends had a roasted half chicken with Moroccan spices and apricots. My wife had had that same item on our previous visit. The chicken was roasted to a very tender consistency. The spices were not too hot. The chicken is not large, but if you’re hungry, you’ll need to order something on the side. Also, it’s a half chicken, and our friend does not prefer dark meat; half of the meal is dark meat.

Her husband had the grilled hangar steak. I couldn’t remember for sure, but I think that’s what I had on our previous visit. It’s a very good, well prepared steak with grilled onions.

My wife had the grilled hamburger with blue cheese and smoked bacon. This was no ordinary sandwich. The meat was tender and juicy. My wife took it out of the bun and it was really more like a hamburger steak.

For my entrée, I actually had one of the small plate starters of lamb skewers and saffron couscous. I thought it was fabulous. Like my wife’s hamburger, the ground lamb on the skewers was very tender and juicy. It was served with about a half cup of saffron couscous in a creamy sauce. The menu said it was a garlic-mint yogurt, but I didn’t think it had either a very strong garlic flavor or mint flavor. It was very rich, however.

Our friends decided to split a side of garlic mashed potatoes, and my wife and I split a side of French fries. The mashed potatoes were very unusual. It was like they had been fried before serving so that there was a crust on the outside. It was good, but like I said, unusual. The fries also were good. Actually, they brought out a batch of fries, and we all thought they were over-salted. So they brought us a replacement that was really great, at least partly because they were just freshly fried. They were served with a ‘truffle, mahon cheese fondue.’ I thought it was a little runny, but the flavors were great.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, one of the things we love about Café Maude is the live music. The trouble is, the combos are acoustic, and if you’re toward the back of the room, it’s difficult to hear because of the noise made by the diners. On this particular occasion, after we finished eating, the restaurant was beginning to empty out, and there was no one waiting for our table. So we lingered and continued our conversation and listened to the music. Very nice and relaxing.

I think that Café Maude is one of the best neighborhood restaurants in the city. Give it a try.

08 August 2008

Dinner at Il Mulino, Chicago

This is another guest post written by my daughter who lives in Chicago.

Wednesday night Peter and I celebrated my birthday and we went to Il Mulino, that's an Italian place right down the street from our apartment and it was SO SO good! One of the best meals I have ever had!

Right away when we sat down they had a plate of fried zucchini drizzled with chili oil. Then they brought out this huge chuck of super fresh and very tasty parmesan cheese and shaved off a piece for each of us. Then they brought a small plate with a couple pieces of Italian salami. Then they brought a bread basket with a variety of sliced breads, and another bread basket with two pieces of warm garlic toast.

And THEN they brought us each a piece of bruchetta, which I didn't eat of course because too many tomatoes but Peter said they were great. And this was ALL before we even got our menus!

The basic menu looked great but we both ordered from the specials menu, which had a ton of options. I got pancetta wrapped scallops with a mushroom risotto and Peter got pasta with Italian sausage. Both were delicious. And of course we had to get espresso and dessert and got the sample platter for desert which had a tasting of their super rich chocolate cake, the chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and some type of almond sponge cake.

The house that the restaurant is in is really beautiful too and after dinner I asked the maitre’d the history of the building which was pretty interesting. Needless to say we will definitely be back.

03 August 2008

Dinner with former coworkers at Salut in St. Paul

I recently was drafted to organize a dinner for a group of former Land O'Lakes executives. One was my retired boss, one was our retired CEO, and one was our former VP of International Development. I was happy to do it. As I thought about where we should eat, I decided on Salut Bar Americain. My wife and I had only eaten at Salut for lunch, but we thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got a comfortable ambiance and a quirky sense of humor. (It celebrates using the term ‘frog’ as a nickname for the French. I always thought it was a derogatory term.)

Actually, what happened was that my former boss (Bob) lost a bet to our former CEO (Jack). As a result, Bob (who lives in Philadelphia) had to buy dinner for Jack. So when Bob needed to come to Minnesota for a foundation board meeting, he asked me to organize a dinner to pay off the bet. After I had the dinner arranged, Bob invited Martha (the former International VP) to join us. Voila!

Our group started with some appetizers. My wife and I split a crab cake. It was outstanding! We especially liked how it was mostly crab with only enough filler to hold it together. The spicy aioli provided a wonderful accent. Bob ordered half a dozen oysters. In a rare moment of helpfulness (more about that later) our server gave some good advice about what to order. I had one oyster and thought it was very good – fresh and clean tasting. Jack ordered baby field greens salad. It was good, but he felt that it was over-dressed. Martha had the beet and chevre salad.

The evening specialty was a multi-course meal consisting of a salad, a chicken entrée, and a dessert, all for only $16. Wow! It sounded like a great bargain. Unfortunately, none of us were in the mood for chicken. Instead, we all had fish.

Two of the group had the evening special fish. It was Arctic char, which is very similar to salmon. It was served with a slaw and honey-glazed Brussels sprouts. I had a taste, and I thought it was the best meal of the evening. I ordered the halibut Provencal, which is a regular item on the menu. It was crusted with fennel pollen (whatever that is) and served with a caramelized tomato sauce and pesto. It was very good.

Another of the regular fish items on the menu is ‘crispy crust salmon.’ The crust helped to keep the fish very moist, but it wasn’t seasoned very well. So I thought it was a little bland. Ok, bland might be too strong. But my wife and I make salmon at home regularly, and this just didn’t have as much flavor as what we make. The final entrée was a special request. Martha had had a special on a previous visit, and she asked if it could be served again. It also was salmon, only this version was served with blue berry vinaigrette as a salad.

I had some trouble ordering wine for this dinner. First we started with a chenin blanc. Actually, it turned out to be a vouvray. It was very tasty, but a little too sweet for everyone at the table, especially as an accompaniment for the oysters. So after we finished that bottle, we ordered a sauvignon blanc, which turned out to be a sancerre. This was a real winner.

The only disappointment of the experience was the service, which was slow and inattentive. We had lots to talk about, so we weren’t too upset. But the five of us were there from 6:30 until 9:30 p.m., but longer than it should have taken.

I said that Bob was in town for a board meeting, and that he had lost a bet to Jack. He’s the chairman of Prosperity Worldwide, a foundation that supports projects to help farmers in developing nations improve their productivity. Rather than have Bob pay his debt to Jack by picking up the tab, we finally decided that he should make a contribution to the foundation, which is what we did. Take a look at the web site, and consider if you should make a contribution as well.

22 June 2008

Krik’s Picks for DC Dining

I was chided recently for not having enough restaurant reviews for DC. After all, this blog got its name from my notes on DC restaurants that I prepared for Land O'Lakes board members when they were in town. The trouble is, often when I'm in DC, I have group meals either in restaurants or in hotels with business acquaintances, and those meals don't often lend themselves to a restaurant review. So consequently, I haven't put many DC reviews on Krik's Picks.

Well, I guess the obvious solution is to simply post the Krik's Picks list that I prepared for the Board members. So here it is - Krik's Picks the 2008 Edition. It's organized roughly by city neighborhoods. I include a short blurb from the Washington Post or other restaurant guide and then a sentence or two of my own impressions.


Capitol Hill South (House side)

Sonoma Restaurant & Wine Bar
223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE Phone: 202/544-8088

Washington Post Review: A warm fireplace, soft couches and wines by the glass make Sonoma's second-floor lounge a comfortable place to spend an evening.

Krik says: The wine bar is fun, but don’t forget the food! The menu features many small plates, a cheese platter, and a charcuterie platter great for sampling and sharing.

Belga Cafe
514 Eighth St. SE
Phone: 202/544-0100

Washington Post Review: There's more to Belgian cuisine than mussels, beer and chocolate.

Krik says: The Post reviewer was neutral on this place, but I thought it was unique, creative, and tasty. Great selection of Belgian beer.

Tune Inn
331½ Pennsylvania Ave. SE,
Phone: 202-543-2725

Washington Post Review: The best-known dive bar on Capitol Hill is perfect for getting away from politics as usual.

Krik says: You could put this joint in any small town in America, and it would still be a dive. Known for its cheeseburgers.

Capitol Hill North/Union Station

107 D St. NE
Phone: (202) 546-4488

Washington Post Review: A Washington insider's hangout in an unpretentious setting where tourists in sneakers are as comfortable as lawyers in pinstripes.

Krik says: The owners are Greek, and all of the food has a touch of Greek flavor. Good Greek salad. Last time I was there, they told me they use Land O'Lakes products.

4 F St. NW
Phone: 202/737-3773

Washington Post Review: Capitol Hill's oldest Irish restaurant has two large bars, a spacious patio on Mass. Ave., and live Irish music.

Krik says: Very casual and lots of fun. Sandwiches, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie.

Bistro Bis
15 E St. NW (in the Hotel George)
Phone: 202-661-2700

Washington Post Review: Find updated takes on classic bistro cuisine; lighter dishes and fish tend to be better.

Krik says: This restaurant is great for any meal - breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can eat light, with an appetizer and a salad, or enjoy a full meal. Good people watching here.

B Smith’s
Union Station
50 Massachusetts Ave. NE Phone: 202/289-6188

Washington Post Review: An art deco vibe and rich Southern fare come together in this elegant Union Station spot.

Krik says: Very creative menu, very tasty; like most Southern cooking, it’s spicy. A little pricey, but you can split a meal.

Union Station
50 Massachusetts Avenue NE Phone: 202/682-9555

Washington Post Review: Big and uber- American, Union Station's America serves big food from a big menu. Big, big, big.

Krik says: This is a good, reliable restaurant. Its huge menu has regional specialties from across America. They’ve even got macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They serve many regional beers, but their idea of a Wis. beer is Miller Lite. And they don’t serve Land O’Lakes butter!! (How un-American.)

Charlie Palmer Steak
101 Constitution Ave. NW Phone: 202-547-8100

Washington Post Review: In addition to the expected filet mignon and dry-aged rib-eye, for instance, the kitchen will be featuring such fashions as a terrine of octopus and chipotle-glazed smoked squab.

Krik says: Located right at the base of Capitol Hill, in a shiny, new office building, this steakhouse has an open, modern layout and décor. The food is great, and you’re likely to spot any number of Capitol Hill power-brokers (those not in handcuffs) wining & dining here.

Foggy Bottom/Dupont Circle

Circle Bistro
One Washington Circle NW

Gayot Review: Quiet, somewhat off the beaten path and oddly soothing, Circle Bistro takes up the lower level of One Washington Circle Hotel. The menu holds many surprises---take the deep-fried and peanut-filled squash blossom, as delicate as a whisper and as sophisticated as a Parisian holiday. From there, the menu takes you to other appetizers including a chilled English pea soup with a minted crème fraîche dollop, pan-roasted Hudson Valley foie gras, and a charcuterie plate with sausage and a duck liver mousse.

Krik says: I agree with the glowing review. I’ve eaten there a couple of times and always been impressed by the quality, creativity, and flavor.

1200 New Hampshire Ave. NW

Washington Post Review: The name of the restaurant suggests it serves light, plain cooking. That's true, but only in part. In addition to grilled fish -- 10 kinds plus lobster are listed -- there are sauteed shrimp, scallops, monkfish and chicken, and appetizers of clams or mussels steamed in wine or sauteed with spicy, garlicky tomato sauce. Any of those can be served over pasta as an entree, or that tomato sauce can accompany your grilled fish.

Krik says: I took a group of our young producers here once. There was enough variety on the menu to satisfy everyone, and everyone really liked their food. It’s worth a try.

2016 P St. NW

Washington Post Review: Pesce looks beyond salmon and tuna to serve the likes of dorade and pompano. The former, succulent and rich, might be sauteed to a gentle crisp and stuffed with lobster mousse; the latter, meaty and sweet, has been served whole atop a warm salad of julienned vegetables and alongside a lovely sorrel sauce.

Krik says: I took a couple of our directors here many years ago, and it was great. The Post says they have a new chef who has introduced some French additions to the traditionally Italian fish dishes. Sounds good to me!


Market Inn
200 E. St. SW
Phone: 202-554-2100

Washington Post Review: Housed in a building that dates back to 1936, Market Inn retains symbols of its historic past. In the entryway is a bell that once announced votes in the House and Senate before the advent of pagers. Walls are adorned with photos from Redskins teams of yesteryear.

Krik says: This is a very popular, local restaurant. It’s specializes in seafood, but it’s not on the waterfront.

Pier 7
(No web site)
650 Water St SW

(No Post review)
Krik says: There are other restaurants on the wharf to choose from, but I’ve eaten here
and had pretty good food.


701 Pennsylvania Ave.
701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Phone: 202/393-0701

Washington Post Review: Appealing appetizers (especially caviar) and fine chocolate desserts are just steps away from the downtown theaters.

Krik says: You won’t get lost looking for this one; the name is the same as the address Good steaks and fish.

Capital Grille
601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Phone: 202-737-6200

Washington Post Review: Gigantic, meaty steaks in a he-man environment.

Krik says: Very highly regarded steakhouse with a traditional look and feel – lots of dark wood and leather chairs. Great for steaks, but seafood is less impressive.

1100 New York Ave.

Washington Post Review: Try the more adventurous Italian dishes here; avoid the ravioli.

Krik says: I’ve never had the ravioli, but the osso buco is wonderful, and I had some great gnocchi, too.

Oceanaire Seafood Room
1201 F St. NW

Washington Post Review: Diners step back in time at this dashing ode to fish, where meals begin with a complimentary relish tray, big-band music plays in the background.

Krik says: Did you know this chain started in Minnesota? Imagine that! Excellent fish and seafood, attentive service, high prices always.

1736 L St. NW

Washington Post Review: Pastas are one of the most appealing ways to explore Spezie; averaging $10 at lunch and $14 at dinner, they are good values for their quality.

Krik says: I had a really enjoyable dinner here shortly after the restaurant opened.

480 Seventh St. NW

Washington Post Review: Tapas (50 plus) and several main dishes fit all appetites and price ranges; the wine list is friendly and the wait staff is helpful. Jaleo won "Best Dining in a Group" in washingtonpost.com's Best Bets 2004 Readers' Choice contest.

Krik says: I like tapas. Some people complain that it’s expensive, but I think it’s a great way to try a different things, share and eat light.

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th St. NW
Phone: 202/347-4800

Washington Post Review: The kitchen turns out high-quality pub fare, often featuring seasonal produce; try the burgers.

Krik says: I’ve only eaten lunch here, but it’s very good. They’re supposed to have fantastic oysters.

701 14th St. NW
Phone: 202-393-3983

Washington Post Review: This whimsical tribute to Central and South American tastes features tropical fare and deliciously affordable cocktails.

Krik says: This is a trendy, relatively new restaurant featuring food from Brazil, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Hip, stylish, and very good!


Filomena Ristorante Georgetown
1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Washington Post Review: Try the pasta dishes, especially the stuffed variations that are made on the premises by those Pasta Mamas you see hard at work in the front window. Filomena makes large groups feel welcome.

Krik says: I haven’t eaten here myself. But several Land O'Lakes Board members, with Mediterranean heritage, really love it.

La Chaumiere
2813 M St. NW

Washington Post Review: This Georgetown French restaurant, three decades old, is a wonderful choice for a wintry day when you crave a cozy atmosphere. The cuisine is hearty and nostalgic with choises like cassoulet stew, escargot and bouillabaisse.

Krik says: This is always a reliable place to go. Great food, comfortable atmosphere.