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.