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.