30 December 2009

Dinner at D'Amico's Kitchen, Minneapolis

I really wanted to love this restaurant. I wanted to say that it was a replacement on my Top 2 list of favorite special occasion restaurants in Minneapolis. After all, it's located in the same space as one of my old Top 2 - the Chambers Kitchen. And I had a wonderful lunch there with my brother. But the sad fact is that when my wife and I went there in early December for a belated birthday celebration, it just didn't live up to expectations. I've thought about this a lot. It's not that it was disappointing. It's just that it wasn't as good as I wanted or expected.

The space is lovely. I already said that in my previous post. For our dinner reservation, the service was perfunctory. No specific complaints. But compared to the service my brother and I had at lunch, just not on the same level.

So let's get down to it - the food. I guess the only way to put it is, the food is inconsistent. And if I think about it, I should have caught a hint of that from the lunch with my brother.

For starters, I had a zucchini carpaccio. It was a wonderful, flavorful combination of paper-thin slices of zucchini squash dressed with a wonderful, light vinaigrette flavored with mint, pine nuts, and French feta. My wife's starter was equally as engaging, but quite different in style. She ordered the saffron risotto balls. These were golf-ball sized bundles of saffron risotto, breaded and fried, and stuffed with braised veal. I would have to say, these two items were the highlight of our meal.

For an entree, I ordered an evening special, veal Milanese. Except, the menu called it a veal chop. So what I expected was a nice piece of grilled veal like I get at some of the high end steak houses. Instead, what I got was a breaded veal chop that was fairly thin and frankly overcooked. I had thought about getting the braised beef shortribs. At $11 cheaper, I think that would have been a better choice.

My wife ordered sea scallops with Brussel sprouts and dates. It was very good. But it just didn't compare to the scallops that she had at Sea Change for her birthday dinner a couple of months earlier.

So what it all boils down to is this. I would go back to D'Amico's Kitchen. I'd gladly have another lunch there. I'd have a dinner there, but there'd have to be a particular reason why. Maybe this is the kind of restaurant that's better for lunch than dinner. (That's how I feel about the St. Paul Grill.) I think that some of the items are marvelously delightful - my zucchini carpaccio, the tuna crudo I had with my brother at lunch. Other items are good but kind of out of character, like the fried calamari that my brother had at lunch or the fried risotto balls my wife had at dinner. And the entrees range from sublime, like the oriechette I had at lunch or Linda's scallops. while other entrees are very ordinary like the veal Milanese or my brother's veal meatball sandwich.

In the end, I can't say that this is a new favorite special occasion restaurant. As I said in my review of Sea Change, this is an outstanding replacement for my old favorite of Cue at the Guthrie. But as unlikely as it may seem, my second favorite special occasion restaurant now would have to be Meritage in St. Paul.

26 December 2009

Krik's Picks Brand Extension

Not to be too corny about this, but I'm extending the Krik's Picks brand. I've set up a Yelp account.

I have two on-line sources for diners' opinions about restaurants. One is Open Table. I use that to make reservations, and often check the diner reviews. I also submit reviews, but they don't have a way for other people to 'follow' your reviews. (At least, if they do, I haven't figured out how.)

The other is Yelp. This is an on-line resource for reviewing businesses. It has a very active community of users who review restaurants. I've gotten into the habit of checking Yelp before trying a new restaurant. They do make it easy for people to follow your reviews on Yelp. In fact, they even give you a personal domain, if you want. So if you want to read my Yelp reviews, just click here. I've also included my Yelp profile in the Links section of Krik's Picks.

So far, I haven't figured out how to mesh my Yelp account with my blog. It seems silly to post separate reviews on both. But I think I'll just try it for a while and see how it develops. If you have any observations or advice, I would welcome them.

Recipe: Godfather (cocktail)

This isn't just a recipe. It's also a gadget review.

I got my wife an ice crusher. She wanted one so that we could have crushed ice with cocktails. In the past, we would wrap a couple of ice cubes in a towel and use a hammer to crush them. Not too cool.

I looked around and checked online reviews of different styles. It came down to either an expensive electric one or an inexpensive hand crank crusher. The thing that finally sold me was a user review for the hand crank crusher. She said that it was perfect for crushing just a couple of ice cubes for cocktails. It seemed like most of the electric ones were really for crushing lots of ice at a time, like maybe for a party. So I decided to get a Metrokane Retro Ice Crusher. (It's made from stainless steel and is so reflective, you can't hardly see it in the photo. It's to the left of the martini glass.)

We got the cocktail recipe from West End Crave in St. Louis Park. You can read my review of the restaurant on my new Yelp page. My wife got the recipe, and it's the first thing we made with our new ice crusher. It's good. Try it.

2 oz. scotch whisky
1 oz. amaretto

Pour the scotch and amaretto over cracked ice. (The bartender suggested a low-ball glass, but as you can see, we prefer martini glasses.) Stir and enjoy.

Happy New Year!

24 December 2009

KwikPick: Dinner at Topolobampo, Chicago

We were in Chicago for Thanksgiving. My daughter and son-in-law requested dinner at Topolobampo. I've heard a lot about Rick Bayless and was curious about Topolo and his other restaurants, so we said 'Sure.'

Ratings are on a scale of 1-5. Click here for my criteria for each rating.

Food: 4
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Value: 3

First of all, to go there, you can't think of it as just Mexican food. This ain't your ordinary taqueria. The items on the menu are creative combinations of flavors intended to surprise and delight you. And the dining room where you enjoy these culinary creations is somewhat formal. You can dine in an informal setting at the Frontera Grill, located in the same space. But we were celebrating a special occasion, so we chose the more dressy, formal setting.

So let me explain my ratings. which may seem unimpressive. Start with the food. Most of it was fabulous! We started with a trio of different ceviches (I'm not sure if the plural of ceviche is ceviches.) All of them were great. I particularly liked the Atun 'Chamoy' which was tuna with a spicy, tangy citrus dressing. We also shared an order of "Tacos de Huitlacoche." These were crispy rolled tacos filled with a corn mushroom combination. Also very tasty. My son-in-law had a pork belly soup that he said was very good. It was served with a lime "air," a bit of foamy something with a nice lime flavor; very unique.

So far, so good. Next came our entrees. I had scallops. They were cooked just the way I like them, still very moist and not at all rubbery. The accompaniments on the plate included a very tasty chili sauce and a pea-cilantro mash and enoki mushrooms. My daughter had a lamb rib-eye. The lamb was beautifully cooked and was served with a plate full of wonderful flavors, including pear-infused chili sauce, potato-apple tortitas (which turned out to be like little potato pancakes) and a grilled salad.

Up until this point, I would have said that the food rated a 5. (All right, it wouldn't have made angels weep, but it was excellent.) Then came the duck.

Both my wife and my son-in-law had duck. Both of them asked for their duck to be cooked more medium rather than medium rare. Both were served medium rare to seared. They ate it, and the flavors were great. But I guess when you're paying a premium to eat at a celebrity chef restaurant, they should be somewhat accommodating on preparation. After all, it's not like they asked for it well done. And at the very least, if the chef objected to cooking the duck to medium, then the server should have said so and given them the option of choosing something else.

Which brings me to my next quibble - the service. I checked Yelp reviews to see what other diners said. It seems that haughty servers are a standard at Topolo. Our guy was ok, just not remarkably so. He did make a very good recommendation on a glass of wine that my wife ordered. But by and large, he was not particularly attentive and all of commented that he seemed to have a very superior attitude. Hence an 'average' 3 rating.

I thought the ambiance was nice and gave it an above-average rating of 4.

Overall value had to be an average 3. Sure, most of the food was excellent. But the price tag was steep. Except for the duck, we felt we paid a fair price for the evening. But there's no way I could say it was a great value for the money.

Recommendation: Go for a unique dining experience. Go for the celebrity cache. (Bayless didn't appear on our visit, but apparently he's there often.) Go for a special occasion. Just be prepared for service with attitude and an expensive tab.

05 December 2009

Lunch at BenjYehuda, Chicago

My son-in-law is working for a new restaurant in Chicago. It's called BenjYehuda Urban Street Food. The owner, who's name is Benji, was inspired by street food that's prepared in cities around the world, featuring fresh, locally grown ingredients prepared according to authentic local styles. BenjYehuda is modeled after the food stands on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem.

So in the spirit of street food, the offerings at BenjYehuda are simple and straightforward. You can have falafel, chicken, or steak (shawarma). You can have it in a pita, wrapped in flat bread (laffa), or in a box - on lettuce as a salad or on rice as an entree. Then you can add any combination of toppings or side items. These include hummus, baba ganoush, tahini sauce, hot sauce, pickles, Jerusalem salad, corn salad, red cabbage salad, and carrot salad. You also can get a sampler consisting of three mini pitas, one of each entree with the toppings of your choice.

My wife and daughter both had steak, in a box, on lettuce. I had falafel in flat bread. Both versions were very good. My falafel sandwich was very generous in size. Two people could share it and still be satisfied, especially if you also have an order of fries.

I don't know if french fries are authentic Israeli street food. It's been more than 30 years since I was there. But they are authentic American street food, and the fries at BenjYehuda are great. They are hand cut and very crispy. If you want, you can get cheese to dip your fries into.

For dessert, you can get a churro. We didn't have one, but they looked good.

The restaurant is open through lunch. Most of the patrons work at nearby offices in the Loop. You also can get takeout.