31 December 2010

End of 2010 lunch at Rice Paper, Edina

Dec. 31 is my grandson’s birthday. He turned 1. We babysat while our daughter ran some errands, buying preparations for his birthday party, which will be on New Year’s Day. After she returned to our house to pick him up, we suggested going out for lunch. We picked Rice Paper in Edina.

The restaurant is highly rated. They call themselves ‘contemporary Asian’ and the server said ‘Asian fusion.’ I think of it as basically Vietnamese. They used to be located in Linden Hills. My wife went there for lunch in those days. I’d never eaten at the Linden Hills location. They relocated to Edina, 50th & France, this fall. So this was a great opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.

I was very impressed. Our server offered tea when she came to our table. She told us about a couple of specials. My daughter and I ordered the special spring roll which featured pomegranate seeds, rice, and cilantro. My wife is very sensitive to cilantro, and the server said that this was Dec2010 006 (1024x694)the one dish that could not be prepared without it. So my wife didn’t have any. She did however, snatch a few of the pomegranate seeds that fell out while we were eating the spring rolls. They were very light and refreshing. They came with a vinegary dipping sauce and julienned carrots as a garnish. The spring rolls are pictured on the right.

For lunch, we ordered two entrées and another appetizer. The second appetizer was called tofu puffs. They were described as ‘crispy tofu rolled in a sweet, tangy Thai sauce with scallion oil, sprinkled with fresh roasted peanuts and crispy shallots.’ They were great.

One entrée was Chinese pancake wraps. We expected that they’d come disassembled, and each person would fill them with the variety of ingredients noted on the menu - cucumber, bean sprouts, mint, and lemongrass. The menu said it also included cilantro, but in deference to my wife, they didn’t put it on our order. Contrary to our expectation, the pancakes were served already stuffed with a sampling of each of the fillings. They also were covered with a salad of shredded red and green cabbage. They came with a trio of dipping sauces, including the same Vietnamese sauce that came with the spring rolls, a peanut sauce, and a Thai sauce like on the tofu puffs.Dec2010 010 (1024x768)

The second entrée was coconut shrimp. These were small, two-bite shrimp, grilled and sprinkled with toasted coconut flakes and sesame seed. There was a mound of jasmine rice on the plate, also sprinkled with coconut and sesame seeds.

We had just two quibbles about Rice Paper. Despite having a kid’s menu, we didn’t find them to be very accommodating to our grandson. They didn’t have a high chair for him. So  we asked to be seated in a booth by the window, so that he could crawl around on the bench next to his mother. They fulfilled our request but asked us to make sure that he didn’t crawl out onto the window ledge that abutted the booth. So nothing overtly nasty. Just a negative vibe that maybe infants aren’t particularly welcome.

The second quibble is value. The food was excellent. The servings were somewhat small (fine with us, since we’re all light eaters). But the prices were a little high for what you got. We didn’t mind. We were celebrating the end of 2010 and our grandson’s birthday. And it won’t keep us from coming back. In fact, our daughter said that her husband would like it and she’d like to take him sometime. Just be forewarned.

This is my final post for 2010. Happy new year to my readers. Hope you all enjoy good restaurants in 2011, and keep on reading Krik’s Picks.

30 December 2010

Lunch at Spill the Wine, Minneapolis

So it’s the last four working days of the year. Nice opportunity to enjoy a casual lunch with coworkers and commemorate (if not celebrate) the conclusion of 2010. Not to cast aspersions. It’s just that it was a challenging year. So it felt more like survival than celebration.

We went to Spill the Wine.  I’d been there one other time. Also a lunch with a business friend. Here’s the link to my previous post.

I do like the ambiance of the restaurant. It’s bright and airy. The service is laid back, but still attentive. it just has a nice feel to it.SpillWine

One of our group ordered the vege burger. When it arrived, it looked very interesting … also very red. So I asked: “Is there a lot of beets in that vege burger?” Yup. Ok, so my coworker who ordered it said it was very good. But thanks anyway, I’ll pass on the beets.

The second person ordered the banh mi sandwich. I thought that the description on the menu sounded very intriguing. I was tempted myself. When it arrived, the sandwich looked very nice, but not really anything special. The ‘fancy fries’ that came with it looked very appealing. My coworker liked it.

I ordered gnocchi. The tender little potato dumplings were served with a gorgonzola sauce, chicken confit, and spinach. It was great. I really enjoyed it.

Two of us ordered wine. (Duh.) I’m not really a big wine bar guy. But I like the variety on Spill the Wine’s menu.

My original review was positive, and I still like it. I’m tempted to try it for dinner sometime. What I really think would be good would be an office ‘happy hour.’ Just order a bunch of small plates and flights of wine and relax with office friends. Sounds like a plan for 2011.

19 December 2010

Dessert at the Occidental, DC

I don’t usually write about a particular course or menu item, except in the context of the whole meal. But earlier in December, a colleague and I had lunch at the Occidental. Lunch was good. The Occidental is a reliably good place to eat with classic décor and a fabulous location. Still, I hadn’t planned to write a blog post about it … until dessert.Occidental

It was December after all, and my last trip to DC for the year. I looked at the menu for my favorites – either carrot cake or apple pie. They did have a nice apple tart on the menu. It was a classic French preparation, and I was about to order it. But then another item caught my eye.

It was a chocolate roulade with pistachio cream filling served with a scoop of ice cream. Now, I don’t normally order chocolate desserts. But I do love pistachios, and there was just something about the description that compelled me to give it a try.

I’m glad I did. It was great.

11 December 2010

VIP dining at Ris in DC

I met some colleagues from the National Milk Producers Federation for lunch at Ris. When I arrived at the restaurant, there were guards at the door. Everyone was getting security ‘wanded’ before they were seated. For all the times I’ve been to Washington, DC, that’s never happened to me before.Gnudi

We were seated, and we ordered. Our server was very friendly and we asked him who was the VIP. ‘Can’t tell you,’ he replied. But when the VIP leaves, his entourage will use the side door, he pointed out. Your table is ideally located to be able to see who it is when they leave.

During lunch, we speculated about who it might be. Maybe the Vice President? Maybe Hillary Clinton? Maybe Bill Clinton?

As we finished our lunches, we noticed a flurry of activity around the private dining room in back. Sure enough, suddenly the side door swung open. A gust of wind blew in and the curtains billowed out. At that moment, the VIP was whisked out the door.

OctopusWe didn’t see who it was! But the people at the table next to us did. It was Michelle Obama.

So we didn’t exactly have a First Lady sighting. But it was kinda cool to know that we were there at the same time.

So besides the excitement of the VIP, we had a great lunch. This was my second visit to Ris. The first time was with a fairly large group. They pulled together some tables in the bar to accommodate us. Our server was very slow. On my original Yelp review I wrote: “I wouldn't drive across town to eat at Ris.” But of course, for this lunch I did come from across town, and glad I did.

After all the excitement, we asked the server about dessert. He told us that since the restaurant was celebrating its first anniversary, that they were giving their guests a special dessert. It was chocolate – not my favorite, but I ate it anyway.Charcuterie

I updated my Yelp review and this time gave it the rave it deserved, 5 stars. I’d go back even without the prospect of a VIP sighting.


Group dinner at Oyamel, Washington, DC

Early in 2010, after dining at one of Chef Jose Andres restaurants in DC, I set a goal of trying all five of his DC venues. I did minibar in February, Jaleo in March, Café Atlantico in May, and Zaytinya in September. Oyamel was the last one, and I was part of a fairly large group that ate there in early November.

Oyamel is very much in the ‘small plates’ theme of Chef Andres other DC restaurants. Jaleo is Spanish tapas. Zaytinya is Greek mezzas. Oyamel is antojitos (or Mexican street snacks). I wondered how it would work for a group. What they did was bring out three selections at a time that were passed family style.

We started with the tableside preparation of guacamole. It was a very good guacamole. But you know what? When my wife and I eat someplace that does tableside preparation of guac, we usually don’t order it. There isn’t really that much different that you can do with mashed avocado.

The first round of items included a beet salad (which I didn’t try because I don’t like beets), gazpacho, and a quesadilla. The gazpacho was great. Normally I think of gazpacho as soup. This was a chunky ‘salad,’ more like a salsa, really. It had fruit, jicama, cucumbers, queso fresco (fresh cheese), and chilies. The quesadilla also was good. It had cheese and black, Mexican truffle.

The next round featured a taco, a tamale, meatballs, and a fish dish. They all were good, but the fish was my favorite. The menu said it was ‘tilefish.’ I don’t really know too much about that kind of fish, though Wikipedia says that the FDA advises pregnant and breast-feeding women to avoid them because of possible mercury contamination. The fish was topped by a ‘sauce’ (again more like a salsa) of capers, almonds, greens and tequila. I also liked the tamale a lot. It had shredded chicken, chili, and a tomatilla sauce.

The last course was dessert. One was a chocolate sorbet – good, but I’m not a big chocolate lover. The other was a cake soaked in rum and ‘tres leches’ (three milks), served with a scoop of dark caramel ice cream.

So with this group dinner, I accomplished my goal of eating at all five of Chef Andres’ DC nameplate restaurants. The group dinner was a bit of a compromise. On the one hand, I got to try more dishes than I would have if I’d eaten alone or in a smaller group. But on the other hand some of the items we were served, I wouldn’t have chosen for myself anyway.

I think I’ll give Oyamel another try someday. But of his five restaurants, I like Café Atlantico the best and Zaytinya second best. He also has a restaurant in Los Angeles that I’d like to try someday.

30 November 2010

Monocle Restaurant, DC, celebrates 50 years

Happy anniversary to the Monocle Restaurant in Washington, DC. On Dec. 1, they are celebrating 50 years in business.

As I've written before, Krik's Picks got its start as a list of restaurant recommendations for members of the Land O'Lakes Board when they had a free evening in Washington, DC. I included the Monocle as one of my 'Picks.' But other than that brief mention, I've never done a full review.

This won't count as a full review. I'll do that sometime in 2011. But over my 25+ years traveling to Washington, DC, I've had plenty of lunches and dinners at the Monocle. I've attended fundraising events that were held there. And, in fact, we've held small group dinners at the Monocle.

One of the reasons why I like business entertaining at the Monocle is that they do (or at least have) served Land O'Lakes products. Makes sense. If you're running a restaurant that caters to American lawmakers, you ought to feature American products.

Of course, the main reason for picking a place for business entertaining, whether it's Washington, DC, New York, Chicago, or any city  anywhere, is to impress your guests. You want a restaurant that serves good food, and you want efficient and unobtrusive service. That describes the Monocle to a tee.

So happy anniversary to the Monocle. I'm looking forward to enjoying your service for years to come.

28 November 2010

Birthday Dinner No. 1 & No. 3

I ended up having three birthday dinners. No. 2 was on my birthday, which also was Thanksgiving. (See the next post about that.) My parents and my daughter and her family were at that dinner. But my son was in Wisconsin with his wife’s family on Thanksgiving. So we planned a birthday dinner with his wife and kids for the Monday before Thanksgiving. My daughter and her son were able to come; but my son-in-law had to work.

I had a recipe from the New York Times that I wanted to make. It’s a butternut squash and mushroom Wellington. (Click here for the recipe.) It really wasn’t too difficult to make, and it turned out really well.No59v2 (2)

My son looked at some recent issues of Bon Appetit, and he picked a recipe that he wanted to make that would go with the Wellington. It was pancetta, asparagus, and peas with pasta (recipe here.)

Since it was a birthday celebration, I decided to open a special bottle of wine. My wife and I visited the Imagery Winery in Sonoma a couple years ago that produced Italian-style wines. We bought a half case of different varieties. For this dinner, I opened a Barbera. It was really great.

So besides our family dinners, my wife and I usually have a birthday celebration dinner out at a restaurant. I really wanted to go to Meritage in St. Paul. I’ve written about it before. It’s my favorite special occasion restaurant in the Twin Cities. We had a reservation for the weekend before my birthday, but we cancelled it because of bad weather. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving the restaurant was closed for remodeling. So instead, we went to Café Lurcat in Minneapolis.

I consider Café Lurcat to be a reliable, excellent restaurant for a special occasion. It pretty much lived up to my expectations. We arrived a few minutes early, so we weren’t surprised when the hostess told us that we’d have to wait a few minutes. We actually didn’t mind since we quite like the bar at Lurcat. We found a comfy couch and settled in. Linda picked a special martini. I asked if the bartender could make a Sazarac cocktail. The server wasn’t familiar with that drink, so I thought I was out of luck. But when he arrived with our drinks, he had my Sazarac. Yum.Lurcat

Just as our drinks were brought out, the hostess told us that a table was ready for us. So we brought the drinks with us into the dining room. But we didn’t so much like the table, so we asked her if we could wait until something else opened up. She very graciously obliged. So back we went into the bar where we finished our cocktails.

About the time that we finished our drinks, another table was open. We liked it a lot better and so we began our dinner service. The food was very good. You can read my review on Yelp here. But as my review indicates, we were quite disappointed with the service. At the end of the meal, we spoke to the hostess, who also was the manager. She sorted things out to our satisfaction.

Three birthday dinners, all quite different. I enjoyed them all, and had a very happy birthday week.

26 November 2010

Thanksgiving & Birthday Dinner No. 2

Yes, it’s true. I did have turkey for my birthday dinner. This was one of those relatively rare occasions when my birthday fell exactly on Thanksgiving day. (See next post.) There’s no rule that says you have to have turkey on Thanksgiving … Oh wait. My wife just informed me that there actually is such a rule.

So anyway, it was fun planning a combination birthday/Thanksgiving dinner. It was made especially fun because my daughter and her family recently moved back to Minnesota, and they would be joining us for Thanksgiving dinner. My son-in-law is a chef, so we could count on him to help prepare some special items for our menu. Also, my Mom & Dad drove up from Albert Lea to have dinner with us.

I think the best way to report on our menu is to do it by who brought/prepared what.

Mom & Dad brought beef jerky and dried beef from Nick’s Meats in Hayward, MN. Nick has won many awards over the years for his sausage and smoked meats. My kids love the dried beef and beef jerky. It was my daughter’s special request that Mom & Dad bring them for Thanksgiving. We served them for appetizers.

My daughter and her husband prepared several items for the dinner. Their appetizer was jalapeno-goat cheese hush puppies from the September 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. They were great. They also prepared two side dishes – creamed spinach and cornbread stuffing with turkey gravy. The three items that they prepared were the most work, and my son-in-law spent much of the time at the stove.

For Linda and me, our appetizer was cheese and crackers. I was responsible for the turkey. My usual preparation is to cook the turkey on our classic, charcoal fired, Weber kettle grill. I like how the charcoal gives the meat a nice smoky flavor. We made a 15-pound turkey. It took not quite three hours to cook. I also made whole wheat date dinner rolls from Bon Appetit December 2002. Besides making a salad, Linda also made a sweet potato recipe that she has in her recipe folder. For dessert, she picked a recipe from the Star Tribune for pumpkin ice cream pie. The recipe was printed as part of a series on Thanksgiving recipes from the Taste archives. It originally appeared in 2002.

Lastly, besides the pie, we also served gingerbread cookies, my favorite holiday cookie. We planned a family ‘cookie factory’ to bake and decorate cookies for the Sunday before Thanksgiving. But bad weather kept our grandkids and nieces away. I baked the cookies anyway, and on Monday, my granddaughter came over and helped decorate them.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving, and I had a happy birthday.

Strange facts about my birthday

Several people have asked, "How often does your birthday fall on Thanksgiving?" Not very often. Not often enough for me to really know. But you can find out anything on the Internet, so I looked it up.

I was born in 1951 (on a Sunday). The first time my birthday fell on Thanksgiving was 1954. It didn't happen again until 11 years later - 1965. Next was 1971, 6 years. Then 1976, 5 years. then 1982, 6 years. Then the cycle started over again, 11-6-5-6. So it's a 28 year cycle.

With this birthday, I've just started a new 28 year cycle. The next time my birthday is on Thanksgiving is 2021. I'll turn 70 that year.

01 November 2010

Recipe: Mixed Pepper Risotto

It’s been an amazing autumn. I can’t remember a time when our heavy frost didn’t occur until so late in October. I had already harvested my  basil earlier in the month. But I still had several peppers in the garden when the forecast called for temps to drop to the mid-20s. It was already after dark when I went into my yard to bring in the last of the peppers. There was one bell pepper, a half dozen banana peppers, two habaneros, and three or four jalapenos.

I took the hot peppers, the habaneros and jalapenos, minced them and covered them with olive oil and put them in the refrigerator. A quarter teaspoon of that mixture will add plenty of heat to pasta, rice, or a burger in the coming weeks.

I improvised a risotto recipe for the bell pepper and two of the banana peppers. I also snipped some fresh oregano and parsley, which still is fresh and green despite the freezing night temps. The recipe turned out pretty well. It had a nice, distinct pepper flavor, but it probably could have used more herbs or a more flavorful stock to balance the flavors better. Here it is.
1/4 cup diced onion (or shallot)
1/2 cup diced peppers, any mixture that you have available
2 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock or vegetable broth
1/3 cup minced fresh herbs (oregano, parsley, basil, mint, whatever you have available)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Sauté onions and peppers until onions are translucent. Stir in rice and continue to cook until rice is coated with oil and slightly translucent (about one minute). Pour in wine, cook and stir until wine is most absorbed. Add stock 1/2 cup at a time, cooking until liquid is absorbed before adding more stock. Continue until rice is al dente and most of the stock has been added. Adjust seasoning to taste when you add the last of the stock. Remove from heat and stir in herbs and cheese. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer rice to serving bowl and garnish with more fresh herbs. Serve as a side dish to chicken or fish.

31 October 2010

Birthday lunch at Sea Change, Minneapolis

I’ve written before about how my brother and I have lunch in between our birthdays. His is in October. Mine is in November. (Click here to read last year’s post.) This year, we went to Sea Change at the Guthrie in Minneapolis. I’ve written before about Sea Change. It’s one of my top two restaurants in the Twin Cities. And my brother and I have had our birthday lunch here, too. Only last time, the restaurant was Cue.

Our experience at lunch only reconfirmed that Sea Change is one of my two favorite special occasion restaurants in the Twin Cities. (I have to say ‘Twin Cities’ rather than Minneapolis, since the other one is Meritage in St. Paul.)
When we arrived at noon on a Friday, the restaurant was mostly deserted. There were maybe one or two other tables of diners there. I hope that’s not an indication that they’re in trouble. By the time we left, there were a few more tables occupied. But still not too busy.

At first, I was a little disappointed. The selection of items on the lunch menu seemed quite limited. And then, our server told us that they soup of the day was not available. He said it was like a white gazpacho, with grapes instead of tomatoes. Alas, it was not available.

I also asked about the grilled octopus. I’ve had it as a starter for dinner on past visits. It’s fabulous. The octopus is slightly chewier than calamari. But the smoky flavor from the grill and the salsa and smoked paprika give it a very distinctive flavor with just a hint of heat. While he appreciated my enthusiasm for the dish, it was not available for lunch.

Not an auspicious start. I was worried that maybe I would have to reassess my rating of the restaurant. I shouldn’t have fretted. We had a great lunch.
I started out with a salad. The server described it as sort of a deconstructed Caesar salad. It was great. One of the things I loved was how the egg was served. It was like a soft boiled egg on the side of the plate. Very attractive and unusual. For my entrée, I had arctic char. I have had char before. I just keep forgetting how similar it is to salmon. It was very nicely prepared and was served with white beans and an artichoke giardiniera. I don’t remember what Mike has as a starter. But for his lunch, he had the appetizer serving of smoked salmon. It was wonderful, flavorful thin slices of salmon beautifully arranged on the plate with a few greens and other garnishes. I tasted it. Sometimes smoked salmon is very pungent and salty. The smoky flavor on this serving was subtle and not at all salty. It was great.

We did split a bottle of wine. Mike picked a Tempranillo, Rioja, Remelluri. It was very good. Even though it was a red, it complemented our fish quite well.

So despite some early trepidation, Sea Change met my expectations and easily remains on my list as one of the top two special occasion restaurants in the Twin Cities.

24 October 2010

Stay home vacation = food, chores, grandkids

I took a week off from working at the office. Notice how careful I was about stating that? I did check e-mails from home on most of the days. I did do one business dinner on Thursday. I did check my voice messages twice. But for the most part, it was a restorative break from the office routine.

Which is not to say that I wasn’t busy. Um … that is to say I still had a busy week. I washed windows. I raked leaves. I bought jewelry for my wife. I picked up two new suits at SFA. I wrote a blog post. Well, you get the picture. I did a lot of stuff, just not at the office.

A lot of the stuff I did was food related. On Monday night, we had a great dinner at Barbette. That was my last blog post. Click here to read it. One night I cooked bay scallops in a lime-butter sauce and served it on basmati rice. It was good. On Thursday (before leaving for the business dinner), I baked two batches of bread – challah for Friday night dinner with our grandkids (and their parents) and French bread for our planned Saturday night dinner party (more to come).

On Friday, I had a cupcake factory with my granddaughter. We mixed up a batch of Betty Crocker’s Best Chocolate Cake (from the Betty Crocker Cookbook that I bought when I first started cooking for myself. I guess now you don’t need the cookbook since it appears you can find all the recipes online anyway.) Here’s the cake recipe we made. We spooned the batter into cupcake papers and baked them until done rather than making layer cake. Instead of Betty’s fudge frosting, we made a butter cream frosting from Land O'Lakes. Click here for that recipe. You can see from the photo that we made different colors frosting for decorating the cupcakes. The pink frosting was vanilla. The green frosting was mint (substituting mint extract for the vanilla). The yellow frosting was lemon (substituting lemon extract for the vanilla). Of course the color was just regular food color.

For dinner on Friday, I made braised boneless short ribs with dates and aromatic spices. It’s a recipe I’ve had on file for so long, I don’t know when I first saved it. I’m pretty sure it’s from a newspaper food page. My guess is either New York Times, Washington Post, or Florida Sun-Sentinel. Over the years, I’ve saved a lot of recipes from those papers. I served it with mashed potatoes, and Linda made a cabbage and apple salad. For dessert we had cupcakes (what else?)

On Saturday, we had a group of friends for an Italian Harvest Dinner. For appetizers, we served olives, cheese & crackers, and Sweet Pea Crostini. The Sweet Pea Crostini is a recipe that I’ve served often in the past year. It’s great.

We started with Ligurian Minestrone. It’s a recipe from the Boston Globe that I’ve had on file since our daughter lived in Boston in 2003. Next we served two recipes from La Cucina Italiana. It’s a magazine that I pick up at the airport from time to time. Fabulous recipes and great articles about Italian food and wine. Next we served Penne e ceci and Insalata di Gamberi e Finocchi con le Prugne. The penne featured a sauce made from pureed chickpeas with herbs. The recipe calls for serving it with fish; I used small cubes of mozzarella cheese instead. The salad consisted of shrimp on a bed of greens with sautéed fennel and prunes. (When we shopped for prunes, we discovered that they’re now called ‘dried plums’ in the United States.)

For dessert, I served the Lake Garda Apple Cake recipe that I’ve written about before.

It was a fun week.

12 October 2010

Prix Fixe dinner, avant-garde music at Barbette

Barbette was the first restaurant I reviewed when I started this blog in 2006. This will be the 4th post about it. (If you want to read the others, you can click here, and here, and here.) I think that makes Barbette the most frequently mentioned restaurant on Krik’s Picks.Want to know why?

Because it’s reliably fun and good. We’ve always had good food, good wine, great service, and funky ambiance. Now you can add entertainment to the list of attractions that make Barbette a place to come back to, again and again.

We don’t usually go out for dinner during the week. But I’m taking this week off, just to stay and home, rake leaves, do some cooking, and write blog posts. I recently became a ‘fan’ of Barbette on Facebook, and I’ve noticed recent posts about live music on Mondays and Thursdays. So what the heck? No need to get up early on Tuesday morning. Perfect excuse for a late dinner and check out the music.

The other thing relatively new at Barbette is a weekly prix fixe meal. When we arrived and checked the menu, it was an easy decision for both of us to choose the special menu. The first item served was seared scallops. On the plate were two nice-sized sea scallops, perfectly cooked with a dollop of spicy aioli. The scallops were topped with a teaspoon of chopped tomatoes (sort of like a mild salsa). The whole thing was on a thick slab of bacon.

Next up was duck confit in a vegetable hash topped with a poached egg. I think this was my favorite dish of the meal. The vegetables were sautéed nice and tender. The duck was rich and flavorful. The egg yolk coated the whole dish like a warm, golden sauce.

Next came four small slices of New York strip steak served on brocollini and topped with a shallot Bordelaise sauce. It was very good, but we enjoyed the other two dishes on the menu better.

The dessert actually was a duo. One was a cinnamon tea cake – very light and flavorful. The other was an espresso caramel pot de crème. It was served in a demitasse cup and was topped with nutmeg crème.

Consistent with our past experiences at Barbette, our server was excellent. She helped us pick a nice Spanish wine (Rioja Vega Joven) that nicely complimented all of the items on the prix fixe menu.

The musical group for the evening was called Saltee. While we were eating, the musicians arrived. One of them (female cello player) sat at the table next to us. We didn’t really know too much about their style. Barbette’s Facebook page described them this way: “Saltee is an Indie, urban, organic, neo classical trio steam driven by afro-Cuban beats made by the human voice.” Know what that means? Neither did we.

While writing this post, I did discover that Saltee has a Facebook page. Click here if you want to see it. You can hear a couple of samples of their music in the Links section of their Facebook page.

The cello player was very curious about why we were there. By 9:45 (the music started at 10), we were clearly the oldest people in the restaurant. I told her that we loved Barbette’s food, and we were curious about the music.

“It’s very urban,” she said. I’m not sure if she was implying that we would be too suburban to enjoy it, but it was clear that we weren’t the demographic of their usual audience.

“Well,” I said. “If we don’t like it, we’ll go home and watch the news, which is what we’re usually doing at 10 on a Monday night.”

We did like it just fine. Besides the cello player, there was a guitar player and a vocalist who did ‘beatboxing.’ The live performance had a lot of energy that was captivating, and it was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd. They took a break at 11, and that’s when we left to go home.

29 September 2010

Dinner at Zaytinya, Washington, DC

In past posts, I’ve written that I’m a fan of chef Jose Andres. He has several restaurants in Washington, DC, so I decided that over the course of several months, I’d try to go to each one of them. (Click here for minibar; click here for Cafe Atlantico; click here for Jaleo.)
So in September, when I found myself with an evening and no business-related dinner plans, it was a perfect opportunity to try Zaytinya. One of my co-workers also was free that evening, so he joined me. That proved to be a good thing. Not only was it pleasant company. But Zaytinya features Mediterranean mezzas – small plates, quite similar to Spanish tapas. In my review of Jaleo, I lamented that since I was eating along, I didn’t get to try a good variety of the tapas. But by having a dinner companion at Zaytinya, we were able to sample a good selection of mezzas.

We started by splitting a salad – tabouleh. It’s made from parsley, bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, mint, and a citrusy dressing. I really like tabouleh, and it was good at Zaytinya. But it wasn’t the best I’ve ever had.

Next we ordered a couple of vegetable mezzas. One was roasted eggplant stuffed with onions and tomatoes. It was called “Ímam Bayıldı.” It was very good; quite unusual. The other was spanakopita. When we ordered it, I thought this was our ‘safe’ choice. I’ve had spanakopita many times and thought I knew what to expect. But to my surprise, at Zaytinya it’s served rolled in a cigar shape rather than flat layers of phyllo, spinach, and feta.
For our final round of items, we decided to have fish and seafood. The fish item was halibut coated with a ground nut, roasted and served on a roasted pepper and almond puree. It was very flavorful and unique. But the best dish of the evening was the shrimp - “Garides Saganaki.” The shrimp were sauteed with tomatoes and onions and were mixed with a Greek cheese and just a faint hint of ouzo in the sauce. Yum! It was great.

So overall, I liked the mezzas at Zaytinya better than the tapas at Jaleo. But I still think that Cafe Atlantico is the best of Chef Andres’ DC restaurants for dinner.

27 September 2010

Dinner at Bar La Grassa, Minneapolis

In August, Bon Appetit magazine named Bar La Grassa one of the 10 best new restaurants in the United States. Many of our friends had eaten there and they raved about it. So earlier in September, we decided to try it.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s not one of the 10 best new restaurants in America. It might be. It was very good. But there were just a few little things that prevent me from raving about it.

Let’s start with the neighborhood. It’s kind of … edgy. Not in a dangerous way. But also not in a very welcoming way. There’s a rowdy music bar across the street. (Bunkers. We had a fun time there with some friends earlier this year. Even had some pretty good bar food there.) There’s another bar a couple blocks away, Clubhouse Jager. (Kind of mysterious in a Teutonic kind of way.)

There are some bars, coffee houses, and pizza joints along the street. As we were strolling up the street, waiting for our table to be ready, in front of one of the neighboring joints there was a tall young man yelling at several friends. His shirt was off, and he was unbuckling his pants. His friends were pleading with him to get dressed. “All right,” he shouted. “I won’t take off my pants. But I’m not putting on my shirt.” H-m-m-m.

So here’s the thing about the neighborhood. It’s not that it’s a bad neighborhood. It’s just that, I can’t imagine any of the ‘beautiful’ people at Bar La Grassa wandering across the street after dinner to finish the evening at Bunkers. Or, if the wait is too long for a table at Bar La Grassa, I can’t really imagine them taking at table at The Loop instead. (Though maybe Black Sheep Coal Fired Pizza might attract some of the overflow crowd.)

Next was our table. We were seated next to a window. Which is fine. But it was right near the kitchen. So we had all of the traffic of servers coming and going from the kitchen moving past us all night. Next time, we’ll wait for a table more in the dining room.

Third is the menu. Not the food, mind you. The menu. It’s not very descriptive of the food. For example, here’s what the menu says about the chicken entree: “Chicken.” That’s it. Most of the other menu listings were equally as spare.

When our server came to our table, we wondered: “How are we supposed to know how the food is prepared?” we asked. She said she’d gladly tell us as much as we wanted to know about any of the menu items.
Here’s where the good stuff about Bar La Grassa begins. Our server was tremendous. She did tell us as much as we wanted to know about the menu items. I’m sure that if we had asked her to describe every menu item, she would have. She helped us make some wonderful choices. And through the evening, she was friendly and attentive.

The next ‘good’ thing about Bar La Grassa is the food. It’s excellent. We each had a starter. Mine was barramundi with Calabrian pepperoncini. This was a kind of civiche. The fish (barramundi, or Asian sea bass) was cured in citrus juice and served with slices of Calabrian peppers. My wife had an artichoke bruschetta. The toasty bread was piled high with artichoke slices and was very tasty.

The menu includes a nice selection of fresh and dried pasta. You can get either a full order or a half order. We had been to a reception before our dinner, so we were satisfied ordering half orders. My wife had tortellini stuffed with a rich, flavorful foie gras filling. I had gnocchi served with cauliflower and orange. Both dishes were excellently prepared and delicious.

So our conclusion: Maybe this is one of the 10 best new restaurants in America. Who am I to second guess Bon Appetit? I did like Bar La Grassa. But I can’t rave over it. It’s very good, but it’s not my favorite Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. (I think Broder’s Pasta Bar still deserves that distinction in my book.)

Still, we’re going to give Bar La Grassa a do-over. Even though we were put off by some things, the food, the excellent service, and the contagious energy of the restaurant makes us want to give it another chance.

31 August 2010

MN State Fair: Feeding Frenzy

I went to the state fair for the first time in about 10 years. When people at the office heard that it had been so long since going, they said, “But Steve, you’re such a foodie. How can you not go to the state fair.”

Well first of all, I’m not sure that I really am a ‘foodie.’ Secondly, if I were a foodie, I’m not sure that the state fair qualifies as food nirvana.

Being a cheapskate, I got into the fair for free. (As a volunteer at the milk booth, see the next post below.) I also parked at the free ‘Park & Ride’ lot by the University of Minnesota football stadium.

I arrived at about 9 a.m. My shift at the milk booth didn’t start until 10, so I had time for breakfast. I wandered around, and thought about eating at one of the full service restaurants. I’ve never done that before. While I was walking, I passed a table where they were handing out samples of Motts applesauce. So that was my first state fair food – free.

Next I saw the booth for Axel’s Bonfire. They offered a breakfast wrap that sounded kinda good. It had eggs, cheese, sausage, and bacon. Of course, it was deep fried. It tasted ok, but it didn’t really have to be deep fried. It was reasonable, however: $4.

I wanted coffee with the wrap, but Axel’s didn’t have any. However, they directed me to French Meadow down the street. Actually, if I had known that French Meadow had a booth, I might have skipped the breakfast wrap. But I went there and got a $2 cup of organic coffee. Meh. I’ve had better.

I still had a little time to kill, so I had one of my favorite state fair treats – Tom Thumb donuts. I can’t help it. I love ‘em. $4.

After working for a while in the milk booth, I was told to go on break. So I wandered back to the French Meadow. I had their risotto fritters. They were good; probably the second best thing I ate at the fair. (Tom Thumb donuts are unbeatable.) They were lightly breaded and fried. They had a nice Swiss cheese and mushroom filling. I didn’t think there was much flavor from the risotto, however. There were three fritters – on a stick – served with a small container of marinara sauce; $5.

I also went across the street from French Meadow to Moon Beam Coffee where I had a double espresso - $2. It was a very enjoyable. A lot better than the coffee I’d had earlier at French Meadow. They’re on Facebook. But otherwise, there’s not much info on who they are.

I went back to the milk booth to finish my shift. After it was over, I had a corn dog - $3. I was glad I did it. It reminded me why I should never eat corn dogs. Yuck.

The last food item I had was a sample of Bongard’s cheese curds. They were being served at the Moo Booth (dairy barn). Free.

That was it. Oh, I did have a couple of beers. One after the fritters (and before the espresso). The other after the corn dog. The first was a Leinie Red, and the second was Blue Moon. Each were $4.

Oops. I forgot to have a milk. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Postscript: Total attendance at the fair that day was 113,637. I only talked to three people who I knew. I did see Rep. Keith Ellison. But he didn’t see me, and I don’t think he knows who I am anyway. Also, someone greeted me by name at the milk booth. Of course, I was wearing a name tag. But he referenced a retired co-worker, so I think he really did know me. I, on the other hand, didn’t have a clue who he was.

30 August 2010

All the Milk You Can Drink for $1

I volunteered at the All the Milk You Can Drink booth at the Minnesota State Fair on Monday, Aug. 30. It’s something I’ve thought about doing for a few years now. Though I used to attend the state fair regularly, I hadn’t been for about 10 years. This seemed like a good excuse to go to the state fair while also helping out the dairy industry.StateFairMilkBooth2010

The milk booth is a project of the Midwest Dairy Association. The University of Minnesota Ag Education Club organized the volunteers. In the weeks leading up to the fair, when I would mention that I was volunteering in the milk booth, I was surprised by how many people commented that it  was one of their favorite parts of the fair. It also gets mentioned frequently as one of the best bargains at the fair.

When I arrived for my shift, the morning volunteers got our orientation. As you might expect, hygiene and sanitation is a major consideration. The supervisor went through the rules – each customer pays $1 for their first glass of milk. They can have as many refills as they want. But they can’t share the glass with others, and they can’t come back later for more refills. Make sure you make the correct change. Watch out for scammers – they give you a $10 and when you give them their change, they claim they gave you a $20. (We were told to keep the original payment on the counter until we’ve given the customer his change.) We could accept anything up to $20. If someone wanted to pay with a $50 or $100, we had to call a supervisor.

I did get one guy who said the only bill he had was $100. He stood there and drank three glasses of milk (two white, one chocolate) while the shift supervisor looked over the bill to make sure it was legit. Then he got $99 change and went on to the rest of the fair.

One kid who bought a glass of chocolate milk from me had what looked like a Mohawk haircut that was growing back out. So it was pretty distinctive. When he came back for a second glass, he said “That wasn’t me who was up here a few minutes ago.” “Yes it was,” I said. “I recognize your haircut.” When he came back for his next glass, I said to him, “Your brother was here just a minute ago. He looks just like you.” The kid said, “No, that was me.” When he came back for a fourth glass I said, “Wow. Four glasses. You must be pretty thirsty.” “No,” he said. “We have eight in our family, but my dad said he doesn’t want a glass.” Oh. That was the last glass he got from me.

I had several people ask for half white and half chocolate. So I started asking which they wanted me to pour first. One kid said it didn’t matter, so I said, “How do you know? For this glass, I’ll put in white first and then chocolate. For your next glass, I’ll put in the chocolate first. Then you can tell me which is better.” Sure enough, when he came back for his second glass, he reminded me to put in the chocolate first.

Sometimes, a customer would ask for one white and one chocolate. “Which do you want first,” I’d ask. Most just acted confused by the question. But one kid was very definite - “Chocolate first.” I poured the chocolate and asked, “Whose is this?” “Mine,” he said. I poured the white. “Whose is this,” I asked. “His,” the kid said, nodding toward his dad. Then he put $2 on the counter. “You’re paying?” I asked. “Yup,” said the kid. “Cool,” I replied.

With breaks and everything, I worked for only about 2 1/2 hours. I sold 166 cups. But I couldn’t keep track of how many refills. The most refills I counted was four (not counting the kid who was actually sharing his milk with his family).

16 August 2010

Salsa contest: Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa

As one of the activities during our Employee Celebration Day at work, the Diversity Council organized a salsa contest. That’s salsa the dip, not salsa the dance. It sounded like fun. So I organized a team. We had two of the attorneys from our Law Dept., my summer intern, and me.

I may have gone a little overboard in planning. But what the heck. A contest is a contest, and the goal is to win, isn’t it? Our strategy was to select a recipe that included some unusual ingredients, so that it would stand out from the pack. We decided not to go with a fruit salsa. The entries would be sampled with tortilla chips, and I think of fruit salsas as more of an accompaniment to meat or fish.

We perused a book I have – The Great Salsa Book. It’s available on Amazon. The recipe we found was tomatillos and avocados. It was a very simple salsa with just those main ingredients, fired up a little with chili peppers and cilantro and a generous addition of lime juice for tanginess. I’ve supplied the recipe below.LosCompaneros

I mixed up a batch over the weekend before the contest and brought it in to the office on Monday morning for the team to sample. Everyone agreed that it was unique and tasty, but we also agreed that it needed more heat. (I purposely toned the sample batch down because my wife doesn’t like it too spicy.)

Besides our strategy in recipe selection, we also wanted to have a distinctive look. So we had custom aprons made. For our team name, we picked “Los Companeros de Salsa.” That roughly translates as the Comrades of Salsa. And for our slogan, we went with ‘Toma Salsa.’ (As we brainstormed a slogan, one of the team suggested “Got Salsa,” a play on the ubiquitous ‘Got Milk’ advertising campaign in the dairy industry. The Spanish version of ‘Got Milk’ is ‘Toma Leche.’ Check the web site. It’s cool. Hence – Toma Salsa.) I thought the aprons were unique and attention-getting.

So our third strategy for winning was to influence the judges. In this case, our co-workers were invited to sample different teams’ salsa and ‘vote’ on the best. My intern was supposed to be the ringer on this strategy. She invited all the other summer interns (and there were lots of them) to come down to the contest. Since we were the only team that included an intern, I thought we were sure to get the most votes.

When you add it all up – unique recipe, stylish aprons, and the intern connection – I thought we’d win for sure. But darn it all anyway, we didn’t.

Team No. 2 – The Spicy Accountants – won. Here’s what I think happened. As people came into the auditorium to taste the different recipes, they tended to stay in line and taste them in order, from Team 1 to Team 11. We were Team 9. So by the time most people got to us, their taste buds were ruined, and they couldn’t appreciate the flavors of our creation.

Oh, well. No matter. We had a lot of fun doing it. And Los Companeros have a really cool apron for our kitchens.

I invited the winning team to post their recipe on Krik’s Picks. They’re thinking about it. They said they’re trying to find a way to turn it into a United Way Fundraiser, a sentiment that I applaud. I told them there would be no better way to promote it than by posting their recipe on Krik’s Picks. We’ll see.

Recipe: Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa

1 lb. tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and coarsely choppedSalsaIngred
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, coarsely chopped
1 serrano chili, with seeds
3/4 c. cilantro leaves
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree.

Preparation tips from Los Companeros de Salsa:
  • We got better results from using a food processor rather than a blender. It tended to be thicker.
  • We used half cilantro and half parsley. Some people don’t like the harshness of cilantro.
  • Taste your chili pepper. We thought ours wasn’t as spicy as we wanted, so we added more than called for by the recipe.
  • I think one of the keys to making any salsa is to allow time for it to sit, so the flavors can blend, before eating.
  • Besides serving on tortilla chips, it also would be good on chicken or grilled fish.

04 August 2010

Breakfast bakery: Local independent vs. Local supermarket

One of my co-workers celebrated his birthday today (63). To celebrate, he brought in some bakery items from Hi-Quality Bakery in Cannon Falls. It’s a nice local independent bakery.

Unbeknownst to Dave, someone else in the department also brought bakery in honor of his birthday. Hers came from Byerly’s, a nice local supermarket.

With the unexpected bounty of bakery goods, we joked that one of the boxes was for President Obama who also celebrated his birthday today. Sadly, he spent the day in Chicago and didn’t stop by to claim his donut.DaveBD[1]

So we took an informal poll – which is better? Local independent bakery or local supermarket bakery?

Here are a few of the votes:

“I vote the (Hi-Quality) bakery. Donuts get hard really quickly, but the bakery donuts were still very soft and fresh. Yum!”

“I tried to pick similar donuts and the Hi-Quality Bakery was too greasy and sugary. Byerly's was a
smoother texture (popover egg consistency) and frosting was creamy. My vote is for Byerly's.”

“Hi-Quality - A+ on appearance for Byerly's, but overall better taste for HQ!”

“The almond pastry I ate from Byerly's was heavenly - I vote Bylery's!”

Well, I also had the almond pastry from Byerly’s. It was good, but too dry. Dave’s solution was to put butter on. I agree. Butter would make it better. But the ‘caramelized croissant’ from Hi-Quality was to die for. Later in the day, I had a sugar donut from Byerly’s. It was very good.

I’ll give the last word to Dave. He favors Hi-Quality. (Duh. That’s what he brought.) He believes HQ gets the edge on freshness. As a small independent, everything is baked fresh overnight so when you arrive in the morning, it’s as fresh as you can get.

25 July 2010

United Way Happy Hour on Big Island 2010

For the third year running, a co-worker and I auctioned an event for our company United Way campaign. We host a happy hour at her family’s cabin on Big Island in Lake Minnetonka. (Click here to read my post about last year’s event.) The event is getting a reputation, and bidding for this year’s happy hour was pretty intense. I think it was the second most expensive item in the auction.

We settled on a date in early June with the winning bidders. Here’s the menu:

Lydia made Gianni’s Grilled Shrimp Appetizer, grilled chicken skewers with peanut sauce, and guacamole with chips. Gianni’s is a steakhouse in Wayzata. Click here to read about it.

For my contributions, I prepared three celebrity chef items. From Giada De Laurentiis, I made Sweet Pea Crostini; the recipe is on the Food Network web site (click here). I really am a big fan of Giada’s recipes. My wife says it’s only because of the low-cut sweaters she wears on her cooking shows. But honestly, I never even noticed. (Giada, if you’re reading this, ‘Sorry.’)IMG_3695_1024

My second item was a Grilled Panzanella Salad. I adapted this from a Mark Bittmann recipe (New York Times food columnist). His recipe also is on the Food Network site (click here.) I modified his recipe quite a lot, however. Instead of chopping the tomatoes, I used whole grape tomatoes. I also added feta cheese and instead of basil and parsley, I used fresh oregano to give the recipe a Greek flavor.

My third item was the most challenging and also the most fun. It was from Jose Andres TV show Made in Spain. It’s a very entertaining show that’s a cross between travelogue and cooking show. It also has a great web site. The recipe is for Seared Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Roncal Cheese. You can watch Chef Andres prepare the recipe by clicking here. When I say this was a ‘challenging’ recipe, it’s not that it was so difficult. It’s actually quite easy. But it was a real challenge to find all the ingredients, especially the peppers. I found a source to order them online. But in the end, I found them at Trader Joe’s. Also, I couldn’t find Roncal cheese, which he describes as a creamy sheep cheese from Spain. So I used manchego, which is another Spanish sheep’s milk cheese and is more readily available (though not cheap). I also made this recipe for my family. We agreed that it would be good using mozzarella cheese. (Sorry, Jose.)

We also had a selection of cheese and crackers.

Following the tradition that we started last year at the United Way Happy Hour, we prepared a signature cocktail for our guests – a French 75. I had a page torn out of Bon Appetit from 2004 with the recipe, and finally tried it. (You can find the recipe on Epicurious, click here.) The only modification was instead of Champaign, we used prosecco. IMG_3705_1024

This was a happy hour, of course, so besides the cocktail, we also had beer, wine, sparkling water, and sodas. The group went through three bottles of pinot noir. We had a bottle of chardonnay open, but I don’t think we poured even one glass from it.

At the end of the evening, Lydia offered coffee and brought a dessert. As it got dark (under a cloudy sky that threatened rain), we boarded the boat back to shore.

So all told, I think it was another successful event, and best of all, it was for a good cause.

24 July 2010

A Group Dinner at Siroc, Washington, DC

As my Yelp review states, this was a fantastic dining experience. I was asked to find a restaurant for our group – 14 people. Oh, did I mention? I had only about an hour’s notice. We were at a reception on Capitol Hill. Our CEO thought it would be nice for everyone from our company to have dinner together.

I thought so too. But the pressure was on. Fortunately, I had my trusty iPhone with me. The battery was getting low. But between Open Table and the map app, I was able to locate a few possibilities in just a few minutes. Of course, for a group of 14, you can’t actually use Open Table at most restaurants. So I started calling.Siroc1_1024

I did actually call a couple of steak places first. I knew they would be reliably good. But neither of them could fit us in on such short notice. (That is to say, they offered us a table at 9:30, but that was too late by about two hours.)

When I called Siroc, they hesitated. They already had another group in the restaurant. But they’d see what they could do. They called back a few minutes later and said they could do it. OK! Now all we had to do was transport our group from Capitol Hill to downtown DC. We snared about four taxis in front of the Longworth Building, and away we went.

When we arrived, our table was ready and the maitre d’ greeted us as though the arrangements had been made weeks ago. I think he was the owner, but I’m not positive. So just to add one more challenge – I miscounted. We actually had one more than I said on the phone. It was my mistake, and we offered to squeeze the extra person in at the end of the table. But no, the maitre d’ brought over another table and added it to the end of our row. No muss, no fuss.Siroc2

What followed was a great meal and lots of pleasant conversation. Not only was everything that we ordered thoroughly delicious, the chef even sent out a little treat at the beginning of the meal – a gnocchi stuffed with morel mushrooms.

The wines we ordered were very good. I noted them on my iPhone. The white was Gavi di Gavi Marchesi di Barolo. The red was Belguardo, "Serrata" Maremma which was a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet grapes.

I will definitely be returning to Siroc on future trips to DC and would highly recommend it.

11 July 2010

United Way Seafood Dinner

For our Land O’Lakes United Way drive in 2009, we had an online auction. I ended up winning two of the items on the auction. One was a case of wine from one of our executive’s wine cellar. Truth is, the highest bid was less than the retail value of the wine, and I was just trying to get it up to the retail value. but I ended up getting the case.

The other item, I really wanted. It was a selection of fresh, West Coast seafood. It was offered by an exec whose home is in Washington state. (He also happens to be my boss, but that’s not why I bid. Really.)

When I won it, I envisioned hosting a dinner at our house with several co-workers. I wanted to have my boss, not only because it was his seafood, but also ... well, you get the picture. Um, well, we invited several co-workers who we knew would enjoy the food and have a good time. That was our goal.

We finally got it all organized for July 8. I took the day off to do the prep.

So in advance, I thought about the kinds of seafood that would be available and planned a few menu options. But I didn’t want to be so prescriptive to exclude something that would be freshly available when he went to the market.

The auction specified seafood for 4-6 people. We talked about getting salmon, some kind of white fish, shrimp, scallops, crab, and maybe mussels. So, I knew that with other items, like a salad and some side dishes, I’d be able to stretch it to feed 8 people. I invited 10, and lo and behold, they all accepted. It was tight around our table, but we made it work.

So here’s what he provided: a slab of Copper River Salmon, a slab of halibut, shrimp, king crab legs, a couple of Dungeness crabs, scallops, and mussels. Not only was it great plenty for the dinner, but we had leftovers for dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Overall, here are my comments. First of all, I was over-ambitious. I tried to make too many signature dishes. Most of them turned out ok. But as I’ll detail below, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with some. Second, I didn’t plan the menu appropriately so that I could participate in the festivities. So when folks arrived at the appointed hour, I still had too much cooking to do. So my wife ended up doing most of the entertaining, while I was at the stove finishing some of the food.

The menu that I planned came from a variety of sources. So the rest of this post includes the full menu and the source of each recipe, with my comments.

UnitedWaySeafood 002 We started with tray of fresh seafood. My wife did a very attractive arrangement of shrimp and king crab legs. For dipping, I prepared a very simple mayonnaise mixed with Spanish smoked paprika. It was a little spicy but very good. The other sauce was a cocktail sauce from Bobby Flay. Click here for the recipe. It turned out very well. The tarragon added a nice anise flavor to the sauce.

In addition to the seafood tray, I adapted another Bobby Flay recipe for scallops. Click here for his recipe. Instead of skewering the scallops, I seared them on my grill pan. And for the dressing, I used fresh oregano from my garden instead of fennel greens.

The final appetizer was sweet pea crostini, a Giada De Laurentiis recipe. Click here for that one. This is a fantastic appetizer. My son-in-law made it for us when we visited them in Chicago last spring. My modification is that I don’t top it with the prosciutto as the recipe calls for. And for this menu, I didn’t toast the French bread.

The salad that we served was a modified Caprese salad. My wife assembled it. She started with a layer of iceberg lettuce and then added a layer of grape tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. I sprinkled some julienned basil over the salad. We dressed it with the same dressing from the scallops in the recipe above.

For the salmon, I modified a recipe from Bon Appétit. Click here for the recipe. Instead of pan-searing the salmon, I grilled it. But everything else was pretty much the way the recipe specified.

For the UnitedWaySeafood 004halibut, I adapted another Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Ginger Sea Bass over Wilted Greens. Truth is - this is the recipe that turned me on to Giada. It is so simple and easy, and the results are delicious. Obviously, her recipe calls for sea bass, and I used halibut. But it turned out equally fantastic. Click here for her recipe.

The last recipe was another one from Giada - Fregola with Clams & Mussels. Click here for her original recipe. Her version says that it’s simple and quick. But I had numerous problems with it. First was my own timing. In order for this dish to be served fresh and hot, I had to be working on it while my guests were on the patio enjoying the appetizers. (Bad form.) Second, I was not happy with the way the mussels turned out. They smelled really funky. I did modify the recipe. Instead of clams, I mixed some crab meat from the Dungeness crabs. Also, I substituted Israeli couscous for the fregola pasta. But I don’t think that was the problem. In retrospect, I wished that I had gone with a simple couscous or pasta that could have been prepared in advance.

For dessert, I made ‘Torte di Mele’ or Lake Garda Apple Cake. The recipe is in Patricia Wells Trattoria cookbook. The recipe is posted on the Internet here. The cookbook (which I love and highly recommend) is available from Amazon here.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, I also bought a case of wine at the United Way auction. So I served some of it at our dinner. One was a Toasted Head chardonnay. The other was Fess Parker Syrah.

Anyway, even though I was probably over-ambitious with the menu, I had a lot of fun cooking, and I think everyone had a good time.

22 May 2010

Lunch and dinner at Kincaid's St. Paul

I'm not sure if it was coincidence or poor planning. But I ended up at Kincaid's in St. Paul for a lunch and a dinner within one week of each other. I reviewed the lunch on Yelp; rated it 3 stars out of 5.
The dinner was the same ... I mean almost literally the same. The specials for dinner on Monday were just larger portions of the same specials that were offered at lunch the previous Friday. In my Yelp review, I already expressed my disappointment that for a place that's supposed to specialize in fish, steaks, and chops, there isn't much meat on the menu, and the meat entrees that are on the menu are pretty ordinary.

For my lunch, I had fish. For dinner, I had the only steak on the list of evening specials. It was good. Just nothing special. What I was really in the mood for was either lamb or veal. I was tempted by the prime rib on the regular menu. However, the server recommended the steak, so that's what I ordered.

Our guest for dinner on Monday commented that his office in DC is close to Kincaid's in that city. He was surprised that we had a Kincaid's because he didn't think it was a chain. What I discovered writing this blog post is that he was mostly correct. The Kincaid's in Washington is not part of a chain. Furthermore, it is pretty much a straight forward fish restaurant. I've eaten there once for lunch several years ago. I took a look at the menu online. It looked very appealing. I think I'll give it another try sometime soon.

The Kincaid's in St. Paul, however, is part of a small chain. There's a second location (actually the first one to open) in Bloomington not far from my house. There are eight or nine other locations, mostly west (California, Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon) and one in Norfolk, VA. I would feel comfortable recommending Kincaid's for a business dinner or for out-of-town visitors. But for me personally, I'd probably make other choices:

Lunch in downtown St. Paul? St. Paul Grill

Steak dinner? Manny's in Minneapolis

Fish or seafood? Sea Change in Minneapolis.

17 May 2010

Dinner at Miramar Bistro, Highwood, IL

April was a busy month, with a lot of travel for work as well as personal. There was one week when I had meetings in DC through noon on Friday and then had to be back in DC the following Monday. So my wife and I made arrangements to meet in Chicago and visit our daughter, son-in-law, and baby grandson.

Our grandson was born on December 31. At the time of our visit, our daughter had just returned to work after her maternity leave. She and her husband requested a special dinner for multiple reasons - to 'celebrate' her return to work, to sooth the emotional distress of returning to work, and this would be the first 'nice' dinner out with the baby. The venue they picked was Miramar Bistro.

For all the years that our daughter has lived in Chicago, most of the restaurants we've been to have been in the city, very few suburban spots. But since they moved to the suburbs about a year ago, we've gradually gotten acquainted with some restaurants north of the city.

With a baby in tow, we made an early reservation. When we arrived, there were only a few other diners in Miramar. I noted that there were a couple of other families with young children dining there. But while Miramar might attract families for early seating, this definitely isn't a compromise restaurant on food quality. The meals we ordered were creative and artfully prepared. And by the time we left, the restaurant was hopping with lots of groups of young adults.

My wife and I miss the restaurants and nightlife we used to enjoy when we stayed downtown. But it's fun getting acquainted with the northern suburbs food scene. Miramar was great.

11 May 2010

Lunch at Bibiana, Washington, DC

I used to go to this place. It actually was one of my favorites. It was called Luigino. I was disappointed when I read that it had closed.

In late April, I wanted to take my co-worker and her assistant out to lunch, in appreciation for their work on a successful project. I wanted someplace special. As I browsed through lists of restaurants not too far from their office, the description of Bibiana caught my eye. I wondered if it could be the new restaurant in the space that Luigino had occupied. Of course, it was.

We had a great lunch. This is the restaurant that I wish D'Amico's Kitchen in Minneapolis had turned out to be. The food was delicous, creatively prepared and nicely presented. The ambiance was comfortable. Our server was knowledgeable, helpful, and attentive. (Some of the other Yelp reviewers complained about slow or inattentive service. But that wasn't our experience.)

I will definitely come back for dinner sometime.

09 May 2010

Oops! What happened to April?

Whew. Six weeks since my last post. You might think, 'Well, nothing much happened.' But you'd be wrong.

Actually, April was very busy with lots of travel, both for work and for fun. And we went to lots of really good restaurants. And I was able to keep my Yelp reviews pretty much up to date. I just neglected to update Kriks Picks. So here goes.

Next up ... a really great visit to Cafe Atlantico in Washington, DC.

Dinner at Cafe Atlantico, Washington, DC

A while back, in Krik's Picks, I commented that I'm a fan of the chef Jose Andres. I said that I planned to visit all of his DC restaurants over the course of my upcoming business trips.

So in mid-April, a co-worker and I were in DC and we decided to go to Cafe Atlantico. We had a fabulous meal. On my Yelp review, I rated it 5-stars, "As good as it gets."

I was particularly excited about this restaurant because minibar, Andres' exclusive and innovative 6-seat tasting experience, is located in the same building. When we were seated, I asked for a table where we could watch the action at minibar. My request was accommodated, but you couldn't really see much. Still, it was fun.

As we finished our meals, I noticed that minibar was between seatings. I recognized one of the chefs and I commented to our server that I remembered him from my meal at minibar. A few minutes later, he stopped over to our table. I introduced him to my co-worker and we chatted about what he was serving this evening.

After he left, we ordered desserts. As we were sitting there, the chef came back with a special surprise. One of the items at minibar was their variation of Ferrero Rocher, except that the gold wrapper was completely edible. Cool!

So, high recommendation for Cafe Atlantico. Give it a try.