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.