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.

Dessert

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.