22 February 2011

Dinner at Cocina del Barrio, Edina, MN

Boy, was this a difficult review for me to write. First of all, I was all psyched to really like Cocina del Barrio. My wife and I have been to Barrio in downtown Minneapolis, and we really liked it. We were looking forward to having a twin (or at least a close cousin) in our neighborhood.

But we (or at least I) felt our experience last weekend didn’t live up to expectations. The food was great. But the service and the ambiance were not up to par. BarrioEdina1

I was all prepared to write a mediocre review. But in Sunday’s Star-Trib, there’s was an article about hot new bars in the Twin Cities, and Cocina del Barrio was one that was mentioned. The article made snide references to “Edina housewives” packing the place like a Louis Vuitton fire sale and “soccer moms in sequined jeans.” We the place was packed all right. But most of the people looked more like outer suburb refugees venturing to Edina because they didn’t want to pay for parking downtown.

So then I got all defensive. But in the end, I still can’t forgive some of the shortcomings we experienced.

Let me start with what we liked. That would be the food. The hype on Barrio’s Edina outpost was that it would focus more on food than tequila. But really, it was pretty comparable. We liked everything that we ordered; some things better than others. So, for example, the guacamole. It’s good, but not outstanding. My wife and I like the guac that we make at home better. The ceviche, on the other hand, is fantastic. We had an order of red snapper ceviche with avocado, radish, and orange. Yum.BarrioEdina2

We had a couple of orders of fish tacos made with Mahi Mahi. They were as good as we remembered them from our experience downtown. We also had a couple of orders of chicken and black bean tostadas. They were very flavorful, with a crisp tostada covered with black beans and chicken and mounded with shredded greens. Not only were they tasty, but they looked marvelous as well.

I had a crab and poblano enchilada that was very good. I also liked the lobster empanada, though I generally prefer baked empanadas rather than fried. BarrioEdina3

In the drink category, we ordered a couple of beers, a glass of wine, and a cocktail. Frankly, I thought the cocktail (macho camacho – blood orange with tequila and a splash of sparkling wine) was nothing special. I wrote in my review of Barrio downtown that I wished they offered tequila flights. It can be quite intimidating to look at a list of 85 kinds of tequila and not know what to order. But my tap beer (Modelo Negra) was very good.

But now for some of the shortcomings. First of all, they’ve got to get their reservation system figured out. We had a very long wait even though we arrived on time for our reservation. Second, after waiting all that time, we were seated at a table in the bar. Now, if you read the Strib article, that’s where everyone’s supposed to want to be seated. And we enjoy a nice, lively bar scene. But the noise on Saturday night was so energetic that it just wasn’t enjoyable. We would have much preferred the dining room.

Lastly, the service just wasn’t up to expectations either. One of our group asked about ordering an entrée. Our server discouraged it with the excuse that it would take too long to come out of the kitchen. Then he forgot to bring one of the items that we did order; we had to remind him.

So here’s my bottom line on Cocina del Barrio. I’d give them another chance if we were going out with a couple that really wanted to eat there. But I think if my wife and I wanted another Barrio experience, we’d go downtown. And if we just wanted a 50th & France experience, there are plenty of choices at that corner.

19 February 2011

Breakfast meetings at Good Day Café, Golden Valley, MN

Good Day Café has been open for while already. My wife has eaten there. Lots of our friends have eaten there. I hadn’t until earlier this month. Then, by a remarkable coincidence, I had two breakfast meetings there within the space of two weeks.GoodDayMenu

Good Day doesn’t have a web site. So my link is to Yelp. You can read my review of the food. I liked it.

It was pretty amazing how many people I saw there. It’s quite an array of people doing business and schmoozing. Based on my two breakfast visits, I’d suggest getting there early. For both of my visits, I got there just before 7:30 a.m. No wait either time. But by the time I left, there was quite a line-up of people waiting for tables.

For me, the gold standard for breakfast places in Minneapolis is Al’s in Dinkeytown. I’m somewhat prejudiced because my son used to work there. For me, Good Day isn’t as good as Al’s. But, it’s pretty good. Of the two breakfasts I had, my favorite was the corned beef hash. Great flavor, very nicely prepared. The other breakfast was a variation on eggs Benedict. Also very good, just not quite as memorable.

I like the ambiance at Good Day. The dining room is big and open and very casual. The service is fine. Not outstanding. But no complaints either. All in all, it was pretty good. I’d definitely agree to another breakfast meeting there.

17 February 2011

Lunch at Boudro’s, San Antonio

NCFC had it’s annual meeting in San Antonio. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to San Antonio. I didn’t really know what to expect. But to be candid, it was kind of disappointing. I did my usual survey of the local restaurant scene online – Yelp, Open Table, Google, NY Times. I didn’t come up with much encouragement.

It seemed like most of the restaurants on the River Walk are pretty tourist oriented. Not that that’s bad. But that usually means they lack a distinctive style or flavor that sets them apart. BoudrosSanAntonio

Most of the sources I checked recommended Boudro’s. It’s described as a Texas bistro. So when a coworker and I arrived and had free time for lunch, I sought out Boudro’s. It was about a four block walk from our hotel, the Marriott Rivercenter.

Now, the weather when we arrived was distinctly not Texan. A cold front was moving in from the north, and it was starting to get chilly. Still, the tables on the River Walk looked inviting. They were still in the sun, so we decided to tough it out. Wasn’t too bad, really.

My coworker had the Boudro’s burger. He liked it quite a lot. The burger was prepared to his liking – done medium. The fries that came on the plate looked very nicely done – thin and crisp.

I had a daily special fish. It was a local fish; I don’t really remember what kind it was. But it was very expertly prepared – cooked through but not overdone. It had a tomato salsa on top, and was served with a side of rice with kernels of corn. I thought it was very good.

As we were sitting along side the canal, a boat tour went by. I recognized one of the riders as someone from the NCFC meeting. Later, while we were enjoying our meal, he and his wife walked by. They were looking for a place to have lunch. We recommended Boudro’s. When we saw him later that same day, he said that they really enjoyed their lunch, too.

Then, after the meeting had ended, I was returning to Minnesota with our CEO. He started describing a restaurant where he went for dinner during the meeting. Turns out, it also was Boudro’s. He quite liked it. So on the basis of our favorable experience, and the reports from two other trusted colleagues, it seems unanimous that Boudro’s is definitely a place to eat when in San Antonio.

13 February 2011

Recipe: Apulian-style Potatoes, Onions, Tomatoes

I used to use a computer program called MasterCook. It was a way of organizing favorite recipes. One of the features I liked was that it would calculate the nutritional contents of recipes based on the ingredient list that you entered into the program. It was pretty cool. But the main problem then, as now, is that when I’m cooking, I’m in the kitchen, pretty far from my computer. If I bring a laptop into the kitchen, I can put a recipe on the screen. But then the screen blanks out after a period of time, or I have to scroll down, and my hands are all messy. Not very convenient. Of course, I could always print out the recipe. But that kind of defeats the purpose of entering it into a computer in the first place.

As I prepared to write this post, I was somewhat surprised to learn that MasterCook still exits! Version 11 for XP/Vista/7 is available for $20 – download or on a CD. I don’t know what version I still have. (I never throw anything away, so I probably still have the original installation disk somewhere.) I do know I quit using MasterCook quite a while ago, which presented something of a dilemma. I had a bunch of favorite recipes stored in the program, and I didn’t want to lose them.

Fortunately, I found a way to export them to a .txt file. I did that and now have them stored as ‘notes’ in Outlook. So last Friday, I volunteered to make the potatoes for our family dinner. I remembered this recipe that I had stored on MasterCook for Apulian potatoes (from the Puglia region of Italy). So I hauled my laptop into the kitchen, fired up Outlook, opened the notes, and voila – there is was.

I’m glad I kept it. Everyone loved it; even my wife who normally doesn’t eat potatoes had a few bites. Of course, I did make a few adjustments. So first, here’s the recipe, which I noted came from Food & Wine Magazine, October 1992. Then after that, I’ve noted Krik’s variations.

Apulian-Style Baked Potatoes, Onion, & Tomatoes
Recipe By     : Food & Wine, 10/92
Serving Size  : 6    Preparation Time :1:15

   2      pounds        potatoes -- peeled and sliced
   1      large         onion -- sliced thin
   2      cups          tomatoes, red ripe -- diced
     3/4  cup           Romano cheese -- grated
     3/4  teaspoon      oregano
     1/2  teaspoon      salt
     1/2  teaspoon      pepper
     1/2  cup           water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss several times.  Oil shallow baking dish, 9x13 and spoon potato mixture into dish; drizzle with ¼ c. olive oil. Bake for 1 hour turning potatoes every 20 minutes.  Cool for 10 min. and serve; makes 6 servings.

Krik’s Variation: I didn’t have fresh tomatoes. (It is February, you know.) So I used canned plus a little of the liquid instead of the 1/2 c. water. I didn’t have Romano cheese, so I used Parmesan instead. I stirred half of the cheese into the potato mixture and sprinkled the rest on top before putting it in the oven. I didn’t have oregano (imagine that), so I used about 3 tablespoons of fresh parsley, minced. We wanted it to be creamy, so I stirred in about 1/3 cup sour cream. I also stirred in about 1/8 cup capers. Oh, and I forgot to drizzle with olive oil.

After I put it in the oven, I didn’t turn the potatoes every 20 minutes, as the recipe suggests. By not turning them, they came out with a nice parmesan crust on top. When I took them out of the oven, they were just on the verge of getting overdone. I think the next time I make this, I’ll probably heat the oven to 375 rather than 400 degrees.

There wasn’t even one tablespoon leftover. I definitely will be making this again.

06 February 2011

Variation on biscotti

Yesterday I tweeted that I was going to make a pistachio, raspberry, and white chocolate biscotti for the Super Bowl gathering that we were invited to. Then I found another biscotti recipe that sounded better – white chocolate and dried cranberries. But it didn’t have any pistachios. And the white chocolate was for coating the biscotti rather than an ingredient in them.

So I improvised. I combined the two recipes.

When I was responsible for compiling the recipe column for the Midland Cooperator (see previous post), I learned that if you change three ingredients in a recipe, you have a new recipe. If that’s true, then I’ve got naming rights on this one. So here is Krik’s Picks Pistachio, Dried Cranberry & White Chocolate Biscotti.Biscotti2 (1024x768)

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted pistachios

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, eggs and almond extract in large bowl until well blended. Mix in flour mixture, then dried cranberries, white chocolate chips, and pistachios. Divide dough in half. Using floured hands, shape each piece into a log approximately 1 inch high, 1 1/2 inches wide and 12 inches long. Transfer both logs to prepared baking sheet, spacing evenly.

    Bake logs until golden brown (logs will spread), about 35 minutes. Cool completely on sheet on rack. Maintain oven temperature. Transfer logs to work surface. Using serrated knife, cut logs on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same sheet. (As you can see from the photo, I stand the slices up on a baking tile instead.) Bake 10 minutes; turn biscotti over. Bake until just beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Transfer biscotti to rack.

  • 05 February 2011

    What I learned from being a food columnist

    My first job out of college, I was a food columnist. Sort of. Let me explain.

    I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota in 1974. Check your history. That was right during the Watergate scandal. I’m sure most of us in J-School in those days thought we were going to get jobs on major metropolitan newspapers and do political exposés. Just like Woodward and Bernstein.

    Fortunately for me, there was a very wise placement officer at the J-School. As I started to get serious about finding a job after graduation, she offered this advice: “With your farm background, you should look for a job with an agricultural company.” (Thank you Miss Bowman.)

    I had a bunch of résumés out in the mail. The week after I graduated, I got married. The day we got back from our honeymoon, I got a call from the editor of the Midland Cooperator, inviting me to come in for an interview. (Thank you Carol James and Terry Nagle.)

    They hired me. Midland Cooperatives was a diversified farm supply cooperative. The Cooperator was the newspaper that Midland published for its members. My title was ‘production editor.’ I was responsible for copy editing, layout and design, and preparing standing features, including a recipe column.

    (Bound volumes of the Midland Cooperator are in the Library of Congress. You can look it up.)2011-02-02 15.35.24_1024

    I got the recipes from many different sources, including readers. One issue, we ran a reader recipe for Monster Cookies. The recipe made a very large batch of cookies with a lot of ingredients. When we published the recipe, we left out one ingredient. It happened to be an important ingredient.

    We had a whole bunch of very angry readers. They had spent $10 on ingredients for a recipe, and instead of getting sweet, gooey Monster Cookies, they got a runny, goopy, inedible mess.

    In the next issue, we published a correction and offered to reimburse readers for the ingredients that they had wasted. Along with the correction, we ran a picture of Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. (Really clever, huh?)

    Midland merged with Land O’Lakes in 1982. By 1984, I was handling government relations for the cooperative and its members.  Fortunately for me, no one remembered the monster cookie debacle. The rest is history.

    But to this very day, more than 30 years later, I keep that blue Cookie Monster doll on top of my desk right next to my computer screen. Any time I’m feeling kinda cocky about what a great guy I am, just a glimpse of Cookie Monster reminds me of that huge, stupid mistake.

    Helps to keep me humble.

    03 February 2011

    Gung Hay Fat Choy

    Happy Chinese New Year. (Though the internet says the translation more accurately should be “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.”)

    I’m not really a big fan of Chinese food. That’s why you won’t find many previous reviews of Chinese or other Oriental restaurants on Krik’s Picks. It’s actually one of the few things my wife and I disagree on. When we’re discussing where to eat, I just can’t get excited about going to a Chinese restaurant.

    And yet, I am quite surprised to observe that for the first month of 2011, I had quite a string of Oriental (thought not Chinese) dining experiences.

    It started on New Years Eve day – Dec. 31 – my grandson’s birthday. My son-in-law was working, so my wife and I offered to take our daughter and grandson out for lunch. We settled on Rice Paper, a Vietnamese/Oriental fusion restaurant recently relocated to Edina.

    The very next day, Jan. 1, we decided to eat at Peninsula Malaysian. I really do like Peninsula. It doesn’t take much to convince me to go there.

    Two weeks later, we went to Raku, a new Japanese restaurant in Edina. That was really a special find. While we were disappointed with the service, the overall dining experience and the food was great.

    We are part of a neighborhood dinner club. The next weekend after Raku was a group dinner at a neighbor’s house. The theme, what else, was Chinese New Year. Everyone was assigned a Chinese food item to prepare and share at the dinner. My assignment was a stir fry chicken and mango dish. It turned out pretty well. We liked it enough to keep the recipe. We’ll prepare it sometime when we have our family together for dinner.

    The next Thursday, our daughter and son-in-law asked us to babysit while they had a night out together. They had Italian. We went to their apartment in Linden Hills to babysit. There’s a new Thai restaurant just two blocks from their place called Naviya’s. We got take-out and ate at the apartment. Several Yelp reviewers have written negative reviews. But my wife and daughter had lunch there previously and really liked it. I liked it well enough to agree to try a dine-in experience sometime in the future.

    To kind of wrap it all up, the final weekend of January, we returned to Peninsula. (Click here for my Yelp review.)

    So in the course of a month, I probably had more Oriental food than I had all during 2010. Maybe my tastes are changing. I really would dine at any of those places again. But I am especially looking forward to a return visit to Raku.