30 May 2011

Group dinner at Bacio, Minnetonka, MN

My wife and I spent a very enjoyable evening with friends at Bacio in Minnetonka. There were 12 of us. On a Saturday night, a group that large can be difficult. But Bacio handled our group with grace and efficiency. The service was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive. Bacio2

Someone who organized the group suggested that we bring bottles of wine from our personal stash. Four of us did. I was impressed that our server was familiar with the wines that we brought, even though they weren’t from the restaurant’s list. As it was, we still ended up ordering two more bottles from their list.

We started with a round of appetizers – 6 or 7 from the menu which we shared around the table. My wife and I split a Brasiliana salad. We both were very pleased. It was an ample, creative mixture of celery, hearts of palm, lettuce, avocado with a lemon vinaigrette.

For dinner, I had a half order of lamb meatballs from the pasta section of the menu. I thought they were very good. They were served with a pasta called garganelli. The sauce was a mint pesto with pine nuts and raisins.

My wife ordered halibut, served with farro, spinach, lump crab, and saffron-tomato broth. She liked it but thought it was a little bland.

It seemed like everyone else enjoyedBacio1 their meals as well. I tasted a bite of a friend’s walleye entrée. I thought it was good, but I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of walleye. His wife had the Ahi tuna. Check the photo. It looked fabulous.

The ambiance at Bacio is very comfortable. The space is beautifully designed, with tall ceilings and hanging arches. It does convey a rustic Mediterranean feel. We’ve been there before with smaller groups and I’ve liked it each time. I definitely would recommend it.

28 May 2011

Linda’s Hanukkah menu, Part I

For the past several years, I’ve given my wife a present of preparing dinner for a week. She likes because it’s a whole week when she doesn’t have to worry about whipping together a dinner after her piano students leave. I have fun doing it because it gives me a chance to try a bunch of different things.

When I first started giving this present, I used to organize it by day and give her two or three options for each day. But one year, she said she’d prefer to just mix and match recipes. So since then, I find two or three recipes and organize them into related categories. So, for example, here are the categories for her 2010 present:

Here’s the Beef (beef recipes)IMG_4648

Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (duck recipes)

Salads & Something (3 different dinner salads)

3 Ways with Fennel (3 recipes featuring fennel)

Vegetarian (just what it says)

Cluck Cluck (chicken recipes)

Something’s Fishy (fish recipes, duh)

Also, when I started, I used to go to a wide variety of sources for recipe ideas. (One year I did all celebrity chef recipes from Food TV.) But for the last couple years, I’ve gone to picking recipes from Bon Appetit. And, I’ve branded the list with my blog name. So the present is “Krik’s Picks Recipes, The Best of Bon Appetit 2010.”

The only problem is finding a whole week when I’m not traveling or we don’t have other things planned during the week. So lots of times, I end up delivering the present in the spring. That’s what happened this year. It got to be May and I still hadn’t delivered the present.

So in mid-May, I took a week off to plant my garden and do some cooking. Trouble was, we still didn’t have 7 days in a row. So I’m doing it in two installments. This is Part I, three recipes that I made that week. I’ll do Part II in September when her lessons start back up again.

For Part I, Linda picked these three recipes:

Rib Eye Steak with Tomato-Caper Relish from Bon Appetit, August 2010, p. 77. This was our favorite (pictured above). We substituted New York strip steaks instead of rib eye.

Dilled White Bean & Grape Tomato Salad from Bon Appetit, June 2010, p. 86. Linda liked it, but I was kind of disappointed. I thought it was a little bland. The picture is beautiful. In fact, looking at it again as I write this post made me think that maybe adding some capers or kalamata olives would perk it up a little. Also, I never use canned beans, as the recipe calls for. I soaked dried beans and cooked them up.

Rosemary & Lemon Grilled Chicken Breast from Bon Appetit, July 2010, p. 50. If you look at the recipe, you’ll see that the original called for turkey cutlets. We substituted bone-in, skin-on chicken legs and thighs. This was a very tasty recipe and very easy to make.

Watch for Part II later this year.

18 May 2011

Disappointing return to Nick & Eddie’s, Mpls.

We probably should have just left.

When we showed up at Nick & Eddie’s for our 8 p.m. reservation on a Saturday night, the host apologized and said our table wasn’t ready. There were some large groups that were not clearing as quickly as they anticipated. He offered us a complementary cocktail. So that helped.

While the host was cordial and accommodating, the bartender was strangely surly. That should have been our first clue.

The wait wasn’t really that long, maybe 20 minutes. We were offered a booth by the window in the bar. My wife really would have preferred to be in the dining room. But we took it.

A server swished by and dropped off a menu. We didn’t see him again for 20 minutes. The combination of inattentive service and a crush of people around the bar lead us to ask if we could be reseated in the dining room. The host (still trying to be accommodating) found us a table – in the back near the restroom and the back door. Now, instead of having a crowd hovering over our table, we felt like we were outcasts.

A new server greeted us and we ordered an appetizer. But while we were sitting there, feeling forlorn and disconnected from the rest of the crowd, we decided we just didn’t want to eat back there. My wife went back to the host who offered us our booth in the bar. This is where we should have left. Instead, we took it.

We didn’t want the same neglectful server from earlier. Our new server said that she’d take care of us. She did, and she was ok. But we still were frustrated by frightfully slow service.

Our appetizer arrived – fried pirogis. We decided to place our dinner order. Great, except … our server regretfully informed us that were were out of a few things. That turned out to be nearly half of the dinner items. Basically, the only dinner items available were chicken dishes. My wife really wanted a burger, and they weren’t out of that. I ended up ordering a Caesar salad and an appetizer-size pizza.

It took a long time for our meals to come out. But when they did arrive, the food really was pretty good. My wife really liked her burger. I thought the dressing on the Caesar had too much anchovy. (I like anchovies on my Caesar. But this dressing had an overpowering anchovy flavor.) But my pizza was very unusual. It had smoked mozzarella cheese and nice slices of ripe tomato. The cheese and tomato were over a layer of tapenade. Very unusual and very tasty.

Our first visit to Nick & Eddie’s was shortly after it opened. It was pretty good. I gave it a favorable review (click here to read it). But I can’t recommend it after this Saturday’s experience.

16 May 2011

The Best Lunch Deal in Edina: Raku

I have to admit that sometimes when you discover a fantastic restaurant deal, you worry that when the word gets out, the crowds will come and spoil it. In this case, however, I’m worried that if more people don’t find out about the fantastic lunch deal at Raku, the restaurant won’t be able to survive and we’ll all lose out.

My wife and I have been to Raku before for dinner.(Click here for that review.) It was on a Saturday night. We liked the décor, the ambiance, the bar, and the food. But the service wasn’t so great, and that kind of spoiled it for us. Still, we looked at the lunch menu, and it looked so promising, we decided we would give it a try.

When we showed up a little before noon on a Monday, there were only three other tables being served. Our server greeted us and gave us our menus. Raku offers three lunch specials. The main lunch special is $16. You get a soup or a salad, and appetizer (like a sushi roll or egg roll), and an entrée. My wife was pretty sure that’s what she wanted when I pointed out the bento box special – $10. She’s not a big eater, so that sounded good to her.RakuLunch2

To start, before the bento box even arrived, she was served a cup of soup and a small salad. When the server brought the bento box, we both looked at and said, “This can’t be only $10!” He assured us that it was. The menu says that the box comes with a California roll and three pieces of ‘shumai.’ We didn’t know what shumai was, so we assumed it was the entrée portion of the box. Well, the shumai were three little shrimp dumplings, comparable to dim sum. So in addition to that, there was an ample serving of the entrée; my wife chose shrimp tempura. Besides the shrimp, there were tender pieces of vegetables, including broccoli, sweet potato, squash, and zucchini. (Take a look at the photo. You’ll see what I mean.)

I was tempted by the bento. But I had to go for the sushi special, three rolls for $12. I also received a cup of soup to start. The menu gives the diner a choice of more than a dozen different rolls. I opted for a yellowtail roll, a spicy crunchy salmon roll, and an eel cucumber roll. I loved them all. RakuLunch1

No problem this time with disappointing service. Our server was friendly without being overly familiar. Attentive without hovering. He was knowledgeable and gave us good advice. Of course, there were so few other diners in the restaurant he had plenty of time to give us personal service.

So we’ve been telling everyone we know: EAT AT RAKU. We told our kids. (Hidden agenda – we’ll babysit the grandkids while they have lunch.) I posted a picture of Linda’s bento box on Facebook. And I gave it a 5-star rating on Yelp. (I’ll ‘tweet’ this review after it’s posted.)

It’s gotta be the best lunch deal in Edina.

14 May 2011

Mother’s Day Menu

We’re so lucky that both of our kids live in Minneapolis and so we can see them for family-oriented holidays. So with Mother’s Day coming up, my son and son-in-law and I decided to prepare a dinner for our wives and the mothers of our children. My wife, being at least nominally the ‘grande dame’ of the family said she was in the mood for Mexican. My daughter and daughter-in-law thought that sounded good. So I went to work to find a creative menu to serve on Sunday night.

Here’s what we came up with:2037

Guacamole & tortilla chips

Shrimp Mango Tacos

Cabbage Radish Slaw

Rotini Salad with Chives

For the guacamole, we stuck with a pretty standard combination. But we did innovate a little by adding a quarter cup of pomegranate seeds. They added a sweet, juicy character to the smooth, rich avocado.

I got the pomegranate seeds at Trader Joe’s. While I was there, I decided to check out their shrimp. As I was perusing their selection of frozen seafood, I saw a very intriguing item – frozen, cooked chucks of langostino tails. “Lobster flavor for the price of shrimp” the package bragged. I was intrigued, so I bought them and substituted them in the shrimp mango tacos. 2038

Well, needless to say, this was the most unique part of the menu. My son-in-law, who’s a chef at Pairings, was fascinated by the langostino tails. I think he’s going to look into integrating them into some future dish at the restaurant. My wife and I remembered having langostinos on paella when we were in Spain. The flavor was good, maybe not quite the same as lobster. And the price was slightly higher than shrimp. But it was worth it.

The taco recipe was from the New York Times. So was the cabbage and radish slaw. But I was very disappointed by the slaw. I thought it was dry and lacked flavor. I’ve already deleted that recipe.2039

The pasta salad is from Rick Bayless. His web site has a number of intriguing recipes. When my daughter and her husband lived in Chicago, we took them to one of Bayless’s restaurants – Topolobampo. Very good. I picked this recipe because I’ve already got a lot of vigorous growth on my chive plants. When I minced them for the salad, the scent of the fresh chives literally filled the kitchen. I thought this was a great recipe, and since it didn’t call for any fancy ingredients, it could be whipped up almost at any time.

So it was great having the whole family over and a lot of fun. This was a nice casual menu that the guys could prepare together without a lot of hassle.

11 May 2011

Light dinner at Moto-I, Minneapolis

The first time my wife and I went to moto-i in Minneapolis was about a year and a half ago. We had an enjoyable experience on their rooftop patio. moto-i is located at Lyndale and Lake St., right across from It’s Greek to Me. When we checked for a table at Greek, we were told it would be a half hour wait. We decided to check out moto-i while we waited for our table. It was a warm summer night. We watched the passers-by on Lyndale below us and enjoyed a couple of innovative cocktails.

moto-i is a sake brewery restaurant – like a brew pub, only they make sake instead of beer. Our cocktails were creative concoctions featuring sake creatively combined with gin, vodka, and other beverages. My wife particularly liked hers which featured a lychee nut; first time she’d ever had one. We scanned the menu and agreed that it would be worth coming back for a meal sometime.

Fast forward now to the first Saturday in May. Our son was having a pottery sale at his studio. He and the other artists always have a spread of snacks at their sales, so we knew we’d be nibbling before going out for dinner. Since moto-i is only two blocks from his studio, it was an easy decision to give it a try. A couple of other friends said they’d meet us there.

Much to our chagrin, the cocktails this time were nothing special. My wife was quite disappointed that she couldn’t find the same one that she’d enjoyed so much before. I ordered a cucumber martini. It was good, but like I said, nothing special. The saki-tini that we had in January at Raku in Edina was much better.

On the other hand, the food at moto-i did a much better job of living up to expectations. My wife ordered fried tofu lettuce wrap. She was very pleased with it – good flavors, nicely prepared and presented, not greasy. One of our friends got one order of corn and shrimp fritters from the starter menu and a vegetable dumpling. I thought the fritters had very appealing textures, with the kernels of corn in the batter. The vegetable dumpling also was very tasty.

Our other friend ordered Asian country ribs from the ‘Big Boy’ section of the menu (full meal plates). He said it was excellent. The ribs were meaty and the barbecue sauce very tasty. It came with rice and a cabbage salad. It also had several small hot peppers that he gave to me. My meal was ‘drunken noodles’ from the ‘rice, noodles, soup’ section of the menu. It was a good-sized bowl of noodles with chicken, red peppers, red onions, Thai chilies and lime. I ordered it because the server said it was spicy. It wasn’t. But I added some of my friend’s hot peppers from his ribs. That spiced it up very nicely.

The atmosphere in moto-i is very ‘young’ and a bit loud. We thought it was too dark, and it was difficult to read the menu. The service was not great – fairly perfunctory and somewhat neglectful.

Still, my wife and I agreed that we’ll go back again. But I think we’ll try to do it when the rooftop patio is open and we can enjoy the fresh air and the view.