26 August 2012

Father/Son bonding at Masu, Mpls.

My wife was out of town this weekend for an annual get-together with college roommates. So this was a prime opportunity to go out for sushi. To be fair, while Linda doesn’t like sushi herself, we’ve got a couple favorite Japanese restaurants (Raku in Edina and Wakame in Minneapolis) that she likes. She orders a Japanese entrée and I order sushi.

I invited my son to join me in trying Masu Sushi & Robata in Minneapolis. He eagerly agreed. It’s a restaurant that we’ve both heard a lot about. We had a great experience.Masu1

I arrived at Masu a little before Ben. I went inside to scope it out. There are two general dining areas – several high top tables in the area by the bar and a bunch of regular tables near the kitchen. When Ben got there, the hostess seated us at a high top in the bar near the pachinko machines. I considered asking for a table, but I’m glad I didn’t. Some Yelp reviewers commented that the noise level in Masu is ‘energetic.’ I was afraid that it would be loud in the bar. But it was not.

Some reviewers complained about slow and inattentive service. But that was not our experience. We wanted to try several items on the menu, and our friendly server was happy to spend time with us describing several items and making recommendations.

So let’s get to the food. The menu is divided into several themes – ‘izakaya,’ sushi and ‘makizushi’ (rolls), robata, and noodles. Masu2

Izakaya are small plates. We had three. Tuna tataki was a salad of seared tuna on greens dressed with roasted garlic vinaigrette, and a layer of smooth avocado on the bottom of the plate. Next was ginger duck gyoza with a spicy plum and soy dipping sauce. I didn’t know what gyoza was, but it turns out to be a steamed dumpling. The third small plate was called sweet miso eggplant. It was Chinese eggplant with jalapeno and scallions, and it was served with a soft poached egg in the middle. You break the egg and everything gets covered with this warm rich yolky sauce. Delicious and unusual, but a little hard to eat with chopsticks.

Next we had four different robata. These were small skewers of grilled meat or vegetables. The ones we selected were one skewer of Japanese mushrooms (kinoko), one of scallops (hotate), one of pork belly (buta no kakuni), and a plate of Korean cut short ribs with house made kimchee. The short ribs were not on a skewer and we both enjoyed the kimchee very much (I’d never had it before, and Ben said this was good). I didn’t try the pork belly, but the mushrooms and scallops were good.

We’d both heard a lot about Masu’s noodle dishes, but they were full meals, and by now neither of us were up for anything filling. So we skipped the noodles and finished with two sushi rolls. One was ‘poke’ – tuna, seaweed, avocado, scallions, cucumber, and sesame seeds. The other was called rainbow, and as the name implies, it consisted of five or six different kinds of fish and seafood rolled together and when it’s cut, each piece displays a ‘rainbow’ of different colors.

Ben and I agreed that the robata probably was our least favorite. There was nothing wrong with them, but but they were fairly ordinary skewers of grilled food. We thought the rolls were good, but nothing out of the ordinary. What we really found to be delicious, unusual and memorable were the izakaya.

We had somewhat different perspectives on value. For what we had to eat, I felt the total price was reasonable – $63 for the food (not including two cocktails and a flight of sake). Ben thought that was a little pricy for him and his wife. But he definitely wants to take her there sometime, maybe for a special occasion, and try one of the noodle entrées.

As for me, I enjoyed everything very much and would gladly make a return visit, if I can convince Linda to come. At first I thought she wouldn’t like the menu at Masu. She wouldn’t eat the sushi, and she’s not particularly fond of noodles. But as I was remembering the menu as I wrote this post, I realized that there were several things that she would like on the izakaya side of the menu and the grilled robata might also appeal to her. So who knows.

By the way, I didn’t have my camera with me. The photos I inserted into this post are off of Masu’s web site. I hope they don’t mind me using them.

23 August 2012

Delicious Ecuadoran food at Chimborazo in Minneapolis

A fellow diner at Chimborazo is going to be disappointed that I wrote this review. He sort of implied that he preferred if people didn’t know about this wonderful gem in northeast Minneapolis.

I’ve had lunch twice at Chimborazo. The first time was with my son. His Father’s Day present was to have lunch with me, one on one. I asked him to recommend a place. He’d eaten at Chimborazo with his wife and kids and thought I’d like it.

When I arrived, I walked in with another couple. They were seated at the table next to Benjamin and me. Their meal came first, and we commented on how wonderful it looked. They said that they lived in the neighborhood and really appreciated having a wonderful, authentic family-run restaurant that they could walk to. Then the guy said – I hope it doesn’t get discovered and overrun with customers.ChimborazoLunch

I sort of understand his point of view. I remember Café Havana when it first started out as an authentic family-run Cuban restaurant. It was great. Eventually, it became so popular that it moved downtown and tried to become a hot spot for the in-crowd. Eventually it burned out and now is out of business.

However, I think the reverse is a bigger threat. Without spreading the word about how great Chimborazo is, it could whither and fade away. So here’s my review.

Chimborazo is great. On the visit with my son, I had two appetizers for my lunch. One was the beef empanada. It was served with a spicy sauce that reminded me of Argentine chimichurri sauce. The second appetizer was called ‘llapingachos.’ This was very unusual and very good. It was three cheese-filled potato pancakes, sort of like a knish only without the pastry. They were served on top of a fried egg and it came with a very tasty peanut sauce.

My son had the daily soup and sandwich special, which he liked very much. Overall, I liked Chimborazo so much that I suggested it as a place for a lunch meeting with a co-worker a couple weeks later. This time, I had the soup and sandwich special. The sandwich was a spicy chicken and was very tasty. My co-worker had a shrimp dish called encocado – shrimp in a coconut sauce served with rice and a plantain.

It’s easy to rave about Chimborazo. The food is great and the prices are modest. I really want to return again and try it for dinner.

19 August 2012

Dinner at Eat Street Social Club, Minneapolis

My wife and I have a friend who says that you can get into any restaurant you want during the summer in Minneapolis. Her theory is that Minnesotans are so distracted by summer vacations and weekends at ‘The Cabin’ that you don’t really need reservations at a restaurant.

We weren’t so confident as to try totally without a reservation. But when we made quite last minute plans to see a movie and eat out on an August Saturday night, we were able to get a 7 p.m. table at Eat Street Social without any problem at all.

One thing we were confident about was the food. We’d eaten at the original Northeast Social Club with friends. We thought the menu offered lots of choices depending on mood and appetite. Based on things we’d read, we were confident that the new Eat Street Social would be equally as diverse.

We didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what to eat when we arrived. As we enjoyed our cocktails, my wife saw a server bring out the grilled sirloin. She thought it looked fabulous, so that’s what she ordered.

I, on the other hand, wanted to try a couple smaller plates. I ordered a watercress salad with duck confit, fennel, sweet spicy roasted peanuts, and mustard lemon vinaigrette. With it, I ordered a house made grilled beef sausage.

We both thought our food was excellent.

Eat Street Social earned a place on our list of reliable casual restaurants. We’re sure to be back.