30 December 2014

KwikPick: Burger, Beer, Warm Welcome at Pig & Fiddle, Edina

On a frigid Saturday night, the 4:40 movie had just ended, and people were surging toward the restaurants at 50th & France (Edina’s ‘downtown’ neighborhood). We saw crowds packed into the entry of several places as we shivered for a block and half from the theater to the Pig & Fiddle. Much to our surprise, we got right in. A few minutes after we got our table, the place was full.

Food: 4/5

Service: 4/5

Ambiance: 5/5

Value: 4/5

After the movie, we just wanted a good burger and something to drink. We’d been to the Pig & Fiddle before and enjoyed it. It strives to be a neighborhood pub for the 50th & France area. It’s actually on the Minneapolis side of the line. I wonder if that’s why it took a while after the movie to fill up. Maybe there’s some kind of psychological barrier to crossing from Edina into Minneapolis.

In any case, it was exactly what we wanted. Pig & Fiddle has a varied menu of traditional pub food, I think mostly selected to accompany the great selection of ‘American craft beers.’ I considered several menu items, but we had set out looking for a good burger, and that’s what we both ended up ordering. I got mine with fries ($2 extra). Otherwise the burger and sandwiches come with house-made chips, which are pretty good too.

I usually have a pretty good idea of what beer I want. But my wife is not a regular beer drinker, and she needed some guidance. Our server was very knowledgeable and helped her pick something that she enjoyed. Overall very good service.

We asked for a table in the dining room. We like the ambiance there better than the bar. (In the bar, the ambiance has a more typical pub feel, a little noisier and with TV monitors showing various sporting events.) The dining room has nice stained glass windows and a big fireplace.

In terms of value, I thought Pig & Fiddle was very reasonable. Our total was $57 including tip.

Recommendation: I would definitely go back for a casual dinner after a movie.

Click here for an explanation of my KwikPick rating scale.

29 December 2014

KwikPick: Christmas Eve at Mill Valley Kitchen, St. Louis Park

We used to avoid going out on major holidays like Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. But we wanted to spend the evening with some friends, we weren’t interested in any of the new movies, and eating Chinese seemed like such a cliché. So we made a reservation at Mill Valley Kitchen. It was a very enjoyable meal.

Food: 4/5

Service: 3/5

Ambiance: 3/5

Value: 3/5

The only other time I’d eaten at Mill Valley Kitchen (MVK), it was a group celebration dinner with some friends. I remembered it as a pleasant meal, but hadn’t hurried back. My wife has had lunch there a few times. But I have eaten a couple times at its sister restaurant downtown – Marin. I wrote a review of that a year ago. The two restaurants are very similar, though I think I like Marin better.

Like Marin, MVK prides itself on top quality, very fresh food that’s prepared very simply and healthfully. The food we ate on Christmas Eve certainly lived up to the restaurant’s goal. My wife and I split a kale salad to start. The menu specifies that it’s ‘baby’ kale, but we didn’t really expect the small tender leaves that we were served. It was good, but we were expecting more robust crunchy leaves of kale. My wife had scallops which is a favorite of hers. The tomato-fennel sauce was spicier than she expected, but she still enjoyed it. I had duck breast with black lentils. I thought it was excellent.

Our actual server was pretty good; I probably should give her a 4. But we did have an issue with being seated. At first they directed us to a table in the bar, but that was not the ambiance we wanted for our dinner. There were open tables in the dining room, but the first one they took us to was near the door leading out to the patio, and while it was not a frigid night, it was still Minnesota winter, and it was a bit drafty by the door. So we asked to be moved again, and this time the table was just fine.

In terms of value, we had a nice meal, we each had a glass of wine, and the total with tip still came out below $100. That’s not bad, but it’s also not inexpensive. I gave a nice tip because the server was working on a holiday. (At least I thought it was nice.)

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a self-consciously health-oriented restaurant, and you don’t want to hassle with downtown parking (to go to Marin), I’m sure you’d enjoy Mill Valley Kitchen. I still would probably prefer Marin.

Click here for an explanation of the rating scale.

27 December 2014

KwikPick: Celebration dinner at Murray’s Mpls.

It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten at Murray’s. But a friend picked it for a special birthday dinner, and I’m glad he did.

Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 5/5
Value: 3/5

Comments: You go to Murray’s for steak, right? Sure they’ve got fish and seafood on the menu, and I’m sure they’re good. But it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we’d be eating steak. Murray’s offers several different steaks at several different price points … all of them expensive. In that regard, it’s not much different than any other high-end, expense account steakhouse. But I like the fact that it’s a locally owned independent restaurant. That gives it a nice ambiance.

The guys started with martinis. Excellent. Murray’s has an excellent wine list; we had a couple of bottles of Frog’s Leap Merlot that went great with our steaks. We also ordered a few side dishes. They were a little on the small side, but tasted very good. The steaks were outstanding and large. Two of the guys worried that medium rare would be too well done, but didn’t want to order rare. The server proposed ‘rare plus.’ That’s what they ordered, and the steaks were just right. (I ordered mine medium rare, and it was just how I like it as well.)

I guess when you go to a restaurant like Murray’s you expect near-perfection, and for our group they delivered. Still, it was very expensive, so it’s hard for me to give it a high ranking on value.

Recommendation: I don’t know if I’d pick Murray’s for my own birthday dinner. But if any of my friends did, I wouldn’t hesitate to say ‘Yes!’

Click here for an explanation of my rating scale.

26 December 2014

Neighborhood ambiance, creative cooking at Sparks Mpls.

This is the second post on neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. The first post was about a special wine dinner at Victory 44. It was a really great experience, but not the typical experience at V44. This review of Sparks, on the other hand, is very typical of what you can expect for the restaurant.

According to Sparks web site, the owner decided to open the restaurant when he moved to the neighborhood, which is Bryn Mawr. (He also owns Rinata, an Italian restaurant in south Minneapolis.)

We’ve eaten at Sparks twice. The first time (several months ago) was with friends. We ordered and shared several small plates from the menu. The menu for small plates, pizzas and salads offers a lot of variety. We liked that experience very much, but never found an opportunity to return.

Until, that is, a Saturday night in mid-December. We just wanted a casual, no-fuss meal and thought of Sparks. So glad we did.

Sparks has expanded since our first visit. We were seated in the expansion space. While you can tell the difference from the original dining room, they did a good job of joining the two rooms and making them feel seamless. There’s a huge mural on one of the walls featuring a stylized painting of the Minneapolis skyline. (I guess one of the significant differences between Sparks and Victory 44 is that the Sparks neighborhood is very close to downtown Minneapolis and so is sort of downtown oriented. Victory 44 is more of a destination in and of itself.)IMG_0975

We had a great server. She was friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable. Her recommendations on the menu were right on. She also was very patient and accommodating as we tried to decide on a bottle of wine. Sparks offers a fun wine list (as well as a nice selection of local beer on tap.) And the wine prices are very reasonable. We picked a Spanish red wine and loved it.

We started our meal with a couple of small plates. The cauliflower au gratin was excellent. The cheeses were smoked gouda and cheddar, and it was seasoned with paprika. It was a nice variation from roasted Brussels sprouts (which we often order as a starter, and was on the menu at Sparks as well). Our second starter was Cuban black beans. I would normally expect that Cuban black beans would be flavored with ham or bacon. But this was a vegetarian version served with cheesy tomato sauce and scallions. Delicious.

For my entrée, I ordered Madras lamb shank. The lamb was braised, moist and fork-tender. It was seasoned with curry, mint chutney and yogurt. A very unusual preparation of one of my favorite meats, and I loved it. My wife had Amish roasted chicken seasoned with herbs and lemon juice.

It was a great meal and one that showed the creativity that’s evident in some of the neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. We’ll definitely be back.

18 December 2014

Victory 44 Mpls wine dinner shows off chef’s skill & Italian wine

This post and the next one explore some of the creativity that’s occurring in neighborhood restaurants in Minneapolis. Victory 44 is in the Victory neighborhood of North Minneapolis near where my son lives (in Lind-Bohanon). It isn’t a neighborhood that you’d think of as being a destination dining spot. But Victory 44 has been winning kudos and drawing people in while still maintaining an ambiance as a neighborhood restaurant.

I’d only been there once before, with my son for lunch. (Click here to read that review.) I always intended to go there again. So when I saw a Facebook post about a wine dinner in early December, I made a reservation. I took Ben again because I knew he’d enjoy it, and because my wife isn’t so fond of tasting menus.

One of the things that appealed to me about the early December dinner was that the food courses would be paired with Italian wines. Nebbiolo was the featured grape, and the six wines were selected to show the variety of ways the grape could be used in wine-making. To date, my only experience with Nebbiolo has been in a couple bottles of Barolo that I’ve had. So I thought this would be a fun way to sample a range of wines made from Nebbiolo, including Barolo.IMG_0114

The first wine we were served was Poderi Rosato, a rose made from Nebbiolo. It’s sort of an unusual way to use the grape. The winery is Poderi la Collina and the rose isn’t even listed on its web site. It was good but not noteworthy, a nice way to start the meal. It was served with a selection of ‘amusements’ served on a slate slab. The second one from the left is ‘trotters’ with a mustard seed ‘caviar’ topping. I think a lot of people thought the chef said ‘fritters’ and didn’t realize we’d been served pigs feet. The crostata on the far left with thin-sliced radishes was my favorite on the plate.

So that’s how the meal began. I’m not going to post a photo of every course, only my favorites. But if you want to see some of the plates that I don’t post, go to Twitter and search for #NebbioloWineDinner.

The next wine was a Nebbiolo varietal from Vigin winery. It was a nice choice for the next two plates – shaved beets with powdered raspberry, crème fresh and blue cheese and a deconstructed pepperoni pizza. I’m not a big fan of beets, but the pizza was delightful.

Next came two Barbarescos, one of the two classic wines made from Nebbiolo (along with Barolo). The two wineries were Sottimano and Moccagatta. Both were excellent, and it was interesting to taste the variation that different wineries produced. The four plates served with the Barbarescos were:

  • Green eggs & ham – the egg was slowly cooked until it just barely curdled;
  • Foie gras – shredded and served with figs. The chef asked if anyone at the table objected to foie gras; no one did;
  • Boudin Noir – blood sausage. This was the only course that I just didn’t like.
  • Chocolate pasta with walnut Bolognese – I thought this was extremely flavorful and creative. The pasta was not at all sweet, and the walnut Bolognese was great.IMG_0130

The final two wines were Barolos, what I’d been waiting for. The first glass was from Mauro Molino and the second was from Fratelli Revello. I loved both; I might have slightly preferred the Revello, though that might have had more to do with the fact it was the last wine of the evening. With the Barolos, the chef served his version of a rib eye steak. It was a small medallion of beef, seared, and served with charred potato and onion. It was my favorite plate of the evening.

My only quibble about the meal was that he served three dessert courses with the Barolos. The wines were still enjoyable, as were the desserts. But they didn’t really compliment each other like they should have. The final three courses were (I call them desserts):

  • Pumpkin granita with cranberries
  • Beer and Bread Porridge
  • Chocolate Raspberry

Of the three, I really liked the porridge. The other two were good, but I’m not big on either pumpkin or chocolate.

All told, this was a very enjoyable and unique experience, just the kind of thing you wouldn’t normally expect to find at a small, unassuming neighborhood café. The explanation for the dinner was that Victory 44 is planning a new restaurant in the Linden Hills neighborhood of South Minneapolis. He wanted to try out a few concepts as well as refresh the menu at V44. Cool. I was glad we could participate in his culinary experiment. IMG_0968

At the end of the dinner, I took this photo of my son and the chef, Erick Harcey.0

The Nebbiolo dinner was actually the first of four wine dinners planned. Regrettably, I don’t think I’ll make it to any of the others. But I am looking forward to trying the new Linden Hills restaurant when it opens.

11 December 2014

Ice Skating: How Do I Know When to Quit?

When I decided to go ice skating last week, I knew I was going to fall down. The only questions were ‘How long will it take’ and ‘How badly will I get hurt?’

I never was a very accomplished skater. I never played hockey. I couldn’t master skating backwards. But when our kids were little, I used to go skating with them a few times every winter. Eventually they grew up and I stopped skating. When we moved to our current house – 18 years ago – I put my skates out on a table for our garage sale. I marked them $1. No one bought them. When we moved, a box with my skates and a few other unsold items went into our garage. IMG_0032

Last week my wife and I took care of two of our grandchildren while their parents took a well-deserved vacation. We went down to the park one day and discovered that the ice rink had been flooded. The kids loved ‘boot skating’ on the ice.

So the next day, I went into the garage and dug out my skates, laced them up and brought them along to the park. The first day went pretty well. The kids were impressed that I could glide around the rink pretty smoothly. They didn’t notice my tentative movements or my frequent wobbling when I nearly toppled.

I enjoyed it. I remembered how ice skating was pretty good exercise. I’d work up enough body heat to have to unzip my winter coat and sometimes take off my mittens. I can use the exercise. But I was concerned about falling.

The next day, when we went to the park again, I brought the skates again. And that’s the day I fell down.

I’m not a big fan of Garrison Keillor. But I remembered an essay he wrote in 2009 about his brother. He died at age 72 when he fell down while ice skating and cracked his head. Other than dying, I wondered if I’d break a bone. I think I’m still pretty resilient. But I am 63. How do you know if your bones are getting brittle until you break one?

The falling down part felt like slow motion. I started to wobble as I was making a turn. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I’m going to regain my balance this time.” And then the next thing I knew I was on the ice. I don’t think I swore. A guy walking his dog on the nearby path asked if I was OK. I said ‘yes’ even though I wasn’t at all sure.

I landed on my left hip and caught myself with my left arm. My hip hurt. I could feel right away that it was bruised. My elbow also hurt. At the time I didn’t even notice that I jammed my wrist as I tried to catch my fall. Now, several days later, my hip is still tender but getting better. My elbow is just fine. But my wrist still feels sore and is sensitive to pressure. Maybe I should have gotten an x-ray. I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a broken bone. (Ah yes. Dr. Denial is my primary physician.)

As I think about it, I wonder if I should have fallen differently. Would it have been better if I’d fallen flat on my tush? I don’t think so; I think that would have hurt more and increased the chance that I’d fall backward and hit my head. I wonder if there’s a class to teach older people how to fall?

I’m not going to quit skating. My grandchildren are getting to an age when they’re likely to strap on skates pretty soon. I think it will be fun to glide around the ice with them and help them master the skill. I hope they’ll be better than me.

For myself, I found a workout app for my iPad. I’m going to focus on exercises to increase balance and flexibility. But the question still remains: How will I know when I should quit? I don’t know. Just not yet.

28 November 2014

My last Thanksgiving post

For lunch I made a simple turkey salad with chopped turkey, a little mayo and a little mustard. I toasted some of the sourdough rye that my sister brought and laid down some roasted bell peppers. Then I spooned on the turkey salad and topped the sandwiches with my cranberry orange relish. It was pretty good.


27 November 2014

Thanksgiving postscript: This year's buffet

My last post was dedicated to the memory of Thanksgiving 2011. So this is just a brief post with a photo of our buffet this year. The potato gratin turned out nicely. I thought it could have been creamier, but the capers added an unusual touch. Besides sourdough rye bread, my sister brought asparagus and fennel which we roasted in the oven before serving. My daughter and son-in-law brought stuffing and pumpkin cheesecake. He also helped me finish the gravy, which was very tasty.

I got the recipe from PBS Food. We had to modify it to use the drippings which we siphoned from the grill. Click here for that recipe. Scroll down to the next post for links to the potato recipe and the cranberry orange relish.

Happy thanksgiving to all of my readers.




Is Thanksgiving the ultimate Throwback Thursday topic?

I liked Frank Bruni’s Thanksgiving column: When Italians Meet Turkey. It’s about great family traditions and overwhelming feasts. It certainly called to mind some of my own fondly remembered Thanksgiving dinners.

For Throwback Thursday, I’d like to offer a reminiscence of Thanksgiving 2011. While it pales in comparison to Bruni’s 40-person extravaganza, at 27 people it was the biggest one my wife and I have ever hosted. It also was my 60th birthday. My blog post about the meal featured a recipe for squash lasagna. The post includes a photo of the entire buffet, which included:

This year, we’re hosting again. We only have 11 people, and the menu isn’t nearly as extensive.

  • Turkey (roasted on the Weber, of course)
  • Cranberry Orange Relish (it’s a winner!)
  • Sicilian-style potato gratin
  • An unspecified stuffing from my daughter and her husband
  • Gravy
  • Sourdough rye bread (from my sister)
  • An unspecified vegetable (also from my sister)
  • A dessert from my daughter
  • Apple crisp (from me)

It should be fun.

26 November 2014

I guess it’s time to reboot my blog

One of the things I thought I’d do more of when I retired was writing, including – maybe especially – my blog. So I’m personally a little perplexed to observe that 17 months since I turned in my Land O’Lakes badge, Krik’s Picks has been grossly neglected.

I also observe that no one seems to be complaining. I thought about just pulling the plug, but before I give up on it, I decided to give it another try.The problem isn’t lack of material. Here it is six months after our fun and exciting trip to Italy, and I still have notes for at least four posts on our time in Tuscany.

I always said that while this blog would be mostly restaurant reviews, I also would be writing posts on other topics. So that’s my plan for rebooting Krik’s Picks. I’ve been posting a lot of commentary about food-related issues on my LinkedIn page. From now on, instead of LinkedIn, I’ll put more of those posts here on Krik’s Picks.

Maybe with some revitalized content, I’ll attract more followers. Anyway, it’s worth a try.

09 October 2014

Buttered Tin worth crossing the river for

I often tell people there isn’t any reason to drive across the river (from Minneapolis/West Metro) to St. Paul to dine. Sure there are good restaurants in St. Paul. But there are so many more in Minneapolis. When I say that, I’m (mostly) joking of course. There’s Meritage, which is my favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities. And I’ve enjoyed a couple of great lunches at Ngon Bistro.

Now I have another really good reason to come to St. Paul; my son-in-law recently became the kitchen manager and chef at The Buttered Tin in Lowertown. My wife and I met friends for brunch there on a Thursday late morning. TBT2

Buttered Tin is a bakery and café. Peter’s involvement is mostly with the kitchen, but the bakery gets a lot of media attention. So if you think of Buttered Tin as primarily a place to pick up good-tasting, creative baked goods, you really should give the café a try. It’s open for breakfast and lunch (until 3 p.m.)

Personally, I’m a fan of breakfast, and Buttered Tin has a great breakfast menu. On this visit, all of us had breakfast food. I normally prefer a restaurant where you are seated and place your order with a server. At Buttered Tin, you place your order at the service desk and receive a number. Then you’re seated and the food is brought to you. We arrived at a good time. We got a table as soon as we placed our order. But sometimes, customers have to wait for a table to open up. The service staff is very good about helping customers find a table before the food is ready.

Peter had previously told me about TBT (The Buttered Tin) Hash, so I came primed to order it. I did look at the other items, but stuck with my original intent and ordered the hash. I had an ‘appetizer’ after ordering my meal. It was an oatmeal cookie Moon pie – two moist and tasty cookies stuck together with a white creamy filling. They were in a display next to the register. They looked so good I couldn’t resist, so I had one with coffee while waiting for my hash.

The hash was excellent. There was a wonderful variety of vegetables, crisply cooked and served in a small cast iron pan. Particularly noteworthy were the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. It was topped with a sunny-side up egg. The egg was expertly prepared with fully cooked but still tender whites and a creamy yolk that bathed the hash in a rich coating when broken.

My wife had crab eggs benedict. It was two beautiful thick crab cakes each one topped with a poached egg. Instead of Hollandaise, these had a rich, herby white sauce. It was served with crisply sautéed asparagus and a small mixed green salad. She said she was pleased that it wasn’t served on an English muffin, as eggs benedict usually are. She also really liked the asparagus, though that’s not normally one of her favorite vegetables. She also liked that the dressing on the salad was very light.

Everyone at the café was very friendly and accommodating. Peter was able to stop by the table and chat for a few minutes. (That’s when we had the picture taken.) The ambiance is very bright and open with big windows looking onto 7th Street. When the weather is nice, they have sidewalk tables for customers to eat outside.

Besides breakfast food, the menu has a nice selection of lunch items. Linda and I both were intrigued by the short rib Reuben sandwich that sounded particularly innovative and good. When we make our next return trip to St. Paul, she likely will order it. I’m sure I’ll end up ordering off the breakfast side of the menu again.

26 August 2014

Recipe: Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab

After a visit to the Minneapolis Farmers Market, I came home intent on making gazpacho. Not just any gazpacho, however. I remembered making an amazing recipe for a dinner party … a few years ago. I couldn’t remember what year it was. But I was very sure the recipe was from Bon Appetit magazine. I remembered a couple of very distinctive things about the recipe. There was no bread to thicken the gazpacho. I remember pureeing the vegetables and then pressing them through a sieve, so that there was no pulp in the soup. But the most distinctive part was a ‘tower’ of crab salad, molded and placed in the center of the bowl with the gazpacho spooned around it.

No problem, I thought. I’m sure I’ll find the recipe on Epicurious. Nope. Well, I thought, maybe it’s on the Bon Appetit web site. Nope. Now I was starting to doubt my recollection. I tried a general Google search. Lots of gazpacho recipes, but none with a tower of crab salad.

I pretty much gave up on finding the recipe. I became convinced that I found the recipe in some obscure publication and only thought it was from Bon Appetit. I started looking for alternative recipes and found a couple that sounded intriguing. But for some reason, I tried a few more Google searches and changed the order of the words in the search “gazpacho” “crab” “tower” “tomato” and sure enough, I found the recipe I originally wanted. It appears in a few locations, but the one that was most helpful was a blog called Black-Eyed Peas, a blog that now appears to be defunct, last updated in 2005. That post credited the recipe to (wait for it …) Bon Appetit, June 2004!IMG_0022

To make the incident even a little stranger, I decided to check my back issues of BA to see if I happened to still have that issue. What are the chances? Ten years ago, and since then, I quit saving old issues. Why bother when all the recipes are available on Epicurious?

But, buried near the bottom of a stack of magazines, voila – there it was, June 2004. I opened the magazine; it was still bookmarked to the recipe for Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab. I quickly saw why I kept that issue. Besides the fantastic gazpacho recipe, there are several other delicious recipes for party entertaining.

So I made the recipe and served it tonight. Just as fantastic as I remembered (if I do say so myself). I made two modifications. As printed, the recipe calls for garnishing with croutons. I deleted the croutons. And, the recipe calls for garnishing with minced chives. But my garlic chives are blooming right now. So instead of garnishing with minced chives, I sprinkled the soup with snipped chive flowers. If you look closely, you can see them in the photo.

I fully intend to keep that magazine in my stack. But just in case, I’m posting the recipe on Krik’s Picks so that if I ever lose the magazine, I’ll still have the recipe online.

Tomato Gazpacho with Tower of Crab

2 lbs of plum tomatoes (about 12 large), cored, quartered
1 1 lb English hothouse cucumber, peeled, cubed
1 large red bell pepper, quartered, seeded
1 large yellow bell pepper, quartered, seeded
1/2 8-oz white onion diced
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Crab Salad

1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over, broken into small lumps
Finely diced peeled English hothouse cucumber
Finely diced red bell pepper
Finely diced yellow bell pepper
Chopped fresh chives

For Soup: Working in batches, puree tomatoes, cucumber, all bell peppers, onion, garlic, oil, and vinegar in blender. Strain puree through sieve into large bowl, pressing hard on solids to extract as much pulp and liquid as possible.

Whisk cayenne pepper into soup, season to taste with salt. Cover: refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated)

For Crab Salad: Combine shallots, mayonnaise, minced chives, lemon juice, ketchup, and cayenne pepper in medium bowl; whisk to blend. Fold in crabmeat. Season salad to taste with salt. Line 8 small deep glasses or custard cups with plastic wrap, leaving overhang. Divide salad equally among prepared cups (about 1/3 cup for each). Press salad to compact and conform to shape of container. Cover with overhang. Chill until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours.

Open plastic on top of salads. Turn out each salad into shallow soup bowl. Peel off plastic. Carefully pour soup into each bowl around crab salad. Sprinkle soup with croutons, finely diced cucumber, bell peppers, and chopped chives.

25 August 2014

Heyday Mpls. delights with creative small plates

My wife and I have a couple of friends with whom we enjoy trying new restaurants. Not always brand new, mind you. But if none of us have eaten there before, we still say it’s ‘new.’ In the case of our most recent dinner, Heyday, it really is fairly new. It opened in April 2014.

We actually tried to go sooner. But surprisingly, one thing after another kept popping up. So it wasn’t until mid-August when we finally went. We had a very good experience. Heyday

We had a reservation, and it was fairly early – 6 p.m. When we arrived, the restaurant was not very busy. We got a friendly greeting from the host and joined our friends who were already seated. Our server popped by after we were seated and had a chance to peruse the menus. Heyday has a good selection of wine by the glass. I was tempted by a Lambrusco, which you don’t see too often on menus in the U.S., but reminded me of our trip last spring to Italy and Emilio-Romagna. But ultimately I went with a chianti. (Another Italy reminder. It was very nice.) Heyday also has an interesting selection of beer on tap, including several local brews. The cocktail menu caught my wife’s eye. She was intrigued by a cocktail called The Garter Belt – gin, rose wine, and Dolin Blanc, a style of vermouth. (Click here to learn more than you probably ever wanted to know about different styles of vermouth. The gin, by the way, was Letherbee, a Chicago distillery that’s distributed locally by Tradition Wine & Spirits.)

We had several questions about items on the menu. Our server was very helpful and knowledgeable. For example, my wife is sensitive to cilantro. She asked if one of the items was made with cilantro. The server didn’t have to ‘check with the chef.’ She knew right away that it did not.

The server suggested that we order several plates for the four of us to share. She suggested three plates per person,which would have been 12 for the four of us. Ultimately, we only ordered eight plates. That was fine. But anyone with a big appetite probably would have wanted more. Also, some of the plates, especially the starters, were quite small and difficult for four people to share. In general, I would advise splitting a plate between only two people.

For starters, we ordered a melon salad, lamb tartare, a chicken liver tart, and a gorgonzola tart. They all were very good. The general consensus was that the chicken liver tart and the gorgonzola were the best.

Our next round of plates was nominally our ‘entrées’. They were bigger, and higher price. But none of the items that we ordered included a potato or rice or couscous. In fact, those starchy side dishes aren’t available at all on the menu, either as sides or accompanying an entrée. Heyday does serve good bread, however, and brought a second basket when we requested. We weren’t very diverse in ordering entrées. We all ordered fish – three of us ordered Dorade (sea bream) and one ordered black cod.

All of the food that we had at Heyday was excellent. The flavors were great. The plates looked very appealing. The fish was expertly prepared. When we got the bill, it really was a pretty reasonable total. But it was kind of expensive for the amount of food, and if we had ordered another round of plates, it would have been proportionately more expensive. (We did not order dessert. But our server brought us a plate with a selection of four morsels to sample. Nice touch.)

By the time we left, most of the tables were taken. Full on a Wednesday night – not bad. Bodes well for the future of Heyday.

22 May 2014

Food, shopping, art in beautiful Florence

As we planned our Italy vacation, there never was any question that we’d go to Florence. But we had been there once before.

It was 15 years ago. We were on our first ever European vacation. Our jam-packed itinerary included Paris, Provence, Nice, Florence, and Prague. We boarded a train in Nice, bound for Florence. But when our train crossed the border into Italy, we stopped. The railroad workers in Italy were on strike. So we spent the day wandering through Ventimiglia. We probably would have enjoyed it more if we weren’t worrying about when (or even whether) we’d get to Florence. We even went so far as to find a travel agent in the town who spoke English and had him cancel our hotel in Florence.

Later in the afternoon we learned that it was just an 8-hour strike. Sure enough, at 4 p.m., we all got back on board and continued on our way. We finally arrived in Florence at midnight. Fortunately, the hotel still had our room for us, even though we’d cancelled the reservation.

So on that first trip, we saw all the BIG things that you’re supposed to see in Florence – the Duomo, the museums, the David statue, the Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, Ponte Vecchio – as much as we could pack into a two-day stay which was shortened by the travel delay. And since we’d seen so much, we felt we could be more relaxed about this year’s stay.

Which is not to say that we weren’t busy. We still did a lot. It’s just that we didn’t feel compelled to stand in line to see the David statue again.

One thing we did was shop. We walked through the San Lorenzo outdoor market several times. I bought a leather jacket. Linda bought a purse and a wallet, plus novelty items for the grandkids. We also went to the Central Food Market. In my post about Emilia Romagna I said that we enjoyed the food market in Modena. But I really think the market in Florence was just as interesting, and it was bigger. I saw one stand that sold horse meat.

Our big adventure during our stay in Florence was a day trip to Fiesole. It’s a town high up in the hills above Florence. We took a city bus to the town and walked around. The town offers stunning panoramic views of Florence. But then we walked all the way back to the city. In total, it was only about 5 miles. We’ve often walked more than that on other vacations. But it was a notable experience nonetheless. IMG_0203

Another interesting site that we visited was Piazzalle Michelangelo. We expected to see more public art there. Other than yet another David reproduction, there wasn’t that much. But it did offer more beautiful vista views of the city and much closer than Fiesole. As we walked down from the piazzale, we came upon a public rose garden. We took the time to walk through and enjoy it. It was beautiful.

During our Italy trip, we made a point of finding various sites of Jewish significance. But the synagogue in Florence was particularly noteworthy. It was fascinating to learn about the architectural influences that went into its design. It also was interesting to learn that the community was able to protect and preserve so much of its artifacts and Torah scrolls during World War II and the Nazi occupation only to lose much of it in 1966 in a horrendous flood that struck Florence.

Our hotel in Florence was the Paris Hotel. It was the same one where we stayed 15 years ago. There are many good things I can say about the hotel. It’s very nicely located, only a few blocks from the train station and very close to the Duomo, museums, and markets. The staff is very friendly, helpful, and accommodating. And it was a good bargain; we booked our 4-night stay online and besides a reasonable rate, it included Wi-Fi, two fruit baskets, and a bottle of wine. We enjoyed sitting on the terrace overlooking the street below, sipping wine and planning our activities. However, we still were somewhat disappointed. We remembered the hotel as being stately and elegant. Regrettably, it has not aged well in the intervening years. We enjoyed our stay, but it wasn’t as pleasant and memorable as our first stay.

Here are the restaurants where we ate in Florence:

La Posta: We ate at a sidewalk table on our first night in Florence. We picked the restaurant because we liked the menu and wanted to eat outside. It was a little chilly, but they did have heaters that helped to keep us warm. The food was very good.IMG_0620

Ristorante Paoli: We actually ate here twice. The first time, we went in because of the beautiful décor. We had a very nice meal and the service was friendly and helpful. As we finished our meal, we saw a service cart with a display of gorgeous marinated vegetables. When we asked about it, we learned that one of the antipasti on the menu is a selection from the service cart. The next night, we hadn’t decided where to eat. As we talked about it, we both decided that we really wanted to try those marinated vegetables. So we went back for dinner the second night. It was well worth it.

Vecchio Mercato: As you might surmise from the name, this restaurant is located right across the street from the central food market. We saw it on our first day in Florence. I didn’t have high expectations. I figured that it primarily appealed to shoppers and perhaps workers from the market. But the thing that appealed to us was that it offered live music – a Polish piano player who performed jazz. We were told that he appeared on Mondays, but that sometimes he’d come in other days as well. We stopped by every night we were in Florence, but he never showed up. Still, we did decide to eat there on our last night. What a pleasant surprise. It was one of the best meals we had on our vacation.

Overall, I’d say that we enjoyed our stay in Florence because we took the time to just relax and see things at our own pace. It’s a beautiful city and we certainly had a great time there.

06 May 2014

Haughty service spoiled dinner at Fiola Mare, DC

I love how Washington, DC gets attention as a city with a vibrant restaurant scene. It makes sense. The city has a very cosmopolitan and diverse population. And there are plenty of people on expense account who need to make a favorable impression on customers, clients, and colleagues over a memorable meal in a comfortable setting.

Even though I’m retired, I still try to keep up on the DC food scene. It is frustrating, however, to read about great new restaurants knowing that I won’t get much opportunity to try them. (And no expense account if/when I do get to try them.)

In late April I went to DC for a board meeting of Mazon, the anti-hunger advocacy organization. The first night I ate at Fiola Mare. I had yearned for an opportunity to eat there since I’d read that it opened earlier in 2014. I had eaten at Fiola DC, Fabio Trabocchi’s restaurant in Penn Quarter, in 2012 and loved it. (Click here for that Krik’s Picks blog post.) So I had high expectations for the fish and seafood iteration that’s Fiola Mare. IMG_0307

There is a lot to like about the restaurant. Start with the location. It’s on the Potomac waterfront in Georgetown. I arrived as the sun was setting on a beautiful Sunday spring evening. If it had been just a little warmer, I might have asked for a table on the outdoor patio with relaxing views of the river and Kennedy Center across the way. Inside, some of the tables are in an enclosed porch; those windows can open to let in the fresh air and murmur of the pedestrians strolling along the waterfront. (They’re probably looking wistfully at the diners in the beautiful restaurant.) But if views of the Potomac don’t interest you, you can choose a pleasant and comfortable table in the main dining room.

Then there’s the food. My meal was sublime. I started with burrata with baby artichokes and radishes dressed with a delicious basil pesto. The burrata was heavenly. It was rich and creamy, and each bite was delicately bathed with the pesto. For an entrée, I ordered pan roasted branzino. I’d had branzino a couple of times in Italy and as much as anything, I wanted to compare Fiola’s version to the fish I’d eaten in Italy. It compared very favorably, though the whole, oven roasted fish I had in Venice was better. (Maybe not even better, just more enjoyable, for reasons that I will now explain.)

There was just one thing that keeps me from raving about this dining experience, and that was the service. Even though it was a Sunday night, the restaurant was very busy. I’m sure my server was tired. He actually made it pretty clear that he was very busy. Maybe he thought it would be okay to neglect my little table for one. Or maybe he thought I was lucky that he was serving me at all. In any case, here’s what bugged me about his service:

  • I asked for a black napkin. (I didn’t want lint from the white napkin on my black dress slacks. The restaurant’s web site requires “casual elegant attire.”) He said he’d look for one. Never got back to me on that.
  • I had to ask for a glass of wine to be served with my entrée. (Timing of wine seems to be a problem. At the next table, different server, I heard the couple complain that their dinners were served before they got their bottle of wine.)
  • But the most annoying thing – I was savoring my burrata, only about half finished, when another server arrived with my entrée. “I’m not ready for it,” I said and sent it back to the kitchen. After I finished the burrata, the entrée was delivered to my table. It didn’t appear to have suffered from being held. When my primary server stopped at the table, I told him about the miscue from the kitchen. He did apologize. But the apology came with a pass-the-buck excuse that he hadn’t ‘fired’ the entrée.

Sorry, but a restaurant that’s trying to convey a high class, sophisticated vibe like Fiola Mare has to do a better job of pacing the meal without falling back on self-serving excuses.

So here’s my bottom line on Fiola Mare. I wouldn’t recommend it for a business dinner. While the location is beautiful, it’s a little inconvenient to get to, and I wouldn’t want to take a chance that a server’s mistake could get in the way of a successful meeting. And I probably wouldn’t choose to eat there on my own again. I would return to Fiola in Penn Quarter and I would like to try Fabio Trabocchi’s other DC restaurant, Casa Luca.

23 April 2014

Emilia Romagna: Not the ‘Foodie Mecca’ we expected

After three beautiful days in Venice, we departed by train; destination Bologna in the heart of Emilia Romagna. Located in the Po Valley, the terrain is broad, expansive and flat. Emilia Romagna is touted as the new or emerging foodie destination of Italy, and for good reason. It had a very agricultural feel that made me think of the Central Valley of California. It’s the home of Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, Prosciutto, and Lambrusco wine. But as we discovered, as much as it’s a center for food production in Italy, it has a long way to go to match the scenic beauty of Tuscany or other regions of Italy that attract tourists.IMG_0114

The train station in Bologna is located just at the edge of the center city. It was an easy walk, about 6 blocks, to our hotel, The Metropolitan. The hotel, in turn, was only about four blocks from the Piazza Maggiore and Due Torri (Two Towers, Bologna’s answer to Pisa’s Leaning Tower). So the location was ideal for exploring the city and for our day trips by train to Ferrara and Modena.

Quite in contrast to our hotel in Venice, The Metropolitan was sleek and modern. Some reviewers call it a boutique hotel. To me, it was more like a very comfortable business hotel. If I had ever been lucky enough to have a business trip to Bologna, I would have stayed in a hotel like the Metropolitan. Our package included breakfast. While the food itself was fairly standard (cheese, ham, bread, pastries, cereal, yogurt, fruit) the presentation was beautiful and very artistic. Appropriate I guess for a food Mecca.

After getting settled into the hotel, my wife and I took a walk around the city to get our bearing and scope out a restaurant for dinner. Our first impression was not favorable. Bologna is a noisy, bustling, gritty city. One of the things that struck me, unfavorably, was the graffiti. It’s everywhere. I mean literally, you can’t go anywhere without seeing walls tagged with stylized graffiti. It was a little disconcerting. We were expecting more of a historically preserved city center, like we did see on our day trips.

And unlike Venice, Bologna and the other towns we visited in Emilia Romagna observed the traditional mid-day break. So in our walk around town, we saw lots of graffiti and lots of shuttered shops. We were quite chagrined. However, as the afternoon wore on, the city gradually took on a different tone. As the midday break ended, the city took on a much more cosmopolitan aura. We also came up with a list of several restaurants that looked promising for dinners during our stay.

Now, as I noted above, Bologna was our base for exploring Emilia Romagna. We planned two day trips. Originally, we reserved a rental car. But we discovered that the towns we wanted to visit were easily accessible by train from Bologna. So we cancelled the car and took the train. To me, that was a great decision. Traveling by train in Italy was easy and mostly relaxing. (I always had a little apprehension about making sure I was on the correct train for my intended destination.) The train stations were quite close to the city centers, and it was an easy walk to see the highlights of each town.

We picked Ferrara primarily for the historic buildings. The city center is dominated by the Castello Estense. The huge impressive castle is surrounded by a water-filled moat. The other dominant feature of the city center is the cathedral Duomo di Ferrara. But as much as anything, we enjoyed just wandering the medieval streets within the city walls and taking in the ambiance of the town. After a couple of hours, we felt that we’d seen enough and headed back to the train station.

I suppose at that point, if we’d had a car, we might have driven around and explored the countryside between Ferrara and Bologna. Instead, when we got back to Bologna, we made an impromptu visit to an art exhibit. It was a collection of Dutch art featuring Vermeer’s painting of The Girl With The Pearl Earring. The exhibit was at the Palazza Fava, an exhibition center just two blocks from our hotel. We enjoyed the exhibit, but also enjoyed looking at the architecture and permanent exhibits in the palazza. IMG_0133

Our second day trip, to Modena, finally gave us the foodie experience we anticipated in Emilia Romagna. The food market in Modena is fabulous. In addition to the stands selling regional food specialties, we were fascinated by the array of vegetable vendors as well as vendors of fresh meat, fish, and seafood. It was well worth the trip. And overall, we found Modena to be a more inviting town. It was more cosmopolitan than Ferrara but much less gritty than Bologna. My highlight of the day was sitting at a sidewalk café enjoying a plate of lasagna alla Bolognese and a glass of Lambrusco. (I didn’t know this before our trip, but I learned that one of Modena’s sister cities is St. Paul, MN.)

We did return to Bologna for dinner each night. Here are the restaurants we picked:

Ristorante Il Moro: I suppose this would be considered a tourist restaurant. Its menu includes a line up of pizzas. But we had a very enjoyable meal here. It’s not far from The Metropolitan and sort of off the beaten path for the city’s restaurant district. We happened by on our way back to the hotel. We stopped to look at the menu, and a waiter who spoke very good English invited us in for a bite of lunch. We declined, but we liked the menu and liked the way the restaurant looked. So we came back that evening for dinner. It was very good, and the service was friendly and accommodating.

Ristorante Victoria: This was my least favorite restaurant of our whole trip to Italy. In fact, after eating here, I decided we had to check diner reviews of restaurants before deciding on a restaurant. (I actually installed the Trip Adviser app in the hotel that evening and used it the rest of our trip.) It had all the prospects of being good – menu, décor, ambiance. And it’s not that our meal was bad. It was just … so average.

La Capriata: This was a great restaurant. We got the recommendation from our hotel (so I bet that means they cater to business travelers). But on our last night in Bologna, it was not at all busy, and we got great personal attention from the servers. We played it up a little bit by telling them that our trip to Italy was in celebration of our wedding anniversary. They made a truly great effort to make the meal memorable, and they succeeded.

After our dinners on two of the nights in Bologna, we went to Cantina Bentivoglio to listen to music. Billed as a restaurant, wine bar, and jazz club, Bentivoglio was a wonderful find. The cover charge for the jazz club was only 4.5 Euros and the drinks were not expensive. One night we heard a trio with sax, piano, and bass. The second night was a duo of piano and drums. They were great performers and the venue was really cool. It was downstairs and had a feeling like a wine cellar or underground vault. It was my favorite part of our stay in Bologna.

One final note about our visit to Emilia Romagna: For being a center of food production, especially meat and dairy, I didn’t see a single cow or pig (or chicken, sheep or goat for that matter) during our whole stay. Perhaps if we had rented a car and driven around the countryside, we might have seen some farm animals. But I was surprised by that.

22 April 2014

Basking in the sublime beauty of Venice

One of the top items on my list of things to do in retirement is travel. After 9 months of being retired, we finally took a major trip. We spent two weeks in Italy in late March and early April. That wasn’t literally the first travel since retiring. We took a trip to New York in October and to Los Angeles in January. But both of those trips were related to Mazon board meetings, and so felt more or less like when Linda would travel with me on business trips for Land O’Lakes.

But our Italy trip was a real vacation. We could plan it any way we wanted with no worries about working around work schedules and no worries about missing e-mails. We could go for as long as we wanted, and that’s what we did.

So to begin the vacation, we flew into Venice. We had never been to Venice before. We both wanted to see the city. But we really didn’t know what to expect. As we did our planning, we consulted many friends and family members. We found that people either loved Venice or hated it. We didn’t know which category we’d fall into. So we planned Venice for the beginning of our trip. That way, if it was a disappointment, we could just spend our three days getting over jet lag and then go on to other destinations.IMG_0017

But it turns out, we loved it. We got off to a good start. The sun was dipping low in the sky as our plane circled the city. The golden hues of the late afternoon sun gave the city a warm, welcoming glow. After we landed and retrieved our luggage, we scurried to catch the waterbus (vaporetto) for an hour-long ride to the dock closest to our hotel. The sun slipped below the horizon as the boat neared the dock, and I took a photo that captured the moment.

We did actually have a little confusion finding our way from the bustling waterfront through the winding passages to our hotel. But we found it, and it was fabulous. Casa Nicolo Priuli is scarcely three blocks from the waterfront. But it could have been miles away in terms of quiet peacefulness. That’s actually something that we experienced a lot in Venice. There are locales with throngs of people. Yet in just a few minutes, you cross a bridge and find yourself virtually alone on a quiet walkway.

Our hotel was great. The location was fantastic, very close to the major sites of Venice. But once evening fell, the neighborhood became very quiet and subdued. I keep thinking in terms of the streets becoming empty. But of course, in Venice, there are no streets. Just canals and bridges and porticos and walkways that wind through the city, promising the visitor an endless variety of things to discover.

The weather was fabulous while we were there. In the morning, we’d open the windows and listen to the sounds of the city waking up – shop keepers opening their stores, gondoliers preparing their boats, and people scurrying by to find a cup of coffee and a bite of breakfast. And always the sounds of church bells echoing through the city.

Restaurants in Venice

Trattoria da Nino: After a day of travel, we were tired and just wanted to find a restaurant nearby to have a quick dinner and then go to bed. We checked out a few places and settled on Trattoria da Nino. It offered a ‘menu del giorno’ that looked good, and we could eat on a covered patio outside. (This was a significant thing for us after the long, brutal winter we experienced in Minnesota.) The restaurant was ok … average really. We both liked our first course best. I had gnocchi and Linda had a lemony vegetable soup. The rest of the meal, roast chicken and greens, was pretty ordinary.

Agli Artisti da Piero: During our first full day in Venice, as we wandered through the city, we checked out the restaurants we passed with an eye toward where we would return for dinner. Most of the restaurants that were geared to serving tourists had someone standing outside engaging people who walked by, trying to lure you in. It’s really kind of annoying. But as we walked by Agli Artisti, there was something about it that was appealing to us. We wanted a fish/seafood restaurant – a specialty of Agli Artisti. The menu looked good, and we liked the décor. So later that evening, we found our way back and enjoyed one of the best meals we had in Italy. IMG_0088

Luna Sentada: On our last night in Venice, I really wanted to find someplace that was not a tourist restaurant. Luna Sentada was very close by. We walked by it often going to and from the hotel. We liked the ambiance. But what intrigued me was its food concept. It was Asian Italian fusion, with the chef trying to imagine and prepare the combinations of flavors that Marco Polo might have experienced during his world travels centuries ago. It was a very creative and delicious meal and a great way to end our stay in Venice.

Every night after dinner, we strolled to St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) and mingled with the crowds, enjoyed the mild spring weather, and listened to music. There always were bands performing on outdoor stages in the square. They’d quit playing around 11 p.m., and we’d be back in our hotel by 11:10. Otherwise, we didn’t find much nightlife in Venice. But no matter. We were still recovering from jet lag.

Departure

We left Venice the way we arrived, on a vaporetto. After breakfast, we packed our luggage, checked out, and made our way to the waterfront where we caught a waterbus to the train station. The boat was jammed full as it made its way past the stately buildings of Venice. We watched wistfully and vowed that we would return someday.

10 April 2014

Who decides what is 'good' food technology

There's a great article on the St. Paul paper's web site about an innovative project using the old Hamm's Brewery to grow fish (tilapia) and use the fish waste to fertilize greenhouse veggies. http://www.twincities.com/News/ci_25497427/At-former-Hamms-site-its-the

Don't get me wrong. I love the concept and I hope it works. But I was curious to see that it's being celebrated as an organic food production system. And since I'm an organic skeptic, I wondered: If cows and pigs and chickens have to have access to sunshine and pasture to be considered sustainable, why aren't those same activists criticizing this project for confining the fish and failing to provide them with access to open water? For that matter, why aren't organic plants required to be grown in dirt and have access to sunshine, rather than hydroponics in a greenhouse?

Who decides that this project's industrial technologies are laudable while conventional 'industrial' agriculture (like my dad practiced) should be castigated?

I've felt for a long time that the organic movement has gotten so wrapped up in self righteous rhetoric and food politics that it's lost its way. 

25 March 2014

Pre-Italy wine tasting in S. Mpls: Terzo

My wife and I made it to Terzo before we went to Italy. My goal was to sample an array of Italian wines so that we’d be more knowledgeable when it was time to order in-country.

I had hoped to do a custom flight of Tuscan wines – chianti, sangiovese, and Brunello. Regrettably, Terzo didn’t have just exactly what I wanted “al bicchiere” (by-the-glass). They did, however, have three Tuscan wines on the menu; one was a Chianti, one a Sangiovese blend, and a Montepulciano. We ordered a half glass of each. Our server recommended what order to try them. All were good. My wife liked the Chianti best, and I liked the Montepulciano.

TerzoNow, a word about Terzo’s wine menu. Terzo is an Italian wine bar. All of the wines on the menu are Italian, and they have a robust selection of wine by the glass as well as an extensive selection of bottles. Pricing is not cheap, but it is very straightforward. I think the most expensive glass I saw was $20 for a Barolo. Most of the glasses that we tried cost anywhere from $8-14. They serve a 6-ounce pour, which I consider generous. (I usually expect a 5-ounce pour.) You can get a half glass, 3 ounces, for exactly half the price.

Terzo does not do wine flights per se. Instead, you can specify your own ‘flight’ simply by choosing an assortment of half-glasses. If your server is as good as ours was, you can get good advice on choosing a custom flight.

As a wine bar, the food menu is oriented toward small plates and appetizers. They do have 5 or 6 ‘piatti’ which are entrée sized plates of food. Some of them looked very appealing. But we chose an assortment of small plates. The categories on the menu are ‘cicchetti’ (snacks), bruschetta, salads, and small plates. They do also offer a cheese board, salumi board, and prosciutto. On the snack list, they offer something that I’d call an ‘amuse bouche,’ a one-bite appetizer for $1. (We didn’t get one on our visit.)

Here’s what we did get to eat:

  • Calabrian peppers stuffed with herbed goat cheese. There were two nice-sized peppers on the plate. The server said they were not too spicy, but they were too spicy for my wife. I loved them and gladly gobbled them both.
  • Caramelized onion tart. The server was practically bubbling with excitement to tell us that the puff pastry for the tart was made in-house. It was excellent.
  • Two gorgeous seared sea scallops with mini potato chips (made from fingerling potatoes). The scallops were served with a fennel puree and a preserved lemon relish. This was my wife’s favorite dish.
  • A plate of chilled and sliced veal, dotted with tuna emulsion, each dollop topped with a caper berry. My favorite. It was sublime.

I’ve mentioned our server a couple of times in this post. She was fantastic. She was friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and attentive. Her food recommendations were exactly what we wanted. And she did a great job helping us to explore the nuances of Italian wines. I hope all the other servers are as good as Karen.

One more thing about Terzo that I really appreciate; they take reservations. Terzo, in case you didn’t know, is the No. 3 restaurant at the 50th & Penn intersection of Minneapolis owned by the Broder family. The Cucina is a deli, and the Pasta Bar is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. But in order to maintain the ambiance of a neighborhood restaurant, they don’t take reservations. That’s ok on a nice summer evening. If it’s a long wait, you can always stroll down to Lake Harriett. But we don’t have enough of those warm evenings in Minnesota. So we don’t go to the Pasta Bar as often as we otherwise would, because we’re not going to be hassled by bad weather while waiting.

Terzo solves that for us. Half of the tables are available for reservations, and half are kept open for walk-ins. Nice compromise.

We will definitely be back.

24 February 2014

I hate food waste #3: Carrot pasta

Sorry, I got distracted after writing two posts on using leftovers creatively instead of throwing them away. (Click here for #1 and here for #2.) But this one is the one I’m most proud of.

It started with a turkey. When I make turkey, I almost always grill it. After dinner, my wife and I strip the carcass of the remaining meat. Then I break down the carcass and freeze the bones, usually in two bags. I use the carcasses later to make turkey broth for any recipe that calls for chicken broth. I use this recipe from Bon Appetit/Epicurious as my starting point. (The recipe calls for roasting the bones. But since I grill my turkey over charcoal, I find that the carcass already has a nice smoky flavor and depth of flavor, so I skip that step.)CarrotPasta

After the broth was done simmering, I strained it into freezer containers (for future use). What remained were the bones, now pretty well bare of any meat, and the soggy celery, onions, and carrots. I did toss most of that stuff. But I decided to save the carrots. They looked so nice and while they generally held their shape, they were quite soft and mashable.

The inspiration for my use for them came from two separate places. First I saw a video on Mario Batali’s website for mezzalune (click here). And shortly after that, I read a recipe for potato gnocchi. “Aha!” I said to myself. “I wonder if I could make pasta dough with the boiled carrots from my turkey broth.”

It turns out that the carrots worked very well in the dough. I used pretty much the same proportion of carrots to flour as the recipe called for potatoes to flour.

After shaping a few gnocchi, I noticed that the dough seemed very malleable. I decided to try rolling it out, and it worked very well. So then, remembering the mezzalune video, I blended together some (leftover) ricotta, herbs, and an egg and went about shaping the mezzalune. I did about half of the batch as mezzalune and half as tortelloni.

Besides feeling sort of self-satisfied that I’d found a use for the boiled carrots, it was fun to shape the stuffed pasta. The carrots provide a nice orange color, but they don’t really add much distinct flavor. Most of the flavor comes from the herbed ricotta plus the olive oil, herbs, and cracked pepper I finish them with after cooking.

23 February 2014

Italian comfort food & cool jazz at Parma 8200

The heaviest snowstorm of the season (so far) almost spoiled our plans to have dinner with friends. We had a reservation at an Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. Then we planned to drive to Parma for an after dinner drink and to listen to the sounds of Benny Weinbeck who performs there every Saturday night.

With the roads covered with packed snow and ice, we wanted to minimize the amount of driving. So we changed our dinner reservation to Parma and spent the whole evening there. Good decision!

Parma 8200 is part of the D’Amico family of restaurants. I admit that I’m a fan. Their restaurants are reliably good. My favorite is Café Lurcat (which I’ve written about before; click here). But even though Parma is quite close to our house, we’d never eaten there previously. DSC00752

To start with, we had a little trouble deciding on wine. Parma has a good wine list with many choices at reasonable prices. The trouble was, we couldn’t find one that appealed to everyone at the table. Our server was very patient and helpful. He brought tastes of several wines. Finally, the women decided on a bottle of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. I had a glass of chianti, and my friend had a glass of California cabernet.

Like the wine list, the food menu at Parma also offers a nice selection to appeal to different personal preferences. For antipasti, they offer a variety of cheese plates and ‘salumi’ plates in addition to traditional Italian starters. We skipped those and went to salads. The women shared an apple salad which featured romaine, hazelnuts, and gorgonzola dressing. I had a ‘blistered’ romaine salad with radicchio, pecorino cheese, and a sherry vinaigrette. The romaine had been grilled gently until it was slightly wilted and blistered. The slightly smoky flavor complimented the slightly bitter taste of the radicchio. My friend had a Caesar salad. It’s not on the menu; you have to ask. You can have it with anchovies (he did), but you also have to ask for that.

The pastas on the menu can be ordered either as entrées or as a ‘primi’ course. One of their specials for the evening was a lamb tagliatelle, and that’s what I ordered. I loved it. The pasta arrived covered with a tomato sauce with tender, flavorful pieces of shredded lamb. The server offered a sprinkling of grated cheese and cracked pepper, which I took.

It was easy for our group to find appealing meals among the ‘secondi’ entrées. My friend asked about the brasato. The server described it as being like pot roast. (Looking online, I see that the beef is braised in wine, so it’s not an ordinary roast.) It was served with soft polenta. The presentation looked very appealing, and there wasn’t much left of the meal when he was done. The women each ordered chicken. My wife had grilled chicken and our friend had lemon chicken. Both women requested and received grilled mixed vegetables on the plate with the chicken instead of potatoes or other starch.

The menu offers several side dishes, including risotto, potatoes, polenta, Brussels sprouts, and butternut squash. We didn’t order any, nor did we have dessert. Instead, we took the remainder of the bottle of white wine into the bar and listened to the music until Benny closed the piano at 10:30.

At the end of the evening, we all agreed that if we had gone to the other restaurant, we probably would have skipped the music and gone home after dinner. Instead, we had a leisurely dinner, friendly conversation, and entertaining music after dinner. Very fun.

10 February 2014

A carnivore’s delight at Butcher & The Boar, Mpls.

I don’t really have a good excuse for not trying Butcher & The Boar sooner. It’s been highly acclaimed since it opened, and I’ve been curious. Finally, after an evening out with some friends, we expressed mutual interest in trying it. That was fine, but then came the challenge of finding a weekend that worked for all of us, and when we could get a reservation. The place is popular. Hopping busy. It wasn’t easy getting a reservation. We finally picked a date 6 weeks out, and that worked.

You could say it was worth the wait. I’d say, “I wish we’d gotten there sooner.”

As you’d expect, the menu is very ‘meat centric.’ Having said that, I noted that they do have a ‘Waters’ section of the menu with fish and seafood. Several of the fish and seafood items looked interesting, and I considered ordering the barbecued octopus. But in the end, we stuck to meat.ButcherBoar

All of the publicity about Butcher & The Boar mention the smoked beef rib. It’s huge, and it’s expensive. We decided we could split it among us. We also ordered a skirt steak to share. Both were excellent. The beef rib was moist and meaty and had a tremendous Tabasco-molasses barbecue sauce. It had plenty of heat, but was not overwhelming. My wife, who does like overly spicy food, thought the beef rib was great. I thought so too, but I found the steak to be particularly appealing. It was served on a platter cut into slices with roasted peppers. I thought it was great.

We ordered several side dishes to go along with the meat – mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. All of them were good. My wife was disappointed by the mushrooms; she said they didn’t have any distinctive flavor. But I liked them – they tasted like mushrooms. We all liked the roasted sweet potatoes, and the broccoli also was very good.

As a group, we’re not big eaters, so splitting two entrees and a bunch of sides worked well for us. But the entrées are generally not huge (except for the beef rib). So I think most people likely would order their own entrée. Another friend, who’s a fan of Butcher & The Boar, recommended starting with some of the sausages on the menu. No one in our group particularly wanted them, so we didn’t. In retrospect, I kind of wish we had, or at least we should have ordered another side dish.

We did split an order of S’Mores for dessert. They were ok. I certainly didn’t need dessert, but I probably would have preferred the pistachio tart that’s on the menu. I had an espresso that was very good and a nice way to finish the meal.

Besides meat, Butcher & The Boar is noted for it’s extensive beer selection and bourbon. Our friend had a beer. Linda and I had cocktails. Hers was called Brainstorm – a special house exclusive bourbon with Benedictine and dry vermouth. It was excellent. I had an outstanding Sazerac cocktail; classically mixed, nothing fancy, but really great flavor. The restaurant offers bourbon flights as well, and that might be fun someday.

Just a couple of other comments – the restaurant has a parking lot, but it’s reserved for valet parking. I found street parking about four blocks away. As I said, we had a reservation, and we were seated as soon as we arrived. But at first we were shown to a table in the bar. When the group objected, they gave us a table in the dining room. The décor and ambiance is very pleasant – dark and woody. It’s not a dressy place by any means. I saw many patrons wearing blue jeans. And it’s quite loud. You can see by the photo that we did not have a large table, but I had trouble hearing our friends across the table during dinner.

06 February 2014

A Quick Overview of our Los Angeles Vacation

At the end of January, my wife and I spent several days in Los Angeles. We actually were in Westwood Village, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica. We had a great time, and I’ll be writing posts on several of the restaurants that we went to. But here’s a quick overview of the vacation, with comments on the things we did.

First of all, I have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of Los Angeles. We had fun. But it wouldn’t be our first choice for a January vacation. I had a board meeting for Mazon (the anti-hunger advocacy organization). So the city and the neighborhood where we stayed was determined by proximity to the board meeting location.

That said, I couldn’t imagine a better location. We were right by the UCLA campus and it was easy to find great restaurants, interesting museums, fun entertainment, and nice walking paths. I have to admit that I had the impression that Los Angeles was not a walker-friendly city. But I was wrong. Our hotel was about a mile from Mazon’s office, and it was an easy 17-minute walk through a very pleasant, quiet, attractive neighborhood. My wife is an inveterate walker, and it’s always very important that she find interesting, convenient, and accessible walking routes. That turned out to be easy.

One of the biggest factors in making our vacation enjoyable was our hotel, Hotel Palomar Los Angeles-Westwood, a Kimpton Hotel. I’ve raved in the past about how much Linda and I enjoy Kimpton hotels. So when started making our travel plans, I looked for a Kimpton near to the Mazon meeting. The Palomar was perfect. As has been our experience at other Kimptons, it was comfortable, not at all pretentious, friendly, and fun. The concierge was fabulous! He helped find walking paths, made recommendations for restaurants and nightlife, and made us feel personally welcomed at the hotel. (Thank you again, Josue!) I’ll write more about how great the hotel was in another post.

Here’s a quick run-down on the restaurants we tried:

La Bruschetta – This was a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Westwood Village, a short walk from our hotel. The food was great and the service was friendly. The ambiance and décor was warm and comfortable. We enjoyed our meal. We made our reservation in advance on Open Table.

Skylight Gardens – Sunday brunch. This is located in the heart of Westwood Village. We discovered it just walking down the street looking for a place to eat. The brunch food was off the menu (not a buffet), and you could order a bottomless glass of mimosa. We did. Very enjoyable. I easily believe that this would be a favorite for parents visiting students at UCLA.

A.O.C. – We actually had eaten at A.O.C. on our only previous trip to LA. (Click here for that review.) We enjoyed that visit so much that we decided to go again. It did not disappoint. We agreed that it was the best meal we had in LA. This was another one that we reserved on Open Table.

Picca – I so much wanted to love Picca. But I didn’t. It’s Peruvian small plates, especially featuring ceviche. We really enjoyed a ‘cebicheria’ in San Francisco (La Mar). Picca is very highly rated in most reviews, and I really had high expectations. The food was very good, and the ambiance was lively and energetic. I guess the main problem was cultural. We just didn’t hit it off with our server. He had is how ideas about what we should try, and it wasn’t really what we wanted. In the end, it was good, but not up to expectations.

The Ivy – I admit that we went to The Ivy in hopes of making a celebrity sighting. No luck. We did have a very good lunch, for which we paid handsomely. We knew it would be expensive. But when I opened the menu, the prices actually took my breath away. Still, it was fun. We enjoyed a sunny outdoor table. The service was formal but not pretentious. And the food was good.

Tar and Roses – This was a recommendation of our concierge. (Thank you, Josue.) It’s a fairly new restaurant in Santa Monica, and we were totally impressed by it. The food was great. The décor was comfortable and attractive. Our server was friendly and helpful. And considering everything, the prices were reasonable. This was a close second for our favorite meal.

During our trip, we went to two music venues. Both were recommended by the Palomar’s concierge.

Montage Hotel Beverly Hills – We told Josue that we wanted to find a place to have a drink and hear some music (after our dinner at Picca). He told us that the Montage has live music in it’s lounge every night. He also said that the hotel attracts a lot of celebrities, and maybe we’d see someone famous. (Nope.) The piano player was very good, and he played a wide variety. It seemed like we were the only ones listening. We chatted with him in between sets. I think he was relieved to know that some was enjoying it. The drinks at the Montage were expensive, as we expected. My Sazarac was not so great, either.IMG_0451 (2)

Harvelle’s – This is where we went after our dinner at Tar & Roses. What a blast! We got there just as the opening performer was finishing (around 9:30 p.m.) There were only a handful of people in the bar, and it turns out that most of them were in the blues band that took the stage. Not to worry; the place rapidly filled up. We were the oldest people in the bar by a couple of decades. The band played blues and classic rock. At one point, a woman took over the dance floor, lite a couple of batons on fire, and did a totally outrageous performance. (I’m not going to do a blog post about it, so here’s a photo.) This was the perfect way to end our stay in LA!

We visited two museums.

The Hammer Museum – The museum is practically across the street from the restaurant where we had Sunday brunch. I didn’t realize it, but it’s affiliated with UCLA. During on Sunday walk on campus, we saw the sculpture garden with is part of the museum. We thought the exhibits in the museum were good, but somewhat limited. Still, we enjoyed it.

The Getty Center – We had visited the Getty Villa on our previous LA vacation, so this time we wanted to see the Getty Center. It is a fantastic art museum with a wide variety of different styles of art, including classical paintings, sculpture, landscaping, and architecture. Unfortunately for us, we planned our visit on the afternoon after our lunch at The Ivy, and we got there a little too late in the afternoon. We had two solid hours and saw as much as we could cram in. But we really needed more time.

So that’s about it for the overview. Over the next few weeks I’ll post reviews of the hotel and some of the restaurants.

And by the way, we never did see any celebrities.

11 January 2014

I hate food waste #2: Leftover lunch, salmon & pasta

LeftoverLunch

My wife and I typically have salmon once a week. I usually grill it. And she usually buys a piece big enough so that there’s some left over for me to eat for lunch later in the week.

My usual practice is to simply warm it in the microwave along with leftover risotto or couscous (served with the salmon when I made it originally. Here’s our favorite risotto recipe, click here.)

This week, however, we had some leftover bowtie pasta. We’d made it for our grandkids when they were over for dinner, and there were a few bowties left.

So I put the pasta on a plate and flaked the salmon over it. Then I dressed it simply with olive oil, fresh-ground pepper, and a half teaspoon of capers. I also drizzled on a little red pepper sauce that I made from Serrano peppers that I grew in my garden last summer. Then I warmed the whole plate in the microwave. It was really good! I’d consider making this for dinner sometime.