Archive for September, 2009

Sea Change – Lunch – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Potato soup with Fine Herbes

Entrée:
Linguini with clams, rock shrimp, tomato, oregano and garlic

You don’t get much (i.e. any) choice on Sea Change’s lunch menu, but then it’s hard to argue when presented with the opportunity to sit for a $10 lunch in such a venue. Equally, as I suppose a reasonable person would anticipate, a bargain meal like this is unlikely to showcase much of the kitchen’s aptitude and, in my dotage, my flagging capacity for reasonableness is apparently becoming a problem.

We were the first lunchers in the door at 11:30 and seemingly caught the staff still in final prep. A freak clash of acute Minnesotaness both kept us from advancing far enough into the restaurant to find the host’s table (other side of the bar) and the timid hostess from signaling her location, so as to rescue us from dithering at the door. Once seated, things improved. Our server had that somewhat annoyingly placatory speaking tone that one tends to develop when one spends her days catering to easily wronged, demanding rich people who get no greater joy in life than uttering the words “I want to speak to your manager”. However, she was also achingly cute (Pacific Islander complexion – humuna humuna), in fact “too cute” according to the female half of the table, but she was all eyes, checking our water/iced tea levels seemingly every 60 seconds for the duration of the meal, so the male half of the table forgave her appeasing mannerisms.

potatosoup

Our chilled potato soup arrived quickly, with the unadvertised flourish of a couple baby clams and a sprinkling of roe. It was smoky, reminiscent of bacon, and thick, but otherwise minimalist and rather unexciting, even after I thoroughly showered it with ground black pepper. It was undeniably an interesting take on potato soup, but we were both generally underwhelmed. Though pureeing potatoes for a popular lunch special is the modern equivalent to shucking enough corn for 50 hungry cowboys, there was a distinct feeling that it had been absentmindedly slopped together in between vastly more important kitchen responsibilities and/or half watching last night’s Tivo-ed “The Biggest Loser”.

linguiniwithclams

The boredom of the soup was exacerbated by the prolonged interval between courses, but when it finally arrived I found the linguini to be a satisfactory recovery. I loved that it was light, just the right portion, and the clams and rock shrimp weren’t overpowering. The tomato, oregano and garlic in oil was done in classic Italian simplicity. My companion was less enthused, offering that the dish was of the caliber that any kitchen hack could whip up at home in under 12 minutes (though, obviously, with substandard ingredients).

Allowing for the crabby, debatably over-fed quotient at the table, in the grand scheme the meal was merely just fine. Maybe something approximating a good deal if it were a regular lunch special, but it felt like a feeble effort for Restaurant Week (much like this whole review).

I’m awarding this lunch 2 and 1/2 “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price lunch is $10.
Sea Change’s full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Eating | 30.09.2009 13:55 | Comments Off on Sea Change – Lunch – Restaurant Week

Café Ena – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Crab and avocado terrine with roasted peppers, chili oil, and tortilla chips

Entrée:
‘Mero’ – Proscuitto wrapped grouper stuffed with crab meat, with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, saffron butter sauce, sautéed spinach and mango salsa

Dessert:
Churros with chocolate ganache and cinnamon ice cream

Choosing Café Ena wasn’t as easy as it should have been. Having apparently been dishonorably discharged (just ahead of La Belle Vie) from the Institute of Reasonable Information and Thoroughness, the menu they submitted to the Restaurant Week web site was just a liiiiittle bit short on details. Indeed, the entrées section starts and ends with only two nonsensical, maddeningly inadequate words: ‘Mero’ and ‘Lomo’. Actually, there’s three words if you’re feeling generous and count the ‘or’ that someone thoughtfully stuck in between.

That neither of these useless words appear on the full menu on Café Ena’s web site further annoyed me. However, regular Café Ena patrons convinced me that it was imperative I eat there, so reservations were made.

Thankfully for all, someone took the time to expound on ‘Mero’ and ‘Lomo’ in the printed menu that was presented to us upon arrival and it is my pleasure to report that, apart from the especially uncomfortable waddle home, there was very little to complain about for the rest of the evening.

terrinemixedgreensmango

My crab and avocado terrine was exceptional. I hesitated as I’m one of only six or so people on the planet that don’t really care for avocado, but combined with the crab, the tang of the roasted peppers and the subtle, delayed ‘pwang’ of the chili oil and I couldn’t have been much happier.

My companion fell on her mixed greens tossed with fresh pineapple, sliced mango, cucumbers, and panela cheese in a citrus herb dressing, consuming them hastily with little commentary, apart from some intentionally tongue-in-cheek, cliché-riddled comments about “an explosion of citrus flavor dancing across my tongue” that I didn’t give her the satisfaction of writing down. It featured many of her perennial favorite ingredients (mango, pineapple, cheese) looked fresh as hell and there was nary a shard of greens left when she finished, so either she loved it or there’s someone in a parallel universe somewhere who got too close to a decompressing rip in the cosmic curtain and now has salad on their head.

grouper

It was a difficult decision, but I settled on the so-called ‘Mero’. My trepidation over white fish two nights in a row was over-ridden by the presence of the crab and prosciutto. It took a few experimental bites of the grouper combined with various ingredients to figure out that an eye-roll into the back of the head could be achieved by carefully including a morsel of every element into each forkful. Not an easy task, but I applied my Norwegian ninja hand-eye coordination and was suitably rewarded.

porktenderloin

My companion went for the ‘Lomo’, which turned out to be a “herb crusted grilled pork tenderloin with garlic mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus in a guajillo shallot demi glace”. She was smitten with the perfect combo of sweet and savory. The pork was tender and peppery, while the caramelized shallots and asparagus had married well with the demi glace. I was once again called upon to use my super power, bestowed by your yellow sun, to finish other people’s meals. Though everything my companion had said about the Lomo was true, I’d already been enslaved by the Mero and will likely join its 2012 presidential ticket.

churroslemonpie

The meal had started out great and progressed onto epic, so it pains me to report that my dessert, comparatively, was only ‘meh’. It’s been years since I’ve had them, but the churros were just… churros. Sugary and flaky, but that was about it. In fact, the liberal coating of sugar virtually erased the highly anticipated taste of the chocolate ganache. The cinnamon ice cream was wonderful, however.

My companion enjoyed her dessert, the lemon pie, quite a bit more, being that it was accompanied by mango coulis (ding!) and vanilla ice cream. Not normally being a fan of lemon desserts, I nevertheless tried it and I too was surprised by how much I liked it. It wasn’t too overpowering or sweet. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, I’ll choose chocolate over lemon. This was simply one of those times when I chose wrong.

I’m awarding this dinner 4 and 1/2 “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price dinner is $30.
For what it’s worth, Café Ena’s full Restaurant Week dinner menu is posted here.

Eating | 30.09.2009 9:35 | 1 Comment

The Capital Grille – Lunch – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Clam Chowder

Entrée:
The Grille’s Signature Cheeseburger with Truffle Fries

Dessert:
None, apparently.

My seven regular readers and both friends will recognize the entrée in today’s lunch. They’ll recognize it because this is something like the squillionth time I’ve had it and it never fails to elicit a reaction in me not unlike nitrous oxide or Natalie Portman from that scene in “Closer”.

This isn’t the kind of burger that you idly think, “Oh, I think I’d like a burger today”. You go to Old Chicago, when that happens. No, this is the kind of burger that you wake up needing. Notice I didn’t say ‘wanting’. This is the kind of burger where a good first impression really dictates the meal, so once you’ve resolved to eat it you call in sick at work, pull down the shades, play some sexy music and spend two hours washing, shaving (paying particular attention to the bikini line, just in case things go really well), primping and dressing, while intermittently standing in front of a mirror to practice your smile, devilish eyebrow arch and cutest laugh. This is the kind of burger where you steal its mailbox key while it’s in the bathroom, so you have an excuse to call it before noon the next day pretending to have found it, so you can see it again after work – preferably at your place, with an open bottle of tequila, latex ready to go, three flavors of lube, the trapeze just how you like it… Oops, I took it too far.

clamchowderfieldgreens

First there was the matter of the clam chowder. This can’t be right, but strangely I can’t recall ever eating clam chowder before. If I did, it obviously wasn’t memorable. This wasn’t especially pulse-quickening either, for that matter, but after a little added zip of black ground pepper it was a very decent starter. For some reason, it seemed to get more flavorful as I got nearer the bottom of the bowl, though I’m also one of those people who shows “flu symptoms” after getting a flu shot, so there’s that to consider.

My companion’s “Field Greens, Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs” was, for starters, very pretty and generously portioned. The tangy dressing did its thing, the gorgonzola was “to die for” and the cherry tomatoes were very fresh. If you’ve read my last two Restaurant Week posts, it’ll come as no surprise to hear that I didn’t bother tasting this.

I’ve probably written all that I need to write about the unholy, barely legal (in Dubai) bliss of the Signature Cheeseburger and Truffle Fries, so I’ll just leave you with the photo:

cheeseburgersalmon

My companion’s “Seared Citrus Glazed Salmon” was a homerun. The fillet was about as massive as I’ve ever seen in a fine dining setting and the citrus sauce not only jazzed up the fish brilliantly, but also gave a bit of help to the otherwise ho-hum steamed asparagus and the excellently crisp beans. My companion reported that the salmon tasted relatively light for being one giant helping of protein, but evidently not light enough for her to finish it all. With her dignity in jeopardy, being ever the gentleman, I threw myself over the remainder of the salmon and once again saved the world.

Despite saying otherwise on the Restaurant Week web site, there was no dessert included with the lunch menu. Not that either of us had the room, but I had my little heart set on the Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake. Thanks a lot Obama.

I’m awarding this lunch four “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price lunch is $20.
The Capital Grille’s full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Eating | 29.09.2009 13:04 | 1 Comment

Cavé Vin – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Steak Tartare Capers, onions, parsley, cornichon, egg yolk and croutons

Entrée:
Pan Roasted Halibut Grilled Vegetables and tomato beurre blanc

Dessert:
Chocolate flourless cake with berry coulis and whipped cream

I had two instantaneous problems with Cavé Vin:

1.    The location (5555 Xerxes Ave. South), dangerously close to a suburb [hork]

2.    Seriously? ‘Cavé Vin’? Could you frog it up any more guys? (Hold on, let me translate that for you: Ribbit  ribbit frog ribbit ribbit guys?)

To make matters worse – not that this is the fault of Cavé Vin – my dinner companion, ever culturally accurate, insisted on pronouncing ‘Vin’ as ‘vehh’, which is about the same sound I make when a small ice cube slides down my throat and sets off my gag reflex.

These gripes aside, I almost destroyed my T2 vertebra during the violent double-takes I executed while absorbing their Restaurant Week menu, an eye-pooping, profusion of Pavlovian saliva triggers that emphatically put everyone else’s Restaurant Week menus to shame.

I mean, just look at it! Now look at La Belle Vie’s menu. Talk about phoning it in… For shame La Belle Vie!!

Arriving at 7pm, I was relieved that we’d made reservations last week. The front room was packed. Indeed, if you decide, upon reading this bit of half-assed piece of food commentary, that you too would like to enjoy Buddha’s gift to Restaurant Week, you might already be effed. Though, allegedly, the back room wasn’t totally packed, so if you phone them right now, you may be able to squeeze in after 8:30pm.

Graciously given the choice, we opted for a tiny, two-seat table in an alcove by the front windows, kind of behind the bar. Having earned some kind of secret door prize from our idiosyncratic seating choice (or possibly they recognized me from 517th position of the Top Minnesota Blogs list), our greeter presented us with two red wine samples – they were practically half-pours – of a Malbec and a Côtes du Rhône. As it was Monday, half-priced bottle night at Cavé Vin, we ordered the very smooth Côtes du Rhône, which one is invited to re-cork and take home with them, as one that is driving should very well do, which we very well did.

steaktartarbeetsalad

I started with the “Steak Tartare Capers, onions, parsley, cornichon, egg yolk and croutons”. This was a safety order for me, as I have yet to have a steak tartare that I didn’t like (even that quivering pile of embryonic mass that I was served in Braşov, Romania this summer, that kept my lower intestines dancing for three days). Though I must say I’ve had better (most notably at a downtown Minneapolis joint that rhymes with ‘112 Peatery’), this was a valiant effort. What I’m assuming was the pulpified capers, cuz there’s no way it was the cornichon, had a bit of a kick that was not altogether unpleasant, but it definitely messed with the, or covered for the lack of, richness and decadent raw beef tang that I’m accustomed to. Of course those four slivers of crouton that that came with the plate was about 8 slivers too few, but I made up for it by applying for a bread advance from the basket that arrived when we first sat down which got me through those lean times.

I tasted a thumbnail’s worth of my companion’s “Beet and Roasted Fennel Salad Dijon vinaigrette”, which was all I needed to remind me for the 57th time that beets taste like ca-ca no matter what you say and I ain’t listening. La la la!!!

panroastedhalibutlambshank

The entrées  were, of course, interesting. The “Pan Roasted Halibut Grilled Vegetables and tomato beurre blanc” was a big risk for me, as I am almost continuously disappointed by expensive white fish dishes. The halibut alone had the appearance and taste of something that someone (not me) could have handily made at home. Though when liberally combined with the tangy sauce and shards of cagily sautéed zucchini, fennel and asparagus (hidden under the halibut in the picture) it was one of those explosive tasting moments that I’m sure are only conceived of after combining 25 separate ingredients during an all-nighter trial-and-error session with six buddies, several bottles of excellent wine and probably three or four monster spliffs.

My companion’s “Lamb Shank Potato Puree, mirepoix, gremolata and lamb demi” looked awfully pretty, with those pearl onions, the demi and the ‘miraculous granola’ (roughly translated). I scooped up a bit of the lamb after it literally fell of the bone and it was  indeed tasty and my companion reported that it was both heroically non-greasy and, I quote, “umgh, umgh!”. So there you go.

fourlesschocolatecake

We both opted for the “Chocolate flourless cake with berry coulis and whipped cream” for dessert, which was succulent, had a great personality and I had a really good time and all, but just between you and me, I was thinking about that super hot and slutty, batshit crazy mocha parfait from Cosmos the whole time.

Though overall I was slightly less awed than I’d hoped to be, the ridiculously tempting menu is still undeniably a Restaurant Week all-star and, being appropriately reverent, I’ll be returning to Cavé Vin on Wednesday night, with three companions so as to hopefully get a nibble of the remainder of the jaw-dropping menu all in one fell swoop.

I’m awarding tonight’s meal 3 and 1/2 “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price dinner is $30.
Cavé Vin’s full Restaurant Week dinner menu is posted here.

Eating | 28.09.2009 23:38 | 3 Comments

Cosmos – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Seared Diver Scallops, Chorizo Cream, Salsify, Nasturtium Leaf, Grapefruit

Entrée:
Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin, Blue Cheese Potato Gratin, Asparagus, Green Peppercorn Demi, Truffle Pommes Paille

Dessert:
Mocha Parfait, Chicory Coffee Cremeaux, Chocolate Ice Cream, Sea Salt Toffee

I’m not gonna lie to you. Cosmos was a last second substitute. Initially, I had foolishly intended to start Restaurant Week off privately, with the sure thing that is the Signature Cheeseburger at The Capital Grille. I had this exquisite plan to sneak in this meal on a Sunday afternoon to start the week off right and rekindle a dangerous addiction that I barely eluded last winter, which would have ended in my certain financial ruin. Having been home from Italy for five months, where limited serving hours demands that every restaurant meal be judiciously planned, it never occurred to me that anyone in the US would be batshit crazy enough to close up for Sunday lunch. Alas, The Capital Grille proved me wrong and, after some heavy sighs bookending short, expletive-laced commentary about the continued lack of any evidence of a higher power, I poured through the Restaurant Week list and settled, not unhappily, on the Cosmos dinner.

Being that we’d made old people dinner reservations (6:00pm), my companion (attractively attired) and I (cargo pants, Old Navy t-shirt, three year old hiking shoes, messenger bag) were among the first in the door and therefore enjoyed doting and charming service despite my appearance. An amuse-bouche was promptly delivered, a “duck prosciutto” sprinkled with various unidentifiable garnishes that were nevertheless delightful.

Our first portions were both of the high caliber of presentation where you feel like a vandal simply by eating them. The already lengthy description of my scallops didn’t include several other little flourishes and artistically dribbled sauces that, when combined correctly, were an outstanding balance of taste and texture, though, eaten alone, the scallops themselves felt like they could have been jazzed up a smidge. My companion chose the Arugula, Port Wine Vinaigrette, Flexible Blue Cheese, Bartlett Pears, Candied Pecans, which I did not try, as it looked far too healthy, but I gathered from her approving nods that the grocery list of ingredients achieved a pleasant effect.

The wait in between courses wasn’t long, but it was long enough to relish in the spontaneous delivery of an “lime-aged shooter with fruit punch explosion”. It looked like a mini-raw egg in a shot glass. It tasted like being shot in the face with a Kool-Aid paintball.

My beef tenderloin (medium rare) was appropriately pink and textured. Mixing up the dainty bites that I indulgently carved (my companion finished eating a full 10 minutes before me) alternately with the asparagus, potato gratin, and lavishly truffle-bathed shoestring potatoes gave each bite a very different and always pleasing sensation. I don’t get nearly enough beef in my diet these days, so it’s possible that the mere presence of beef alone was making my eyes cross. Or perhaps I need to change my contact lenses.

Though I only had a small bite of my companion’s puffed wild rice encrusted ahi tuna medallions, after several bites of my much stronger beef, I had trouble appreciating what I understood to be an equally well prepared dish. Also, fearing gluttony, and possibly spreading the Swine Flu that I’d just exposed myself to an hour earlier, I didn’t scoop up any of the squid dumpling or the bed of wakame seaweed (whatever that is, it looked like spinach) that accompanied.

The mocha parfait was one of those chocolate lovers’ joy rides, replete with death-defying richness and about a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine (which is why I’m writing this now and not tomorrow morning). I didn’t say it at the table, but my companion’s festival of white Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta Poached Pears, Herbs Meringue looked both less attractive (something about meringue has always underwhelmed me) and less likely to appear in a decidedly unwholesome dream sometime in the near future.

I’m awarding the meal four “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price dinner is $30.
Cosmos’ full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Apologies for the lack of photos. My Blackberry took horridly washed out pictures in Cosmos’ low-lit dinning room. I’ll bring a real camera next time.

Eating | 27.09.2009 21:17 | 4 Comments

Restaurant Week prologue

Hello and welcome back to all seven of you who still have me in your blog feed. I apologize for the six month absence, but a combination of too much work and too much of not being in Minneapolis necessitated this unannounced hiatus. Now that my every waking moment is no longer consumed by Tuscan city maps and Romanian bus schedules, I’m tentatively bringing back the Minneapolis love until such a time when someone out there finally decides to grant me a book deal (publishers, I have a proposal with an ankle-breaking hook and three sample chapters ready to go – call me) and TV show hosting gig, because, despite my occasional claims on Twitter, I ain’t getting any cuter over here.

In the meantime, finances are going to be a smidge tight, requiring me to be very creative about writing off every conceivable expense, namely the ThisIsWhyILoveMinneapolis.com domain name renewal that I just paid for and the roughly $300-400 worth of food that I plan to eat during Restaurant Week.

Awww yeeeeaaah, Restaurant Week starts tomorrow and if you haven’t already done so, you need to get on the horn right now to lock in your dinner reservations and probably most lunch reservations, depending on the venue. This is only my second Restaurant Week since moving back to the US. Last year it hit while I was in the final agonizing, editing stages of a guidebook gig that kept me out of direct sunlight for much of August and September, so I wasn’t able to take full advantage of the occasion. Not so this year. Firstly, I’ve got the Romania guidebook manuscript I’m currently finalizing so utterly tamed that it’s roasting my coffee and cleaning my grout. More importantly, I’m still obnoxiously spoiled by the month-long, culinary head-butt I enjoyed earlier this year in Tuscany. Opportunities to eat so many fair-priced, excellent meals in such quick succession don’t come around often enough and should therefore be prioritized like angioplasty or Natalie Portman’s birthday or what have you.

Despite the very real danger of exposing myself as a ‘foodiot’, I’m going to do my best to ‘cover’ this experience with recaps and, yes, Blackberry photos of all my meals as well as any other noteworthy information, like the flirting skills of my servers and how to steal sips of your companion’s wine while they’re in the bathroom.

As I’ve already confessed, I am not a trained food… anything. However, I have the unrivaled advantage of having eaten well over a thousand restaurant meals in 40 countries in the past six years. Furthermore, there’s the not so small matter of my singular physical response to food, an effect akin to (I’m told) certain intravenous drugs or having a primary erogenous zone dipped into a just-baked apple pie. Harnessing this unique aptitude, I will do my very best to transcribe these feelings into hastily written, short reviews or, failing that, lift quotes from the people around me and make them my own by adding metaphorical superlatives and ‘that’s what she said’ jokes.

So far, I have meals confirmed at Sea Change (twice!), The Capital Grille (twice!), Café Ena, Café Vin and Sanctuary. I still have one dinner opening and two lunch openings, if anyone would like to suggest/join me for a meal. Otherwise, stay tuned for some semi-coherent, wine-fueled babbling and digressions on my disappearing abs.

Eating | 26.09.2009 12:24 | 4 Comments