Archive for the 'Eating' Category

This Is Why I Love La Belle Vie

This is not a review of the galloping parade of compounding awesomeness that is the eight-course Chef’s Tasting Menu ($85, plus $65 for the wine flight) at La Belle Vie. If I wanted to do that, I would have (somehow) scrounged up the funds to indulge in this meal about eight years ago, and only after trading brains with someone who has a better understanding of what’s going on in the kitchen.

Having thoroughly missed that boat on so many timeliness and wisdom levels, I would like to instead focus on the experience itself which happily took me off guard with its casualness mere moments after sitting at the table and only got better as the meal progressed.

My main worry was the atmosphere. I only had 24 hours warning that I was being treated to this singular meal. Dancing giddiness quickly dissolved into dress code panic, what with La Belle Vie’s reputation as “the best restaurant in the history of Minneapolis” and the words “jacket preferred” so frequently attached to descriptions of the restaurant. I’m a simple man with a lifestyle that tends to be pretty high-impact on clothes. As such, my arsenal of nice clothing is rather limited. Comically so on some occasions, like last Friday afternoon as I puzzled over my options.

I do have a suit jacket, though one that is laughably out of style and has become a little too tight around the back and shoulders anyway. The dark pants that go with the jacket still fit, however, and I eventually settled on a green cashmere sweater and black shoes. Even so, I was worried that, upon seeing me, the staff would hurriedly escort me out the nearest emergency exit to a table fashioned out of a sheet of wood laid over an oil drum out by the dumpster.

Instead, my companion and I were given a prime spot in the corner, with an expansive view of the dinning room, where we observed wave after wave of people arriving in the clothes they seemingly wore to class (with a tie thrown on in one case), casual Friday attire and skirts so mini that even my female companion stared openly.

What relaxed me even more were the staff, who were disarmingly informal and fun. Not a condescending tone or withering gaze in the group. The dizzyingly complex dishes were explained without a hint of presumption. The desire was that we thoroughly understand the meal, not to test or exceed our food preparation vocabulary. Our server was personable, and even encouraging when she busted us taking cell phone pictures of the food.

When we left, as we paused to stare longingly at a bottle of Barolo Cavalier Bartolomeo, which was not on the tasting menu, nor the wine list for that matter, which had nevertheless been served with the lamb course, Bill Summerville himself sidled up and, without preamble, casually spoke to us about the wine for several minutes. Only as we parted ways and he proffered a business card did we realize that we were speaking to one of the owners and a local sommelier all-star.

So, there you go. No dress code anxiety necessary, beyond common sense, and the same degree of staff interaction, from the very top on down, as you might encounter at a casual, neighborhood place. I loved it. I just wish I could afford it.

And now, because I am shameless, a quick run down of the meal, including awful cell phone pictures taken in increasingly horrible light as the meal progressed and natural light disappeared:

Amuse-bouche
Amuse-bouche: a single anchovy on a slice of turnip, wrapped with leek and mint (basil?) foam.

Yellow tail jack with dried shallot and chorizo bits
Yellow tail jack with dried shallot and chorizo bits, spattered with cream and citrus sauces, with various mystery dollops and shavings. (Served with a brut champagne, which went straight to our heads, being we were on empty stomachs.)

Sautéed sea bass with whipped brandade
Sautéed sea bass with whipped brandade (an emulsion of slated cod and olive oil), artichoke, black olive and dill. (Served with Rias Baixas, a light and fruity white from Spain’s Galacia region.)

Lobster-filled spinach pasta
Lobster-filled spinach pasta, vegetable ash (those red puffs), ruby beets, sprinkled with black truffle. (Served with Sean Minor pinot noir.)

Pan roasted poussin (chicken) with cuttlefish
Pan roasted poussin (chicken) with cuttlefish, braised pork belly, in a porcini broth. This was served with a sherry (Manzanilla, La Cigarerra, Spain), which is normally not my favorite thing, but paired fantastically well with the broth.

Grilled lamb ribeye, with ratatouille
Grilled lamb ribeye (barely, it was pink and amazing), with ratatouille, black olive and crispy squash blossom. (Though the menu said it would be served with a Cotes de Francs from Bordeaux, some generous person subbed in that amazing Barolo.)

Abbaye de belloc with apple-apricot compote
Abbaye de belloc (cheese) with apple-apricot compote and preserved lemon honey. (Served with a wonderful French cider with only 5% alcohol volume, which was welcome, because we were starting to become a little shitfaced by this stage.)

Yuza panna cotta with mint foam
Yuza panna cotta with mint foam. This was so good it nearly caused faint.

Caramel cremeux with crème fraiche cake and blood orange ice cream
Caramel cremeux with crème fraiche cake and blood orange ice cream. (Served with a moscato from Piedmont, Italy.)

La Belle Vie
Open daily, dinner only
The Chef’s Tasting Menu comes in five and eight-course configurations
The bar has a four-course menu
510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis
(612) 874-6440

Eating | 11.04.2012 10:09 | Comments Off on This Is Why I Love La Belle Vie

This is why I love the Date Night trend

I’ve recently hit a euphoric peak regarding the fixed price, “Date Night” menus that keep appearing around town and, as is my way, I must share the happiness.

I’ve enjoyed the Tuesday Date Night menu at al Vento twice now. There’s nothing about this arrangement that isn’t awesome. A mere $20 gets you a four course, stomach-distending meal in an exceptional restaurant.

Now sometimes al Vento tries to sneak in a little too much eggplant on these fixed price menus, so if like me, eggplant causes you to experience an intestinal tsunami, it would behoove you to check the menu before you go. That said, my most recent Date Night visit to al Vento was exceptional start to finish.

I opened with the stuffed mushrooms (walnut, with parmesan and marinara), which I erased from my plate as thoroughly as one can without resorting to a tongue cleaning. The next plate, a small Caesar salad, was subtle while still nailing it. For the pasta course I chose the generously portioned pappardelle with braised pork ragu tomato and procini. The pork was tender as hell and the ragu had an unusual but excellent sweetness, as if (just guessing here) a modest amount of cherry reduction had been mixed in. Dessert was a selection of gelato and sorbet, from which I chose the cappuccino gelato.

It was just wonderful. And not exactly a secret. The place was jammed. We just barely got away with not making a reservation, but next time I won’t be so cavalier.

There was only one, huge disappointment in the evening – an equally mouthwatering fixed price menu was happening simultaneously at Kings Wine Bar! Their Tuesday Date Night menu has three courses, plus dessert, paired with a wine flight. Total: $45 for two people!

It was just cruel. Check out the menu:

-1st course – Black bean soup, curry yogurt
-or-
Arugula salad, soft smoked egg, bacon, maple, aged sherry vinegar paired with Argyle Chardonnay

-2nd course- Baked herb crusted mozzarella, slow braised tomatoes, balsamic syrup paired with Pedroncelli Rose

-3rd course- Seared salmon, chick peas, swiss chard, grilled beets, chipotle red wine reduction paired with La Playa Sauvignon Blanc
-or-
pan seared NY strip, fingerling potatoes, bleu cheese paired with Pedroncelli Cabernet

-Dessert – Banana chocolate bread pudding, ganache, ice cream paired with Dr L Riesling

So missing out on that really sucked, but there are more Tuesdays where that came from and I’ll be duly stalking the Kings Date Night menu for more magic combos.

Incidentally, al Vento’s sister restaurant, Rinata, has a similar fixed price menu deal on Sunday nights. Keep a look out or get on their email list and have the happiness delivered to you.

[Disclosure: The owner of Kings Wine Bar is a friend of mine.]

Eating | 18.12.2011 20:46 | 1 Comment

Sanctuary – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Crayfish cake with remoulade and daikon micro green salad

Entrée:
Smoked and braised lamb shank with white beans, chorizo, cassoulet and roasted fire tomato sauce

Dessert:
Bailey’s chocolate shake with chocolate chip cookies and berries

Maybe it was the knowledge that I was eating the last of my Restaurant Week meals -nine in six days – a protracted, rapid series of (mostly) fantastic meal experiences that, until now, I haven’t enjoyed anywhere outside of Tuscany. Maybe it was that I had just choked down that god-awful pad thai at Comsos. Maybe it was simply that Sanctuary makes exceptional food. Whatever the case, our dinner Friday night blew our respective doors off.

I know I’ve already awarded five “Oh Gods” out of five to other meals that had barely perceptible downsides, but, no disrespect to those deserving venues, when the bar gets raised such as it was at Sanctuary, you’re forced to think back and wonder if perhaps you had been a bit to hasty awarding a perfect score previously and maybe you should have allowed for a short period of contemplation before writing those reviews. Or at least waited until total sobriety. Well, the past is the past, and the present is now and the future is when alien archeologists uncover this blog post and wonder about this so-called ‘God’ that I keep referring to.

Flouting the implicit spirit of Restaurant Week, Sanctuary had only one fixed priced menu to choose from. This lack of variety probably caused some people to take pause (i.e. me, though I was coerced into going anyway), but then those people would have been tragically screwing themselves out of an outstanding dinner.

crayfishcake

The crayfish cake was, in two words, kick ass. After exactly four chews, my companion said “This is what Sea Change should have done.” (Burn!) It was meaty and held together well without being soggy and there was a pleasing little hint of spice at the end. The remoulade was just a little to mayo-y for me, though pretty much everything with mayo in it is too mayo-y for me. My companion assured me that it was superior. We both ended up eating this cake as if it were the last crayfish on earth –one sliver at a time, savoring every morsel, desperately trying to commit every facet of it to our permanent memory banks.

lambshankwhitebeans

The lamb shank was the largest either of us had ever seen. Seemingly slow cooked in something wonderful for about 12 hours, the oozing, juicy meat shredded right off the bone, without so much as a single sawing motion from a knife. This raised the question of how they were able to transfer this exceptionally delicate shank from the pan to the plate without it completely falling apart due to the force of gravity. The chorizo was a nice touch, but there wasn’t much of it and, compared to the religion-changing taste of the lamb, it really only played a minor role. I’m not a huge fan of beans, but the white beans almost completely took on the flavor of the roasted fire tomato sauce, virtually erasing my usual texture qualms.

baileyschocolateshake

The Bailey’s chocolate shake was as rich and yummy as one would expect of anything with the word ‘Bailey’s’ affixed to it, with the added advantage of the chocolate chip cookies and berries that tasted equally incredible, whether eaten on their own (me) or liberally dipped into the shake (companion).

When asked for final thoughts on the entire meal, my companion responded with an emphatic “F*ckin’ A”. Truer words have rarely been said.

Oh wait, there was one quibble people should know about when eating at Sanctuary, particularly in cold weather: the temperature in the front quarter of the restaurant temporarily, but instantly, dropped about 15 degrees every time anyone opened the door. And it was only in the 40s Friday night. Anyone unlucky enough to be seated near the door in the dead of winter had better be able to work a knife and fork while wearing their choppers.

I’m awarding this dinner the most resounding five “Oh Gods” out of five of Restaurant Week.

Restaurant Week is over, but for the record, the fixed price was $30.
Sanctuary’s Restaurant Week dinner menu is posted here.

Eating | 5.10.2009 8:55 | 1 Comment

Cosmos – Lunch – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Lobster Bisque – Chive Crème Fraîche, Red Pepper Croutons

Entrée:
Cosmos Pad Thai with Chicken – Rice Noodles, Peanuts, Cilantro, Fresh Lime

Going from the best meal of the week to the worst in a mere 16 hours was not a pleasant experience. The physical and emotional trauma was so severe that I’m now seeking treatment from both a chiropractor and a hug therapist.

shrimpamusebouche

I’ll start with what was done right. Like the dinner I’d had Sunday night, soon after arrival we were presented with an amuse-bouche of a single shrimp and penne with a dribble of a balsamic reduction. Thoughtful, cute and tasty.

lobsterbisqueduckquesadillaspicedshrimp

While considering the Restaurant Week menu, our table of four mused out loud if we could perhaps substitute a second starter in place of our entrées. Cosmos’ starters were all winners. My lobster bisque, despite the curious absence of tangible lobster, was thick, warm and spicy. Pretty much exactly what you’d like on a cold rainy day in October. Even better was the grilled quesadilla duck confit, with cilantro, mango salsa and poblano aioli. Duck confit seems to be everywhere lately and I’m not complaining. A few weeks earlier I’d had what might have been an almost identical duck quesadilla downstairs at Bradstreet Crafthouse Resaurant (Same kitchen? Anyone?). Both were commendably non-greasy and the mango and aioli were subtle, yet effective touches. However, the spiced basil shrimp with ginger garlic sauce was the hit of the table. The colors and textures were pleasing, the spice was perfect and the sauce was both distinctly Asian, but again, a perfect core-warming flavor for a cold and damp day.

Which brings us to the end of the good parts. Cue the funeral dirge.

padthaichicken

Having had both a great brunch and dinner here on previous occasions, I was more than a little disappointed at the unanimously underwhelming lunch entrées. My pad thai was almost distressingly unexciting. I’ve had better at, and I’m not kidding here, Noodles and Company. Though, my mouth was still slightly ablaze from the spice in the bisque, the noodles seemed virtually tasteless on their own. The veg had been spiced up, but there was so little of it on the plate that mouthfuls of noodle were blah more often than not. (To be fair, one companion had gotten the veggie pad thai and reported that hers was very spicy, though hers strangely didn’t have any peanuts). Finally, the chicken, matching the rest of the plate, was plain and forgettable.

walleye

The seared walleye with wheat berries, dried cranberries and goat cheese, with a champagne vinaigrette was the meager highlight. The small-portioned walleye was pan-fried and pleasingly salty. The wheat berries were light and healthy and the cheese was a paradoxical mouth-humper, tasting like a show-bred combination of brie, goat and blue cheeses. It was like an oral defibrillator, comparatively shocking to the taste buds compared to everything else on the entrée plates.

turkeyclub

Finally, the “601 Club”, a towering Dagwood Bumstead-sized sandwich with smoked turkey, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, mustard and mayonnaise on brioche, was declared to be “a perfectly adequate rendition of a club sandwich,” but far short of living up to the Cosmos repute for galloping excellence. Indeed, my companion confided that, while it was just fine, she probably would never order it again.

All of this disillusionment was underscored by a one-man, singing and dancing cabaret of terrible service. Our server, a native French speaker, had plainly decided to preserve his home country’s cultural fondness for bored dispositions, lackadaisical work ethics and aptitude for ignoring patrons for ridiculous periods of time. The interval between receiving our menus and actually getting the opportunity to order went on a little too long, but that paled in comparison to the marathon wait for him to collect our dishes, then again to bring our bill, and finally the futile wait for him to process the bill. After an intolerable amount of time (one person in our party had already left so as to not miss a conference call), we reluctantly collected our credit cards and ponied up the exact amount of cash just so we could get on with our lives. By the time we got out of there, we’d been sitting for nearly two hours – for a two course lunch. In a half-empty restaurant. Bloody ridiculous.

Once again, the showcasing, out-reaching spirit of Restaurant Week appears to have been completely disregard in favor of reluctant acquiescence, which, not surprisingly, led to inconsistent and lackluster food.

I’m awarding the lunch two “Oh Gods” out of five.

The fixed price lunch is a decidedly overpriced $20.
Cosmos’ full Restaurant Week lunch and dinner menus are posted here.

Eating | 2.10.2009 15:56 | 3 Comments

The Capital Grille – Dinner – Restaurant Week

Starter:
Caesar Salad

Entrée:
8 oz Porcini Filet Mignon, with Porcini Rub and 12-Year Balsamic

Dessert:
Flourless Chocolate Espresso

I have never been to The Capital Grille for dinner, only lunch. So I have never seen it in all its booming, arrogant, messily drunk, after-dark, pre-show glory. My companion reported the that the ladies room was filled with a primping, gold-digging horde, swaying so badly that they could barely wash their hands. That was amusing. The party room full of loud, fat businessmen directly across from our table was not. Every time a server went through the sliding doors, they would make sure to close them, but 30 seconds later someone from the party would stagger out to hit the head and leave the door wide open. They hooted, whooped, drank cheap domestic beer and called each other juvenile names. And that was before the tray of tequila shots arrived.

I remarked that party rooms such as these in nice restaurants should have a two door noise buffer system, like at firing ranges, to spare the well behaved folks eating high-priced meals from the commotion. My companion one-upped me, offering that perhaps the room would be better utilized if it were set up on a moving platform near an open window so people could whip stuff at its occupants, carnival game style.

Our server’s heel-clicking decorum was broken up with peculiar spurts of brute informality, which I’m sure plays well with the loud, fat businessmen, especially after the tequila, but this behavior only succeeded in unnerving us into being the most low-maintenance table in the joint. His service was indisputably beyond reproach and he checked in on us no less than five times during the meal, inquiring how he might improve upon our dining experience, but we always declined, as to do otherwise would have required him to come back and talk to us some more. He was like the love child of Lurch from the “Adam’s Family” and Frank “The Tank” Ricard from the movie “Old School.”

caesarsladfieldgreenstomatofreshherbs

Apart from these memorable distractions, this was the best meal I’ve had all week. It didn’t start off with much gusto. My Caesar salad was, you know, a Caesar salad. There’s not a whole lot one can do to make an unforgettable Caesar salad unless they top it off with gold leaf and a hearty slice of a beluga whale’s sex organ. My companion likewise reported that her “Field Greens, Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs” was perfectly competent, and the plentiful blue cheese was much appreciated, but it wasn’t spectacular.

porcinifilletmignon1procinifilletmignon2

Then all hell broke loose. Lurch-Frank handily sold me on the filet mignon, going into drooling detail about the porcini rub and 12-year old, barrel-stored balsamic. As you can see, this thing was so amazing that it needed two pictures to do it justice. It was the size of my fist. The rub and some unadvertised pepper made the edge a little tough and crispy, which briefly made the cut of beef seem less than idyllic. But as I carved ever further into the center of this beautiful mass, I found that I was dealing with beef that was the consistency of pudding. It was very nearly melt-in-your-mouth tender. Unlike the almost as excellent cut of beef from the previous evening at Cavé Vin, this hunk hadn’t been marinated in any way. It was pure beef, unadorned, standing naked for judgment. And Leif said it was good.

Complimentary sides accompanied our meals – a plate of mashed potatoes with the option of adding garlic (yes, please!) and cauliflower that had been marinated in a curious concoction that made it, as my companion eloquently put it, “more interesting than cauliflower has ever been before.”

lambchops

My companion’s lamb chops were impossibly tender. That’s right, it was tender impossible. I couldn’t have been more amazed by the texture if Ethan Hunt himself had broiled it, then delivered it to the table by crashing through the roof dangling from a helicopter rappelling rope. The cherry mostarda was a distinctive, borderline peculiar taste, but it was also an uncannily perfect pairing.

fourlesschocolateespresso

Then, the ultimate: the mother humping Flourless Chocolate Espresso. Smooth enough to polish the Hubble lenses. Rich enough to bailout AIG. Strong enough to melt lead. And taste buds. No really, I’m pretty sure it melted patches of my taste buds. But it hurt so good. The espresso and chocolate were so powerful that I, one of the world’s most chocolate fixated people, could barely finished it. I have never known anything like it and I think it is my one true love. After wine. And boobies.

cremebrulee

My companion’s distaste for coffee-flavored anything left her no choice but to order the very competently made crème brulee. About as impressive as crème brulee can be, which is to say, not that impressive. Maybe it needed more beluga vagina.

My forgivably ordinary Caesar salad aside, this meal shattered all expectations. Words failed me by the end of the meal, though this had a lot to do with my still-sizzling taste buds.

I’m awarding this dinner five “Oh Gods” out of five. And a bonus “kill me now”.

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

Eating | 1.10.2009 23:02 | 3 Comments

Cavé Vin – Dinner Part Deux– Restaurant Week

Starter:
Escargot – roasted garlic cream sauce and fried parsley

Entrée:
Steak Frites Top sirloin – pommes frites, roasted shallot and veal demi glace

Dessert:
Tres Leches – three milk cake with whipped cream frosting

“You look familiar,” Cavé Vin’s owner said as we stepped up to claim our table. We love being recognized by restaurant owners, never mind that we had been standing in that exact same spot not even 48 hours earlier, with identical wide grins and googlie eyes in anticipation of his kitchen’s beguiling Restaurant Week menu. Plus, if I may say so, I have unforgettable googlie eyes. And I might have been wearing the same pants.

There were no offers of generous, free wine samples this time, but as one person in our party didn’t drink and I was still recovering from a bout of self-diagnosed ‘Wine Flu’, it really wasn’t missed. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time I had such an incredible meal that wasn’t substantially lubed up with a carefully considered wine pairing. I couldn’t have planned it better, really. Not only did I have three companions ordering cooperatively this evening so I could get a gander at most of the remainder of the menu, but pretty much everything was prepared to stuttering perfection. It was a critical mass of awesomely goodness, that one usually needs to board a transatlantic flight in order to attain.

escargot

I went for the escargot as a starter. It was by far my biggest risk of the week. I’d never had escargot before and the numerous you-love-it-or-you-hate-it stories I’d heard from other people had made me powerfully curious, yet just a touch uneasy. Well, being that there was no mustard, pickles or olives involved, I worried for nothing. It was only moderately chewy – I actually enjoyed the texture – and the singular way that it fused with the roasted garlic cream sauce incited the first audible ‘oh God’ of the evening in record time.

garlicfritesmixedgreensgoatcheese

The other starters at the table were the highly addictive and dangerously filling “Garlic Frites with aioli”, an encore appearance from the “Beet and Roasted Fennel Salad Dijon vinaigrette”, again, loved by all except me, and the “Mixed greens, warm goat cheese, roasted grapes, hazelnuts and red wine vinaigrette”, the only starter to not visibly impair the diner with transcendent pleasure.

Now if you’ve been reading carefully, you know I lean towards the meat. Any meat. If it ever ate, slept, shat, fornicated and/or moved under its own power, I eat it. Which brings us to beef, my favorite meat. What with my meager income, I don’t get to eat a lot of beef in general, so when I get beef I get excited. When I get good beef, I get euphoric. When I get great beef, well, I go straight home and I write a 100 word, babbling digression about how much I love beef.

topsirloin

Cavé Vin’s top sirloin was the motherload. Nearly two inches thick at its center, tender, juicy, meaty and perfectly prepared. The veal demi glace was one of those show-stopping concoctions that I’ve tried and failed to recreate at home countless times. I fell into a reverie at the first bite and I was nearly half way through before I snapped out of it and remembered that I had the roasted shallot and fries to attend to. I had all but stopped talking to my companions. This was the kind of beef that I only get about once a year and I wasn’t going to mess it up by trying to talk and savor at the same time.

chickenprosciutooporkloinchop

And it wasn’t just me, my companions also had all-consuming entrées that had temporarily reduced them to distracted mumbling. The “Chicken Breast Prosciutto Fontina with sautéed vegetables and tomato herb sauce”, which I sampled from liberally, poked an entirely different area of my brain’s pleasure center, but with similar gratifying effect. The wonderful sauce had saturated the juicy chicken and all the festively colored veg, so pretty much everything tasted like rapture. The “Lamb Shank Potato Puree, mirepoix, gremolata and lamb demi” reappeared and was of the same fall-off-the-bone, non-greasy perfection as Monday’s effort. Only the “Pork Loin Chop Fingerling Potatoes, roasted peaches and bacon with balsamic and orange reductions” didn’t ring bells, due mostly to, as the diner readily admitted, personal texture preferences. Though the micro bits of  bacon hidden in the sauce, the roasted peaches and the herb rub on the pork itself were all given high praise.

treslechesgingericecream

I finished with the Tres Leches cake, as did another at our table and we both agreed it was about the best we’d ever had. My other two companions ordered the plum ginger sorbet, that was loved for being “tangy, tart and gingery,” adjectives that have also, incidentally, been used to extol my exquisite booty.

I’m still a little bit in awe of the entire meal and I’m moving my stock around (I only have just the one in “Curse Words from Around the World” refrigerator magnets) so as to hopefully fund another meal at Cavé Vin in the very near future.

I’m awarding this dinner five “Oh Gods” out of five! Woo hoo!!

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

Eating | 1.10.2009 11:54 | 4 Comments

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