Archive for the 'Eating' Category

Cosmos – Dinner – Restaurant Week

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

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

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 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

This is why I love the Capital Grille’s cheeseburger (and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl)

daraLet’s tackle this in reverse order. There’s a good reason that, like many other locals, I love Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (DMG), seen at right disguised as a poorly disguised food critic. The fact that she’s palpably awesome notwithstanding, genuinely talented food writers are disturbingly uncommon. DMG is to food writing as Lebron James is to basketball. She can single-handedly turn a mediocre team into championship contenders by merely walking into the locker room.

Like travel writing, the food writing industry is overrun with hacks, fakes, shysters, dipshits and the clinically insane. Lazy metaphors, heartbreaking clichés, serial mediocrity and editorially sanctioned overuse of the word ‘swathed’ plague food writing. So that DMG has not only cultivated the skill to consistently produce expert and refreshing text, but has also orchestrated the editorial freedom to write the way she does is a vanishingly rare and precious thing in her industry. As such, I’ve often doted on her words as if they were written by Buddha himself and was secretly heartbroken when she married William Jefferson Grumdahl, Esquire, local cowbell player, chalk artist, heir to the great Grumdahl Thumb Tack empire in Farmington and well-fed, lucky bastard.

Then came the July 2008 issue of Minnesota Monthly and the “Definitive, Ultimate, Be-All, End-All, List of the Greatest Burgers in Minnesota.” I was out of the country at the time and due to even more travel and dangerous amounts of time spent alone and feverishly writing in my condo since then, I only just got my hands on this copy last week.

To be perfectly frank, I was initially disappointed and suspicious of the list when I saw that the Jucy Lucys at Matt’s Bar had been rated Number One. I’m going to edge out onto an unpopular limb here and voice my opinion that the burgers served at Matt’s are the most over-hyped, underwhelming, physically dangerous and all around nasty non-fast food burgers I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten them twice. The first time I scalded myself so bad that I couldn’t taste the burger, or anything else for the next 48 hours. The second time I became physically ill later that day. I don’t believe that the burger caused the physical illness, but the two events happened in such quick succession that I now have association trauma with regard to Matt’s burgers.

More than anything I was struck both times as to how unattractive and ho-hum they were after all the psychotic, reverent, babbling build-up I’d endured. As such, I’m convinced that the whole Matt’s Jucy Lucy phenomenon is due to the blind, mindless acquiescence of countless rubes and the practical joke stylings of a few knowing conspirators, including it pains me to point out, our own DMG.

That said, I read the remainder of the article anyway and was more than a little taken with a few of the runners-up. In particular, the Signature Cheeseburger with Truffle Fries served at the Capital Grille. Despite Minnesota Monthly’s apparently serious “Burger Inherent Awesomeness Quotient™” (a messy equation that includes non-taste factors, like ambiance and ‘ultra-Minnesotanness’ of the venue) burying this bit of burger perfection in the #7 position, DMG called it ‘stupendous’ and ‘thunderously beefy’. I can’t help it – I get excited when any foodstuff is affixed with a Force of Nature superlative.

Gaining momentum, DMG launched into one of her signature, exuberant cascades of delirious metaphors (“lush as a berry,” “profound as an exceptional Barolo”). I’m thinking, no way is it that good. And being the consummate writer that she is, DMG followed immediately with “Could it seriously be that good? Yes.” Oooeeeoooeee!

As always, I was easily won over by DMG’s playful and eerily intuitive copy and duly trekked through the Skyway two days later to the Capital Grille’s dinning room for lunch. Sadly, the witness that accompanied me doesn’t eat beef or truffle products, so the pressure was on for me, the travel writer whose primary expertise is in the culinary wasteland of Romania, to make a credible and thoughtful judgment. I came to the following conclusion: stupendous and thunderously beefy (travel and food writing is also overrun with plagiarizers).

Seriously, this cheeseburger was precisely what I imagine my first burger, after months in a non-burger-appreciative-part-of-the-world, should look like. Thick, juicy and ready for major magazine photography. Moreover, by merely looking at this burger, even a Food Dummy like myself can tell that there are no unnatural, mystery, non-food-foodstuffs in there. And get a load of DMG’s description: “The grass-fed beef is from Thousand Hills Cattle Company in southern Minnesota, ground-up with a certain amount of bacon from Fischer Farms in Waseca. The meat is mixed with Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, grilled, and served on a housemade brioche bun”. Even without the words “Dear Penthouse Forum”, that’s about all I need read to kick off a spontaneous, redistribution of blood.

But that’s not all. In between bites of this handheld, edible piece of foreplay, you supplement the already depraved release of endorphins with “French fries, graced with truffle-oil and gran padano cheese.” That I had no idea what gran padano cheese was before that moment didn’t lessen the impact of those words and the final product was no less stimulating.

Cumulatively, I’ve lived and traveled in Italy for nearly a year. I’m ashamed to admit during that time I became a little spoiled over the availability and affordability of things like shallots and truffle products. Having been back in Minnesota for well over a year now, and bringing in the kind of subsistence income that travel writers earn (if they’re lucky), I now regret not eating an entire bowl of shallots, fresh vegetables, mozzarella and prosciutto swathed in truffle oil every single, privileged, Buddha-blessed damn day I was there. Now the mere whiff of truffles causes a dopamine spike that stuns my brainstem. You can literally hear the ‘beeeeuuuoooo’ as all my brain functions cease like a failed power coupling on the Starship Enterprise.

My natural impulse was to take the wax paper that held my truffle fries and rub it all over my face and hair and then not bathe for a week so as to enjoy the maximum effect of the fumes, but my level-headed companion pointed out that people around us might construe this behavior as “screwball”. My counter-offer of simply secreting the paper in my pants pocket was frowned upon as well. This is why I usually eat alone.

Needless to say, it was the best burger-based meal I’ve had in years and probably in the top three of all time. In fact I went back for seconds not even 48 hours later. It’s only been 24 hours since then and I’m already shopping for medication that will stem the tide of these cravings. As long as the pills cost less than $14 a serving (before tax and tip), I come out ahead.

And Dara, I realize that you probably have 57 devout friends that accompany you on your various restaurant visits, and I further admit to knowing precious little about food in general, but I think after reading the above you’ll agree that I have a singular physical response to food that transcends so-called ‘expertise’ and therefore makes me eminently qualified as an illiterate food taster guy that you need at your table for observation purposes alone. Call me.

Also, do you have a sister?

The Capital Grille
801 Hennepin Ave

Eating | 8.01.2009 15:27 | 6 Comments

This is why I love Wilde Roast Caf

I know, I know! Where the hell have I been? Bad local interest blogger! Bad!! Someone should spank me with a cricket bat. Seriously.

In short, I’ve been a little distracted lately, freaking out while finishing old business, freaking out while starting new business, eating my body weight in frozen pizza, getting almost no exercise, gaining five pounds and, not surprisingly, suffering from nasty insomnia. Oh and by the way, I have no confirmed paying work anywhere in my immediate future. No biggie. I can always go back to DJing Monday to Thursday at the Skyway Lounge.

Seeing as how the country is about to collapse five different ways and we’ll be reduced to mob rule and a barter system where soy beans and cute travel writers are the main currency, I’ve been spending what little there is of my savings by eating out a lot this past week, including a second, long-overdue trip to Wilde Roast Caf.

Last time I was at this place, I predicted painful, gut-wrenching bouts of indecision at future visits, what with Brasa being only steps away and both places serving up sammiches that I’d knock down a wall of puppies to get at. But that internal struggle was moot at 10 o’clock this morning, because only Wilde Roast serves breakfast and anyway I’m not sure I could choke down a plate of beef at that hour no matter how long it was marinated in cognac and Italian dressing.

I was in the mood for something sweet and the Crme Brle French Toast took that craving and head-butted it right into whimpering submission. It was almost too pretty to eat actually: a golden brown, doughy slice of bread the size and shape of a cobblestone, with peach slices, whipped cream, toasted pecans and maple syrup. My companion got the equally gorgeous and savory looking Breakfast Burro, a colorful herb tortilla wrapped around scrambled eggs and cheese with salsa, sour cream and a choice of adding ham, sausage, bacon, black beans, fresh tomato or avocado.

The menu at this coffee shop-cum-caf is surprisingly long and glorious. The Trinity College Tuna Melt that I greedily consumed the last time I was here was even prettier than my French Toast and it did intriguing things to the purple part of my tongue. The fireplace, cozy furniture and free wi-fi routinely lure people here for informal meetings or simply to spread out and establish a makeshift workspace, with frequent breaks for drinks and snacks. I’m so gonna write my memoirs here.

“We were somewhere around Albert Lea, nearing the Iowa border, when the Mountain Dew and six bean burritos began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I think I’m going to do the double eject, if you catch my drift.’ My mom said ‘Shut your pie hole or you’re sleeping in the car again!'”

All we need now is a light rail line from my building directly into southeast Minneapolis. Or maybe I could get Master Blaster to give me a ride in his Super-Charged Death Tractor. I’d man the machine gun turret, obviously.

Wilde Roast Caf
518 Hennepin Ave. E
Tel: 612.331.4544

Eating | 6.10.2008 23:45 | 4 Comments

This is why I love Brasa

brasalogo.jpgAs usual, I’m one of the last people to hear about awesome new places like Brasa Premium Rotisserie. Though to be honest, if I hadn’t been railroaded in for an impulse lunch on Sunday and instead had the opportunity to peruse the menu first, I may not have ever made it through the door.

The meat – dear Lord – so much meat. It wasn’t love at first sight.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat meat like a starving buzzard in most situations, (sorry Alexis!), but allow me to encapsulate the intimidating menu for you:



Plate of Beef
Plate of Pork
Plate of Chicken

Beef Salad
Pork Fries
Chicken Puree

Beef Cake
Pork Turnover
Chicken Pudding

Beef Tea
Pork with Limon
Fresh Squeezed Chicken Juice

In short, meaty. But guess what? It was effing awesome anyway!

I had a beef sandwich that must have been marinated for about 12 years, because it was falling apart and so sinfully delicious that I started trying to picture it naked. My companion had the chicken sandwich, but I didn’t get to try it because mine was too good to put down and besides she threatened to leave if I didn’t stop touching myself in public. (God, I miss Italy.)

As it so happened, due to fatigue and inadequate blood-caffeine levels, I briefly felt compelled to go off my self-imposed Coke prohibition. When I ordered a Coke, I was flatly informed that they didn’t carry Coke or “any corn syrup-based beverage!”


“OK. So what do you have?”

“Mexican Coke.”

“Does Mexican Coke have caffeine?” I asked digging my fingernails a quarter inch into the underside of the table.

“I’ll check.”

[Five agonizing minutes later]

“It has caffeine!”

So I got one. And it was incredible! So sharp and tasty! Why don’t they serve Mexican Coke everywhere? It tastes like the Coke we had back in the 70s, like Buddha intended! Whoever started putting corn syrup in Coke needs to be lobotomize immediately. I bet the guys in the kitchen at Brasa could do it. They can do anything with dead meat.

Finally, they have an ambitiously-priced $5.50 piece of chocolate coconut cake served with raspberry and chocolate sauces and a pile of whipped cream for good measure. Now, I struggle with purchasing desserts that are this expensive in a no-nonsense place like Brasa, but I’ll grudgingly admit that the cake was rich and wonderful and experimenting with different sauces every bite was a nice little thrill. Also, as my companion handily demonstrated, the sauces can be a standalone dessert in and of themselves if you spend 10 minutes scraping every last speck from the plate. This from the woman that wouldn’t let me touch myself in public. Hypocrite.

Oh and the dcor. Well, either the building that Brasa occupies used to be a car repair shop (in which case, kudos on removing the oil stench) or someone went through an awful lot of trouble to build garage doors into the front of the building. When the weather is nice (like it heart-breakingly was on Sunday), they yank open the garage doors and it’s like dining outside, except without crap from trees and bushes falling into your food!

I hear tell that when the weather is not so nice however, like all winter for example, not only are the garage doors prudently shut tight, but there’s nowhere for the hoards of people piling into Brasa on the weekends to stand and wait for a table. Also, table assignment is allegedly done at whim, meaning line jumping is possible and indeed, enthusiastic in some cases.

These minor flaws aside, it’s a great place that I’ll be biking to often this summer. And well, the name is OK I guess, but I bet they’d get way more business if they cut to the chase and called themselves ‘Bralessa’.

[UPDATE: Bralessa was just named “Best Takeout” by City Pages.]

600 East Hennepin Avenue

Eating | 23.04.2008 12:53 | 6 Comments

This is why I love Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant

Have you ever wondered why it is when you’re trying to settle on a restaurant and you ask yourself “what kind of food am I craving?”, you almost never say ‘Kurdish’? Well, as with everything else in the universe, I have some very passionate, thinly-researched theories on the subject.

The obscurity of this cuisine in North America aside, I’ve hypothesized that it has something to do with the term itself. Say it to yourself – Kurd. Kuuurrrd. Not a particularly attractive word to the anglicized ear. First of all, it sounds too much like ‘turd’. If you can overlook that unpleasantness, the word evokes images of unpalatable globules of bean products, fairytale mush (kurds and whey) and cholesterol-saturated, deep-fried balls (cheese curds) served at the State Fair, prepared by a teenagers making $3.50 an hour that only wash their hands once a day (if that).

In fairness, ‘French’ rhymes with ‘stench’ and ‘wench’ among other things that don’t exactly open the saliva ducts, and the word (at least for me) evokes images of hateful waiters, hilarious fashion trends and sidewalks strewn with dog shit. But for some reason there’s 127 French restaurants in the metro area. Goes to show you what endearing accents and lots of butter can do for your P.R.
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Eating | 28.01.2008 12:16 | 5 Comments

This is why I love Broders’ Pasta Bar

I hesitated to write this post only because about a squillion people have beaten me to lavishing praise on Broders’ Pasta Bar. And pretty much all of them had culinary critiquing and descriptive skills that surpass my best efforts (e.g. “some kind of fish” and “topped with green crap” and “The green crap was OK, but you know what really ruled? The red crap.”).

But I’ve been going to Broders’ for like 158 years now and there are so few restaurants in this day and age that can:

  • Maintain quality and reasonably affordable prices over a long period of time
  • Never fall out of style
  • Retain long term serving staff
  • Impress a guy that recently lived in Italy for eight months, eating pasta six days a week the whole time and therefore doesn’t usually get all that excited about pasta anymore
  • Stay open for 158 years

So taking all that into consideration (and wanting to write off the meals from a recent trip so as to stick it to the IRS yet again), I’ve decided that Broders’ could use one more bump of favorable blogging about their exquisitely prepared red crap.
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Eating | 12.01.2008 12:40 | 7 Comments

This is why I love Midtown Global Market

marketexterior.jpgPublic service dining hint for Midtown Global Market: Bring anywhere from one to 205 friends with you, buy a single serving at each food booth so everyone can get a taste then move on to the next booth until you get to sample every bloody thing in the joint. Do this until you’re all full. Then whip out your laptops and enjoy free WiFi to work/play poker/read my blogs until you’re hungry again. Repeat.

I sprinted through the cold yesterday to lunch in this fashion at Midtown Global Market (MGM) for the third time. Each time I do this, I find one or more awesome food item(s) that make me kind of wish that I didn’t live all the way downtown where my immediate vicinity, out-of-apartment lunch variety hedges solely on how creative I get at the Subway sandwich assembly line.

Meanwhile MGM is an “internationally themed public market with more than 50 independent locally-owned business”, including 12 food stalls slinging lunch and dinner and five places offering breakfast. It’s a work-at-homer’s dream, especially if your home is one of those condos upstairs in the Midtown Exchange, so you can get at all that food without ever having to take off your slippers.

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Eating | 4.01.2008 15:34 | 8 Comments

This is why I love Spoonriver

I will seldom devote precious space on this solemn blog to high-end restaurants. There’s usually no need to trumpet how much I love them, because as far as I’m concerned anyone charging more than $20 for an entre had better damn well be serving exceptional cuisine and for me to drone on about how great they are would be overkill.

Spoonriver is an exception. My mission was to find a pre-Guthrie show eatery with food (allegedly) more consistent and service less (reportedly) dire than the Guthrie’s own Cue. Anyone who’s been to the new Guthrie already knows that Spoonriver was not only the obvious lateral price-range choice, but that it’s within mid-winter, no-jacket sprinting distance of the G’s front door.

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Eating | 14.11.2007 10:09 | 2 Comments

This is why I love Pizza Nea

I spent eight out of the past 12 months in Italy. During that time, I learned a little something about Neapolitan pizza. When I say ‘a little something’, I really mean a little something. OK, I learned like two things:

One, pizza should be thin.

Two, it shouldn’t have 15 toppings.

True Neapolitan pizza only has three or four toppings (five if you wanna risk a raid by government pizza regulators). It took a while for me to adapt to this concept. I’m an American after all. I want an insane, ear-smoking, flavor detonation on every bite of food that I put in my mouth. In this country, since our ingredients are often not fresh or of high quality, the only way for us to get that zap of genital-tingling zest is to deluge each dish with so many ingredients that your tongue short-circuits and sends lively, if confused, endorphins up your spine, rewarding you with a tiny brainstem orgasm. But I digress

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Eating | 9.11.2007 15:35 | 2 Comments