Friday, November 16, 2007

128 Cafe - St. Paul, Minnesota

Residents of the MacGroveland Neighborhood in Saint Paul will be happy to know the 128 Cafe is back and better than ever. We stopped in for an early dinner on our way to the Timberwolves game at the Target Center in Minneapolis. For those who have been to the 128 Cafe, it is a 60 seat casual-sheik restaurant on the corner of Cleveland and Laurel right across the street from the University of Saint Thomas Campus and just minutes away from downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. We started out with the steamed fennel mussels which were perfect. We also tried the chipotle seasoned pumpkin soup with creme fraiche and a caesar salad. Both were great and really hit the spot. For dinner we had the flank steak and bbq baby back ribs. The ribs, which were a specialty of the old 128 were fantastic as always. The meat falls off the bone and is not fatty at all. For desert we had the egg nog creme brulee which also did not disappoint. The dinner and wine menus are both very fairly priced which with the free Timberwolves tickets I got from my boss made for an inexpensive date! Overall a great way to kick off the evening and highly recommended. Valet parking is available and some of the street parking does require a permit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spill the Wine; Minneapolis

On the other side of town, Willie’s wine bar shuts down because of no business. That was in the Laurel Village neighborhood next to the behemoth University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus. Come on, we all know that college kids don’t drink wine. Meanwhile, Spill the Wine is birthed on Washington Avenue next to the Metrodome. Will Twins fans come? Ha, try Guthrie Theatre goers. Spill the Wine will give it a go at its East Downtown location, with two separate spaces for dining and drinking. The bar has televisions and a wall displayed with regional wine. The dining room features an open kitchen.

Get $5 appetizers from 4-7 p.m. or even $15 bottles of wine. Grilled asparagus sounds pretty darn good with a nice sauvignon blanc, no? At dinner, order the beef tenderloin and another bottle of wine, this time a crisp pinot noir. Besides, there’s no rule about switching colors midway through, just make sure to clean the palette. If you want to make a real night out of it, come for one of the five-course Italian Wine Dinners. The next one is September 27. At $59 a pop, it presents a real opportunity at reeling in your biology class crush (if you’re one of those special college kids who like wine).

Spill the Wine is in a great spot to sweep up Guthrie fans and Metrodome fans alike and don't forget the weekday lunch rush of business people - this is in a booming business district with fresh new office buildings including the one on the corner of Washington and Chicago that belongs to local Minnesota ticket broker, Ticket King.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lake Elmo Inn, Lake Elmo, Minnesota

You might run the risk of running into some obnoxious teenagers out for a sno-daze ball, but the Lake Elmo Inn is always a good bet when you want to spend a night out with a pleasant drive and elegant dining. The Inn was established in 1881, and current owner John Schlitz is keeping tradition alive by keeping the Inn’s legendary salt & pepper shaker collection intact and the restaurant’s historical décor pristine. It’s fine dining, yet casual. You’ll receive a hot towel, but the service is friendly.

Enjoy a relaxing drive out to Lake Elmo down highway 5, an area of the Twin Cities less bustling but more picturesque than the west suburbs. The cuisine is classic and fine, but highly affordable. The Lake Elmo Inn continues to hold fast to its location, refusing to roll over to chain restaurants while offering quality dining at a reasonable price.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Eli’s Food and Cocktails, Minneapolis, MN

Oh how I pity you, all you downtown business people who wait for a Chipotle burrito in a 20-minute long line over the lunch hour. Why wait for Chipotle, when you can escape the horrors of lunch hour on Nicollet Mall at Eli’s Food and Cocktails down the street on Hennepin Avenue. Eli’s, located at 1225 N Hennepin Ave., has a true neighborhood feeling to it in a downtown area. The across-the-street Laurel Village apartments and close-by Loring Park add to its more quiet atmosphere compared to skyway restaurants and eateries inside of downtown towers.

You can sit yourself down over the lunch hour and have a beer while reading a good book, or stroll down with a co-worker for some conversation. The menu offers favorites in seafood, pasta and sandwiches, with a daily “board” menu offering specials. Try the macaroni and cheese for grown ups or do one of the tasty sandwiches. The food is great, the service is extremely friendly and the décor is modern without being futuristic or intimidating. Stop in after work for happy hour from 3-6 for dollar off drinks. Escaping the Nicollet Mall never felt so good.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Heartland Contemporary Midwestern Restaurant; St Paul, MN

Lenny Russo and Mega Hoehn’ Heartland: A Contemporary Midwestern Restaurant was such a food critic success that Russo was stolen away from his executive chef work at his own restaurant to the Guthrie Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Now that Russo is back home in St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, Heartland patrons couldn’t be happier. Everything Russo touches turns to gold, and regulars at the Heartland want their eating quarters to be golden for some time to come.

Heartland, located at 1806 St. Clair Ave., uses only indigenous ingredients from the American and Canadian Midwest. The restaurant includes a pastry kitchen where breads and pastries are made daily. Heartland prepares two fixed priced menus per night, one “flora” and one “fauna.” If the fixed priced menus don’t suit your tastes for the evening, choose from an a la carte menu that ranges from $6 yellow wax beans with walnut vinegar butter to $36 Minnesota elk chop with glazed organic fennel. The dining room has an even 50 seats, with décor dedicated to the early Twentieth Century Arts & Crafts movement. A highly elegant wine and beer bar is located adjacent to the restaurant, a good place for non-reservation holders to enjoy some of Heartland’s superlative aura.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bombay Bistro; Minneapolis, MN

The search for exceptional Indian food in the Twin Cities can end with a visit to Bombay Bistro on Marquette Ave. and Eighth St. in downtown Minneapolis. Voted best Twin Cities Indian restaurant in 2007 by City Pages, Bombay Bistro presents an exhaustive menu that includes beef, chicken, vegetarian and seafood Indian dishes. Quickly becoming Britain’s national dish, the chicken tikka masala is always a safe choice for Indian food newbies. Once treasured as a fine-dining experience, masala is becoming Americanized in a fast-food fashion; something for the masses to pick up over their lunch hour for a quick bite. That said, if you’re going for lunch, expect to be able to get the chicken tikka masala or some other popular Indian delicacy on Bombay Bistro’s bountiful buffet line. Get white or lemon rice, spiced potatoes and green beans or the most flavored meatballs and sauce you can imagine on a single plate and don’t be shy to try a second. Being accustomed to burgers and fries will make Bombay Bistro’s flavors and spices take your taste buds on a trip to Valleyfair. Or better yet, try getting Jimmy John’s subs for lunch on Monday and then visiting the Bombay Bistro lunch buffet on Tuesday and be prepared to be knocked out. And if you’re a lowly Target intern, never fear, Bombay Bistro’s lunch buffet is reasonably priced at $9.50.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

La Cucaracha, Saint Paul, MN

With Chevy’s Fresh Mex restaurants dropping like flies in urban locations and Don Pablo’s forever banished to the ‘burbs, La Cucaracha in St. Paul has never been more essential to the Grand and Summit neighborhood. La Cucaracha is a mere hop and a skip away from downtown at 36 Dale St. S. It has a fine selection of Mexican delicacies not to mention one mean mojito. Choose from two sections of dining room seating, both of which provide quiet corners aplenty for conversation. The bar has pinball and a happy hour from 3-6 which includes 2-for-1s on margaritas in all their salty glory. If you’re a guacamole fan, don’t pass up on the guac tostada, a crunchy delight that does the chip dipping work for you – the guacamole is already smothered on top. One word of warning: Be prepared to wait a while outside of the single-person bathroom doors if the dining room is hopping.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Al Vento, Minneapolis,MN

Al Vento's dining room has tables squeezed together making for a more cozy than cafeteria style atmosphere. The Southern Italian menu offers an extensive wine selection and various pasta and entrée style dishes. Don't pass up on the artichoke walnut bruschetta for starters, even though it might be tempting to ask for more of the complementary bread and butter oil.

Order a bottle of wine on the friendly and helpful staff's recommendation. A busy dinner hour makes for a cacophony of quiet chatter that will bring out conversation from the most introverted date. Wine bargain hunters can come to drink all day Monday on half-priced bottles and from 4:30-5:30 on every other day the rest of the week. Impress your significant other's parents by ordering the three seafood antipasti. Or just come one night by yourself and sit at the unassuming bar for a beer or a wine. Al Vento is located at 5001 34th Ave. S in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

La Grolla - Saint Paul, MN

This past Saturday was our first outdoor eating experience of the season. One of my favorite Saint Paul outdoor spots is La Grolla on Selby Avenue. La Grolla was opened in the summer of 2002 by Chef Antonio Tettamanzi. His vision of an inviting, upscale restaurant where patrons felt embraced by the Italian cuisine, surroundings, and staff has led to La Grolla's success. La Grolla has everything you're looking for in an upscale neighborhood Italian restaurant. For those who like to bring their own wine when they dine out, La Grolla is BYOB friendly and charges a $15 corkage. We brought a bottle of 2001 Azienda Agricola Montevetrano which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Aglianico. The wine was excellent and more characteristic of a Bordeaux than an Italian. Everytime I go to La Grolla I have to start out with the Cepansante which is Mexican diver scallops wrapped in angel hair pasta, lightly deep fried served with lobster sauce and basil oil. We also shared one of the appetizer specials, duck pot stickers, which we've had before and were great. For Dinner we shared cheese tortellini with prosciutto and peas in a cream sauce and crouton encrusted baked halibut with fresh vegetables. We finished up with some delicious tiramisu and cheese cake. La Grolla is located at 425 Selby Avenue in Saint Paul. Reservations are recommended.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Craftsman Restaurant - Minneapolis, MN

It had been a couple years since we last ate at the Craftsman Restaurant on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Recently, the new chef Mike Phillips has been getting a lot of press so my wife and I decided to see what all the hype was about. We would not be disappointed. Chef Phillips and his wife Michelle opened and ran Chet's Taverna, a popular neighborhood restaurant that was committed to working with regional and organic ingredients. After operating Chet's for 6 years, Mike closed Chet's in 2004. His interest in sustainable living, organic quality, and European cooking techniques are an integral part of The Craftsman. We started out with the Pork Rillettes and Artisan Cheese Plate. The Pork Rillettes is basically a seasoned pork pate served with crostini and spicy mustard. It was delicious and a very generous serving. Four people could have easily shared this. We picked two of the many artisan cheeses offered for our plate. First we tried the 'Winnimere' from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. It's made from Ayrshire cow's milk and is similar to a Brie and very creamy. We also tried the Uplands Cheese 'Pleasant Ridge Reserve' which is a Gruyere made from cow's milk in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Both were great.

For the main course I tried the Grilled Fisher Farms pork chop with new potato and cipollini onion gratin and grilled maple sausage. The pork chop was good but a little bland paired with the excellent potatoes and sausage. The gratin potatoes were some of the best I've ever had. The sausage, like the chop, also came from Fisher Farms in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota. I'm going to try and track down this sausage. My wife tried the Grilled grass fed Flat Iron Steak with fries and Bearnaise sauce. It was great and I especially enjoyed the super thick Bearnaise. Like the appetizer the portions for both entrees were very generous.

For desert we decided to try the Heirloom Apple Crisp and Brioche Bread Pudding. A lot of restaurants serve apple crisp but the Craftsman's version is a cut above the rest served with a scoop of Izzy's cinnamon ice cream. Even better was the Bread pudding. I can't really describe how good it was but it was close to eating a baked stick of butter. To wash it down we shared a glass of the Saint Croix Vineyards Raspberry Infusion which paired perfectly with the bread pudding.

The Craftsman restaurant is located at 4300 Lake Street in Minneapolis, Minnesota just across the Marshall/Lake Street bridge from Saint Paul. You can go to Open Table to make reservations.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ichiban Japanese Steak House

Last week, I dressed the family up and headed out to Ichiban Japanese Steak House on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. Ichiban’s has been open in Minneapolis since 1979 and I have been there a few times before, but this was the first time I took the kids. The beautiful, pagoda-style building is very elegant and the comfortable indoor garden atmosphere with the waterfall and the stream offers a unique and fun backdrop for dining. My kids loved walking over the little wooden bridge to get to our table and the running water sound is so relaxing after a rough week at work.

Our kimono-clad waitress offered us oshibori (traditional hot, moist towels) and we all selected a dinner sampler that included Lobster, Filet Mignon and Chicken. The food was good and the show was great. Ichiban is pure theater. Seated in a horseshoe formation around a huge griddle, my family oohed and ahhed as the chef demonstrates the art of teppanyaki (griddle cooking). The chef chopped, sliced and set ablaze our dinner. My kids were truly amazed with his quick chopping skills, ability to play with fire and witty jokes. My daughter whispered over to me that it was the best steak she had ever had! Now, she doesn’t get out too much, but I do agree the Mignon was phenomenal that night and we got so much food! We were all stuffed as we shuffled back to the car (parking is a breeze there, another plus!)

Ichibans is definitely famous for the grill side cooking show, but they also have an award winning sushi bar and a great bar and lounge area. The delicious food and entertaining show have made Ichiban a favorite dinner destination in the Minneapolis area for years – if you haven’t been there, get out and give it a try! The food can be made mild enough for wimpy palates or spicy enough for the more brave! The bill is not cheap, but you also get entertainment with your meal. I would say the price is comparable to a Dinner Show, but the food is much better!

Reservations for teppanyaki are recommended and can be made by calling 612.339.0540 after 10:30 am weekdays and after noon on Saturday & Sunday. The sushi bar is available on a first come first served basis. The restaurant is open Sunday to Thursday, 4:30 pm - 9:30 pm and Friday to Saturday, 4:30 pm - 10:00 pm.

Thank you to the Ichiban’s staff for making our family’s night out a special one!

Friday, March 2, 2007

Hard Rock Cafe, Minneapolis

I stopped by the Hard Rock Café in Minneapolis this week after a Timberwolves game and noticed the place was full of basketball fans. I have been there a few times before, but I was with my buddy who is from out of town so he wanted to stop in. The Hard Rock is always a classic place to entertain guests and my buddy is a real car guy so he was pretty impressed with the purple convertible with the gold flames right in the middle of the restaurant. If you have never been to the Hard Rock Minneapolis, seeing the classic car is worth the trip alone. There is also a ton of Prince memorabilia on the wall. The Hard Rock is easy to get to and is literally right across the street from the Target Center so it’s just a quick walk over and if you are driving downtown just to eat out the huge guitar outside the restaurant is hard to miss!

The food is classic Hard Rock entrees and the beer isn’t too cheap, but we had a great time. My buddy took a few pictures of us all at the bar and we kept our eyes open for local celebrities (it has been rumored that many professional athletes hang out there and I have seen a few local news anchors there as well.) The night was fun as we enjoyed our appetizers and commiserated about the Minnesota Timberwolves loss. Win or lose, The Hard Rock Café in Minneapolis is a great stop after any Target Center event!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentines Day in the Twin Cities

It’s no secret that Valentines Day is one of the biggest restaurant days of the year. It comes at a perfect time when business may be slumping a bit, but sweethearts everywhere are willing to dish out big bucks for a romantic dinner for two.

If you don’t already have reservations, you are probably out of luck for the top spots such as Lucia's Restaurant, Solera, Jax Cafe and Goodfellow's, but there are a few others worth trying that I read about in the Star Tribune this morning.

The Marquette Hotel's Windows on Minnesota (612-376-7404), on the 50th floor of the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, has a few tables left, but only after 9 p.m. Their five-course menu offers choices such as saffron-scented lobster calamari salad, shrimp tempura, duck and foie gras terrine, truffled beef tenderloin and the lemon-thyme poached sea bass. Cost is $68.95 per person, which includes a glass of Champagne and roses for the ladies.

French Meadow Bakery and Cafe (612-870-7855) is offering an organic four-course dinner for two that sounds like a terrific deal: entree options of almond-seared tuna or free-range duck, and desserts of molten dark chocolate espresso cake or strawberry ginger crème brûlée with macadamia truffles, plus much more. For another $25, you can add a flight of wines to each course. The prime seatings are booked, but they do have a few spots available before 7 p.m. and after 8 p.m.

The Local (at 10th and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis, 612-904-1000) still has spots available too. Valentine's Day menu highlights include potato-crusted sea bass with mashed potatoes, garlicky kale and a beurre blanc for $18.99, and Cashel-(an Irish cheese) smothered sirloin steak with mashed potatoes, asparagus and red beet bordelaise for $21.99.

If you still can’t find anywhere to eat and you want to take your sweetie to a game, there is a lot going on in both Minneapolis and St Paul tonight. You can check out the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center in St Paul or stay in Minneapolis and see the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center or if you prefer the U’s campus, visit the Minnesota Golden Gophers Mens Basketball team taking on arch rival Wisconsin Badgers. There are plenty of concession choices at all three venues. Who says a hot dog and a beer can’t be romantic? Best of luck to all of you Valentine’s diners! Enjoy!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Auriga - Minneapolis, MN

The Star Tribune published an article recently that said many local restaurants were in the red and that January was one of the worst months to be in the food business. I suppose it could be the cold weather or the limited number of Minnesotans willing to try out new food ideas, but regardless Minneapolis has lost three gems in the last few weeks. The first to close was Levain, which opened at 48th Street and Chicago Avenue S. in Minneapolis in 2003. Then Five Restaurant & Street Lounge closed, which opened at 29th Street and Bryant Avenue S in 2005.

The most recent and most shocking resteraunt closing was Auriga, who shut its doors after ten years. Auriga, named for a constellation, was located off Hennepin Ave and offered a fantastic menu and was one of the few restaurants in the Twin Cities to offer a tasting menu, as well. Their menu changed often so they could provide patrons with fresh seasonal choices and a few months ago they revamped the place to feel more elegant and less like a bistro. I will never forget the chamomile tea from Auriga, it was exceptional and their selections of wine and bread were top notch. My favorite wine was a Rhone Style Red Wine that went great with my dish and the bread made with Guinness was also fantastic. This restaurant will definitely be missed!

I hope the closing of this unique spot isn’t a sign of things to come for the Twin Cities. It would be disgusting to see the trendy Twin Cities area become over run with chain restaurants. I know that Minneapolis is not a total food town, but even in this frigid weather, don’t be afraid to venture out and visit your favorite local spots – they need you!

Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Ice Chamber - Minneapolis, MN

If you are looking for a cool spot to have a martini, The Ice Bar at the Chambers Hotel Downtown Minneapolis is the place to go. The bar is located on the ground floor courtyard of the hotel. There is an insulated structure that contains a bar made entirely made of Ice. Just outside the bar is a large gas fire pit filled with pieces of black broken glass. It creates a very cool effect as the flames shoot up from the glass. We stayed plenty warm sipping our martinis on this 35 degree evening. While it may lack the charm of a real fire, the nice thing about the gas fire pit is you don't smell like a campfire when you leave. Above the bar video is projected on one of the walls of the hotel. I started out with an Espresso Martini which I believe was made with Grey Goose Vodka, Kahlua and cream. It was quite tasty. I couldn't resist having a regular Martini with olives as well. It looked like it is strictly a Martini bar. Even if you are not martini fan it is worth a visit just to check out the ice bar, fire pit and the rest of The Chambers Hotel. There is definitely nothing else like it in the Twin Cities. The hotel design is very interesting. There is an art gallery to check out as well as artwork displayed throughout the hotel. The Ice Bar is open Tuesday - Saturday from 5pm - close and is located in The Chambers Hotel at 901 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403 right across the street from the Orpheum Theater.