Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Midtown Global Market - Minneapolis, MN

The Midtown Global Market is basically an indoor international food mall. There are a couple of full-service restaurants inside, food court-type eateries, and various international groceries, food stands, and other miscellaneous items for sale. I took Chao here as a surprise after getting a recommendation for authentic Mexican food from a coworker. We arrived and entered the building and I was surprised by how much stuff was there. The market spaces for each vendor were fairly open and scattered throughout a large warehouse space. Some of the vendor spaces were nicely arranged and some were fairly unorganized and looked a bit messy. The place had interesting character though.

We headed towards the center of the market to find the Mexican place I was searching for. It is called, “Taquería Los Ocampo.” We ordered something small to split at the counter there and then while we were waiting for our food we were offered samples from the guy working at Safari Express. The samples were out of this world so we ordered some food there to split as well.

At Safari Express we ordered Beef Solan and Chicken Curry which came with fantastic rice. Safari Express features East African fast food. It was set up sort of like a Panda Express with the entrees in trays behind a counter. The Beef Solan was a bit spicy for me so Chao ate most of that and I had the Chicken Curry. Both dishes were full of spice but not overly hot as one would experience eating chili peppers. Both dishes were sort of a stir fry with vegetables and sauce and the rice it was served with was red and super awesome. Really, I don’t know what we ate but I would definitely eat it again!

At Los Ocampo, we had ordered a huarache with steak. This is an oval shaped flatbread made with corn masa and topped with steak, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, avocado, and maybe some other stuff that I can’t remember. It was served with salsa and some type of runny guacamole. It was REALLY GOOD. Chao thought it was sort of bland but I didn’t think it was, although we did eat this after having the Safari Express food which was a bit spicier. We both agreed that it was probably the most authentic Mexican food we have had since moving to Minnesota.

We were going to venture further through our culinary tour of the market, but were getting full so we walked through and checked out some of the other places but didn’t eat anymore. We will definitely be heading back for Round 2 soon!

Top 5:
1. It is a fun place to go to try new things.
2. Safari Express rules.
3. Authentic Mexican food.
4. The food is affordable.
5. Lots of parking in the ramp across the street.

Bottom 5:
1. Location is okay, but I wouldn't go here at night alone.
2. Atmosphere was strange but this might've been because it was later and some of the vendors were closed giving it a slightly creepy feel.
3. There is little to no bland food here so don't go if you are picky.
4. We got too full to try everything we wanted to.
5. No drive through window. :)

Moto-I - Minneapolis, MN

I read a review of the Moto-I in the Pioneer Press about a month ago. It's brand new and is getting fantastic reviews. Apparently, this is the United States’ only Japanese Sake brewery. It got a great write up, so I was intrigued. I’d never had sake I liked before, but the food items looked good and I’m always up for trying new things.

Just out of pure coincidence, my cousin e-mailed me and said he had a long layover in Minneapolis and wanted to hook up for a drink at his friends place in Uptown. You guessed it – the Moto-I. Sure, no problem at all. In fact, I was pretty excited. Plus I hadn’t seen my cousin in a couple of years, so I was looking forward to that as well. My cousin is Japanese, and he’s also an expert in sake – he’ll be opening up his own sake bar in San Francisco very soon. He knows what he’s talking about.

I’ll make this review quick since I intend to do a full-length review once I eat a full meal there. But for now, deal with the quick version. The atmosphere of this place is pretty slick. Very modern, but with a true Asian feel to it as well (I’m assuming as I haven’t been to Asia). Clean lines on the woodwork and just a classy place in general.

As I said, I’ve never had good sake, so I tried to nancy out of ordering sake. However, my cousin suggested I try a specific one (they are currently selling three varieties – soon to be 9), which had a hint of melon in it – the Junmai Nama. Plus the owner, Blake, was standing right there, so I complied. It was fabulous. Truly amazing. I got a fantastic history lesson about sake and the brewing process as well, which really helped. Apparently, I’m a sake fan.

We also had a couple of small plate appetizers before I had to get him back to the airport. I got a Hoisin pork bun and an order of Karaage. The pork bun was a traditional small bun with flavored shredded pork inside. It’s the most popular bun on the menu, but they all looked good. I figured I’d go with the majority vote here. It was super flavorful. I will get this again for sure, but maybe try one of each flavor, since they’re small. The Karaage is deep fried soy sauce marinated chicken with a dipping sauce sort of like hoisin. It was like lightly breaded chicken cubes. Amazing flavor, yet seemed simple.

While my cousin was in the restroom, I swiped a bite of his dried squid (twss). I’m not a fan, but I’m sure it was great. He was joking earlier about it, “So, how was Minnesota’s squid crop this year? Ha ha ha ha.”

There were about 30 things I would like to try on the menu, so I’ll be back for sure. They have small plates and full plates as well. The menu explains most of what’s on it in English, and the place setting has a very good description of the sakes they serve. Go to this place. You won’t be disappointed. Blake and his wife were great hosts and were glad to hear I would be back.

Top 5 things about Moto-I
1. Junmai Nama Sake
2. Hoisin Pork Bun
3. Karaage
4. Atmosphere/Ambience
5. James the bartender was awesome

Bottom 5 things
1. Still pretty new, so they’re working out some glitches (you can’t write “bugs” in a restaurant review)
2. Not well labeled on the outside (might be soon though) – it’s across from the Jungle Theater on Lyndale
3. I wish I had more time to eat a full meal
4. Three different menus – lunch, dinner, and late night – soon to be combined into one
5. My pronunciation of Japanese words – I butchered most things.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Minnesota RollerGirls – Roy Wilkins Auditorium - St. Paul, MN

This is going to be a long post, since it was such an awesome night. We sent out eVites to like 50 people trying to get people fired up about this sport. We got a couple of positive responses, so we were thrilled. Gerd and I LOVE roller derby, so we’re trying to spread the word.

We fought the Minnesota Wild traffic (NHL hockey team was playing the same night next door) and made it inside FAR earlier than we anticipated. I grabbed us some drinks and we hunkered down to wait for our group of people. We threw some coats on chairs around us, since the place was starting to fill up. There were SOOO many people that showed up in the auditorium. Waaaay more than the last bout we went to. Apparently Minnesotans love their roller derby!

The pre-show was the twin cities unicycle club. I missed a lot of it since I was in line for drinks, but what I caught was awesome. They did some jumping of bodies (live not corpses) which looks tough on a unicycle. They did some stair climbing and tight-rope cycling. They did some formations and stuff. Did I mention they had really young kids on tall unicycles? Like under 10 year olds!! Then they did a roller derby game called king/queen of the rink – last person on one wheel wins. It was hilarious and strangely cut-throat. They were just blasting each other and it came down to two guys and one little girl. The girl got taken out and the crowd started booing. IT was awesome. Great act before the bout, for sure!!!

It was another all-star game, so the first round was the rookies skating a punk vs disco theme. Lots of black clothes on one team, lots of sequence and hotpants on the other. I love watching the “green” skaters battle it out. They’ve got all the spirit, and much less of the talent. They fall at random sometimes and yet, they’re giving it their all. Go them.

The second round was the grudge match between the MN Rollergirls and the Madison Dairyland Dolls. Madison was won this competition four years in a row, so it was kind firing people up. This was serious action, complete with a little showboating which is always nice to see. These girls can really skate. I’m always impressed when I see them slingshot other skaters or jump over people or do some fancy contortion to get through the pack first. It’s awesome.

The halftime show was the Bratwurst Brothers, a local polka band. They got the crowd out onto the rink and polka dancing fast and furiously. Kind of impressive when there’s a thousand or so people dancing all spinny at the same time. The other 2000 people remained in the stands SINGING all the words to the songs. I didn’t even know there were words to songs other than roll out the barrel!

The third round (round two for the punk vs disco) was a solid round although pretty uneventful. I honestly don’t even remember who won – I think the punks?

The fourth round was the final round of the all-stars. Minnesota was trailing 95% of the round. The girls were getting more aggressive though. The ref started calling penalties left and right. At one point, there were more girls in the penalty box than on the rink. These penalties started to matter because MN started making a serious comeback. Down like 30 points, the girls were playing hard (aka dirty). A couple of times with Madison’s jammer in the penalty box allowed MN to make up serious points (like 14 in one jam!).

The crowd was going crazy! It was soooo loud in there. Time on the clock ran out, and most people thought it was over with Madison in the lead, but time ran out with both jammers in the penalty box, and according to the rules, you can’t finish a bout with a jammer-less jam. So they lined them back up for one last time. Suzie Smashbox, one of the best jammers I’ve ever seen, absolutely destroyed the pack. Lapped everyone and went back for more points!!! The crowd was on their feet screaming. The jam finished and we had to wait for the final point tally…. Minnesota won by TWO points!!! Insane. People were hugging and kissing babies and sloshing beer all over. It was the most intense sporting event I‘ve ever been to. Totally awesome.

All the people in our group were brand new to the sport and I was glad they got to see an awesome bout. It couldn’t have been any better.

We left and headed to Mancini’s Lounge for some after-bout drinks with most of our group. That place is straight outta Swingers. Red leather couches, mirrors everywhere, and a top 40 live band. Awesome. We ended up shutting the place down – it was a late night…

Top 5 things about roller derby
1. Girls on roller skates
2. Intense competition/skill
3. Crowd energy, close to 4000 fans
4. They serve mixed drinks…many mixed drinks…
5. Programs are an AWESOME touch

Bottom 5 things
1. Traffic from the Wild game
2. I didn’t know the words to the polka songs, so I felt like a loser
3. The lines for mixed drinks were long (like at most sporting events)
4. I missed most of the unicycle pre-show
5. I had to hold back a little since I was with work people

Popeyes – Minneapolis, MN

As many of you know, Popeyes is my favorite fast food joint of all time, hands down. I don’t usually write about places I go regularly, but since I haven’t written about Popeyes yet, I figured I would at least give it some attention in case I hadn’t mentioned it in the previous posts. . . Plus, so many weird things happened here, I HAD to write it up.

First off this location is typical – not in a great part of town, but not outright dangerous or anything. In fact, it’s in a better part than most I’ve been to (East St. Louis for example). Inside, there are signs everywhere about everything. If you are illiterate, you can just go to hell. Some are hand written, some are typed, some are plastic, some are small, some are large, some are legitimately TINY for their new menu items, some have words underlined for angry emphasis, etc. You get the point.

Gerd ordered her food and had no problem. I ordered mine and apparently they were out of everything I ordered. I was trying to mix it up and get one (or both) of the new items on the menu that came with the subtle name change (Chicken N Biscuits is no longer the game, now it’s Louisiana Kitchen). I tried to get something new and they were out. So I fell back on to the standard (but awesome) strip meal I usually get. I tried a couple different sides and got yelled at because they were out of red beans and rice. Then I got yelled at because onions rings are no longer a signature side (or they were out of them – I couldn’t tell which). I ended up getting mac and cheese. Then I ordered the one new menu item they DID have.

I started with the biscuit. Always buttery and flaky and buttery (did I mention the butter?). Wurd. The Mac and Cheese I had high hopes for, but those were dashed on the rocks of hope. It was really runny and watery and tasted terrible (didn’t stop me from finishing it though, let’s be honest). Stole some of Gerd’s fries which ruled, and then finished up 3 spicy strips. I seriously love that chicken from Popeyes. Wash all that down with a strawberry soda, which I can always count on at Popeyes. I took a couple of bites of the sausage and chicken jambalaya (one of the new menu items), it was really tasty, although a bit dry. This new menu item was a temporary seasonal item a couple of times, but I guess now it's permanent. I took it home and it’s in the fridge for tonight!

At the end of the meal, I looked down at our tray and GASP!!!!!..... Gerd had not eaten her biscuit!!! At this point, I began to question our suddenly shaky relationship. Who was this person sitting across from me (not next to me – I’m not one of those people)? Had she taken a blow to the head? I couldn’t stand it anymore!!!! “Are you gonna eat that biscuit?” She snapped back, “Don’t you touch my biscuit!” Hilarious. I said, “Uh what’s going on? You haven’t touched your biscuit.” Apparently, Gerd saved the biscuit for last as a sort of dessert. She called it dessert since she squirted three packets of grape jelly onto her biscuit and inhaled the thing. Apparently, she saves the best for last and I almost lost a finger trying to commandeer her biscuit.

Bottom line, I love Popeyes, even though this trip wasn’t optimum. Also, there was a toothless woman in the restaurant who was wearing a leather Popeyes jacket (I wonder how long her 13 kids didn’t eat for her to afford that?)

Top 5 things about Popeyes
1. Red beans and rice when you can get them
2. Chicken
3. Onion Rings when you can get them
4. Strawberry pop/soda (depends on where you’re from)
5. It can also be pronounced Pope Yes, since there’s no apostrophe

Bottom 5 things
1. Mac and Cheese
2. Out of a lot of things on Mondays apparently
3. Signage is hilarious
4. Got yelled at
5. The heart attack caused by (what I assumed was) a wasted biscuit

Job For A Cowboy, All Shall Perish, Animosity, Annotations Of An Autopsy – Station 4 – St. Paul, MN

I’ll try to be quick about this show. This is a serious tech metal bill. All of the bands are super talented musicians, so there wasn’t even a question whether these guys were good. Hate Eternal was supposed to play, but cancelled “due to an injury” according to signage posted outside. Bummer, as I was looking forward to seeing Derek Roddy play some smoking fast drums.

The first band, Annotations Of An Autopsy, is from England. These guys can play. They’re very technical with some pig squeal vocals and low growls (like most of the bands). They had fun on stage and seemed genuinely surprised at the crowd being so into them. They attempted a wall of death, but didn’t tell everyone when to go, so it flopped. If you don’t know what a wall of death is, look at youtube. These guys should have played later. I liked them a lot.

Animosity played second and I really love these guys. Their newer stuff is a little more chaotic, but I saw them play in Davenport, Iowa, a couple of years ago, and they were incredible. Great musicians with lots of fun grooves and quick changes. The vocalist always seems to have fun as well. Moves around a lot and gets a little crazy. Great stuff.

All Shall Perish played third. I can’t get enough of these guys. They are amazing musicians and they aren’t afraid to show it and then break it down real heavy like. They had some dueling guitar solos (something I haven’t seen in a long time), and it wasn’t really that cheesy. They also were borrowing the guitarist from Sleep Terror, which is a huge feat, especially since he wasn’t playing lead – the guy is still amazing. The singer is a great frontman and they all seemed to have fun on stage, which is always nice.

Job for a cowboy, I can take or leave. I like them just fine. They’re great musicians and are pretty technical. Their stage present isn’t great, but it would be great for a top-notch supporting act. They’re headlining since they’re a draw, but if you went in order of talent and musicianship, I’m not sure they would be the headliner. They’ve got some good break down type parts, but mostly they’re fast and noodle-y.

Some things I saw at the show that cracked me up:
A) Some trashy whore-y girl wearing almost nothing. Normally fine, except she had a serious case of poison ivy on her upper body or some other unidentified rash. Girl, I appreciate your dedication to the metal show whore uniform, but hang it up until you get some salve or something.
B) During Job for a Cowboy, there was a different trashy whore dancing like a stripper to their music (and sound check). She was running her fingers through her hair and down her body all slutty. But if you know JFAC’s music, you know they don’t play the same speed or riff longer than 2 seconds, so I’m not sure what she was hearing, but she wasn’t on any sort of beat.
C) With a ratio of 75% comb-overs on the kids at the show, it was funny to watch the bands finish playing each song and then see 300 kids swing their head in unison to put their hair back on the right parted line and then run their fingers across their brows to keep it out of their eyes. You stupid followers… (sorry, just my little rant)

Top 5 things about the show:
1. Annotations Of An Autopsy
2. All of the bass players were really good and not filler
3. All of the bands seemed to enjoy themselves and the crowd
4. Trashy people watching enjoyment
5. I was home before 10pm – All ages shows rule!

Bottom 5 things
1. Sound guy – please put both guitars in BOTH main speakers so the people on the left can hear the whole band. Really bad form.
2. Hate Eternal cancelled
3. Comb-over kids
4. Coach and/or Jim weren’t able to go with me
5. I missed out on a guy selling a cheap ticket out front because he looked shady – I shouldn’t have judged (everyone looks shady at these shows)

Station 4
Annotations Of An Autopsy
All Shall Perish
Job For A Cowboy

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Doolittles Woodfire Grill – Golden Valley, MN

Gerd and I had a hankerin for some quality wood-fired food. We have been to the Eagan Doolittles with some friends but we wanted something a little closer to home. We chose the Golden Valley location. The environment is quite a bit different than the Eagan location. More loud, more cramped, but on the upside, the clientele were much better looking for some reason. Not sure why I noticed, but I did. Probably can’t count on a restaurant for that anyway, but whatever. Duly noted.

Gerd needed an appetizer so she ordered the Seared Ahi Tuna – a special for the evening. Sliced and seared (so I guess not raw, though it was red) pieces of tuna steak on won ton skins with guacamole and apple slivers. I had two of the EIGHT they brought out and they were pretty good. I’m not a seafood guy, but these might change my mind. They were good. And there were a lot of them. They also had Mt. Dew – SCORE!

Gerd got the maple honey crusted salmon (apparently, she was feeling the seafood), and I got the ribs and chicken combo. Her salmon really made her night, she was thrilled. However, the mashed potatoes it came with were really bland. They looked awesome, but tasted kind of sad. There was a big pool of butter in the middle, so I had high hopes, but was let down. Could have been garlicy or salt n peppa’d or soemthing. On the other other hand, the vegetable salad that came with it (squash, carrots, zucchini strips) was incredible. I ate most of it, in fact. Whoops!

Two times I’ve been to Doolittles and never once had I gotten anything wood fired – tonight was the night! The chicken was some of the best roasted chicken I’ve ever had, even despite the aforementioned aversion to high-labor foods. It was really good flavor and texture wise. I still had to work to get all the meat off, but it was worth it. The ribs were deceptive, I started with an end piece and there wasn’t much meat on it and the top was kind of burned. I was bummed. However, the next 6 ribs I got were incredible. Super thick BBQ sauce that wasn’t too smoky, but was perfectly sweet and tangy. Plenty of meat on these babies. While they didn’t fall off the bones, they were worth fighting for the meat. The fries were better than average as well, so no complaints at all. I was a winner all around!

I have never gotten anything bad here (with the exception of the mashed potatoes this night). Their salads are super good (we’d recommend the asian chicken salad and the spinach and bacon and also the Caesar salad), their burgers and sandwiches are good, and anything cooked on the woodfire grill or rotiserrie is good. They have a selection of foods from around the world, but I haven’t even tried those. I know Coach gets mad at me when I order food other than what the restaurant is known for (ie, chicken at Beef-A-Roo, or salad at a steak place).

Just go here. It’s really good.

Top 5 things about Doolittles
1. Ribs
2. Chicken
3. Seared Ahi Tuna appetizers
4. Vegetable salad/medley thingy
5. Hot ladies / Mt. Dew (equally happy whenever a restaurant has these… ha ha ha)

Bottom 5 things
1. Mashed potatoes
2. Waiter seemed disinterested in us (even though I had a hot lady with me)
3. Gerd’s drink kept running out
4. Men’s bathroom – door opened the wrong way so you could watch people, and the sink was broken
5. Really loud and cramped in the Golden Valley location

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Surdyk’s Scotch Tasting Class – Minneapolis, MN

This event was actually held at Elsie’s Banquet Room down the street from Surdyk’s, but Surdyk’s was running the thing. I ended up going solo as one of my high school chums bailed on me (legitimate reason, truly). There was a bit of trouble finding the place due to some heavy construction near there, but I found it nonetheless. I also had Gerd drop me off because I intended to not be in any condition to drive after the event. (Well played, in retrospect…)

I joined a table full of guys my age who didn’t look too doosh-y. Two were kind of the intelligent poet types, and the other two were the college 5 o'clock shadow kind of guys. I didn’t butt in on any of their conversations, but they included me a couple of times. Nice guys actually.

The instructor’s assistant filled everyone’s glass with scotch and then the class got started. I learned all about the history, legal terms, distilling, bottling, and regions related to scotch. And with a different sample of scotch every 15 minutes or so, it went very smoothly. Now when I say sample, I mean two small glasses of scotch (multiply by 7, and you get 14 – actually, what you do is lose count). Sure you can dump remainders into the bucket in the middle of your table, but why waste good scotch when you’ve got a designated driver?

There were two glasses for each person. A smaller wine glass and also a highball glass. The instructor said you get different flavors and different aromas from the different glass styles. Additionally, you get a different aroma by smelling the bottom rim of the glass than you do smelling the top rim of the glass. Prior to this, I would have called Bull-jive. But after testing this theory, he was 100% right. See, I learned something. 4 TOTALLY different smells. Freakshow science, I tell you.

There were also table settings with three kinds of fancy cheese on them (all sold at Surdyk’s) and small pieces of bread and nuts and such. To sort of cleanse your palette or soak up alcohol in your guts.

I learned a ton of other things which were super cool, and I got to try out some Scotches I wouldn’t have wanted to gamble a purchase on (since it’s not cheap). The guy giving the class was REALLY knowledgeable and pretty funny. I don’t know that we’d hang out or anything, but he was a great instructor.

In order of liking on my part (purely opinion – I’m sure this will make SOMEONE mad)
1. Speyside 12yr Single Malt
2. Bruichladdich 12yr Single Malt
3. Islay Mist Blended
4. Springbank 10yr Single (not to be confused with SpringBreak)
5. Dewars Blended
6. Glen Salen Blended Malt
7. Laphroaig 10yr Single (tasted like a cup of dirt – two cups of dirt actually, heh heh)

If you get a chance to do any sort of tasting or class event with Surdyk’s, I’d recommend it highly. They have a class act operation. I was hoping they’d have some sort of announcement about a scotch sale, but they didn’t. They did offer 10% off retail price if you bought scotch that night though. I didn’t. Though, I do need to stock up. I’m running dangerously low on scotch right now.

Top 5 things about the scotch class
1. Really good way to learn to appreciate scotch
2. Speyside might need a visit from Chao
3. Awesome Cheese – especially the Aged Gouda from Amsterdam
4. Great mix of history, present, operations, and tasting
5. Classy banquet facility, despite being in a bowling alley (my family loves bowling alleys, don’t ask)

Bottom 5 things
1. Laphroaig is VERY peat-y
2. Made me want to drop a few hundred on alcohol
3. Made me want to drop a few thousand on a trip to Scotland
4. I was a loner
5. Finding the place

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bar Lurcat - Minneapolis, MN

Last night, Chao and I decided to go out to dinner to celebrate our acceptance into MBA programs. We decided to hit up Bar Lurcat as we are slowly working our way through the best burgers in Minnesota list and hadn't been there yet. I have eaten at the other location of this restaurant in Naples, FL, and thought it was extremely good.

We arrived and sat in the bar as Cafe Lurcat is a classy place and we weren't looking for something fancy - just burgers. The bar was super nice with plenty of couches and comfy chairs as well as the bar and some tables. We ordered drinks. Mine was a Blackberry Tea which consisted of blackberry puree, iced tea, and way too much alcohol. I couldn't finish it as I am a wimp when it comes to alcohol. Chao had something that surprisingly didn't look very girly but I can't remember what. We ordered a Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato with Blue Cheese and Buttermilk Dressing salad, Thai Meat Balls, and Lurcat Burgers. The salad was good but had a LOT of blue cheese. I could handle it but Chao was uneasy about it. We both loved the Thai Meat Balls. What kind of meat was in the Thai Meat Balls? NO idea. And I am okay with that. There were 5 small meat balls served with some type of a cucumber dipping sauce that was fabulous.

Now for the burgers. I thought the burgers were phenomenal. An order comes with two mini burgers on a bun. No lettuce, no tomato, no pickle, no ketchup, no condiments of any kind. But, would Coach eat them? No. Apparently they use a red wine shallot butter in the burgers as well as on the bun. I found the recipe here. Seriously these burgers melted in my mouth. Not as much as The Village Tavern chicken strips with secret finger mustard (the best chicken strips of all time - SHOUT OUT!) but close. Chao of course thought they were just a burger. This is his normal response to the burgers we have tried from the list.

Bar Lurcat and Cafe Lurcat are nice places but probably will only be reserved for special events as far as future visits go. Although, there was this random woman walking around in a full snowsuit which seemed kind of strange so maybe it isn't as exclusive as I thought. I HIGHLY recommend the burgers and the french fries. Yes, its true I didn't eat the french fries, but I had fry envy of other people's food. They are served in a bucket.

Top 5:
1. Burgers ruled.
2. Fancy atmosphere.
3. The bathrooms were so cool I called Chao from the bathroom hallway to have him look not caring how weird that might've looked to others.
4. No one thought Chao was a girl (been awhile).
5. The fries come in a bucket.

Bottom 5:
1. Drinks were too strong.
2. Their small plates are REALLY small.
3. Expensive and no happy hour specials as far as I could tell.
4. Could be difficult to find parking when busy.
5. As Trash said, could be pretentious.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Don Pablo’s – Eden Prairie, MN

I went here once before when I started my new job. It was decent Mexican food. So when Gerd had the day off of work and I didn’t, we decided to go there since it was pretty fast for a lunch place. This proved to be not the best choice ever. Plus this place is a challenge to get to - you can drive past it multiple times, but never find the entrance.

Again, the food was palatable, but truly, not the best effort at Mexican food – but par for the course for the Minneapolis area. After the waitress called me a girl (See, I told you this happens all the time), we ordered one of the lunch specials, which includes a drink, a salad or soup, and a smaller entrée.

To be honest, the chips are pretty good at Don Pablo’s. Not stellar, but they were one of the highlights. The salsa is pretty standard, but better than a lot of places in Minneapolis, so I won’t complain about it. The salad was pretty good according to Gerd, so go Don P. for that. And I honestly liked the Tortilla Soup. It was waaay better than most tortilla soup I’ve had before. Again, not the best, but I’d get it again, for sure.

Gerd got two beef enchiladas with a chili sauce. They were pretty plain and non-special. The rice on the plate was the most gringo-infused rice ever. But apparently, that’s how the Twin Cities does it as we’ve seen it a lot in this area. It’s super basic and not even Kansas-ian, let alone close to the border. I got one of the beef enchiladas and one chicken one. The chicken ones were better than the beef ones, but that was all pretty relative.

This is a place I’d take someone who hates Mexican food. Finicky eaters could eat here since these foods are whiter than your mom used to make on Thursday nights when you were a kid. This place won’t ever be my favorite Mexican food, but I’ll eat here if someone asks me to. I wonder if I should maybe get the nachos next time or try a couple of margaritas before eating.

Top 5 things about Don Pablo’s
1. Tortilla Soup
2. Chips
3. Decent lunch menu combo meal deal for cheap
4. Able to get in and out of there on a lunch hour
5. The décor is actually kind of cool for a gringo meskin restaurant

Bottom 5 things
1. Plain flavored enchiladas
2. Plain salsa
3. Plain rice was rubbery
4. Only have enchiladas on the lunch menu (mostly)
5. TWO waitresses called me a girl

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gameworks – Minneapolis, MN

I’m embarrassed I’ve never to bee to a place like this as an adult. I’ve been to Chuck E. Cheese, Showbiz, Razzmatazz, and Tex Critters, but never Gameworks or Dave & Busters. So it was time to go I guess.

We grabbed a bite to eat in the restaurant to make an evening of it. Curt, our host was an awesome guy and Corey, our waiter was awesome as well. Both super helpful and not pushy. Corey hooked us up with an appetizer sampler which had Thai rolls, chicken strips, cheese sticks, and Tater skins on it. All were good, though Gerd wasn’t a fan of the Thai rolls. I liked em fine for cracker Thai. My standards are low though.

Gerd had a Caesar salad for her meal since the app was pretty big. I got a half slab of ribs. They weren’t great ribs, but they were passable. Better then Appleby’s or Chili’s though. But the best part is the availability of Mt. Dew there – awwww yeah.

We finished and went upstairs for some bowling. I performed miserably in all honesty. We played four games next to a bachelorette party of trixies. It was a pretty eclectic crowd overall. After 10pm, they throw out all the kids under 21, so it clears out momentarily. Then the club people show up to play games and drink.

We finished up bowling and hit the bar for a quick sit-down before playing more video games. They have some pretty good girly drinks, honestly. All kinds of stuff with ice cream in it, which ruled. Though our bartender, She-ra (yes that was her name) thought I was a girl when she strolled up. ha ha. Gerd and I shot some hoops (and I won) and we played some Arctic Thunder (which is one of Gerd’s all-time favorite games). She schooled me on that game, but I came back to tie it up with a round of something-or-other car racing. We played some House of the Dead 4 and Hydro Thunder (the aquatic version of Artic Thunder). And we played enough skiball to win tickets for some Mike and Ikes (Coach’s favorite).

We left feeling like 14 year olds, and will probably be back. I’d like to hit up Dave & Buster’s to see the difference, so I’ll let you know how that is.

Top 5 things about Gameworks
1. Bowling with black lights
2. Girly drinks
3. Arctic thunder
4. Bachelorette party
5. The card system for paying for games rules

Bottom 5 things
1. Juggalos
2. Gerd got upset because the basketball game took her money but wouldn’t let her play
3. Far too many Golden Tee games
4. I’m terrible at video games
5. The place can get packed on a weekend night

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Naviya’s Kalico Elephant– Richfield, MN

One thing Gerd and I know is that the Twin Cities has some darn good Thai food. We were starved for Mexican food the other night and got sidetracked when we drove past this place. It sounded good. (Yes, this is how we choose our dining experiences a lot of the time.)

We went in the place and the super nice hostess sat us. It was a small place, but it was decorated really nicely and was very clean. They gave us a pretty decent sized menu and we set to work figuring out what we were hungry for. A very coy Asian man came over to help us and seemed very glad we were there. Apparently, that’s just his demeanor since the place was pretty full anyway. This place apparently serves natural, organic, and preservative-free scratch-prepared Asian food, if you’re into that sort of thing.

We got some Fresh Spring Rolls, which ended up being awesome. We like these at most places, so it was a sure bet, and we had been hungry for them. Gerd got the Rama Thai which shocked me because up until about a month ago, she wasn’t really into the Thai curry. Well apparently something changed her mind. This was phenomenal. We’ve had it since and have tricked our friends M.Giant and Trash into trying it as well, also a big hit! It’s a spicy (but not that spicy) peanut red curry with vegetables and choice of meat. Shrimp or Chicken rule with this dish.

I got one of the new dishes on the menu (I could tell because the word “new” was next to it) called Naviya’s Lard Nah. IT was fried flat noodles with Chinese broccoli in a “thickened gravy type broth.” For my close friends, you know I chose this dish because 2008 is the “year of gravy” for me – each year I choose a new theme, not always food related – I’ll review the year of gravy at the end of the year for you if that helps. Anyway, this dish was really excellent. The noodles were a tad rubbery for my taste, but were really flavorful, so I didn’t complain at all. The gravy was awesome as well. IT filled me up something crazy.

If you get a chance, go to this place. It’s easy to find on Lyndale. They have another location like a mile away on Penn, but apparently, that location is the “fancy” one. Gerd and I will be checking that out as well, so keep your eyes peeled for that review.

Top 5 things about The Kalico Elephant
1. Fresh Spring Rolls
2. Rama Thai
3. Super friendly staff
4. Lard Nah
5. Décor / Atmosphere

Bottom 5 things
1. No elephant on the menu
2. Could get crowded as it’s small
3. Slightly high priced (which is scary if it’s not the “fancy” location”
4. They are not open very late – just to warn you. Like 8pm during the week.
5. Owners Kim and Naviya LaBarge should Not be confused with El DeBarge

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Capital Grille - Minneapolis, MN

Gerd and I felt like livin’ large last night so we got a reservation for the Capital Grill in downtown Minneapolis. We knew this place was pretty upscale, but isn’t the kind of place that requires a jacket or anything. That being said, our friends are impressed that we ate there.

We made waaay better time than anticipated getting downtown, so after the classy valet parked my car, we sat in the bar and had a drink before dinner. I opted for their specialty drink, the Stoli Doli, after awesome bartender Dustin gave me a sample to get me hooked. Stoli vodka infused with Dole pineapple chunks for a week. It was incredible. With all of these girly drinks I plan on making in large vats, my basement is going to look suspicious to the feds, I’m sure. Gerd stuck with the Arnold Palmer (tea and lemonade).

We headed into the very elegant dining room and waited for out waiter Tim to help us out. We had questions about wine, Tim helped us out. We had questions about appetizers, Tim helped us out. We had questions about specials, Tim helped us out. We had questions about sides, Tim helped us out. We had ZERO questions about entrees, Tim was impressed.

With the help of Tim, we ordered Wagyu Beef Carpaccio for an appetizer. It is rare Japanese beef (from California) served chilled and sliced razor thin with an arugula salad on top. Seriously, there was no fat at all on these slices of beef. Top notch stuff. Gerd needed soup, so again with the help of Tim, Gerd went with the Lobster bisque. It had chunks of lobster in it and Tim poured some dry sherry on the top to bring out the flavor – I told you this place was classy. I got the mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad with 12-year aged balsamic. Seriously, this was a great salad before a huge meal. No complaints at all.

Gerd had a question about wine with her meal, so Tim recommended a simple pinot noir for her since she’s not usually a red drinker. I went big and bold and got the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. I’ve never gone South American before with my wine, and it was awesome. Tim said buy a crap ton of it now since it hasn’t caught on how good it is just yet. That’s a good idea. We’ll be hitting up Surdyk’s in the next couple of weeks for me to buy more scotch, so I’ll see if I can score a bottle of this as well.

Since we were going big anyway, Gerd and I felt the need for steak. Gerd decided on the Dry Aged Sirloin (I’m guessing about 16 oz?) and I went with the 24 oz Dry Aged Porterhouse. I told you we weren’t foolin around. I can’t say enough about how awesome these steaks were. Second only to Ruth’s Chris (and a VERY close second at that). They were truly amazing and tender and flavorful without all kinds of spices and marinades. We got some squash and au gratin potatoes at Tim’s suggestion and they were really great. The potatoes were some of the best we’ve ever had.

Yes, we were stuffed, but Gerd is a dessert person. She went back and forth on like 5 desserts. She had been talking about flourless chocolate cake for months and when she opted NOT to get it, Tim and I were floored (we were good friends at this point in our relationship). Gerd needed cheesecake, so that’s what we ordered. However, when Tim came back out with it, he threw in a slice of the flourless cake on the house. So I was forced to eat some it. Flourless cake isn’t my thing, but this was really good. Coffee/Espresso flavored and chocolate-y. Great stuff. But the cheesecake was where it’s at. The piece was served with brulee-d (is that a word?) caramelized sugar top and sitting in strawberry syrup. It was the best dessert I have ever had in my entire life, bar none. I might actually be a dessert person after eating this thing. It was extraordinary.

I can’t say enough about this place. We spent a boatload of money here, so wait until the economy gets fixed and then go to this place. You will not be disappointed!!!!

Top 5 things about the Capital Grill
1. Steaks
2. Staff
3. Desserts
4. Wine selection
5. Atmosphere

Bottom 5 things
1. There aren’t any. Even the expensive prices are worth what you get.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jake’s – Eden Prairie, MN

I love Jake’s – I’ll just come right out and say it. I’ve been to this place a couple of times and have always had good luck there. Gerd decided we need to go there, so she could watch football on Sunday. Being in Viking country doesn’t lend itself to viewing the Bears on television every Sunday. While Jake’s isn’t technically a sports bar, we knew they had tvs and showed a bunch of games on Sundays.

We planned to sit at the bar, order some drinks and appetizers and park ourselves for a couple of hours. When we got there, we remembered they had a Sunday brunch. And it looked mighty tasty… We totally caved and went with the brunch.

This thing had fruits, cinnamon and caramel rolls, eggs, juevos, eggs benedict, sausage, bacon, salmon, cheesy hashbrowns, beef brisket, gravy, fried chicken, gravy, garlic mashed taters, and omelets made to order. Really, you’d be a moron NOT to get this if you’re there on a Sunday morning. We now had the opportunity to eat as much as we wanted and still watch the game.

The best thing about Jake’s is the girly drink menu. It’s one of the best I’ve come across. I’ve probably had 12-15 different drinks there and most of them are quite tasty and unique. Lots of fruity and pink drinks with fruit and flags in them – wurd. The best one is the Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini – it’s brilliant. I will soon begin making pitchers of these at my house. I usually have the barkeep put my martinis in a normal glass to preserve SOME aspect of my heterosexuality.

We had to reposition ourselves in front of the correct TV to watch the Bears, but we eventually found it. We were facing, across the bar, Vikings fans that were quite amusing. And across the room, the Packer fans congregated like one big happy dysfunctional family gathering. It was fun. I’ve never gone to a sports bar for football, but I know why people do it now. It truly was fun. I also know far more about football than I ever have before. I still don’t care about the drama between teams, but I like the game all the same.

Bottom line – go to Jake’s for Sunday football, or for seriously good food. They have great drinks and great appetizers as well if you’re looking for a fun place after work.

Top 5 things about Jake’s
1. Girly drinks!
2. Sunday brunch
3. All the appetizers
4. Great atmosphere/decor
5. Staff are all great

Bottom 5 things
1. Bears were not shown on a large screen, angering Gerd
2. Too cold for the awesome patio Jake’s has during warmer months
3. If you sit in the wrong spot, you’ll be watching the guy’s head next to you at the bar
4. I did not get to see Gerd’s “monkey arms” when she yells “Bears” at opposing football drunks
5. After 4 girly drinks, I needed a nap

Houlihan’s – Richfield, MN

While driving around on Saturday afternoon, nothing seemed to look appetizing. Were we in the mood for Italian? Mexican? Ethiopian? We kept driving and eventually came upon Houlihan’s. I wasn’t sure what this place was, but Gerd was apparently very familiar with this place. She described it as a nicer Bennigan’s. Sure, why not?

Parking was hilarious. Here’s why: Haoulihans is in a building with a hospital and other businesses. All of the parking signs were for the hospital and you kind of have to go through the hospital to get to the restaurant – yeah, weird. We found it eventually though. The hostess who greeted us bounced over to us and skippily asked us how we were doing. Gerd hated her right off – you know how girls are. She wasn’t offensive to my eyes in any way, which meant I couldn’t tell you a single thing she said to us after that. We got seated though – I remember that much.

Gerd remembered them having a pretty good girly drink list, so we reviewed that immediately. It was decent – not great, but decent. I got a martini flight (three martinis of my choosing) and Gerd got a diet coke (lame). Since I like ‘em girly, I got a Blue Moon (blue), Guavatini (pink), and Chocolate (brown and sugary). I rule. The blue one didn’t taste like medicine like I assumed it would and ended up being the best one. The other ones were decent though.

Gerd ordered a salad and chicken strips and I got a Tuscan salad and the fettuccini alfredo. Gerd’s salad was a standard Caesar salad with really good croutons (remember, I’m a crouton connoisseur). The chicken strips were better than average, but not even in the same class as the Village Tavern in Carol Stream, IL – just so you know. My salad was amazing – white beans, tomatoes, balsamic reduction on a bed of baby spinach. The alfredo was above average, but not stellar. It was smooth and not lumpy like some places, which means they put some effort into it, but it didn’t have any zing to it.

There were very interesting people in this restaurant, in case you decide to go there. We saw a troupe of dwarves, a family celebrating dad’s birthday all crazy dressed up, a waitress with one leg shorter than the other, and nuns brandishing swords (this last one I made up when I realized I had only seen three unique groups of people – my apologies). I won’t discuss the aforementioned hostess wearing a low-cut shirt smiling at me as she bent over very low to wipe off a nearby table FOUR times. I know better than to even bring it up.

Top 5 things about Houlihans
1. The menu had really good things on it – again, better than Bennigan’s
2. Tuscan salad
3. Chicken strips
4. Martinis
5. Alfredo

Bottom 5 things
1. Getting TO the restaurant
2. Couple of d-bags in the bar portion of the place
3. Gerd made numerous catty comments about the hostess - hilarious
4. No Monte Cristo like Bennigan’s
5. The tables must be difficult to keep clean – that girl wiped the table off four times,