Monday, November 23, 2009

Big Jones – Chicago, IL

Callous-un said we needed to go try this southern Dixie-land style breakfast place called Big Jones (which Trash kept referring to as Mother Jones). We were all game since Southern and/or Dixie-land always means Popeyes Chicken in my head. It wasn’t Popeyes, but it was still good. In fact, this place is way more upscale than any of us realized and we might have been a tad underdressed (as I was wearing a black band t-shirt and jeans).

We all ended up arguing over who was going to get what since we all wanted the same thing – Cheddar Corn Cakes. I caved, since I needed some meat, but Trash and CorpseKitten decided they were going to get their own Corn Cakes. Callous-un got the French toast and I went with the Eggs Romero – poached Amish eggs, organic hominy cheese grits, and Carolina-style pulled pork. See, I TOLD you it was classy. They even brought out these little fried dough balls with powdered sugar on them – everyone seemed to know what they were since they’re all fancier than I am, but whatever, they were good.

The food came out pretty quickly, though it wasn’t terribly busy in the restaurant. The food looked beautiful. See, Popeyes isn’t going to arrange stuff all pretty on your plate with whipped cream puffs and stuff, are they? Mine was surrounded with what looked like a pool of orange glaze (which ended up being a surrounding pool of pork grease (I don’t mean that in a bad way, truly, I don’t’). The pork was hidden in a nice mound under the poached eggs. And the whole thing was delicious. Seriously, this is one of the fancier breakfasts I’ve had and it will probably remain in the top 5 for a long time. It was steeped in really good fancy flavor.

I had some of the Cheddar Corn Cakes and they were decent, but I’m glad I got what I did. I also tried a bite of the French Toast and it was soooo freakin dense I couldn’t believe it. It was thicker than Amish Friendship Bread and was difficult to get through more than two or three bites without exploding. I’m impressed with what you did manage to eat, Callous-un.

We were all ready to die after eating so much, but we had things to do (like play kickball), so we got out of there and headed to the park to play for the afternoon. If you get a chance, go here for breakfast. It’s not as Dixie-land as you might think (in fact, not at all), but it does have a fancy southern quality to it that you won’t be disappointed with, I assure you.

Top 5 things about Big Jones
1. Eggs Romero
2. Cheddar Corn Cakes
3. Dough balls with powdered sugar
4. Ultra-Thick French Toast
5. Everything looked good on the menu

Bottom 5 things
1. I can’t remember a single bad thing, aside from sooo many awesome looking choices on the menu it was difficult to decide

Spacca Napoli – Chicago, IL

Trash, CorpseKitten, and I were in Chicago visiting Callous-un for the weekend and Callous-un had been giving me crap about the Chicago-style pizza that I’d eaten. Apparently, it wasn’t authentic pizza and I had not been treated to the best the city had to offer. So she recommended a place for us that she heard was really good. As it turns out, it is authentic Neapolitan pizza, not authentic Chicago pizza.

I had told some friends where I’d be that evening in hopes some of them would show up and hang out. When we got to the restaurant, I completely missed Kanoo and BestGirlfriendEver standing against the building looking nonchalant. It took me a couple minutes to notice them standing there, but I was sooooo glad to see them. It’s been way too long since I had seen either of them. While waiting, they both gave me a hell of a time because I commented that I didn’t like pistachios. They said, “You know those things are in a shell, right? You took the tasty nut out of the shell, right. You gotta get that tasty nut inside.” Hilarious (and jerks) – I love these guys to death.

While we waited outside, one of the staff members brought out bread samples and also cheese samples to keep us occupied. We only got the cheese, as Trash wasn’t pushy enough about getting in front of rival groups. She tried to look starved and forlorn and just looked retarded. We think she creeped out the worker, to be honest. Once the line dwindled down and the people realized we had been in line for an hour, they brought us some prosecco, on the house. It was decent and a good “get in the mood drink” for us before we sat down.

The wait staff was very friendly, so we had no issues with food and drink orders. The menu is medium-sized. Plenty of different foods, but not a ton, which is usually easier to decide on things. I got the Salsiccia Pizza – Tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, Italian sausage, and olive oil. BestGirlfriendEver got the Bufalina Pizza – tomatoes, basil, buffalo mozzarella, and olive oil. Trash got the Quattro Formaggi Pizza – mozzarella, gorgonzola, emmenthal, fontina. Lisa got the Margherita Pizza – tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, olive oil. And I can’t remember what Kanoo or Callous-un ended up with. They brought out our food 30 seconds later. (Actually, they brought out someone else’s food and put it on our table, which was hilarious when our waiter showed up with drinks and started cracking up – they took the food away back to its rightful owners.)

My pizza looked delicious, and very Italian-like (it’s thin crust and more or less for one person). I’ve been to Italy a couple of times and yes, the pizza does look a little bit like this. I was a little surprised at the lack of flavor in it the pizza part. The sausage was delicious and I was thrilled with that part, but it simply didn’t taste like there was cheese on it, despite the cheesy appearance. BestGirlfriendEver also though there was an odd lack of flavor, so she salted and peppered the hell out of hers and it made it better. I guess I should have done that. My pizza was good, but not stellar. We all ended up trading each other pieces to see which one we liked the most.

Trash’s pizza won the competition, but wasn’t what she thought she was ordering. No one heard the waiter say there was prosciutto on hers, and being a vegetarian, she has a problem with “dead” on her pizza. She ended up swapping CorpseKitten for her Margherita pizza, but I think CorpseKitten got the better end of the deal. Trash wasn’t thrilled with the Margherita, however, everyone who tried the bacon-y pizza was very impressed. All of the pizzas were just ok. Good, but nothing stellar. Apparently, I’m STILL on the search for quality Chicago-style pizza. I’ll find it. I know it’s out there.

On the way out, they give you a dessert cannoli (whipped ricotta cheese deep fried in a shell and with nuts on the exposed parts. Guess what – they were pistachios on the outside – hilarious. I ate half of mine and gave the rest to someone else (that I knew – not a random stranger). It was fine, but it doesn’t even compare to the one’s MO had me eat in Sicily. Seriously, they aren’t even in the same ballpark.

We left there and said goodbye to Kanoo and BestGirlfriendEver, and headed to The Grafton – a little Irish bar in Lincoln Square. It was loud (probably average for a bar on a Friday night), but not a bad atmosphere. They had a hefty beer list with some ciders, bit I went with the Capn n Diet route for the night. We discussed heading to a German bar afterwards, but with CorpseKitten being on Eastern time, her bedtime is about 4pm Central, so we headed home (kidding, we were all tired and yawning, but we like to blame CorpseKitten for stuff).

Top 5 things about Spacca Napoli
1. It’s a fun restaurant environment with an open kitchen, fun staff, and good lighting
2. Free cannoli after dinner
3. Prosciutto Pizza
4. Friendly staff
5. Got to hang with Kanoo and BestGirlfriendEver – I miss them terribly

Bottom 5 things
1. Really long wait
2. Pizza was slightly lacking in flavor
3. Coke products, so I went with water
4. Still on the hunt for actual Chicago-style pizza
5. Ran out of cannoli before Trash got one

Friday, November 20, 2009

Schuller’s Tavern – Golden Valley, MN

EnyaFace! got a new job, so we decided to go out with a fellow unemployed x-co-worker, Biss-kit. EnyaFace! knew of this place in Golden Valley where she used to live – a little roadhouse called Schuller’s Tavern. She knows I’m always for new eateries, so we checked it out.

EnyaFace! told me the place in known for their burgers, specifically the Bacon BBQ Jack something-or-other burger. But just to spite me, she told me the waitress said the Chicken Pot Pie was the thing to order today, since it was on special. Then, the menu itself has a ton of good looking items on it to choose from, so I was exponentially more torn. I was so torn, I let the waitress decide for me. She said I needed potpie. I was game. Make it so.

I scored an 802 Woodchuck also. It just needed to be done. While swilling cider and getting caught up on our various job search (and by job search, I mean Tiger Woods on the Wii), I checked out the environs. There’s a closed-circuit television that shows a view of the parking lot (keep an eye on your car, I guess – or watch for snipers). There’s also a super tiny door to the men’s restroom. Freakishly small. There’s a sweet bumper pool table as well. When was the last time I saw a bumper pool table? 1986. Schuller’s also has live bands on weekends – as in bands you should check out. They’re sort of a music venue in fact, so it’s worth looking into their band schedule.

The food came out and I was pretty impressed. The Garlic Burger that EnyaFace looked fantastic. And the ham sammich thing that Biss-kit got also looked fantastic. But I must say, the Chicken Pot Pie looked incredible. Even better, the Pot Pie was brilliant! One of the best restaurant pot pies I’ve ever eaten. Super light and flaky crust, great tasting vegetables, tasty gravy, and awesome big chunks of chicken inside. It truly was magical. If you see this on the menu, order it. I’m not playin’ on this one. GET IT!

Schuller’s has some great food, and I have a feeling I will be back soon. When you go there, harass the bartender about giving up music. Apparently, he’s an amazing musician and he gave it up. What a waste.

Top 5 things about Schuller’s Tavern
1. Pot Pie
2. They have Woodchuck
3. Awesome list of burgers
4. I was enthralled with the closed-circuit TV of the parking lot
5. Waitress was awesome to talk to and was easy on the eyes

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd loved divey burger bars, and she would have loved this one, for sure
2. I should have played bumper pool
3. I was SUPER tempted to try to eat the pot pie AND the burger bacon jack burger
4. Bartender who gave up on music - sadface
5. No additional downsides - sorry

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sweeny's - St. Paul, MN

I met some people over at Sweeny’s after class. I didn’t know what to expect – this crowd of people ranges from the country bar to higher class places, so I was unsure what this place would bring. I found them seated at a table in back at some tall tables which were bolted to the floor – completely unmovable.

I scanned the drink menu, not finding much in the way of girly drinks. They did have a decent hard cider on tap: Original Sin Cider. Great stuff and looks like beer so your jerk friends won’t mock as much. Wait. What? I know the thing to get here is the wings, but I don't like bones in my food (except for ribs), so I ordered some nachos, since I was in the mood. I’m never sure at places whether I should order a full or a half order of nachos, so I always get the full. This was my fatal mistake. They were huge!!!!

The photo shows a generous plate of nachos. But this isn’t a normal 8 inch plate. It’s more along the lines of 12-14 inches. TONS of chips and cheese (and chicken) on this thing. It was delicious though. Black beans, tomatoes, a few onion pieces, salsa, guacamole, and boatloads of cheese.

I know it’s difficult to judge a restaurant by its nachos, but I think they’re a bar staple. If you screw that up, what ELSE are you screwing up? I’ll probably go back to Sweeny’s. They have a decent menu, and they have a decent beer selection, from what I understand. It’s out of the way, but if the group keeps showing up there, I’ll keep tagging along. I like it.

Really, there wasn’t enough going on for a top 5 list on this one. Next time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Casa Vieja - St. Paul, MN

I needed a break from doing homework and I had a hankerin for Mexican food. Now I know I complain about the Mexican food in the Twin Cities all the time. I’m still hoping for some magical breakthrough find, and the only way I can do that is to get out there and try new places. Casa Vieja didn’t change my mind.

I’ve driven by Casa Vieja a bunch of times and always saw a pretty full parking lot. Yes, it’s out of the way, but I had to get something crossed off my list of places, and this was next on the list. I pulled up and found a fuller than normal parking lot. Hmmm, there must have been something going on tonight. In fact there was. I walked into a full on wedding reception. Which means when I got to the hostess stand, there was no one there. I stood around and waited until a waitress walked past me and got her attention. I asked for a table for one, and she looked at me funny (like most women do). So what happens? I get seated in the middle of the extremely raucus and loud room at a table by myself with a “reserved” sign on it, right in front of the live band that’s playing. Hilarious.

A waitress comes and get my drink order (maragarita on the rocks) and asks if I’m going to be eating. If I would have thought about it, I would have found the reception buffet, but I didn’t. I got a menu instead. I saw a small section of Mexican food and a lot of listings for American food (and some lamb chops). This place was really not Mexican was it? I totally got taken for a ride, and now I’m sitting in a wedding reception I don’t belong in, watching an old guy band play Elvis covers. I made the most of it.

I ordered the chimichangas, since I was in the mood for Mexican food (I should have just gone with the American food and left it at that, but I was feeling saucy – must have been the live music). I got one beef and one chicken just to see which would be better. Some old lady chatted me up at the table next to mine and commented on how dark it was in here (and LOUD). IT was amazingly dark in here. I’ve been in caverns brighter than this place. You’ve seen some of my photos from dark restaurants, but I think we’ve got a new 2nd place dark restaurant – no place will EVER beat Red’s Savoy. This is what my meal looked like when it came out.

Yeah, I couldn’t see it either. I basically bumbled around cutting things until I got a bite. The shells weren’t fried very crispy and the cheese sauce on the top might have been from a pump, or it might have been some other kind of very thin liquid-y cheese. Either way, it was extra processed and not real. The chicken was decent and seemed to be all white meat, but considering I couldn’t see it, that’s just a guess. The beef one tasted like the seasoning packet hadn’t been fully mixed into the ground beef consistently, which is a first for me.

I’ll be honest, the best thing about this place was the band. The White Side Walls. They’re a five piece old guy band just KILLIN IT up on the stage (they’re really not THAT old, honestly). Old ladies and random guys they would grab were dancing like crazy to their songs. Very upbeat and VERY good musicians. The guitarist also played sax and did back up vocals, and the drummer and guitarist switched off as well. They were old school, like working the crowd, sending out shout outs to various engaged people and mothers and this and that. Very fun to watch.

Unfortunately, I didn’t belong at ALL here, and I got a text from TheDoctor about meeting him and Smallz for some Tiger Woods Wii action. Suffice it to say, TheDoctor and I went to Taco Bell when I got to his house.

Top 5 things about Casa Vieja
1. The White Side Walls
2. Margarita was good and strong
3. Nice chat with the old lady next to me, who I’m sure was wondering why I was wearing a Walls of Jericho hoodie to a wedding
4. Watching old white people dance is ALWAYS a treat
5. The table next to me was proactively selling White Side Walls merch, which is hilarious at a wedding reception

Bottom 5 things
1. Gerd would have made us turn around and go someplace else, but I love the experience of not fitting in and still managing to strike up a conversation with an old lady wherever I go
2. Chimichangas were bad, even for white people chimichangas
3. This place is as Mexican as I am
4. No chips and salsa at wedding receptions, I guess
5. I REALLY couldn’t see anything I was eating

Costco (yes, for lunch) - St. Louis Park, MN

TheDoctor has been trying to get me to go to Costco for lunch for months now. I finally caved and met him there. He was texting me from the minute he got in there talking about all the cougars coming through the doors and “What up velour tracksuit?”, so it was an pretty hilarious drive to St. Louis Park.

Apparently, the hot dogs are the thing to get and they’re cheap. Sadly, neither of us got one. I ended up with a Polish sausage and what’s called a Chicken Bake. It’s chicken, bacon, cheese, and Caesar dressing rolled up in a pizza dough and baked. It sounded intriguing, so I went with it.

The polish is just a polish. It was fine for a cheap polish, but you could tell it was super processed and not all gristly like a real polish is supposed to be. Covered in ketchup, everything is good, right? The Chicken Bake was really… weird. The chicken part was fine, but everything else was odd. The dressing part mixed with the cheese was an odd combination, and the bacon was really cheap bacon. Oh yeah, and the pizza dough was good too – kind of the sour dough pizza crust with some good flavor in it (wow, better than Lou Malnati’s in Chicago – burn).
You can also get giant pizzas from Costco for super cheap, as well. This actually sounded like a pretty good deal. TheDoctor was speaking highly of their pizza (since that’s what he got for lunch) and it actually looked pretty appetizing. We did a quick run through of the store when we finished lunch, and got to cash in on some things I needed to buy in bulk. Wurd on the Veggie Crunchers…

I don’t know that I’ll be talking anyone into going here for lunch anytime soon, but if invited, I’d go again. It wasn’t terribly expensive, and I STILL haven’t tried a hot dog from there yet.

No top 5 – it’s not worth it.

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria - Chicago, IL

We needed to eat dinner before we headed out of the city, and since we were in Chicago, the home of the best pizza ever (except for some of the Jersey places Belcher took me to), we had to get some traditional Chicago-style pizza. I’m not up on my Chicago pizza places, but here’s a word of advice – let someone who’s living in Chicago decide where you’ll get Chicago-style pizza.

HB decided we should go to Lou Malnati’s and then we’d meet Callous-un and Paulio when they got off work. We were walking from the Shedd Aquarium, which if you look on a map, is only about a 3 inch walk. Two hours later (and a stop at a bar for a drink and to get out of the 35 degree wind), we made it. And yes, TheDoctor DID try to fit into a little kid's penguin costume at the Aquarium, thanks for asking!

The place was normal inside, like any pizza place in the U.S. One of the waiters tried to seat us as a table for three, but we told him there were two more coming. A hostess showed up, fresh from a text message conversation, and sat us down without saying anything. She gave us three menus, and we quickly told her that two more were joining us. She had sat us at a four-top table and simply grabbed a chair when we told her this news. It was going to be cramped. We asked if we could be seated at a larger table and, with some effort, we got a larger table.

The pizza on the menu looks really good. It’s Chicago-style deep dish, which means you can’t tell what’s a topping and what’s a bottom-ing. It’s layer upon layer of cheesey goodness with additional layers of ingredients to break up the cheesey monotony. We went with a sausage pizza and one called “The Lou”, a vegetarian pizza (since Callous-un is vegetarian and ruins everything for carnivorous tables – kidding).

The pizza showed up in a reasonable amount of time and the waiter served our first couple of pieces to us. I had him throw one of each on there, so I wasn’t going back every 60 seconds for more pizza. After the waiter left, I expressed some concern over eating a pizza named after a restroom, but I did anyway.

The Lou was the better pizza of the two, it’s got spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes covered with cheese and sauce. It actually had more flavor than the sausage pizza we got. We ordered it with a butter crust, but I’m not sure what that meant. I didn’t taste any butter on the crust, and eventually gave up on eating the crust (I’m not a crust guy, unless there’s honey to dip it in – thanks for ruining me, BeauJo’s). So if the bottom crust was buttery, I couldn’t tell. I had to use more parmesan and pepper flakes than I normally do (which usually isn’t that much) just to give the pizza some flavor.

The pizza here is just ok. I love a good pizza, but this wasn’t it. It was average, even by Minneapolis standards. I love you, HB, but the pizza really wasn’t that good. At the risk of putting myself on some list of getting whacked (and not in a good way), Lou Malnati’s didn’t do it for me.

Top 5 things about Lou Malnati’s
1. The waiter was really nice
2. There was an ample supply of flavor enhancers on the table, which we used
3. The place is much bigger than it looks when you first walk in. Large back room and an upstairs seating area as well
4. It was hot college girl night at Lou Malnati’s apparently
5. It’s within walking distance of the Shedd Aquarium (if 43 miles is walking distance)

Bottom 5 things
1. Flavor was missing from the pizza
2. Rude hostess
3. The pizza menu seemed pretty restrictive
4. I couldn’t taste any butter, despite paying extra for the butter crust
5. Sorry Chicago, New Jersey has better pizza. How’s THAT make you feel?

Chicago Bagel Authority - Chicago, IL

TheDoctor makes Chicago Bagel Authority a requirement every trip to Chicago. When he told me about it, I was honestly thinking it was just going to be another bagel breakfast place. I didn’t let on how lame I thought it was because he’s much bigger than I am and because I really didn’t care all that much.

The place is very unassuming from the outside, but I guess if you’re an awesome place, you just let you food speak for you, since who is going to believe signs that say, “Hey we’re awesome! Eat here!” (I’m lying, I totally would buy into that gimmick…)

The inside is covered with sheets of paper, which you might think of as clutter. But don’t be tricked – 99% of the paper on the wall is a list of sandwich ingredients. So on top of the 85+ sandwiches listed on the regular menu, there are 30 or 40 other sandwiches to choose from stuck to the walls. You really need to study this menu when you get here, you can’t just pick a random sandwich or you’re going to get back to your table and find 13 other sandwiches you would have preferred over your hasty choice.

All of the sandwiches have hilariously bizarre names. You decide on a sandwich, step up to the counter and tell any number of random people behind the counter which sandwich you’d like. You get charged a $0.25 fee if you have “cooking instructions” like don’t steam my sandwich – all of their sandwiches come steamed. What is a steamed sandwich, you ask? It’s as simple as it sounds. They make your sandwich, then they steam it with a special machine from heaven. It makes the bread or bagel ultra moist and tasty and melts any cheese you have on your sandwich, without wilting the other veggie-based ingredients. It’s probably based on the White Castle theory of putting holes in the meat to steam the bun so it ends up moist when you shove it in your mouth. I didn’t think it would make that much difference, but it totally does.

I went with the Mikey’s Munch - Roast beef, pepperjack, avocado, lettuce, tomato, peppercorn dressing on a steamed sesame seed bagel (normally it’s on an Everything Bagel, but I don’t like everything – dur).

I was torn between like 10 different bagels and this is what I decided on (the other contenders were Slick Willy, Hide the Salami, Bob-n-Que, Dirty Swede, The Puck, Chicago Fire, Dreadlock, Good Rick, Chip’s Special, The Cosby, or the Chicago Fire – I told you you’d have trouble deciding). They do have bacon-based sandwiches, as well as corned beef, roast beef, turkey, ham, pepperoni, meatballs, salami, veggies, butter, scrambled eggs, or cheese. I’ll clarify – these aren’t ingredients, these are the things the sandwiches are BASED around. They throw on all kinds of other stuff as well. See, they’re not a breakfast bagel place, they’re an anytime bagel place. You can also get any sandwich as a sub (if a bagel isn’t large enough for you – I say just go for two different bagels – that’s what I’m doing next time – in two weeks).

The sandwich was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten, and it totally shouldn’t be. It’s a bagel after all, right? I am really surprised by that and now, like TheDoctor, I will have to start forcing people to go there and experience this wonder that is the steamed sandwich.

On your way out, in a glass display case by the door (make sure you only look on your way OUT, mind you), you’ll find a very unique lost and found collection displayed. I understand this place is great as a hangover cure, but since people are generally sober in the morning hours, I’m wondering how these particular items ended up found in the CBA and why does it keep happening? Weird.

Top 5 things about Chicago Bagel Authority
1. Mikey’s Munch
2. Steamed bagels
3. Super nice people working
4. There’s no way you can’t find something to eat here
5. It’s 20 feet from a brown line CTA stop

Bottom 5 things
1. If Gerd had eaten here, we would be making weekly trips to Chicago to eat here. Then we would have had to weight the option of paying for gas and hotels or getting an apartment and flying down every weekend. It would have been high drama either way
2. There are WAAAY too many awesome looking items on the menu here – I will have to keep going back, darn
3. I didn’t know about the “other” sandwiches until I had already decided and went up to order
4. There are a LOT of milfs pushing strollers and double-wide strollers here on a Tuesday morning (wait, is that a bad thing?)
5. I’m going to have to listen to RubyVita yell at me that SHE’s a sandwich girl, not me, and I should quit adding sandwich places to her already huge list of places she has to eat now…

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

La Tache - Chicago, IL

Callous-un had a stack of those awesome restaurant discount cards, so we decided to go to a place she had wanted to try for a while. It’s a French Bistro & Bar, which doesn’t always lend itself to vegetarian tastes, but we thought we’d check out the menu when we got there and see if she could eat anything. When we got there, she asked to see a menu and told the host she was a vegetarian. He said he was as well and she’d be able to find something to eat here. We grabbed a table by the window.

This place is a classy French Bistro – super dim lighting, small intimate tables, gobs of old rich people, and words I can’t pronounce on the menu. We decided to go with a bottle of wine, since this is a pretty swanky place. I got a nice bottle of Pinot Noir, which I’m usually good with. This bottle ended up being a 2007 vintage, so it was still a tiny bit tart. But all in all, it was still a decent bottle.

I was really torn on ordering off the standard menu or ordering off the prix fixe menu. The standard menu had some really good looking dishes on it, including venison and lamb, but the prix fie menu had some really tasty looking things on it, including all kinds of meat and seafood dishes. Callous-un decided on the Gnocchi which was one of a very select number of vegetarian dishes available. I finally caved and went with the prix fixe menu and ordered White Bean Soup with Bacon, a Glazed Duck Breast, and a Turtle Cake for dessert (at the insistence of Callous-un, who knows I’m not a dessert person).

I apologize for the darkness of the photos, but the place is really dim and I felt like it was too classy of a restaurant for me to send a blinding flash from the camera into the retinas of the other guests.

The White Bean Soup came out and was probably the highlight of the meal for me. Not only was the soup itself a combination of bacon drippings (aka wonderful delicious bacon grease), but it had pieces of super thick-cut smoked bacon in the soup itself. I was raving about it so much that Callous-un, a militant vegetarian, caved and tried a bite (without a bacon piece, so I guess it won’t stand up in vegetarian court or anything). She agreed it was phenomenal. Then I successfully thwarted all her attempts to get another bite. Truly one of the best soups I’ve ever had. And the portion was much larger than I expected at a French restaurant.

The entrees came out and also looked fantastic (though you can’t tell from the photos).

The duck breast was arranged in a very pretty pattern on the plate on top of some spinach leaves and pureed potatoes and turnips. There was a honey glaze on everything as well, which was awesome. The duck was good – not exquisite, but really good. The thing with duck is you have to eat it hot, because the fatty parts congeal and get weird textures if you let it get cold. I ate the duck first and didn’t end up having a single bad bite. All of it was good.

Callous-un’s Gnocchi was brilliant as well. It had more veggies in it than she thought it would and each pastry puff was perfectly crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. There were peas, green beans, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, and some other stuff in there. It was better than my duck breast, and my duck wasn’t bad at all. I would recommend the heck out of the Gnocchi if you have the chance.

Since Callous-un wanted Turtle Cake, we got Turtle Cake. It was two soft brownie/cake pieces with a scoop of ice cream, sprinkled with peanuts, and drizzled with caramel. It was pretty good, as desserts go. I had more bites of it than I thought I would, but maybe because the duck was smaller than I expected and didn’t fill me up. The Turtle Cake was good, though there were a couple of other desserts that might have been fun to try. Maybe next time.

La Tache is a great French Bistro. It’s really some fantastic food and very French. Small portions, gloriously presented. It’s got a small-ish wine selection, but they had at least one thing I could drink there, so we got by.

Top 5 things about La Tache
1. White Bean Soup with Bacon
2. Gnocchi
3. Duck Breast
4. Turtle Cake
5. Very nice host/waiter

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s a tad on the pricey side (but thankfully, Callous-un paid)
2. Had to stop from asking for a sippy cup full of the bean soup with bacon…
3. Wine selection was pretty slim for an upscale French restaurant
4. The place really isn’t vegetarian-friendly
5. The place got REALLY loud with old stuffy people toward the end of the meal

RA - Chicago, IL

TheDoctor and HB had planned a trip to Chicago so TheDoctor could get Bill Simmons to sign a book just published about basketball – in fact, it ended up being multiple people sending TheDoctor to Chicago to get their books signed as well. Being gainfully unemployed, I decided to tag along with and go hang with some friends in Chicago as well.

HB used to work at RA Sushi in Arizona when they both lived there and ended up training a lot of the managers at the Chicago location, so the plan was to hang at RA during happy hour (since 2009 is the Year of Happy Hour), and then TheDoctor and HB could go to the book signing. Callous-un would meet up with us at the end of happy hour and we’d go hang while the others went to the book signing.

I always get nervous around sushi places, since I don’t eat any seafood. But generally, most places have enough appetizer-y things that I can find something to eat. And if all else fails, it was happy hour – I could just pound drinks for a couple of hours, right?

Happy Hour starts at 3 at RA, which just happens to be when we got there. There’s a pretty decent happy hour menu which includes both drinks and appetizers. I felt drawn to the Pineapple Cream Cheese Wontons, which would be washed down with what’s known as Tokyo Tea. I made sure it didn’t have any actual tea in it, since I can’t stand dirty water, and when she told me it had sake, lemon and lime juice, and a bunch of other girly stuff, I gave her the thumbs up. The drink was good, but… thin… like there wasn’t enough syrupy goodness in it. Either way, it was delicious.

The Pineapple Cream Cheese Wontons came out after a short bit and were really good. They were served on some sort asian cabbage and carrot slaw which was also delicious. The wontons were cooked perfectly, and although they had a faint hint of pineapple in them, I could have used a bit more on the fruity side. As they were, they tasted like slightly sweeter wontons than normal.

I got hungry again and decided to go with the Pork Gyoza. These are dumpling-like rice paper raviolis of pork, lightly fried to seal in the wonderfulness. They were served with some sort of salty sweet dipping sauce and were amazingly tasty. They were much better hot – by the time I got to the last one, it was a bit rubbery, but thankfully, all of the previous 5 were perfect. So really, no complaints at all.

I ended up getting another girly drink when Callous-un arrived, but I can’t remember what I got. I know it was girly and had sake and ginger in it. Maybe a Rising Sun or something like that. It was good, but I drank it too fast and forgot to take a photo. Sorry about that.

The sushi everyone else got looked amazing. They ordered a ton of different stuff, some of which looked like tiny fishes, and some of which looked like tiny sailboats with fried lotus petal sails. Everyone raved about the sushi, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say the sushi is probably what you should get here.

I will go back to RA at some point, I am sure. HB is trying to talk the managers into opening a store in Minneapolis, so it might be sooner rather than later. We will see.

Top 5 things about RA
1. Pork Gyoza
2. All of the sushi – just going based on recommendations
3. Pineapple Cream Cheese Wontons
4. Tokyo Tea (If only I could have tuned it in better…)
5. The staff there is easy on the eyes

Bottom 5 things
1. The happy hour menu didn’t have any sort of descriptions for drinks or food
2. The bathroom walls are frosted glass, so it’s a little stage-fright-y trying to utilize the facilities
3. Eating cabbage and carrot slaw with chopsticks is a chore – I still did it, since it was awesome, but it’s still a chore
4. I really wished I ate sushi
5. The Year of Happy Hour is almost over

Ginger Hop - Minneapolis, MN

I was starving after class the other night, so when I got a text from RubyVita, I suggested a late dinner at Ginger Hop, a place she’s familiar with since she lives in Northeast. They serve food until 10, so we made it in plenty of time. We hopped in our respective cars and headed over to Ginger Hop.

The inside of the place is apparently very similar to its prior business, called The Times. It’s pretty dim inside and has a lot of dark wood. It gives the illusion of being upscale without being snobby. It’s a pretty slick atmosphere, actually. The table we got seated at looked really cool with its grooved surface, but in reality, the grooves were the perfect grooves for catching food and spilled drinks and ended up being really sticky and kind of gross. I got over it though.

Ginger Hop has a decent girly drink menu and a pretty good wine list for a small place like this. I was impressed with the number of wines on the list, but still ended up going with a girly drink. I got a Black Pearl - a chocolate martini with Kahlua, Baileys, Frangelico, and Patron XO CafĂ©. It was good, but it was almost too chocolatey, since it had a cocoa-lined rim. It’s more of a fun drink than a tasty drink. The way I judge drinks is if I would want to go home and make a pitcher of the drink, then it’s good. This one I don’t need a pitcher of, but it was still good.

The food menu was much smaller than I thought it would be, especially considering how many drinks and wines were on the drink menu. There are like 5 items under each category – salads, soups, noodles, etc. However, don’t let the number of things alarm you, there were more than a handful of items that sounded appealing, so maybe they have just narrowed the number of items while keeping the RIGHT items on the menu. There’s also a section for sandwiches, which really surprised me. But some of the sandwiches sounded pretty awesome.

I ordered the fresh spring rolls, since RubyVita spoke highly of in her review of the place, and I had the waiter decide between the Pad Lao and the Green Curry. He said the Green Curry was spicy, so I went with that. Though, the Pad Lao is also good, so I should come back and get that.

The Spring Rolls came out pretty quickly and looked great. It’s a tad dark in the place, so the photos didn’t turn out fantastic. But these were really good spring rolls. I always try to get these things when I go to Asian restaurants, since they’re my favorite and I like to have a general baseline for comparison when I go to places. These spring rolls were not overly tightly rolled nor loose and floppy or gummy. They were very flavorful. RubyVita got the Cream Cheese Wontons which looked awesome. They were really large fried pillows of cream cheese. And we were both impressed with how perfectly they were fried. Crispy, but still moist enough to not destroy your mouth when you bit into them. And there wasn’t a small dollop of cream cheese in side, there was a huge ball. Awesome.

The food came out and I’m glad I went with the Green Curry. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it looked beautiful.

The flavor of this dish was better than a lot of green curries I’ve had. The vegetables were crispy and not at all soggy. The chicken pieces were actual chicken, with a mostly shredded chicken breast on the top of the dish. And the best part was the level of spice. Really spicy without bringing tears or making me reach for water. It was great. I would highly recommend the green curry to anyone who loves Thai curry. You won’t be disappointed. I could have used a bit more plain rice with this, but I rationed it so I didn’t run out until the very end of the meal. It’s not like the rice is expensive, am I right?

RubyVita got a Banh Mi sandwich, which is like a Vietnamese-style sandwich with brined pork loin, pate, pickled daikon (whatever that is), carrots, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno. She didn’t think it was fantastic as it ended up being a tad dry, but it was edible. It sounded weird enough that I probably would have liked it. Maybe sometime. It comes with sweet potato fries, which she’s not a fan of, so I ate all of them. Hahaha. I’m such a freeloader…

We didn’t’ have any plans, so we sat and gabbed for a long while and had more drinks. I ordered a St. Anthony Sling – blackberry brandy, juniper organic gin, pineapple juice. It was really good, much better than the chocolate martini I had. I’d get this one again, for sure. I wish I wasn’t driving since there are a couple more girly drinks I needed to try. I guess I’ll have to go back a couple of times, won’t I?

I was also told I need to go check out the restroom. It was pretty slick. It had clear fiberglass dividers with long blades of grass trapped between them. It is jus t a really nicely decorated restroom. Don’t forget to check it out.
I liked Ginger Hop. I realize this is based on one experience, but I really liked it. I know Ruby Vita has had some mixed experiences and bad luck with entrees, but for me, I liked it. I’ll likely go back here, though now that RubyVita has moved out of Northeast, I’ll have to plan ahead of time or go with someone else (and face the wrath of RubyVita when she finds out).

Top 5 things about Ginger Hop
1. Green Curry
2. Fresh Spring Rolls
3. Cream Cheese Wontons
4. St. Anthony Sling
5. Fantastic drink menu

Bottom 5 things
1. I still wish Gerd would have had a chance to meet RubyVita – we talked about Gerd a lot and her taste in food and music during dinner. Gerd would have loved this food and the conversation, fo sho
2. Grooved table kind of grossed me out a bit – that’s difficult to do
3. There weren’t very many people inside at all, so I’m hoping it stays open
4. Parking isn’t the greatest during the day (like most of Northeast), but was fine after 9pm
5. Small food menu (but it had the right items, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing, in reality)

Halloween 2009 - Minneapolis and Victoria, MN

This year’s Halloween festivities took place at two different locations. I thought about going into detail with this post, but due to incriminating circumstances and names being strewn about, I will keep it simple.

Party #1 – Minneapolis
Dr. Horrible and the Crazy Cat Lady

LowVee is definitely a Wild Thing

TheDoctor is a fantastic Bear Jew (NOT a Jew Bear, which we decided should be a kosher gummy bear)

Three hot ladies

Jolly Green Giant and Crazy Cat Lady

Party #2 – Victoria (I think it’s on the west coast – I just know we drove forever to get there)

Yes, those cases were actually full (at the beginning of the night)

A proud family. A weird family, but a proud one, nonetheless...

No one got thirsty, thankfully

Peacetime Wolverine - drinking and claws do not mix

DeltaForceCommander giving out the award for best costume to the Mad Hatter

Spring Break!!! Skin to win!!!

Putting the ghey in geisha (no he's NOT Boy George)

Don't let her kids see this photo

The more drinks there were, the more Crane Kicks we saw from DeltaForceCommander