Thursday, December 30, 2010

Turtle’s Bar & Grill – Shakopee, MN

I hadn’t returned to Shakopee for lunch in quite some time and I still have a handful of restaurants on my list there. I opted for Turtle’s Bar & Grill. I was really in the mood for a burger and their menu online showed they had some winners. I already knew what I was going to get before I even arrived.

The inside is pretty much sports bar-like. Lots of big screens on the walls up high showing sports and such. The twist is that this is a stock car racing bar. Dirt track, asphalt, and NASCAR. And the best part: a minimum of 10 super butch lesbian ladies with sweet fem-mullets. Not that I have any problem with it, it was just really loud and proud at the moment.

Despite the fact that I knew exactly what I wanted when I came into the place, the hostess told me the specials for the day and ruined everything. The specials were Tater Tot Hot Dish and also Cajun Porkchops. Back to the drawing board. I could get a burger anytime I came back here for lunch (as long as whatever special I ordered was up to snuff, of course), so I decided on the Tater Tot Hot Dish.

Since it was the special and easy to make, the kitchen had it all prepared and ready to roll. So I waited about 2 minutes and my food appeared.
It looked really good. They had either warmed up something they had baked that day or it had just come out of the oven. It had a light crust on the top from being baked and also was hot through and through – sometimes you can tell when places microwave these things – this wasn’t microwaved. It was a whole lot of ground beef, peas, carrots, corn, green beans, potatoes, lima beans, and of course tater tots. It needed some salt, but sometimes restaurants have to make it that way for people watching their health. CLEARLY, I’m not! The whole thing was served with a nice dinner roll and was delicious.

Despite the fact that the Bulldog in the Twin Cities has an amazing Cajun Tater Tot Hot Dish, this one at Turtle’s was pretty darn good. I’d get it again if it were on the special menu (and again, ruining my master plan of ordering right away what I had been thinking about all day).

I’ll be back to Turtle’s in the near future. Good people working there, and the clientele are my kind of people. I can’t wait to actually try a couple of their awesome-sounding burgers.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kramarczuk’s – Minneapolis

D.Rough and I were headed to Surdyk’s for some purchases and needed to eat dinner. We had JUST seen the Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode where Guy went to Kramarczuk’s in Northeast Minneapolis. It’s basically across the street from Surdyk’s, so we thought we’d head there. I’ve eaten there before, but D.Rough had not. Plus, we thought we’d pick up some Christmas presents for her father – yes, we totally bought her dad a huge bunch of various giant sausages.

The restaurant is set up sort-of cafeteria style. There’s a couple of large menu boards on the wall behind the food, so you can order off there, or just look in front of you and see what looks appealing. We went back and forth on what we should eat and finally decided to cave to the media blast and order what Guy Fieri did. An order of 6 Varenykys – polish perogis or raviolis filled with meat (3) and three more with potato and cheese filling. I got the Holubet (Cabbage Roll) – a sausage roll with rice wrapped in a cabbage leaf, covered in a tomato cream sauce. The television show said they call it their version of a pork burrito. It sounded delicious.

I grabbed a Dew from the fountain, but D.Rough was in a beer mood. So I tried to order a polish beer for her. Żywiec – crazy cheap polish beer. I prefaced it with “I have no idea how to pronounce it, but I’d like the Zy-week.” This was sooo far off the mark from how she then actually pronounced it. There’s a “B” in there somewhere, right before the sneeze sound she made. She tried a couple of times, and I still didn’t get how that jumble of letters translated into that jumble of syllables. But whatever – D.Rough got her beer.

The Varenykys were waaaaaay better than I ever expected .I thought they’d be kind of flat, bland, and doughy, but they aren’t. They come with a horseradish/sour cream dipping sauce that is super light on the horseradish. It was actually quite delicious. I usually assume meat filled things are going to be better than potato filled things, but I was wrong in this case. The cheese really comes through in the potato cheese ones. These were surprisingly great.

The cabbage roll was much less cabbage-y than I expected as well. It went perfectly with the tomato cream sauce that’s on top of it. They heated this thing up for me and it basically falls apart on your fork. The cabbage isn’t tough like a burrito tortilla or anything, it’s kind of steamed so it breaks apart easily and goes well with the sausage and rice on the inside. It was really good. It’s supposed to come with sauerkraut, but neither D.Rough nor I like that, so we ended up with mixed vegetables. I think it probably would have been better paired with sauerkraut, but it was still fantastic!

D.Rough said her Zlglfwhflsdfslhg beer was pretty good as well, so overall, a fantastic meal. No complaints at all. Then we went to the deli store next door and bought a bunch of homemade sausages! Cha-ching!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Oak City – Bloomington, MN

D.Rough and I had to drop my car off at the Toyota dealership to get something worked on and thought we’d head to Oak City for lunch. I will tell you, I always thought Oak City was a furniture store, but oddly, it’s a restaurant in the lobby of an office building just off of I-494.

It’s pretty dark inside, I guess sometimes Oak is like that. The décor is a lot of famous quotes (and quotes that SHOULD be famous) by people like Benjamin Franklin and Homer Simpson. Seriously. Hilarious.

The awesome hostess (I believe her name was Tiffany) seated us at a nearby table and told the bartender that we were VIPs and he should treat us well, since he’d also be our server. I told you she was awesome. Tiffany told us about the soup and salad bar and what some of the best dishes on the menu were – including Cap’n Crunch Chicken Strips.

We opted for the salad bar, since D.Rough and I hadn’t been eating the healthiest the past week or two. (But then we decided to split a plate of the Cap’n Crunch Chicken Strips too… hahahaha) The salad bar seems small, but it really isn’t. Standard lettuce and cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions are available. But then there’s hardboiled eggs, a huge bowl of homemade croutons, some sunflower seeds, and a giant bowl of real bacon. Yes, I said a GIANT bowl of real bacon. I almost borrowed the whole bowl and snuck it back to our table. There’s also a basket full of these cheesy seasoned flatbread crisps, but they paled in comparison to the bowl of bacon (most things do).

The chicken strips came out later and were quite delicious. Very sweet breading (or crunching in this case) with a sort of sticky clingy texture that I’ve never experienced on chicken strips before. It was really good and worth getting, I think. D.Rough liked them dipped in the mustard they brought us, but I liked it better in the BBQ sauce. That’s just me though.

Overall, this place is much better than I would have expected. The soup and salad bar were pretty cheap and you can throw on a half sandwich for very cheap if you wanted to. We’ll be back to Oak City in the near future – it helps that it’s five minutes from where I work – and we’ll hope that Tiffany is working. She was the best hostess ever. Super friendly and talkative and really knew her stuff!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Harry Singh’s Caribbean Restaurant – Minneapolis, MN

A few months back, D.Rough and I had lunch at Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine. We found it to be quite good. After doing some research, we found out that Marla was related to another Caribbean restaurant owner, Harry Singh – brother and sister, in fact (has not been verified, but is completely plausible). We were in the mood for something crazy spicy due to the frigid temperatures, so we thought we’d check out Harry Singh’s.

The inside of the place is nice and colorful and there are photos and awards all over the walls claiming Harry Singh’s as the best Caribbean in the Twin Cities. There’s also photos and autographs from The Mighty Sparrow – a HUGE name in Calypso music – whom I’ve seen Marla hugging on in a photo. It wasn’t very busy when we got there, but it picked up after a short while. Harry came out to greet us and see what we needed to drink. His wait person wasn’t there yet, so he pretty much does everything. He’s super friendly and made us feel welcome.

The menu is pretty significant and it also includes a lot of descriptions of thing so you kind of know what to expect. There’s a LOT of writing on signage around the restaurant and also all kinds of warning about the spice level of Caribbean food. They have mild, regular/average, hot, extra hot, and hot hot (also known as Oh God, It’s Hot)(I’m not joking in the slightest – it is written on things like that).
Having had Caribbean food before, I know it’s extremely hot, and that was average, so we thought we’d stick with that. Remember, I LOVE spicy food. However, as odd and misshapen as it is, I like my face even more and don’t want it to melt off.

We started with an order of Doubles – we still don’t know if it’s “a doubles” or doubles is actually two. And it didn’t help when Harry asked “For Each?” We said yes, hoping he’d expound and say something like you will both have a double then. It didn’t happen. We’ll have to do more research.

We also ordered Pelau – a very traditional Caribbean dish of rice and pigeon peas cooked down with coconut milk and spices, sort of like a rice stew. We had gotten Jerk Chicken at Marla’s and loved it there – that was kind of what we were in the mood for – so we got an order of Jerk Chicken with Roti. And of course, we got Soursap drinks – I LOVE me some soursap.

The doubles arrived and were a little bit larger than Marla’s (sorry to keep comparing to Marla’s, but it’s an easy point of reference – you should try both restaurants and make your own decisions). These were delicious. The spice in then grows quickly, so we were about 4 or 5 bites into them before we realized they were spicy. But in a good way. The doubles are basically chickpeas and curry spices between two fried pieces of bread/dough. They are quite delicious. We aren’t sure if you’re supposed to use your hands and eat them like a sandwich, but we ended up using forks. Really good!

The Pelau came out next and looked really dark and ominous. It’s kind of like red beans and rice, but with less moisture. There were some onions and cabbage (I think) mixed in to give it some texture, which made the whole thing really good. This was my favorite part of the meal, actually. Spicy, but bearable.

The Jerk Chicken was another matter. This dish actually wasn’t as hot as Marla’s – I repeat, Marla’s Jerk Chicken will peel the skin off your face – but it also has a different appearance. It came wrapped in the Roti we ordered, so it looked like a beautiful sleeping bag filled with meat. You almost have to eat the roti to keep your taste buds in your face and give you something more plain to eat from time to time. The roti is kind of a wrap, but lighter and flakier than a tortilla (but very similar uses).

The jerk chicken had all kinds of spices and seasonings and I personally felt there was a bit more cardamom than what I remember at Marla’s – just a bit less would have been perfect for me. It only takes about 2 bites of this dish to realize your world just burst into flame.

Here's a closeup:

I developed a system of eating that involved eating one scoop of the jerk chicken and then shoveling two bites of Pelau into my mouth to give my taste buds some rescuing. It worked out really well for me and I didn’t overheat or anything. That’s how I’d recommend it. Although, D.Rough liked the Jerk Chicken more than the Pelau, so keep that in mind if you're not a serious rice lover like I am. I seriously can’t see myself ordering anything “Hot” or “Extra Hot” in this place. Ever. The homemade hot sauce that Harry sells sounded appealing, but I don’t think I can do it. I think too much heat would ruin this super delicious food.

Harry came out and made sure our food was alright. The guy is quiet, but he makes sure his customers are well taken care of – especially if you like his food.

Top 5 things about Harry Sing’s Caribbean Restaurant
1. Pelau
2. Saursap
3. Jerk Chicken
4. Harry is good at what he does AND is a people person
5. Great descriptions on the menu

Bottom 5 things
1. When super white people come in and order everything mild and without spices of any sort
2. It’s a little busy (visually) inside the place – a LOT of words to read
3. IF you don’t like spicy food, you probably shouldn’t go here. See Bottom thing #1
4. Seemed heavy on Cardamom, but what do I know? I’ve never been to the West Indies – maybe it’s perfect!
5. There’s a super creepy photo of Fancy Ray – the best lookin man in comedy – that you CAN’T look away from hanging on the wall by our table. (Editor’s note: he isn’t the best looking man in comedy)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Capital View Café – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and a few other people have told me about this place at the top of the Smith Avenue Highbridge in St. Paul. They’ve said it’s a great breakfast and lunch place – the reason for that is they only serve breakfast and lunch here. I was a little intrigued when D.Rough told me it’s sort of a hybrid American and Mexican food place.

We braved the snowstorm to try it out. Fortunately, the snowstorm helped keep people away and we ended up not waiting for a table. It’s much larger inside than you think from the street. But I’ve still seen people standing outside in the morning waiting for tables. It must be good, right?

The menu is an awesome mix of American favorites and Mexican favorites. It was really difficult to decide, honestly. I was saddened by the lack of Chilaquiles on the menu, since I was kind of looking forward to that, but I finally went with the Machaca and D.Rough wanted the Cajun Breakfast. Even the waitress commented that it sounded good and she wished she were eating with us.

The food came out really quickly, to our surprise. The Machaca was REALLY good. Seasoned shredded beef, green peppers, onions, tomatoes, all scrambled with eggs and served with refried beans and tortillas. The beef was very tasty and the veggies in there gave it some pop, so it wasn’t just meat and eggs. The refried beans had a nice layer of cheddar cheese shredded on top, which I’m a fan of. Really good dish.

The Cajun breakfast is frankly a bit of a slop pile. It’s a pile of hashbrowns filled with green peppers, onions and mushrooms, covered in melted cheese and two overeasy eggs, then the whole things I covered with Cajun Hollandaise – seriously covered. D.Rough assures me this thing is good (and it does look sort of good)(just really messy), but said the next time she ordered this, she’d get the Cajun hollandaise sauce on the side for a little balance. It wasn’t really spicy, but it had some seasoning in it, so there was a bit of flavor mixed in with the hollandaise.

This place is pretty good. We’ll be back, especially since I have a groupon of some sort. I think there are a handful of other things on the large menu I’d like to try, so we’ll see how that goes.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Curry n Noodles – Hopkins, MN

RubyVita and I like to hang out from time to time and write up various food adventures together. We hadn’t met for food in a long time, so we thought we would make it happen for lunch today. We tried to go to El Coqui in Minnetonka, but it apparently was closed for remodeling. So we went to our second choice – Curry n Noodles.

This place is an Indo-Chinese Bistro, so it’s got a little bit of everything on the menu. I had checked out their menu a few times before, so I was prepared for it, but then they threw a wrench in the works by having a delicious looking lunch buffet. I had to get that, of course – try a little of everything.

I loaded up my first plate with all kinds of unpronounceable things. I made a special point to remember some of the names (at least long enough to write them down on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget them right away, like I always do), of the dishes, in case I ever came back here for dinner and needed to order off the menu.

I had Dal Makhani - Kidney beans and lentils, Chili Chicken, Butter Chicken, Vegetable Pakora, Hakka Noodles, Chicken Biryani, some yellow curried yogurt with vegetables (possibly vegetable khorma), and some Gajar Ka Halwa (carrot pudding).

I had to make a couple of trips to make sure I had tested everything. I liked pretty much everything here. RubyVita appeared to like everything as well – at least she didn’t spit anything out on the table in disgust, which is usually a good sign with her. It was pretty good Indian food. Not the best in the Twin Cities, but I certainly would eat here again. I was a little disappointed they didn’t have Kheer since I was kind of in a sweet mood after the meal, but I’ll live without the dessert, I guess.

Top 5 things about Curry n Noodles
1. Chili Chicken
2. Vegetable Pakora
3. Butter Chicken
4. Yellow curried yogurt with vegetables
5. Very friendly and helpful waitstaff and hosts

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s really cramped in the dining room. Lots of tables maximizing every inch of available space
2. No real desserty things I was looking for after the meal
3. It’s not really that close to work
4. I realized I’m a food snob (after D.Rough keeps telling me that repeatedly) sitting next to extra white people who have never tried Indian food and trying to talk about it like they know something…sigh…breathe…
5. It’s heavy on the “Indo” and not so much on the “Chinese” part

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Los Arcos – Saint Paul, MN

D.Rough and I were in the mood for some delicious Mexican food. OurManFlip had just told us about this amazing restaurant that was his favorite Mexican place in the Twin Cities, bar none – Los Arcos. Now that we live blocks away from it, we decided to check it out. We are glad we did.

It’s a pretty small unassuming place at the end of a strip mall (which, as we know, means good things in Minnesota). A couple of posters with food advertisements on them hang in the windows so you can see them from the parking lot.

The menu seems pretty standard in that we recognized just about everything on the menu, and of course it looked good. The waitress brought over chips and two salsas – a red and a green. D.Rough and I kept swapping the salsas trying to figure out which one we liked the best.

D.Rough ordered the Barbacoa and I got the Pozole, since it was the weekend (the only time they serve Pozole). Things were fine until the waitress came back and told me they were out of Pozole. Sigh… I went with my second choice which was Carnitas.

We hung out for a while waiting for our food, but since it was the weekend, there was a Karaoke DJ spinning the best Mexican hits and singing along, since no one else was doing it. I really think I’m going to work up some Mexican karaoke songs and bust some out the next time I go to Los Arcos. I think it would be a blast.

The food came out and looked great! The barbacoa was quite good and flavorful. It was a little smoky for my tastes, personally. I liked it just fine, but it just had a hint of too much smokiness for me.

The carnitas, on the other hand, were outstanding. I definitely won this contest with D.Rough in the ordering choice category. The pork was perfectly tender with just a bit of deep fried flavor and there was plenty to go on the tortillas they brought out. With all the fixings on the plate, I got really full and happily sat and enjoyed the guy spinning karaoke in the corner. He was having fun, and so were we.

Los Arcos does some pretty sweet happy hour deals and I think we’ll be back quite a bit now that we’re so close. We’re looking forward to it. Thanks again, OurManFlip. Excellent recommendation!

Top 5 things about Los Arcos
1. Carnitas
2. Barbacoa
3. Red salsa
4. It’s basically in our back yard
5. Super awesome waitress

Bottom 5 things
1. Still bummed about not getting Pozole
2. No one was singing karaoke besides the DJ
3. It’s pretty small inside
4. No margaritas, just beer and wine
5. OurManFlip didn’t get to eat lunch with us

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Red Stag Supper Club – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough was having some people over to the house and it was a girls-only event. I was on my own. I thought of about 5 places I could have gone on my own for dinner, however, each of those places would have angered D.Rough had I gone without her. I finally decided on Red Stag since she told me about this awesome mac and cheese dish they were supposed to have. I was down for it, especially since I needed to do some Xmas shopping and wine shopping near there anyway.

I sidled up to the bar since I was flying solo. I didn’t have a great seat and had to sit right behind the beer taps – completely blocking my view of the bartender who was helping me (made it seem like some sort of drunken Catholic confessional deal). But I didn’t mind all that much. I got a great view of the kitchen and all the goings-on back there, which is always exciting to me.

For those of you who haven’t been to the Red Stag, it’s a pretty swanky place. It’s dimly lit (and everything seems to have a red tint to it – but that could just be my mind suggesting that to my eyes due to the name of the place) and has a super high quality menu with tons of wine. It’s an excellent place, even for groups of people. I’ve only been here a couple of times, but it’s always been memorable. It’s also the first LEED-CI registered restaurant in Minneapolis, so they’re environmentally aware, if that’s your thing.

I will warn you, however: The serving and bus staff there appear to have some sort of competition going to see who can show up to work with the most f*$%-ed up and disheveled head of hair. Not styled or anything, but seriously what looks like bed-head. I laughed out loud at couple of times. I’m sure it’s fashionable, but from a sasquatch perspective like my own, I just don’t get it. Thankfully, I’m not above pointing and laughing when I see it – I’d hate for that kind of thing to be bottled up inside me for too long.

Ole the bartender came over and chatted me up a bit. This guy was fantastic. He made flying solo for dinner a treat and made sure I was well taken care of. I started with a Redbreast whiskey – it’s basically Scotch, but it’s from Ireland, so they aren’t allowed to call it scotch. Whatever, it’s delicious. I got a menu for the dinner portion and perused it while sipping my Redbreast. It was fish fry Friday, so they had an auxiliary menu with all kinds of delicious sounding seafood on it.

I asked Ole about the crab cake and he gave me a hilarious description of the size of the thing. It sounded like a good appetizer, so I got that and the aforementioned mac and cheese D.Rough had told me about. I didn’t remember it being Lobster Mac and Cheese, but it was. Ole told me it was delicious and baked in its own crock and I couldn’t go wrong with it. I also needed a glass of wine. Ole suggested a nice sweet Sauvignon Blanc to go with both lighter items and I had him hook me up.

The crab cake came out first and looked fantastic. Healthy portion of crab cake on a swirl of what I think was pea puree and some clover as a garnish. (I have no doubt I’m butchering everything about this, but bear with me). The more crab cakes I have the better I think they are. Seriously, this is one of the best I’ve ever had. Not a hint of fishy-ness and no bits of shell or anything in here. Perfectly pan fried on the outside and very smooth and texturally awesome on the inside. I’d get this again anytime.

As I was finishing the crab cake, the Lobster Mac and Cheese came out. Ole assured me this was the best Mac and Cheese in the Twin Cities (except for the secret one he told me about, which I have just discovered the location of – I’ll be trying that soon). Nice golden crust on the top from it being baked and not too small or large for a dinner-portion. I dug in. and was pleasantly surprised. I’m not a huge lobster fan, so I think I’m biased. The dish was good, but didn’t kick me in the face or anything. I could taste a lot of the lobster, and was frankly missing the cheesy-ness I thought would be there. It’s a béchamel sauce, so it isn’t like a super rich cheese goo that I’m used to. The dish wasn’t dry or anything, but I expect to at least see some cheese in there. The grilled leeks added some crunch to the dish and some texture that isn’t usually there, but that actually helped out in this case. Also, there were pieces of something – I’m assuming they were lobster – that absolutely reminded me of scrambled eggs. I honestly don’t say that in a bad way – in fact, it was awesome. I’m actually going to try working scrambled eggs into my next batch of homemade mac and cheese. Even if that wasn’t what it was, it sounds delicious to try to recreate. Again, I’m not a huge lobster fan, so that probably tainted my description a bit (as did the pieces of shell I crunched on and picked out of my mouth – tactfully).

Both dishes were presented extremely well and were of appropriate proportions. I got perfectly full and had some delicious beverages. Frankly, I’m not a mac and cheese connoisseur or anything, but I still like the mac and cheese at Seven that has the truffle oil in it. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about fancy mac and cheese.

Overall, I really love the Red Stag. Generally, I would go for a nice steak (and pay a lot for it), but flying solo, I got to try some things I wouldn’t normally. This is a fantastic restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis, and I look forward to going again. And seriously, if you sit at the bar and are lucky enough to get Ole as a bartender, you’ll be treated well.

Top 5 things about Red Stag Supper Club
1. Crab cake
2. Ole the bartender
3. Fantastic menu – and it changes, so keep an eye on it
4. Ambience of the restaurant
5. The kitchen is pretty wide open so you can see everything that goes on

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s fairly pricey – not an every night kind of place (at least for someone like me)
2. Parking, especially in a snowstorm, isn’t the easiest
3. Unless you’re eating at the bar (and there’s a spot open), you’re going to have to wait – it’s worth it though
4. Lobster Mac and Cheese didn’t amaze me – keep in mind, I’m not a lobster guy – unless I’ve been out in the sun too long
5. There are always 15 other things on the menu I want to try when I go here. The menu is awesome (technically should not be in the bottom 5, I know)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Cosetta’s – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough grew up coming to Cosetta’s for all kinds of occasions. It’s an Italian place that has a very odd/confusing/interesting set up and flow. It starts in the parking lot. You can pull into the entrance and wait for a parking attendant to give you a ticket. Or you can pull into one of four spots and make a dash for the door to pick up something fast.

Then once inside, you can choose between three different lines for food. There’s a pizza line, a pasta and salad line, and then there’s a FULL deli and store line. We’ve popped into the deli and grabbed some meatballs before and we’ve gotten some pizza as well. Everything here is delicious. So when you walk in, it will look like there are hundreds of people in line (and there ARE), but they’re actually in various lines, so there are actually only 30 people in front of you – yeah, it’s THAT busy all the time.

Tonight we wanted some pasta, so I found the final line. I saw the specials listed and knew I wanted the Manicotti. D.Rough got the Mostaccioli and a meatball. They put it right on your plate right there and send you to the cashier. I believe it was the right choice, even though I couldn’t decide on the mostaccioli or the manicotti. The reason I say it was the right choice is because the manicotti comes with a side of mostaccioli – ch-ching!!!!

Everything is absolutely amazing here. The mostaccioli is perfectly cooked and the red sauce they use is really one of the best.

I LOVED the manicotti and the white cream sauce they put on it was even better than the red sauce. There was a fantastic amount of cheese on the inside that completed the whole thing. I would eat this every day if I could avoid my doctor for the next 20 years. Hahaha.

Everything at Cosetta’s is delicious. It has a very “family-feel” to it and they do a VERY good business. Lots of people in and out of this place. Don’t let the line scare you. You won’t wait long, and the food is worth it. There is an upstairs dining room too, so don’t miss out on that.

Top 5 things about Cosetta’s
1. Manicotti
2. Meatballs
3. Mostaccioli
4. Pizza
5. Amazing Deli

Bottom 5 things
1. Weird flow and various lines without good signage
2. People are allowed to cut in line if the people in front of you are taking too long at one particular area - weird
3. Parking situation is weird, but you get used to it
4. I always want to eat 43 things when I come here
5. It’s a pretty loud place, especially on event nights at the Xcel Energy Center

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chris and Rob’s Chicago Taste Authority – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have driven by this place a ton of times and keep meaning to go there. In fact, we showed up once just a little too late and they were closed. The outside closely resembles a train dining car, which we generally like, and once you get inside, an entire dining area on one side looks like the inside of that dining car. It’s a really fun place!

The menu is full of hot dogs and sandwiches. It’s a little overwhelming, but the menu boards are on super flashy digital signs, which rules. Also keep an eye out for the special of the day, which (as we found out when we were LEAVING the restaurant) is usually something delicious and you’ll probably want to get.

I decided I wanted the Beef and Sausage Combo and D. Rough got the Chicago Dog. And since we were really hungry, we got some deep fried cheese curds. They have fountain pop and some cans of stuff, so I scored a Strawberry Fanta. I was on my lunch break, so I couldn’t drink an adult beverage.

The food came out pretty quickly, which was awesome. The cheese curds were pretty standard fare, so we (meaning mostly me) wolfed them down pretty quickly.

D.Rough said her Chicago Dog was pretty good and she’d get it again. Lots of toppings and giant pickle on top of her dog. Interesting presentation.

My combo was delicious. It’s an Italian Sausage link on a bun and that’s covered with Italian Beef slices. Yes, that's right, a meat sandwich with more meat as a condiment! I had them throw on some hot peppers just to complete the combo and I was glad I did. The sausage link was very good and had an awesome snappy casing. The Beef on top was really flavorful and reminded me I need to go back to Mayslack’s here, one of these days. I think I ate the thing faster than I should have, since I kept forgetting to breathe while I shoveled in all the pieces of this sandwich.

Overall, this place is really good. And now that we realize how close it is, we’ll be back for sure.

Top 5 things about Chris and Rob’s
1. Beef and Sausage combo
2. Chicago Dog
3. Deep fried cheese curds
4. Strawberry Fanta is available
5. Super awesome and thorough menu (and keep your eyes peeled for the special of the day)

Bottom 5 things
1. We missed the aforementioned special of the day
2. It isn’t a large place, so it will fill up fast
3. Parking isn’t going to be the best, since it’s on a corner lot
4. For those of you who are Vikings/Twins fans, the entire place is Chicago-themed. All kinds of Bears and Cubs paraphernalia on the walls (I did hear someone complain about the lack of White Sox stuff on the walls, though)
5. They have delicious-looking pizzas, but I don’t think I’ll ever get to one, since there are sooo many things on the regular menu I want to eat. We will see…

Friday, December 17, 2010

Kong’s Thai Bistro – Davenport, IA

I was back in my hometown with D.Rough for the Thanksgiving holiday. My Uncle J had stopped by my folks’ house and recommended a new Thai restaurant in downtown Davenport. I thought it was odd since my uncle isn’t very adventurous when it comes to eating. So I thought, heck yes, we’re going there. What’s really funny is I posted something on Facebook about going to a Thai place for dinner and someone suggested going to Kong’s – that was a sure sign it was good, right?

It’s a quaint little place at the base of the Brady Street hill – made famous (or so we think) by the annual Bix7 race. Nevermind – you don’t care. The place has brick walls and nice and tasteful modern looking décor. My sister Notmomsfavorite went with us, since I have recently tricked her into liking Thai food. The menu has a lot of delicious sounding Thai dishes as well as a couple of Vietnamese dishes as well (Pho, mainly).

I decided on the Pad Ped with chicken and D.Rough got Kang Masaman curry with chicken. I also, of course, got fresh spring rolls. My uncle didn’t order anything except a Pepsi (all he wanted was just one Pepsi – sorry about the ST reference there), but he was fine with watching us shovel food into our mouths, thankfully.

The spring rolls came out pretty quickly and were pretty standard. Nothing majorly flashy. Sorry there isn’t a photo – we were starving and I didn’t remember to take a photo until after we had cleaned the plate.

The main dishes came out shortly after that. My sister got Pad Thai, so I didn’t think it warranted a photo. She liked hers just fine.

D.Rough’s curry was quite good. I really liked it. It wasn’t terribly spicy, but it was still flavorful. Lots of chicken and vegetables. I always think we could use a giant bucket of rice with most curries and this wasn’t any different, but maybe D.Rough is better about rationing her rice than I am. It also seemed a bit on the oily side as the orange layer on the top demonstrates. I’m not sure if it was some sort of chili oil, or if it was just greasy, but it was more visually odd than flavor-wise. Very minor detail though.

My Pad Ped was good. Not life-changing, but still really good. I asked for it spicy and like many places, they didn’t believe me, so they brought out a small bowl of chili peppers for me to kick up the spice level. I’m not really a fan of adding it afterwards since you get various concentrated spots and other weak spots, but I understand their concern. The flavor of the dark brown sauce was great with the peppers, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and green beans.

Overall, the food at Kong’s is pretty good. I still like a couple of local Thai places better in the Quad Cities, but I’d come back here again.

Top 5 things about Kong’s
1. Kang Masaman curry
2. Pad Ped
3. Fresh Spring rolls
4. Super nice staff and owner (we share the same name – which is odd)
5. I never get to hang with my Uncle J! I loved it! (Also, they have Pepsi products –which means DEW)

Bottom 5 things
1. Spice level could have been kicked way up
2. It didn’t seem very busy at all, but we heard local college students go there to drink between classes during the day
3. I think the hype had me let down when it was all over and done with – even though it was perfectly fine
4. Never enough rice for my taste
5. Parking isn’t awesome during the day, though there is a large parking lot across the busy Brady Street

Kong’s Thai Bistro
512 N Brady Street
Davenport, IA

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bacon Apple Monte Cristo – West St. Paul, MN

It was D.Rough’s birthday last week, so I thought I’d do something special for her, since she cooks for me all the time. I had seen a delicious looking recipe in the Rachel Ray magazine while waiting at the dentists office a few weeks back (don’t worry – no cavities!) and knew I should make it for her. It was a Bacon Apple Monte Christo. For those of you not familiar with the standard Monte Christo, you should find one. It’s basically a combination of a ham and cheese sammich and French toast.

Plus it’s extra sacrilicious if you call it “Christ Mountain”.

This one had strips of bacon on it, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and sliced apples. You basically do what you would normally do for French toast by dipping the bread in the egg batter and frying it up. It’s pretty simple, but really quite delicious. You can do all sorts of toppings for these things too: powdered sugar, jam, various compotes, fruit. We went the traditional route and dipped it in maple syrup, since we appear to have four bottles of the stuff for some reason. I’m not joking – we have four bottles of syrup in the cupboard.

I’m not going to give you the recipe or anything like that. It’s simple. Even for a cooking dummy like me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giordano’s Pizza – Chicago, IL

D.Rough and I are on a mission to figure out which of the three (or four) authentic Chicago pizza places we like best. We’ve done Gino’s East together, and I’ve done all the other ones on previous occasions. I wanted to take her, and a bunch of crazy roller derby players and spouses, to Giordano’s – my favorite of the three – the third being Lou Malnati’s, and the fourth being Pizzeria Uno.

30 of us rolled into the downtown Giordano’s location and tried to sit as close to a group as possible. We managed fairly well.

This pizza is known for its super thick toppings and more closely resembling a “pie” since it has a second layer of crust on the top of the pizza.

Our little foursome decided to get a large stuffed cheese pizza with pepperoni and green peppers. That should be more than enough for us. Plus D.Rough got some sort of girly drink and I got a cheap margarita.

The pizza here is delicious. I really enjoy it. It’s super thick and there are tons of toppings.

I honestly think it is my favorite pizza of all time. I’m a topping guy though. D.Rough is a crust lover, so she really like the corn mealy crust of Gino’s East more than this. However, I think most people here loved this pizza. Seriously. It really is pretty awesome pizza. Sure, it’s not all that authentic Italian, but that’s really not what Chicago pizza is all about. It’s about making you fat. Thank you Giordano’s for helping me be fat.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Su Casa – Chicago, IL

D.Rough and I needed some Mexican food in Chicago, and we’d heard a couple of people say they went there with good results (meaning there were margaritas). The odd thing is we drove past it while exploring the area around the hotel and saw the brightly painted building and neon cactus and made a couple comments about going there. So THAT’s where we ended up.

We got seated right away since it wasn’t packed and checked the place out. It was nicely decorated and fun on the inside (like a lot of Mexican places). The waiter was extremely nice and helped us to some drinks and menus. We scanned the menu and decided we’d split something since we planned to do some heavy drinking afterwards at the roller derby after party. There were a lot of things on the menu worth checking out, but we finally decided on the Guanajuato combination. It was a steak taco, a vegetarian burrito, a chicken chimichanga, and a tamale. We of course ordered a couple of margaritas – they have about 25 to choose from, so we got some lower end ones to save some cash.

The margaritas were tasty, even though they were cheap, but the Grande size we ordered was extremely small. Surprisingly small, in fact.

The food came out really quickly – even quicker than we expected by the less-than-full dining room. Like 2 minutes or so – insane. The tamale seemed a little dry for D.Rough’s taste, but I didn’t mind it – I ate most of that and didn’t complain about it too much. The chimichanga was probably the best part and we both split that fairly evenly. Crunchy fried shell and tasty insides – really pretty good. The steak taco was a tad bland and unimpressive, and the vegetarian burrito was just ok. Overall, the place was just ok, and maybe even a little sub-par.

Had I checked the reviews online, I would maybe have suggested some place else since all of the comments are pretty negative about this place. But we didn’t care. We had full bellies and had already begun the imbibing for the evening.

I think the best part of dinner was walking the mile back to the hotel in the brisk fall air and just enjoying Chicago (which a LOT of people forget to do).

Top 5 things about Su Casa
1. Chicken Chimichanga
2. Great margarita menu
3. Fantastic staff
4. Open late, so you can eat or drink AFTER normal dinner hours
5. Close to Michigan Avenue so probably gets some decent residual traffic from that

Bottom 5 things
1. Steak Taco
2. Vegetarian burrito
3. Tamale was dry
4. Probably would have better suited going to Pizzeria Uno next door
5. The Grande margaritas are REALLY small

Su Casa Mexican Restaurant
49 East Ontario Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Osteria I Nonni – Lilydale, MN

D.Rough’s birthday needed to be celebrated in style, since she’s a classy lady (on Mondays). We had been dying to go to I Nonni for months now and this was the perfect excuse. We booked it and made it happen. The restaurant is part of the Buon Giorno group that has a sandwich place in St. Paul. The group also operates a small deli shop at the entrance of the fancy restaurant (great for lunches we’ve heard). We perused the deli shop and the wine tasting room before we went into the restaurant proper. A nice gentleman took my coat and seated us in the near empty room. (It was a Monday night, so it makes sense.)

The waiter started by saying the food isn’t Italian-American, but is authentic Italian with many dishes based in Rome. Jay, a very nice, soft-spoken waiter who was very helpful and made sure we had everything we ended and answered a bunch of questions for us. We thought we knew what we wanted until he came over and told us the special additions to the menu – dang it! Ruined my master plan. We figured we’d be eating some red meat, so we got a nice bottle of red – Cerasuolo di Vittoria (from Gulfi Vineyards in Sicily). It was delicious.

The menu has an appetizer section, a first course section (which you can get as entrees), and a second course (which are larger entrees). You can order from anywhere, or you can order the tasting menu which is one from each category. We chose this option since it seemed the best way to try a bunch of things and wouldn’t break us like ordering a la carte would have.

Since I didn’t take photos of anything (I like to keep it classy for D.Rough’s special events and make them about her, NOT the blog, sorry), I’ll keep the descriptions short. We started with Piramidi – mortadella-lardo pyramids with brown butter, lemon, and thyme – and Animelle – grilled sweetbread, tomato puree, and salsa verde. The pyramids were highly recommended by the waiter – which is apropos because they are amazing. Seriously, these ravioli-type meat pyramids were exquisite! The sweetbreads were also really good. And the salsa verde isn’t like Mexican salsa verde, so don’t let that fool you. D.Rough said she didn’t know what sweetbreads were exactly, but remembers hearing that you don’t want to know what they are while you’re eating them, so thankfully she forgot (we looked them up when we got home). These were also really good and not like anything I’ve ever had before. I’d get them again!

For our second course, I got the special of the night Bucatini all’Amatriciana* - guanciale (basically delicious bacon – but from the cheeks of the pig), spicy tomato, and pecorino romano with homemade thick spaghetti noodles. D.Rough opted for the Pyramidi that I got for the appetizer. She wasn’t disappointed – they really are amazing. The Bucatini was really good as well. The dish had some zip to it, which I loved, and as our waiter said, “Bacon makes everything better”. Really good dish.

For our main entrees, I got the Bufala – a bison sirloin with potato, scallions, pancetta, and nameko mushrooms with a glaze over the top or everything. D.Rough got the Spuntature – beef short ribs with parmigiano-potato puree and spinach. The bison steak was very good, not stellar, but just very good. It was a little chewy, but had lots of flavor and the glaze really made this dish sing. However, D.Rough’s short rib was out of this world. It fell off the bone and disintegrated when she brushed it with a fork – they didn’t even bring her a steak knife, we noticed. The sauce that it was in was perfect and the potato puree was spectacular. Once again, she wins the best dish of the night.

We needed dessert, of course, so I went with the Panna Cotta – a limoncello custard with citrus zest and blackberries. I also got a glass of Castello Di Brolio – Vinsanto 2003 (a nice dessert wine), just to make sure I was properly sated after dinner. D.Rough ordered the Budino - a light chocolate cake with caramel and pistachio gelato. My dessert wine was the perfect amount of sweet, but just a hint of sour that made it just south of awesome. I liked it, but could have liked it more. However, the panna cotta made up for absolutely everything. It was light and fluffy and lemony and the blackberries and juice made it even better. I might go and just get this – I like it more than cheesecake (sorry, sister, it’s true). D.Rough liked her light chocolate cake, but could have even had a lighter version of it – it wasn’t THAT light. She loved the pistachio gelato on top though and the caramel didn’t hurt things.

Overall, a brilliant dining experience at Osterria I Nonni. We will likely be back. It’s pretty spendy, but you get taken care of. Jay even helped me put my coat on (which D.Rough gave me some crap about, until I told her it wasn’t rare for me). It’s full of uppity people, but show them you’re human and they’ll show you a great evening with delicious food.

Top 5 things about Osterria I Nonni
1. Spuntature – beef short ribs
2. Panna Cotta (limoncello style)
3. Pyramidi
4. Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria
5. Jay is an amazing and very knowledgeable waiter

Bottom 5 things
1. Pretty pricey. You won’t get out of there for under a hundred.
2. No descriptions on the wine list
3. The inside is designed like a church – a LOT like a church – and it’s weird to eat in church
4. Dessert wine was a little sour
5. Find it hard to believe the delicious tiny sammich shop in St. Paul is affiliated with this primo restaurant – but it is!