Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Burger Moe’s – St. Paul, MN

I had wanted to try burger Moe’s since the place opened last year. I drive by it all the time since it’s right near the Xcel Energy Center downtown. From the outside, it looks like a fun place, and the online menu looked like it was going to be a winner. I met SecretMeat, Cumulus, Smallz, and Jer there before the Minnesota Rollergirls League Championship bout.

The place is pretty lively inside and much nicer and more spacious than I thought from the outside. The menu is also pretty serious once you get inside. It took me quite a while to decide on what I wanted, but it finally came down to getting the Lamb Kofta Burger. I even left the Kalamata olives on there just to make sure I got the genuine article. Smallz got some wings, Cumulus got a peanut butter and jelly shake (yes, you heard that right), and SecretMeat got the Santa Fe Burger. I also needed to do some pre-drinking since drinking at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium isn’t the cheapest thing in town. They had Blackthorn in cans, so that would definitely hit the spot.

The food didn’t take that long to arrive, considering it was a game night for both roller derby and the men’s lacrosse team (Minnesota Swarm) and the place was pretty well packed. The food comes out in wire baskets lined with newspaper print. Actually, it’s fake newspaper and more like wax paper with newspaper printing on it. Probably easier to clean up and less grease soaking through.

My burger was quite good. The feta cheese complemented the lamb meat very well. The olives made the whole thing really salty, but I’m still not a fan of olives at all. And the whole thing had Tzatziki sauce on it, so it was wonderful. Really good burger and plenty large enough to fill me up. Plus, it arrived with two slices of cucumber on top, which is the best garnish I've ever seen. I got good reviews on the Santa Fe burger (cheese, salsa, and avocado), but I didn’t want to try the sweet potato fries that SecretMeat got – it would have ruined my plain fries and I wasn’t in a fry kind of mood. I would just be content with the regular fries – which were… uh… regular. The peanut butter and jelly shake sounded like it was just weird enough to be good, despite sounding horrific. It sounded like the wings were just alright and nothing to write home about (which I’m technically doing, I guess). I didn’t get word from Jer on how his food was, which is why I don’t remember what he got. Jer’s kind of quiet.

I’d definitely go back to Burger Moe’s again. This time, I’ll take D.Rough with me and we can try one of their many burgers or maybe even get adventurous and try something not burger-related. We’ll see. Everything they have looks pretty good. (Plus, they have waffle fries – which I know D.Rough is a serious fan of.)

Thanks, Moe.

It’s difficult to do a top 5 when I only got a burger. Sorry, rating-lovers. Suffice it to say, it was good.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company – Madison, WI

I know BOOM is going to think we decided to go here because of her dogs, and I’m content to let her think that. A happy BOOM means a happy everyone else. We needed some real food, and this place looked like it might have real food instead of just standard fried bar food. We were in luck.

The Great Dane is a multi-level microbrewery in downtown Madison. We walked up three different levels to get to our booth, and it is clear they hate handicapped people because of this (I’m kidding – I’m sure there’s an elevator or ramp somewhere… right?) We also found out there’s a hidden secret bar in the basement (the Rathskellar) which was also filled with people. This bar can fit a crap ton of people in it. Then there’s an outdoor beer garden and another patio, and a billiards lounge – this place is monstrous. And there are stairs everywhere -- it's like a freakin' M.C. Escher painting.

We perused the menu, which is designed like an old newspaper – really fun layout. Design aside, this is a seriously comprehensive menu for a brew pub. There are dishes from all over the world and very little of it is fried. They do have some appetizers which seem fairly recognizable, but then there are soups like West African Chicken Peanut Stew, Falafel and Reuben sandwiches, Drunken Jerk Chicken, and Bacon and Mac and Cheese Pizza. This place has all the bases covered and then a few more. It was very tough to narrow this down.

Rita decided on the Fish Tacos – tilapia strips with cornmeal beer batter, served with chiptole BBQ and habanero hellfire sauce. She also needed some French onion soup. Betty ordered the falafel - seasoned and fried chickpeas ina wrap with lettuce, hummus, yogurt sauce, and onions - and a bowl of the West African Chicken Peanut Stew. D.Rough got the Sesame Seared Tuna Salad – sashimi-grade ahi tuna marinated in soy, sesame oil and chili garlic sauced then seared, with black and white sesame seeds, served over romaine, red cabbage, carrots, peanuts, soba noodles, cilantro, and snow peas and a peanut dressing. She also needed a bowl of West African Chicken Peanut Stew. And I ordered the Brat and Bacon Pretzel Burger – applewood smoked bacon and sharp cheddar on a pretzel roll – and a bowl of the West African Chicken Peanut Stew (sense a theme here?). I got a glass of house-made cream soda as well, since it sounded right.

The soups came out – it sounded like the French Onion soup stole the show. Rita made a number of comments about how awesome it was and D.Rough concurred after borrowing a taste of it. The Peanut Stew got sort of mediocre reviews. It was good, but it wasn’t a game-changer. Just a good chicken-based soup without a lot of peanut flavor. We all seemed to have the same thoughts on it – it was fine.

The food got really fantastic reviews. Rita raved about her fish tacos and was sure she made the right decision after having some last minute regrets. The habanero sauce also got passed around to prove it melted people’s faces off. Rita studied in Cuba, so she’s no stranger to spice. She really liked these fish tacos. The falafel got really good reviews and even got boxed up when she couldn’t finish the wrapped up fried deliciousness. Betty also raved about the Scottish Ale – she’s a beer snob – and even told her husband that they needed to stop by the Great Dane on their way through Madison next trip! D.Rough’s salad looked amazing, and tasted even better. The noodles and peanuts were a fun flavor combination and the seared tuna ended up being pretty amazing. I even liked this dish.

My burger was quite good, honestly. It has a third pound angus beef patty, but it also has a quarter pound brat patty as well, but the pretzel bun was what really made the flavors pop. The burger was good and the cheese and bacon parts are hard to go wrong with, but this was a top-quality burger. No complaints at all on this one. And the cream soda was also amazing. I love me some cream soda and like to try it whenever I see a house-made version. I was glad I tried this one. It is up near the top of the list. And you get free refills – which I took advantage of – so you can drink as much as your blood sugar will allow. It was like liquid marshmallows!

This place was pretty awesome better-than-bar-food. We all got good and full, and all of us said how much better it was than we thought it might be. This was a good call, and I’m not even sure who made this one. Even the Packer playoff game happening in many other parts of the bar couldn’t dampen our spirits. Believe me, rollergirls can yell MUCH louder than drunken Packer fans, even on a bad day.

Top 5 things about the Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company
1. Brat and Bacon Pretzel Burger
2. House-made cream soda (with free refills – cha-ching!)
3. Jaime’s Fish Tacos
4. Sesame Seared Tuna Salad
5. French Onion Soup tied with Scottish Ale – so say Rita and Betty

Bottom 5 things
1. West African Chicken Peanut Stew was a let down
2. The menu is so diverse, you’ll never get to try all of the things you want
3. Parking is kind of a pain, but there is a paid ramp on the same block
4. Sadly, the Dane Burger is made with beef - hahahahaha
5. The bathroom is in the basement – just when you think you might have gone past it, there it is another quarter mile.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Monty’s Blue Plate Diner – Madison, WI

I had gotten a recommendation from a few different people about going to Monty’s while in Madison. I had to work some major magic (which included sleeping late to miss out on the free breakfast at the hotel) to make this happen, but it eventually worked. This place is apparently busy all the time, so we were lucky to get in with only a 20 minute wait on a Sunday morning.

While were waiting in line, we ooohed and ahhhhed over the dessert case which had all kinds of pies and cheesecakes in it. Then when we got the menu, we knew we were in for a treat. The reason I had made sure we made it here was the ever popular Donut Sundae!!!!!

D.Rough, Rita, and Betty went round and round and back and forth and side to side trying to figure out what to order. This place isn’t like the old timey grandma and grandpa diner you’d expect – the menu is filled with some of the most creative and delicious sounding food ever. Things like Wisconsin Salmon Hash, Potato Zucchini Pancakes, Heathen Vegan Shoplifter’s Delight (really), and Donut French Toast (almost the same thing as the Donut Sundae).

D.Rough ordered the Sweet Potato Hash. Rita ordered the Breakfast Burrito. Betty ordered the Mushroom and Pesto Omelet. And I changed my decision at the last minute from the Donut French Toast to the Blue Plate Omelet with a Donut Sundae on the side. Then the brakes got put on full force – “We’re out of donuts. You have to get here really early to get donuts.” Are you serious?!?!?!? If you KNOW that you run out, then why don’t you make MORE. This didn’t sound like it was the first time it had happened. It wasn’t like – “oh, we somehow ran out of donuts, that never happens.” It was a recurring slap in the face to millions of people who expect to get donuts in a random food item covered in syrup and then have their hopes and dreams shattered on the rocks of ill-preparation. Bastards. Well this just sucked. Sucked ass. Sucked the life out of me. Sucked eggs – oh wait, are you out of THOSE too?!?!?! My ENTIRE day was ruined by this one waiter’s admission that it happens all the time. I set about pouting the rest of the day. I admit it. It ruined everything. My master plan to drive to Madison. My master plan to trick D.Rough into letting me eat something horrific by sleeping late and “missing” the free breakfast at the hotel. Everything.

The guy offered any number of replacement items, but it simply wasn’t going to fix it. No sir, a brownie is NOT the same thing as a donut and is paired with ice cream all the time. Why would I get something that NORMAL people eat?!?! Forget it. Just the omelet and be quick about it.

And then to rub salt in my emotional wound which was now spurting blood like an awesome Japanese film special effect, D.Rough and Rita decided to get a Fat Elvis shake to split – vanilla custard, bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate syrup. Jerks.

The shake came out pretty quickly and the waiter had split it into two glasses. The shakes even came with a little cracker wafer thing like an old soda fountain. Here we see Betty drooling over the Fat Elvis. This shake was actually awesome. I’m really jealous I didn’t get one for myself, but the bitterness of life’s kick in the spleen wasn’t going to allow any more happiness this day. Very good shake. Now I want to go back and get some of their other shakes – they have a ton of awesome sounding ones and also build-your-own options with super fun ingredients. Next time. …When I drive 5 hours from the Twin Cities and show up on their doorstep at 4am, hoping they haven’t run out of freakin' donuts.

Word from Rita was that the Breakfast Burrito was good. Even though the chorizo tasted more like ground beef than sausage. She still seemed really happy with her decision. Betty’s Mushroom and Pesto Omelet looked delicious and she said it was great. She’s a huge pesto fan and had nothing bad to say about her dish.
D.Rough’s Sweet Potato Hash was really good. I tasted a lot of cinnamon in this, but there were some other spices as well. I thought this was really a great dish and excellent concept. She had an issue with one of her eggs not being poached correctly. It was too done and didn’t gush out like the other one did when lacerated.

My Blue Plate Omelet was really good as well. Despite the oh-so-recent donut-scented punch in the face, the Omelet was just about perfect. It is an omelet with bacon, cheese, and avocado, covered in salsa. Pretty simple sounding, but the flavors worked really well together and it didn’t get sloppy. It also came with seasoned fried red potatoes, which I absolutely loved. The whole thing was delicious and I think I ordered exactly what I needed (minus the big hole in my soul that could easily have been filled with a little foresight into freakin' inventory management).

Oh, look! Here's a photo of the Donut Sundae I didn't get!

I will go back to Monty’s every chance I get. I won’t however get my hopes up that there will be a groundbreaking shift in the culinary space-time continuum of the fried food dimension, like I did this time.

Monty, you have a delicious restaurant, but I’ve got a hole in my heart that can only be filled by deep fried donut-flavored deliciousness (that original hole was actually caused by eating prior deep fried deliciousness, but we won’t talk about that…).

Top 5 things about Monty’s Blue Plate Diner
1. Fat Elvis shake
2. Blue Plate Omelet
3. Sweet Potato Hash
4. One of the best menus for creativity ever
5. Amazing desserts, including cheesecake and also shakesfloats with alcohol in them

Bottom 5 things
2. Bad poached egg (just one though)
3. This place is super busy and you’ll just have to be ok with waiting (have a piece of cheesecake while you wait)
4. Not sure the chorizo was actually chorizo, but it was apparently still delicious
5. I’m not going to get over this donut conspiracy anytime soon, I assure you that!


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Little Sushi on the Prairie – Eden Prairie, MN

I had driven by a here a number of times, however, the back of the restaurant faces the street, so I honestly couldn’t tell if the place was open or not. It IS. I popped in for lunch and went early so I could avoid the lunch rush.

The hostess seated me at a table and gave me a menu. It didn’t take me long to decide, since I know what I was in the mood for. There were a couple of lunch items on a smaller sheet which included bento boxes – which is where I made up my mind. You can get a bento box with either two or three items in it. I got the one with two items since I knew I wanted a roll as well. I ordered mine with chicken teriyaki and sushi (which was three pieces of nigiri and three rolls). I also ordered a Caterpillar Roll since I knew the bento box wouldn’t be enough to fill me up.

It comes with a salad, which came out really quickly. The salad is actually quite large. Much larger than I expected. It is pretty simple, lettuce, carrots, and ginger dressing. The dressing has a weird smoky/burnt flavor to it, and I’m not sure where that came from. It wasn’t bad, I was just not really expecting it. It didn’t stop me from eating the whole thing.

The bento box came out right as I finished my salad. The chicken was pretty tasty, especially with the sauce, and coupled with some of the steamed vegetables that the chicken was on top of. The rice was pretty good, although it was just crumbly enough to make it difficult to eat with chopsticks. I managed though. The nigiri was also just ok. I will tell you I’m not a huge nigiri fan in the first place, but this was a little flavorless and floppy, on top of being a bit chewy. I’m not even sure what kinds of fish I was eating, honestly. The rolls were better than I expected. I don’t really like it when the seaweed wraps are tough or paper-like, but these were neither. They were pretty good, in fact. I’m not sure what the name of these rolls were, but they were pretty good. (Based on the description on the menu, I think it was California Temaki (crab, cucumber, and avocado).
The Caterpillar Roll was decent as well. Nothing ground breaking, but fairly good. If you don’t know caterpillar rolls, they are freshwater eel and cucumber topped with avocado, eel sauce, and sesame seeds. The avocado couldn’t really be tasted and the eel was a bit chewy, but all in all, it was good.

Lunch wrapped up pretty quickly and I headed back to work completely satisfied. Not an amazing restaurant, but I will likely be back, especially since it is so close to work.

Top 5 things about Little Sushi on the Prairie
1. Bento box had some great options for mixing and matching – perfect for lunch
2. Really large salad
3. California Temaki
4. Teriyaki Chicken
5. Really awesome staff, especially the hostess/waitress lady (I’d go back just to hang out with her!)

Bottom 5 things
1. Ginger dressing had a weird burnt flavor
2. Nigiri wasn’t awesome
3. Rice wasn’t clumpy/sticky enough to eat gracefully
4. Caterpillar roll was missing avocado flavor
5. The sushi menu seemed slim compared to most sushi places I’ve been to – which is odd, since it’s in the name of the place.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Roly Poly Again - Eden Prairie, MN

For the record, I love Roly Poly. Especially now that the new packaging makes it seem like they're from space.

This is the #140 - the Pesto Turkey Club.Roasted turkey breast, provolone cheese, bacon, avocado, green leaf lettuce, plum tomatoes, and pesto mayo. This is such a good wrap!!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Great Run!

I've had a great run of restaurants that I've been happy with. Let me assure you that I am fully capable of giving places a bad review. That being said, I've been more selective about going to new places based on recommendations. I'm sure there will be a couple of bumps in the road on some upcoming reviews, but for now, I'll consider myself lucky to have enjoyed some awesome food.

If you've got recommendations, please send them my way!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Strip Club - St. Paul, MN

This is going to be a story, rather than a review, so bear with me.

It was D.Rough and I’s anniversary, so I thought I’d do something a little special for her. Actually, a couple of things. I’m generally a bad present-giver, however, I’m a good plotter/schemer. I’ve just had to learn how to use my powers for good instead of evil (although temporarily and for very specific purposes).

We had talked about going to The Strip Club in St. Paul for almost a year. Of course, we were drawn to it because of the awesomely misleading name, but also because when we looked up the menu (weekly in some cases), everything sounded amazing, it is constantly updated to seasonally-appropriate dishes, and they use local fresh ingredients. Having recently visited our friends who live 8 blocks away sparked my interest in eating there. A LOT.

I knew we both wanted to go there and I should make reservations, but I wanted to make it special. I put a lot of thought into it and finally decided I’d contact the restaurant and see if I could pre-order our entire meal and drinks and have it brought out without our having to do a thing. I would have flowers ordered and waiting for her at the restaurant and hopefully, have “our song” play at some point during the meal to make her laugh (it isn’t a family-friendly song). I worked with Bill from the Strip Club on this project and he was amazingly helpful and easy to work with on the flowers and menu and everything. After a couple of email exchanges and phone calls, everything was all set. The only thing that wasn’t able to roll through was the song idea – the sound system wasn’t set up for that kind of input, but it wasn’t a big deal. Everything else sounded perfect.

I (surprisingly) didn’t spill the beans about where we were going for dinner for the entire two weeks, but she figured it out the closer we got to the place. We walked in and said I had a reservation, which set the ball in motion – top secret signals and head nods and winks went unnoticed by D.Rough as the plan unfolded. The server took our coats and showed us to a very intimate table in the front of the restaurant that was curtained off. The flowers I had ordered were on the table and looked even better than I expected. I got some serious ooohs and aahhhhhs and kisses from my lady for being so thoughtful. In fact, she thought my effort had ended there (maybe I have some work to do if she thinks I’d put that little effort into an important occasion, right?).Wait, it's really dark in here. Let me turn on the flash and blind everyone within a mile radius.

D.Rough talked about the drinks she had seen on their online menu or had heard about, so I felt a brief moment of panic. Then, Tim, our awesome server brought out a Jameson Ginger (with housemade ginger ale) for her and a Scotch for me – D.Rough couldn’t figure out when I had ordered the drinks. Perhaps, while she was in the powder room? Nope. I couldn’t stop smiling at this point, so I finally told her I had arranged everything in advance and she should sit back and just enjoy the evening. I like to think that at this point in the night, she was weighing how thoughtful I was to have set this all up and how terrified she was that I had ordered food for her (VERY gutsy move on my part since she’s both Italian AND a very good cook with very specific tastes depending on mood/day of the week/wind speed/ambient lighting/price of tea in Malaysia/etc).

The Scotch was quite good and served with an ice cube like I like it, and the Jameson Ginger was quite good. The house-made ginger ale takes a bit to get used to, and adds a more boozy flavor to the Jameson (or it was just Jameson-heavy – which isn’t a problem), so be ready for that. But the ice took some of the bite out of it and made for a much smoother drink than it started. I think I did alright on the drinks…

After we had nearly finished up our drinks, Tim brought out the bottle of wine I had picked. Elk Cove Pinot Noir from Oregon. I told D.Rough we’d be eating serious meat tonight, which was why I ordered a nice red for us. The Pinot was delicious and was going to be perfect for our surprise entrees, since it wasn’t painfully heavy or oaky. Just right.

The first course I had pre-ordered came out. A Minnesota Market Salad and Pommes Freebase.
The Market Salad was arugula, cranberries, wild rice, sunflower seeds, and cornbread croutons. I’ll start by saying this was a really tasty salad. I liked there there’s a bit of sweet in most bites along with some texture from the rice and seeds, and the crunch of the croutons. As some of you know, I’m a bit of a crouton connoisseur – yes, I’m REALLY saying that like a pompous ass food snob. I have actually received croutons for all kinds of gift-giving holidays from friends who eventually realized I wasn’t kidding. I’ve kind of had an unofficial crouton ranking in my head of who has the best croutons for a long time. I am embarrassed to admit that Outback Steakhouse has held the crouton title for many years (even though I hate eating at chain places). Then the Strip Club came and slapped me in the face with the cornbread croutons that they have pan fried. PAN FRIED CROUTONS MADE OF %@#&ing CORNBREAD!!! I would punch an alpaca in the face to eat these things. These were life-changing croutons. In fact, I wildly diverted from my pre-ordered dinner when I asked Tim if he would bring me a bowl of these croutons. He laughed, but brought them anyway.I’m very tempted to write a separate review of the croutons just so I can ramble on and on about them. But I won’t. I WANT to, though. Seriously, they were to die (or kill) for.

The Pommes Freebase were brilliant, as well. I will try not to let the glory of the croutons overshadow these because it would do the pommes a disservice. D.Rough and I love poutine in all shapes and forms. This was pretty darn close to poutine, but may even have been a little better. Picture french fries covered with cheddar cheese sauce and house-made chorizo. Holy crapstick, these things were good! D.Rough and I actually squabbled a bit over the best and most cheese-covered fries at a few points. She then took advantage of me having an orgasmic bowl of croutons and ate an unfair number of said fries while I was distracted. This dish wasn’t a slop pile of fries and toppings, it was a very classy but delicious combination of top-notch ingredients. GET THIS when you go here.

So far, on the pre-ordering decisions, I had done OK…

Did I mention the croutons?...

Tim came back and since he was enjoying the fact that WE were enjoying the surprise aspect of the meal, he asked D.Rough, “Let’s just SAY you were going to have a nice steak. And you’re probably not, but just IF… What sort of accompaniment might you want with that hypothetical steak? Maybe something spicy? Perhaps mushrooms? Maybe shrimp related? Possibly creamy Dijon based?” This was the perfect way to ask us and we really had fun. D.Rough decided the shrimp would be the way to go.

Our entrees came out and things were looking good, judging from the smile on D.Rough’s face as Tim explained the food we were about to eat. I had ordered the New York Strip (we were at the STRIP Club – it seemed like the obvious choice for one of the entrees, right?), which came with poached carrots and grilled lemon.This also arrived with the shrimp D.Rough had ordered, which was actually what they call “shrimp trampi” – shrimp in a lovely bath of butter, citrus, herbs, garlic, and white wine. The steak was perfectly cooked medium and cut into pieces for easier sharing. Pink and juicy on the inside and more well-done on the edges. This was quality meat and cooked very nicely. I personally loved the poached carrots, but D.Rough thought they were a bit salty (I prefer more salt than her). Good for me – that means I get most of them! I thought they were fantastic. The shrimp were also stellar. I am bummed I didn’t take a photo of them, so you could see how lovely they were. Great texture – no rubbery chewiness or anything – fantastic flavor of the herbs and garlic and we ended up spooning some of the sauce onto our steak. Great choice on the shrimp trampi, D.Rough.

The other entrée I had ordered was a bit riskier. I got the Pork Belly. It is hard to explain how it is cooked, but it has squash, apples, cashew foie gras-nola, and Uncle Pete’s mustard glaze. Tim also said there is a bacon sauce that it is sitting in. That’s a lot of very unique flavors. I can’t tell you HOW it worked, but I will tell you that it worked extremely well. The pork simply fell apart on the fork. There was a little bit of fat (which is where the flavor comes from), but that fat dissolves in your mouth as good pork belly is supposed to do. It was superb, especially with the squash and granola adding complementary flavors and textures. I tasted just a tiny hint of the mustard, which is perfect for me since I’m not a mustard fan. This was the best part of the meal (aside from the aforementioned divinely inspired croutons) for both of us and ensured that D.Rough conceded that I’m a worthwhile boyfriend worth keeping around (she DOES say much nicer things than that to me, but I know how easily nauseated our friends get when I get all flowery and lovey-dovey about her, so I’ll try to keep it on a non-gross level for their sake).

We were too full for dessert, which is good since I didn’t pre-order any. It kept our options open to decide whether to go see a movie, go find dessert somewhere else, or go home and play video games. I didn’t know that D.Rough had a little surprise of her own for me at home. I’m glad I don’t have to have my blood sugar levels tested anytime soon after her decadently chocolate-y surprise!

Soooooo, as demonstrated by the choices I had pre-arranged, should D.Rough ever take a debilitating chop to the vocal chords and simultaneously loose her ability to point at a menu, I am fully capable of making sure she is able to get food she enjoys and not starve. I’m not 100% confident that I will be able to order for her anywhere, but I did pretty well here.

We asked Tim if anyone had ever ordered a bowl of croutons from the kitchen and he assured me that I was a trendsetter and no one had ever made that request. I am already checking my schedule to determine how I can become a regular patron of the Strip Club, simply so I can have a couple drinks at the bar and eat a bowl of croutons. I’m dead serious and I will make this happen. I promise you that.

My huge thanks to Bill and the chefs, and especially Tim, for making our anniversary dinner a success on an intergalactic scale. We laughed when we left because D.Rough said “I’ve never actually hugged a waiter before after having a meal!” I personally have high-fived waiters (in painfully stuffy restaurants which might actually have been the waiter putting up his hand in self-defense because he was confused), but never hugged a waiter. I had requested a non-stuffy server since D.Rough and I like to have fun with our dinner friends (waiters/servers can be such a misleading term – I prefer dinner friends since we’re hoping they have a good time as well!) -Tim was perfect. He knew we were having fun and made sure we were taken care of.We will be back soon. Especially since our new house is much closer to the Strip Club now. Besides, now, I can tell D.Rough’s family that I took her to the strip club for our anniversary. Hahahaha.

Top 5 things about The Strip Club
1. Pan-fried cornbread croutons – hey, it’s MY blog, if you don’t like it, write your own blog
2. Pork Belly
3. Pommes Freebase
4. New York Strip, with Shrimp Trampi accompaniment
5. Tim, Bill, and the rest of the staff being willing to work with my special requests and pulling things off very smoothly
6. Ambience is awesome
7. Delicious seasonal and local menu with fun names of dishes, including a delicious looking brunch menu on weekends
8. The clientele is diverse. We saw rich people there, but we also saw a metal guy in jeans and a Raiders jersey pounding Diet Rite.
9. If I DO go to a strip club, I can totally get away with it (minus the whore perfume smell and inexplicable sparkles on my face)
10. They have dishes which utilize bacon ketchup

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s a little pricey, but completely worth it
2. It has limited hours, so double check before you go
3. It’s too dark to take quality photos inside – we blinded people, I’m sure of it – but it totally works for ambience
*** It was very difficult to find ANY bad things about this place, so I’ll stop here.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Orange – Chicago, IL

D.Rough and I were in need of some breakfast. Fortunately, a while back, someone got me hooked on this place called “Orange” in Chicago and it immediately went to the top of the list for my favorite breakfast places – of all time. I love this place and wanted D.Rough to check it out. I had a hunch she’d like it.

The place is always busy, especially on weekends. There’s a reason for this – the food is awesome and fun. When we got there, we were told there’d be a 45 minute wait. Not a problem since there was a coffee shop right around the corner from the place. We stopped by Iguana Café for a cup of coffee/cocoa. It’s a European Coffee House and Lounge – hip, happening, and fun. Plus, they have great coffee great hot chocolate – which we found out. It was delicious, but amazingly hot. Like nuclear reactor with a touch of the sun, kind of hot.

We went back to Orange and got seated. There are four or five different locations and they’re all a little different.
The first thing I did was check out what pancake flight they were offering today. Every week, they change the theme of the pancake flight. One time I went around the nominations for the political parties’ candidates for president. It was a democratic candidate themed flight. One of the pancakes was styled after Obama and had white and chocolate chips in the pancakes. Another one was made with fruity pebbles (I can’t remember which candidate was considered fruity). They are super creative with their pancake flights. I wasn’t feeling the pancake flight on this particular trip, sadly.

The place is trendy, but also a little bit classy. To showcase this, I took an artsy photo.

We scoured the rest of the menu and finally decided. It wasn’t difficult, since everyone on the menu looks amazing. I ordered the green eggs and ham and D.Rough ordered the Caprese Benedict. Since this place is also a fancy juice bar, you can get all kinds of fruit juices combined – I got a carrot and pineapple juice and D.Rough got a pear and pineapple juice. We were also feeling pretty hungry right NOW, so we got a fruit plate as a sort of appetizer.

The drinks came out quickly and were awesome. Both super good.

The fruit place came out and was delicious. Pineapple, grapes, canteloupe, strawberries, and apples. Simple, but a great way to start off. This place also has frushi – which is fruit cut all fancy style to resemble sushi. It’s still fruit, so we didn’t want to pay the extra cash to have them cut it fancy. It does look REALLY pretty though.

The entrees came out and looked ten times better than we expected them to. The green eggs and ham are basically basil pesto scrambled eggs with ham bits and roasted tomatoes in them, then covered with fresh mozzarella. It’s also served with a molded mound of mashed potatoes on the side. I added a little sri racha to my plate and it ended up being perfect. Amazing flavor!

D.Rough’s caprese benedict got some pretty serious raving comments. An English muffin topped with over roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, poached eggs, and pesto-hollandaise sauce. I was lucky enough to get a couple bites of this and it was absolutely top-notch. I believe she said it was the best benedict anything she’d ever had. If you like eggs benedict or a caprese salad, then you really need to do yourself a favor and order this.

I will go on and on about this restaurant and try to get to this place every time I’m in Chicago. It still stands as my favorite breakfast place of all time and has never disappointed me.

Top 5 things about Orange
1. Green Eggs and Ham
2. Caprese Benedict
3. Amazing menu
4. Carrot Pineapple Juice
5. Pear Pineapple Juice

Bottom 5 things
1. ALWAYS a line to eat here. Just plan on it. Or go find a coffee shop while you wait.
2. For some reason, this place attracts women with strollers who have a chip on their shoulder and feel entitled to not be considerate of other people.
3. I can’t ever eat EVERYTHING that I want (and I always want Cinnamon Roll pancakes and chai tea french toast.)
4. It isn’t a cheap breakfast, but you’ll be glad you paid a little more for quality.
5. If you order something sweet-sounding, be prepared for it to be the sweetest thing you’ve ever tasted. The cinnamon roll pancakes will make your teeth hurt.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chin Chin Chinese Restaurant – West St. Paul, MN

With the new house in West St. Paul, D.Rough and I now have to completely revamp our “regular” places for eating. Chinese food is sort of a staple and we’ll be sure to have various cravings at odd times of the day or night for it. So we needed to find something close, cheap, and edible. We’d driven by Chin Chin a bunch of times and figured we’d better get in there and try it.

The inside of the place is small. There’s a large menu on the wall behind the counter and one table – used for sitting at while you’re waiting. I’m assuming they do most of their business over the phone and people swing by to pick it up. NOW, we know this. The menu is rather expansive ad also has a couple of things you usually don’t see – that’s a good thing! There’s an interesting mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, and some other dishes thrown in. If you’re curious about what the things look like, they have a couple of small photo albums laying around with actual snapshots of the dishes. Or if you’re ordering online, there’s great photos of most of the dishes. Surprisingly, almost everything they offer looks really delicious, despite only being snapshots of the already cooked things packaged in take-away containers. hahaha

We finally decided on some crab rangoons for an appetizer along with a soft spring roll. I got the Singapore Fried Noodles and D.Rough got the General Tao’s Chicken. I asked for mine a little bit spicier, as well.

The food showed up pretty quickly and we headed home to watch some movies and eat. The crab rangoons were perfectly cooked crispy and were pretty delicious. It’s pretty hard to screw these things up unless you don’t cook them all the way or something, but these were good.
The soft spring rolls were just ok. Not super fresh-tasting and the dipping sauce was basically peanut butter. I’m glad we tried them because now we know, but we’ll probably try a different appetizer next time we go.

I dug into the Singapore Fried Noodles and was pleasantly surprised on a number of counts. First off, this was a super generous portion. The take-away box was stuffed completely full. They spiced up the heat perfectly, so I got a little numbing action without sweating – perfect. Also, from the first glance, you’d assume this thing was full of onions (which I don’t like), but it wasn’t at all. Just a couple, in fact. The curry flavor wasn’t overpowering, but was just right. And lots of shrimp and chicken in here. I really liked this dish. I didn’t come anywhere near eating the whole thing, which is rare for me, but I liked having leftovers.

The General Tao’s chicken is pretty good at most places, although some have done weird things with the sauce. Chin Chin came through really well on the General’s Chicken – in fact, it was one of the best we’ve had. The chicken was quality meat and breaded and fried perfectly. The sauce had some zing to it, but not a ton. And again, the portion size wasn’t conservative at all. D.Rough didn’t finish her’s either and I helped as much as I could. This was the best part of the meal.

We were stuffed after eating all this food, but it was totally worth it. We are really happy to have found a quality Chinese place so close to the new house. We’ll likely be back a lot. There’s a ton of things on the menu we would like to try. Especially the super cheap box lunches they have. These look awesome and are an amazing deal. Just wait till I start working from home…

Top 5 things about Chin Chin
1. General Tao’s Chicken
2. Singapore Fried Noodles
3. Crab Rangoons
4. Expansive menu
5. SUPER close to the new house!

Bottom 5 things
1. No place to eat inside
2. Soft spring rolls were a bit of a let down for me – I’m biased though
3. Some of the photos of food in boxes make a lot of things look identical, maybe put written descriptions in the photo books of ingredients or something.
4. We didn’t order their specialty – the fried cheese puff – next time!!!
5. We didn’t see the party menu until we looked online – you can order a tray of General Tao’s chicken for $40, which feeds 4-6 people. That’s what I’m talking about!!!!


Monday, January 3, 2011

Beefy Crunch Burrito at Taco Bell – Eden Prairie, MN

I needed to try the new menu item at Taco Bell and today seemed like the right day. I had seen a quick advertisement for the Beefy Crunch Burrito, so that was my mission for today.

I ordered it (along with a bunch of other things because I’m working on my “winter weight” to keep me better insulated) and headed back to work. I always want to take photos of the insides of these things, but they all look similar, so I did the next best thing. I took a couple of bites and then took the photo so you could sort of see the inside.

The beef is in there with some cheese and also some red-dyed Frito corn chips. Now I love corn chips, but this wasn’t what I expected. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I regularly put corn chips and other chips in my sandwiches, but this was something different. This was Mexican food.

The first few bites were pretty good, to be honest with you. Not blow me away good, but good enough to get another one. It reminded me of a “walking taco” or “taco in a bag” – which ever your part of the country calls them. In fact, this was probably what the inventors were thinking of when they decided tacos weren’t portable enough. Hahaha.

I will tell you that half way through the beefy crunch burrito, the corn chips were soggy and no longer crunchy. I had waited too long to eat the new item and had instead started with the other things I had purchased. I should have started with this item – remember this when you order one: Start with the Beefy Crunch Burrito and then move to other items.

Enjoy. I know I’ll be enjoying another one soon!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

American Burger Bar – St. Paul, MN

Last week, I got talked out of having a burger for lunch, but I was still craving one when I got home. D.Rough had been talking about going to this American Burger Bar in downtown St. Paul, so we decided we needed to go there to cure my craving. I’m super glad we did.

The inside of this place is old school. Like mobster/gangster old school. Dark wood, dark carpet, red leather booths, and small alcoves with velvet curtains where you can have some privacy to whack people who haven’t paid up. Super awesome, even with the lighting super bright. Apparently, this place hasn’t changed much since the prohibition days, and I’m glad for it. It also used to be Matty B’s which was kind of a guys hangout for steaks and cigars and such but I’m glad it got a new lease on life with this new concept.

The concept is burgers. They have other things, but there’ not any point in getting anything else, when they have perfected burgers. Everything on the menu is amazing-sounding and it’s very difficult to decide what you want here. We asked a lot of questions of our waitress, but she stayed with us and made sure we got what we needed.

I needed a DRINK was what I needed. I ordered a Reno Rottweiler – Kahlua, vanilla vodka, cream, and root beer. D.Rough also needed a drink, so she went with the Ab Pear – Absolut Pear, pineapple, and a splash of sour. The drinks came out in plenty of time while we struggled with narrowing it down. Rottweiler was top notch. I will get this again and probably make a pitcher of these at home.

We also talked ourselves out of an appetizer, since we knew we’d be eating plenty. They all sounded awesome though. Next time, maybe.

The restaurant puts flags next to their house specialty burgers, which made me laugh considering the burger I had my eye on was called “South of the Border”. It just made me laugh. Sorry. D.Rough built her own burger with Angus Beef (not the awesome men’s roller derby skater we love), caramelized onions, blue cheese, and jalapeno bacon. Well played, D.Rough! We also had trouble deciding on the fry situation. I’m not usually a fry guy unless there’s something special about them. We asked the waitress about them, since the menu has sweet potato fries, truffle-parmesan fries, and onions rings for an upcharge. She talked us into truffle fries and I wanted onions rings with mine.

The food didn’t take long to arrive. I snapped a couple of photos of these awesome things and jumped right in. I wish it wasn’t so dark in there, so you could really saw how large and awesome constructed these burgers were. Since I didn’t explain what the South of the Border burger was, I’ll do it now. Black Angus topped with a Chorizo patty, jalapeno bacon, pepperjack cheese, onions, button mushrooms, spicy salsa, and guacamole on a ciabatta bun. This burger ruled on 13 levels and 5 continents. Holy crap was it good. It had a little bit of spice to it, nice guac flavor and was perfectly cooked to medium This thing was awesome. Aside from the burger, the onion rings were ginormous and tasty! Beer battered to perfection and easy for a 5-year old to pull the onions out to eat just the fried part – yup, I do that.

D.Rough’s burger was also fantastic. Plenty of blue cheese flavor and a little bit of zing from the jalapeno bacon. But the best part of hers was the incredible truffle-parmesan fries. They were very addicting and it was a struggle to share them – on both sides. Really, if you get these, don’t plan to share them.

Overall, this was a fantastic meal and completely satisfied my burger craving. Next time, I'll get a milkshake though! We know we’ll be back here to try a bunch of their other burgers. They have two happy hours here, including a late night happy hour after 10:30pm. The burgers are pretty pricey here (but worth it), so if you’re on a budget due to Christmas shopping sprees, show up after 10:30. You won’t be sorry.

Top 5 things about The American Burger Bar
1. South of the Border Burger
2. Truffle-Parmesan Fries
3. Build Your Own Burger
4. Reno Rottweiler
5. Super old-school swank (and amazing menu)

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s pricey for a burger place
2. We saw a guy with a girl he had clearly rented for the night go into the restroom together…
3. The place was deserted when we left – I hope it’s doing well so I can keep going back!
4. Ab Pear wasn’t all that awesome, frankly.
5. D.Rough’s martini glass had a vagina


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cookie Dough Cheese Ball – Maplewood, MN

I’m generally non-committal about holiday cheese balls. You know, those ones with crappy orange pub cheese rolled in walnut pieces and brought to work or to people’s houses you don’t like? I now proudly stand by the fact that I have now had TWO life-changing cheese balls. The first was a cheese ball I made of Spam and brought it to work to horrify people. (It worked…) The second was made by D.Rough’s sister Hermana for their family’s holiday get-together. It was a Cookie Dough Cheese Ball.

Yup, basically a sphere-shaped heaven.

She, in fact, made two Cookie Dough Cheese Balls – one with nuts and one without nuts. The recipe involves a bag of chocolate chip cookie dough mix (I’ve never seen this, but I’m sure I could use a tube of my favorite refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough instead), a handful of butter (not an exact measurement) and a handful of cream cheese (probably a more exact measurement than you’d expect). Mix together, roll into a ball, and chill.

Hermana served this up with Nilla Wafer cookies – awesome – and also small pretzels – for those who like the salty sweet combo. She knew for sure I would like it since D.Rough and I went to Cookie Dough Creations when we went to visit Hermana this past Fall.

Seriously, this ball is one of the best ideas ever. AND it was delicious!!! I come from a long line of cookie dough eaters and all of them were angry they hadn’t thought of it. But they were even more angry that I was eating it and they weren’t at that exact moment. Hahaha, suckers.

Thanks for the awesome dessert, Hermana! ¡¡¡Muy Apreciado!!!