Monday, February 28, 2011

Osaka – Eden Prairie, MN

I had a few offers to do a birthday lunch, but I finally decided I wanted to check out Osaka. I had driven by the sign a bunch of times and it is REALLY close to work for me, so I found a couple of suckers willing to meet me for lunch – mainly, D.Rough and TheDoctor. It’s a little difficult to find since it’s behind a Best Buy and a hotel, but we managed to find it eventually.

The menu has plenty of sushi on it, as well as some tempura’d things and some larger meat/fish entrees. Their lunch specials seemed like a really good deal, so I decided to go for that deal, as did D.Rough. One of the deals is you can get three different rolls for $12.95. I haven’t tried a TON of sushi places in the Twin Cities, but I think this is the cheapest I’ve ever seen. So I got a California Roll, a Salmon and Avocado Roll, and a Cucumber and Eel Roll. D.Rough also got the three roll lunch: Cucumber and Eel Roll, Boston Roll, and Spicy Salmon (I think). And since D.Rough is a huge fan of the Kani Salad, we got one of those for her. TheDoctor got the Sushi and Sashimi Combo, which was fairly cheap at about $15.95.

The Kani Salad came out first and looked pretty good. It had what appeared to be strips of sliced apple along with the shredded carrots and crab and rice noodles. It was light and pretty flavorful, but it wasn’t the best we’d ever had. Decent sized, but we all wondered if they used apple strips as some sort of filler. It just seemed like an odd ingredient in the Kani Salad, which is a regular item in our diet.

The Sushi came out shortly after the salad and looked appetizing, as well. I was thinking with the cheaper lunch special, the rolls would be smaller portions, but they really weren’t, to Osaka’s credit. The California Roll was good – it always is. It’s hard to screw up a California Roll. The Salmon and Avocado Roll was also good. Not a fishy taste at all and there was plenty of avocado in each piece. The best thing, to me anyway, was the Cucumber and Eel Roll. The texture was a little weird in my mouth (I’m still getting used to eating eel), but the flavor was really good. This isn’t the best Sushi I’ve had, but it filled me up and for the price, you can’t beat it.

D.Rough was a little disappointed with her sushi. She agreed with me on the Eel and Cucumber Rolls, but the Boston Roll (we had no idea what that would end up being) was an avocado roll with some Boston Bib Lettuce in it and some mayo. It was a pretty bland roll, to be honest. The other roll she got (I think it was the Spicy Salmon) had some crunch to it. And we’re pretty sure the crunch was due to the rice crispies they put inside it. We’re almost sure that’s what they were. Very odd flavor of cereal in your mouth when you bit into this thing. TheDoctor seemed mostly satisfied with his meal, but then again, he doesn’t complain about much and is easy to please, as long as he gets full.

Overall, the atmosphere was nice and the menu is comprehensive and inexpensive. I wish it had better descriptions on the lunch menu so you know what you’re ordering. I think there were better descriptions in the dinner menu for the lunch items. So if you want to get full on decent sushi, Osaka might be the place for you. I’ll likely be back, due to the proximity of work and also for how cheap it is to get full there. (The three of us ate lunch and got full for about $50 total – that’s cheap for sushi.)

Top 5 things about Osaka
1. Cucumber and Eel Roll
2. Salmon and Avocado Roll
3. Inexpensive Lunch Combinations
4. Very friendly staff
5. Amazingly close to work for me

Bottom 5 things
1. Rice Crispies in the Sushi Roll
2. Kani Salad was just ok and usually it’s our favorite thing
3. Boston Roll was pretty weak
4. Lunch menu needs better descriptions
5. It is hidden behind Best Buy and a hotel

Thursday, February 24, 2011

China Wok – Eden Prairie, MN

Always on the search for new and exciting Chinese food restaurants, I came across this place while using Google for lunch recommendations. It’s in a strip mall near some other restaurants I’ve eaten in. I’d been near it, but had never been inside. Today was the day.

I walked in and saw the standard issue Chinese menu on the counter, as well as the standard issue photos of Chinese entrees on the board above the ordering counter. There were six tables in the place, and three of them were already taken. I was in the mood for some General Tso’s Chicken, and thankfully (like most cookie cutter Chinese food menus), it was on the lunch special list. Fortunately, it was really inexpensive, since I opted for a glass of water.

While waiting, I got to listen to some 40-year-old asshat wasting his life away in sweatpants watching YouTube videos on his laptop while loudly tapping his feet and hands and humming whatever he was listening to. All the while, he was clearing his throat and hocking up what must have been gallons of phlegm. Really? On my lunch break? On MY lunch break? Isn’t that your mom calling you for dinner? Moron.

The food came out fairly quickly and looked like it does on the menu board photo.

It was fine. The chicken wasn’t stringy and was fully cooked. The sauce had a little heat to it, but was pretty boring, otherwise. Not much to rave about with this dish, but it was good. It served its purpose.

I’m trying to figure out who is making all the money for this kind of operation. Who developed the standard-issue Chinese restaurant menu that you see in so many places? Who prints millions of menus each year and simply has the restaurant owner stamp the name of his particular place on the front and call it customized? Who trains all of these chefs to cook the exact same cookie cutter meals with McDonald’s-like consistency without fail? I’m guessing it’s the same operation that cranks out thousands of Peruvian flute quartets who fill every mall and sell Peruvian flute music by the ton. I wish I were that head guy in charge of mass production of white-people-friendly “culture”.

The food is fine. I probably won’t be back, though.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ras Restaurant & Lounge – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have wanted to eat at Ras for a number of months and we finally had a free night to go. It’s on west 7th in St. Paul very close to the airport. This also means that ALL of the cabbies for the airport hang out here at the bar. Think about that, friends. All of your cab drivers are well lubricated before driving you home from your vacation and business trips. It also means the parking lot behind the restaurant is always full of cars and it’s kind of a maze to figure out.

We went inside and were both amazed at how spacious the place is. It doesn’t look like it from the outside, but it’s pretty expansive AND they have a party room in the basement for banquets and large gatherings. We grabbed a booth towards the back of the building and the waitress brought us menus right away. We had already looked at the menu online, so we had a general idea what we wanted. We checked it out though, just to be on the safe side.

The waitress asked for our drink order and we had read signs that said beer was REALLY cheap here. I repeat – cheap beer here. After some confusion on what they actually had on tap, D.Rough ordered herself a Newcastle and I scored a Capn n Coke. The place has a half-bar-half-restaurant feel to it, but people in the booths were drinking and people at the bar were eating food off of giant platters – so it all works out.

D.Rough and I were both starving and had really been craving Ethiopian food for a few weeks, so we went large on this order. We initially had thought we wanted a veggie combo, but it just didn’t seem like enough food. So we got a little crazy and ordered the Ras Special Combination. This is basically everything on the menu. We’re not joking. It says on the menu that it serves three people. The waitress seemed a little confused by our order, especially when she asked “only one?” We weren’t sure whether she was having fun with us or just didn’t hear us right, so we pointed to it on the menu. We were about 80% sure we were going to get what we wanted.

Then we turned our attention to the nipple-themed table cloth. Seriously, it looked and felt like an entire sheet of pleather had sprouted male nipples and been thrown onto the table. Really hilarious. In fact, here’s a photo, just to give you some idea of what it is like – the photo won’t do it justice though…

The waitress arrived with our food. It was on a small sizzling cast iron skillet which she poured onto our injera bread on the platter. It looked delicious. I waited for the rest of it, but the waitress had walked away. D.Rough said this wasn’t what we ordered, but I suggested maybe it came out in shifts. This turned out to NOT be the case. The manager came around to our table and checked to make sure everything was alright. We said we thought we got the wrong thing – we ordered the Ras Special Combo? The manager said in an incredulous voice, “The BIG one?” Yup. That’s the one. She smiled at us and said she’d take care of everything. She had a quick conference with the waitress – we SINCERELY hope she didn’t get in trouble for this, it wasn’t a big deal – and sent the waitress back to the back with the incorrect order. Then she thought about it and called her back. She took the incorrect dish out of the girl’s hands and put it on our table. She then happily told us to go ahead and start with this since it was already cooked. I said, “it’s an appetizer!” and she laughed along with us.

[Note: The manager’s name is Zee – she could be the owner, in fact. Zee is absolutely fabulous. She has amazing clothes, amazing sunglasses, and there is an air about her that is unmistakably “The Boss”. In all the right ways. She made sure we were well taken care of and after the dinner introduced herself and asked us if this was the first time we’d been there. She said she hopes to see us again soon. She absolutely WILL, by the way. She’s a great host!]

We made sure to convey we weren’t at all mad about the mix-up in the ordering. We’re pretty patient people and don’t get all bent out of shape about these kinds of things. We had nothing but time and we HAD to have Ethiopian food. So it appeared what D.Rough and I had on our table was the Ras Special, as opposed to the Ras Special Combo. We dug into this platter of food. It was a generous-sized plate of onions, tomatoes, and pieces of beef. Pay attention to the size of the platter by looking at the perspective against D.Rough’s arm. It’s a serious platter of food. It sounds simple, but whatever the beef was cooked in was delicious, especially with the red spicy dipping sauce on the side. For those of you unfamiliar with Ethiopian food, you eat it with injera bread – which is sort of like a delicious crepe – and scoop up the food instead of using silverware. The flavors of this entire thing were crazy good. We ate about 75% of this dish before we realized we still had food for three people coming very soon. We forced ourselves to slow down and eventually stopped. The waitress came out and took what was left of our platter away (which we were a little bummed about, but only momentarily). I then realized it was to make room for the enormous platter that was on its way out.

When I say enormous, I mean it. Titanic might be a better word. The platter covered the entire table. The entire table.

Remember when I said it has the entire menu on it. I wasn’t joking. I will tell you everything that’s on this platter, even though it won’t mean much to you unless you know Ethiopian food names.
Beef Keye Wot, Beef Alicha Wot, Minchet Abish, Lamb Keye Wot, Lamb Alicha Wot, Lamb Alicha Fitfit, Doro Wot, Chicken, homemade cottage cheese, a cabbage and carrot salad, and the entire veggie combination (spicy split lentil and yellow peas, Misir Alicha, Shiro, Gomen, Misir Keye, and some other things). I TOLD you it was serious.

The entire thing was served on a whole bunch of injera. Some Ethiopian places give you a basket of injera to pull apart and use and some places just have you eating away at your plate as you progress across your platter. This was one of the latter.

We attacked this thing. We weren’t exactly sure what each thing was, but it didn’t take long to figure out which were our favorites. There was a delicious piece of berbere chicken in the middle of the platter with some sauce and also a harboiled egg. Amazing. I’m a fan of the spicy yellow peas and lentils. D.Rough is a fan of various indeterminate meats. We ate and ate and ate and ate and it was like nothing actually disappeared. Keep in mind we had just eaten a large entrée as an appetizer less than 5 minutes before the giant platter came out. Here’s a photo of what it looked like when we threw in the towel and gave up. It looks like we didn’t do much damage.

I think I knew what two of the 14 things were. Fortunately, every time we eat Ethiopian food, we have amazing luck and haven’t actually found anything we DON’T like. Yes, it all appears to be different colored mush, but it all tastes different. The food here is amazing. There were a couple of things that had a couple of bones which we put aside on the platter, and just a very small portion of stringy meat, but overall, this food was top-notch Ethiopian cuisine and we would recommend it highly. In fact, we went to a party after eating dinner and raved about the food – hopefully, we’ll drum up some more business for Zee.

After we had given up, the waitress came over with a large Styrofoam to-go container. I’ve actually never seen a to-go container that large before. It’s hard to tell how big it is in the photo, but it’s pretty major. The waitress had D.Rough help her hold the giant platter (it’s made of metal so it isn’t light at all) while she deftly folded the leftover injera with the food contained inside and slid it off into the to-go container. It barely closed and D.Rough estimated the thing weighed EASILY more than 5 pounds. I’m going to agree, since I had to carry it to the car using two hands.

We also noticed a large empty portable buffet in the back corner of the restaurant, so we are wondering if this place has a lunch-time buffet. I hope beyond all hope that this is true. That could be the best idea ever. I’m going to ask the next time D.Rough and I go there. This could be a game-changer, people.

Overall, fantastic dining experience. The service was just a tiny bit slow but we did have some minor complications, so it wasn’t a problem. The food absolutely made up for it and they also made sure we were taken care of. The waitresses worked our table in various shifts and the bartender even helped us out with some drinks when he walked past our table. D.Rough and I will be back. In fact, I’m trying to find a reason to throw a party so we can go hang out in the basement party room and fill our friends with platters full of amazing Ethiopian food. Go and eat at Zee’s restaurant – you’ll be glad you did.

Top 5 things about Ras Restaurant & Lounge
1. Enormous platter of food (Ras Special Combo) you get to eat with your fingers!
2. The staff makes sure you’re well taken care of – especially Zee
3. Ras Special
4. VERY cheap drinks (and FOOD, for that matter)
5. Great descriptions on the menu so you know what you’re ordering

Bottom 5 things
1. Slow on bringing the check after the meal
2. Order misunderstanding – which was taken care of immediately!
3. The parking lot is kind of a Willy Wonka-style hodge-podge
4. Not in a fantastic part of town, but don’t be scared – no one will attack you
5. I don’t have any business trips planned and yet I’m trying to figure out a way I can get a cab ride to Ras after arriving back at MSP before I go home

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pho Saigon Restaurant – West St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I are pretty loyal to our favorite Pho place on University, but we occasionally try out new places just to remind us we have found the best one. We’ve been driving by this small Vietnamese place at the end of a strip mall for a few months now and thought we’d just pop in and see what they had.

The inside is pretty traditional Chinese/Vietnamese décor, but the menu has quite a few things on it. Some Thai dishes, some soups some curries, Chinese (Cantonese and Szchuan), and Vietnamese. We knew we wanted Pho, but I will tell you, the lunch buffet looked really good. I will have to go back for the buffet soon.

We decided on lunch pretty quickly since we knew what we were in the mood for. D.Rough got the Pho with strips of beef in it, and a Thai Tea Latte with Pearls. I got hot and spicy beef with lop in it. I tried to figure out what lop was before the waitress came back, but she beat me. I ordered it anyway. How bad could it be? Was it a typo or misspelling? Besides, the waitress said the Pho I ordered was her favorite, so I assumed I’d do just fine. We also got an order of spring rolls as an appetizer.

The spring rolls came out. She had put them on separate plates, which was nice of her, and brought out some sauce to dip them in. The sauce wasn’t hoisin as we suspected it might be. It was more peanut-y than that and sweet. Still delicious, especially after a healthy dose of sri racha. The spring rolls themselves were some of the larger ones we’ve had. They were pretty substantial and they tasted pretty good. Better than average, I’d say.

The Pho and toppings for the Pho came out a short while later and looks great. D.Rough’s looked like traditional Pho with a clear broth and skinny noodles underneath all the goodies. She loaded it up with the cilantro and bean sprouts and lemons, as well as some sri racha and hoisin sauce. The meat was pretty good in her bowl - cut thin and not stringy at all. Very good bowl of Pho.

Mine had a much deeper red hue to the broth, so I had high hopes it would be spicy. It wasn’t, but it was a little spicier and had more “body” than the traditional broth. I also figured out what lop is. It’s some sort of processed sausage/bologna made of beef. It actually tasted pretty good, so I had no issues with it. The pieces of steak in my bowl were fantastic though. Very well cooked and very little fat. I think there were some other things in my bowl that I’m not used to eating, but seeing as I’ve never ordered tripe or tendon in anything, I couldn’t tell you which they were. I sampled a bit of it, but would have preferred to know what I was eating. Also, instead of skinny noodles, my Pho had large spaghetti-like noodles in it. They tasted just fine, but I had a hell of a time eating them with chop sticks. They just wouldn’t stay on the sticks and kept splashing me when they’d hit the bowl of broth. I’m not sure what the reasoning is for the friction-less noodles, but I’m sure it’s science-related. I’ll have to ask EJens about it, since he’s the braniac of our group.

Overall, this was really good Pho, but not the best, and certainly not going to take the place of our old stand-by. That being said, it’s 10 blocks from our house, so we’ll end up here occasionally and probably for the buffet. Soon.

1720 Robert St.
West St. Paul, MN 55118

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bad Movie Night (Valentine’s Day Theme) – West St. Paul, MN

Every Bad Movie Night we have is awesome – no matter what we show. But every once in a while, you have to show a REALLY bad movie, just to let people see what the USUAL quality of an entertaining bad movie really is. I thought I’d lower the benchmark just a little bit this time, so people didn’t get too comfortable that the movies couldn’t get worse. Oh… they can…

We had over 40 people show up to this Bad Movie Night, so I believe these things are gaining in popularity… scary thought, isn’t it?

I will explicitly divulge that it is VERY difficult to find a Valentine’s Day-themed bad movie with enough comedic awfulness to show to a crowd of people expecting to yell and groan and get belligerent without the usual stigma of yelling out loud during movies. That being said, D.Rough and I went through approximately 60 films to try to find something suitable. I came up with ZILCH – but it wasn’t for lack of trying. For example, here are a few that were potential screeners for bad movie night:

  • Private Valentine: Blonde and Dangerous – Jessica Simpson acts terribly as a rich girl who signs up for the army to change her life
  • Caveman’s Valentine – Samuel L. Jackson plays a swearing lunatic (not his only film where he does this)
  • Valentine – Nerd boy continues to be creepy and awkward after he grows up and exacts revenge on his bullies
  • My Bloody Valentine – Decent horror film remade without a lot of humor
  • The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine – LOTS of nekid lesbian nuns (why didn’t I show this again?...)
  • The Hitmen Diaries: Charlie Valentine – low-budget crime movie without anything to yell at or be amused by

We ended up with The Terror of Blood Fart Lake and Hidden Beauties: The Awakening. Neither of these are Valentine-related, but the first one has “blood” in the title – which comes from a heart, and there are lots of hearts for Valentine’s Day. And the second film was basically rejected Skin-emax soft-core from the 90’s with plenty of gratuitous and silicone-filled nudity and shirtless gardners. What else could you ask for on Valentine’s Day?!

Terror of Blood Fart Lake – a group of college kids go to hang out at a cabin with their friend Hambone at Blood Fart Lake. People start disappearing in mysterious ways. Then a guy is inserted into a girl’s butt. Yeah, I told you it was weird. People were legitimately angry with me for making them watch this one. Judging by the number of death threats and middle fingers directed at me afterwards, I think it went pretty well. Hahahahaha.

Hidden Beauties: The Awakening – a wealthy lord dies shortly after proposing to three different women. The women come back as ghosts when relatives of the castle come arrive to claim their property from the housekeeper and gardener. There’s nudity in the first 30 seconds through the end of the film. What did you THINK we were going to watch? Barney?? People were less angry at me for this one, but I think some of our viewers were a bit put off by the… uh… upfront nature of this one.

Our illustrious friend EJens took some notes while watching this film. I took photos of the notes, since my scanner wasn't working. You'll learn a lot from his notes. Soon, EJens will be going through ladies like he does organic cotton socks. I'd better warn my mother.

As the crowd dwindled, we showed a portion of Deep Africa – which you don’t need to know any details of unless you like inflatable pool toys or E.T. And then when almost everyone else was gone, we showed Kinky Boots – which isn’t a bad movie at all and I actually love it.

The food was almost entirely heart-, blood-, or valentine-related. There were candy hearts, salsa (which is red), strawberry fluff, artichoke HEART dip, D.Rough’s now-famous homemade twinkie-zebra-cake mixup, Valentine’s Day Tootsie Pops, fancy giant valentine chocolate chip cookie, some chocolate, and some non-related things like Meat Dip, jalapeno Cheetos and blueberry shortcake thingies.

We also had ICP Chex Mix (yes, we DID listen to ICP while we made it – extra loud, so it was extra spicy)(also extra annoying and I think my pantlegs got larger at the bottom during the process).

We had jello-filled-jello hearts from Skully (there’s also some condensed milk in there, too).

NinjaRoll brought and decorated a bleeding-heart-with-an-arrow cake, which ruled. And then he fixed the broken dishwasher and garbage disposal during intermission – that guy is amazing!)

We also had chocolate covered strawberries, including one as large as your fist (thanks, SecretMeat).

Some amazing hand-crafted and –frosted cupcakes with sayings on them you won’t find at most bakeries…(Thanks, GingerVitus and OttoThuening) (Don’t read the cupcakes, D.Rough’s mom!!!)

But the “over and above” award goes to A-Wow for commandeering, cleaning, and cooking an actual cow heart. He made it into a stew so people would be more inclined to eat it. Frankly, the thing was pretty good. Only slightly chewier than steak, and the gravy it was in in the crock pot was delicious with the mashed potatoes he brought. Well played, A-Wow. My free-dbag-hat-I-got-from-the-minnesota-swarm goes off to you.

My friends and fellow terrible movie lovers know how to cook. They also know how to drink.

We set up a table with alcoholic beverages we’ve been trying to get rid of – you know, the ones with an inch or two of liquid left in the bottom. Huge thanks to El Jefe for stepping up to the plate and polishing off 4 of the bottles all by himself. Well done!

The movie night ended up being a relative success. We’ve had better films, but this only gives me the impetus to astound people with the next set of movies I chose for Bad Movie Night. Thanks for everyone who showed up!

[Note: I now found a decent list of films I should have tried to get my hands on but didn’t:]
  • My Boyfriend’s Back
  • Lover’s Lane
  • Pontypool
  • I Hate Valentine’s Day
  • Sugar Valentine: A Pimp’s Tale
  • Funny Valentine
  • Valentin
  • The First Valentine
  • Everyday is Valentine

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mickey’s Diner (Eggs in a Basket) – St. Paul, MN

Roller derby afterparties sometimes end up running late. Sometimes late enough that you shut the bar down and need breakfast before actually going to sleep. Not all the time, just sometimes…

We went to Mickey’s Dining Car in downtown St. Paul after a recent derby afterparty. I decided I’d had enough of being secretly disappointed with the Sputnik Burger I always get. I went with the One Eyed Jack this time around.

I won’t go into a bunch of details since I’ve reviewed Mickey’s before and haven’t had any problems with it. But when my sandwich arrived at the table, everyone exclaimed “Toad in a Hole!!!!” I had no idea what these insane people were yelling about, but apparently in Minnesota, a piece of bread with a hole in the top is called a “Toad in a Hole”.

Since I’m a librarian by training (yeah, they DO offer Master’s degrees in Library Science, thank you), I investigated this.

Here’s what I found. Minnesotans are straight wrong about the name of this dish. Toad in a Hole is actually an English dish of Yorkshire Pudding and sausages (which I’d probably love)(and will now force my friend Mandolin to make this for me the next time I visit her in London). Here’s what the ACTUAL Toad in a Hole looks like:

According to, “Toad in a hole is sometimes confused with eggs in a basket, the process of breaking an egg into a slice of bread with a hole in it, and frying the result. This is not the traditional definition for the term, although the two may be occasionally be mixed up by those unfamiliar with British foods.”

What these Minnesotans are woefully incorrect about is actually called “Eggs in a Basket” (although depending on what part of the country you’re from, it is sometimes called Bullseye Toast, Manhole Covers, or Bird in a Nest). And frankly, I’m not sure what I had was even one of these dishes. I don’t think the egg was actually cooked in the bread – I think the piece of bread had cheese melted on it and then had a hole cut in it with a circular cookie cutter. That way, the cheese is still on the underside of the bread circle – like in my photo from Mickey’s.

Here’s a photo of the super advanced cooking technique required to make Eggs in a Basket.

I’m not saying this thing isn’t delicious. I’m just saying millions of Minnesotan mothers are giving their children false information. That’s probably another reason the Brits hate us. The next time I order this at Mickey’s (or make one/seven at home for myself), I’ll be sure to walk around and spread the word that this is actually called “Eggs in a Basket”. I’ll also do it in a brazenly drunken English Cockney accent in honor of its mistaken British brother – and then I’ll headbutt the first person who tries to correct me. I just hope it isn’t D.Rough – she used to play rugby and isn’t likely to be phased by a move she’s done herself a million times on the rugby pitch.

Mickey's took the simple way out by renaming the sandwich all together! They call it the One Eyed Jack, which works for me. Safely played, Mickey. Avoiding controversy and confrontation - that's the Minnesota way.

Also, here’s MinorityWizard eating a delicious hot fudge sundae at Mickey’s. Ice cream may not soak up alcohol, but it IS tasty!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Denny’s Super Mega Slamwich of Doom – Bloomington, MN

Since I saw the first advertisement for Denny’s new Fried Cheese Sandwich, I knew I’d be getting one. In fact, Rocky and I have been talking about going together to eat this thing. We finally had to set an actual date to go to our local Denny’s and sent out an open invite to have people join us on this quest of ours. Only one brave soul was up for the challenge – our good friend FullMetalJustin. After going to IHoP mistakenly, he met us at the designated Denny’s and we headed inside to take down the cheesemeister meistercheeser (come on, please tell me you get that reference…) (am I really that old?) (Belcher? Coach? Bueler? Anyone?)

For those that don’t know about the Fried Cheese sandwich, it’s the Russian Babushka Doll of Wisconsin – meaning, it’s cheese inside cheese, wrapped in cheese, and then more cheese. It’s a cheese sandwich on sourdough bread with deep fried mozzarella cheese sticks on it covered with cheese, and then you pan fry the whole sandwich like a grilled cheese. Sounds scrumptious, doesn’t it?

When we got inside and seated, we looked high and low for this thing on the menu and found nothing resembling our cheese monstrosity. Agitated and worried, we asked the waitress if they still had it – “They took that off our menu a while back. We don’t have the 2-4-6-8 menu items any more. Some of the other Denny’s still have it, though.” WHAT!?!?! We asked the lady if the cooks could make it or assemble it, if we ordered the things separately. She said no, the cooks wouldn’t do it.

It was a tough decision whether to leave and drive to another Denny’s or to simply walk across the aisle and sit in the bar (did I mention this Denny’s has a full bar drinking lounge?). We decided as a group that we could do better than the stupid menu item and we’d order our own piles of greasy food and assemble our own artery-clogging culinary abominations. So we did.

Rocky ordered half an appetizer sampler, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a cherry coke. FullMetalJustin and I were going big (because we certainly weren’t going home). We ordered the Grand Slamwich and an order of cheese sticks – EACH. I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so I got a strawberry shake. Rocky said to the waitress, “I think you see where we’re going with this…” And I chimed in “…to the HOSPITAL!!!”

We talked all sorts of metal. Rocky can talk for hours about metal music and I can listen for hours about metal music. We make a good team. FullMetalJustin (if you couldn’t tell by his name) is also a major fan of metal, so there weren’t any awkward silences – just metal. We also heard FullMetalJustin talk about his recent all-you-can-eat sushi conquests. Rocky has been running marathons recently – yeah, real marathons – so he doesn’t get to destroy his insides like he used to. I was worried he’d pass on this Denny’s adventure, but I was glad he was here talking metal with us.

The food came out and we got to work. Rocky’s assembly was a little easier than FullMetalJustin and I’s. Rocky’s sandwich was pretty true to the menu item. It was missing a cheese stick or two, but overall, he had the concept down and was going to make it happen. In fact, he DID make it happen, and ate the fries too!

The waitress had the cooks make all our sandwiches open faced, since she knew what we were up to. Kudos to you, waitress-who-will-remain-unnamed-but-if-corporate-could-get-her-some-more-hours-she-would-be-thrilled!

When seeing what FullMetalJustin and I were about to eat pre-assembled, it was a little scarier than I thought it would be.

Grand Slamwich with hashbrowns – Big. Full order of mozzarella cheese sticks with marinara – Big. The Grand Slamwich itself is an omelet with sausage and bacon inside, a layer of ham, mayo, American cheese, and maple spice spread on grilled potato bread. So then, you take as many cheese sticks as would fit – FullMetalJustin and I both got five onto our sandwiches – throw on the hasbrowns, …

…cover with marinara, …

…then re-top with the other slice of bread.

Here we see FullMetalJustin powering through the initial bites of this amazing sandwich. He actually had a layer that I didn’t have on mine – strawberry jelly – he needed more lubrication to make sure this thing didn’t get lodged in his throat. … which it DID, in fact. We were all laughing so hard when he started eating, and he sucked a bite into his lung and started coughing uncontrollably while laughing. We thought it might be a good idea to determine where the nearest hospitals were and also if Denny’s had a defibrillator – which they do, thankfully. I’m glad FullMetalJustin pulled through, though.

I think we’ll start calling this the Super Mega Slamwich of Doom. This is a gut bomb. On 82 different levels. Rocky suggested the best way to eat these kinds of monstrous sandwiches is to eat fast and by the time your stomach figures out what is happening, you’re already done with the sandwich. FullMetalJustin took this advice as gospel and absolutely destroyed this sandwich. He was already two bites into his before I even picked my sandwich up. Then, when I looked up again after two bites of my own, FullMetalJustin’s Super Mega Slamwich of Doom was gone. Rocky seriously asked, “where did your sandwich go?” and FullMetalJustin, through a mouthful of gooey cheese and bread, said, “I ate it.” The guy is an insane eater. I wouldn’t challenge him if I expected to live. He’s an eating machine. FullMetalJustin, you are the champion of Denny’s – without question.

I paced myself on my own sandwich. I took down one row of cheese sticks at a time and finished mine. I still had a pile of hashbrowns left on my plate that had fallen out, but I knew I had to eat them. Besides, neither of the two guys I was with would let me leave any food on the plate and say I actually completed the challenge. So I threw some ketchup all over the remnants of the potatoes and cleaned up the whole thing. I also wolfed down the cheese sticks since those certainly can’t go to waste.

I’m not a subscriber to the “trick your stomach” rule of speed-eating, but I still managed to eat the whole thing. Yeah, I was stuffed. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have gotten a strawberry shake as well. Yeah, I felt like I was going to die when I got home and couldn’t sit comfortably. Yeah, my shirt still smells like cheese-fried-greasy-cheese. Yeah, I made the mistake of looking up how many calories I consumed in less than 20 minutes.

Standard Grand Slamwich – 1,310 calories
Hashbrowns – 210 calories
Full order of cheese sticks - 560
Strawberry shake – 560 calories
Grand Total – 2,640 calories

And yeah, I will be hitting the treadmill in a serious way after that meal… well… the next day, when I can actually move.

The sandwich was just ok. It was a little dry, but maybe the strawberry jelly made up for it on FullMetalJustin's sandwich. I think I would have preferred the Grand Slamburger instead of the Slamwich, if I were to do it again. I think juicy beef would have been better than a dry omelet and the hashbrowns would have already arrived on the burger. It might have just been more difficult to get cheesesticks onto. I think the ratios of bread to cheese in our constructed sandwiches were a little off - it might be better if that were corrected, but this was our first time. I think the wow factor in this case is better than the flavor factor. This sandwich probably isn't going to be on the Denny's corporate menu anytime soon (especially at the Denny's WE went to).

Overall, we had a great time talking horrific food and metal all night. I’m glad FullMetalJustin showed up (I think he had already eaten dinner, but still managed to choke this thing down at a record-breaking pace). And I’m glad Rocky and I can cross this one off our list. I don’t think there’s any reason to go back and get the “actual one” – the ones we ate were far more grotesque than the one on the 2-4-6-8 menu. (However, we got word that Rita would like to partake in the challenge, so maybe we’ll hit up a Denny’s that does have the Fried Cheese Sandwich with Rita and Rocky and I’ll call it a light snack.)

I think I just set a new record: I used the word "cheese" 28 times in this one review (now 29). Sorry, lactose intollerant people...


Why didn't anyone tell me they sell my favorite root beer in the world in a pony keg? Now where's my bendy straw?!?!?!

(It would have been much funnier if the price had actually been $19.19, but alas it wasn't...)

(Now, I need to wait until Coachie D can take a weekend off to come to Minnesota and get all diabetic with me! This will be much easier to defeat than the half-keg of Sprecher Cream Soda we got a few years back. 30 Liters of sugary soda will destroy your brain cells - but it was worth it!!! This 5 Liter keg won't be a problem.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Everest on Grand – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have been talking about going to Everest on Grand for a few months now. I’ve been to its sister restaurant Himalayan in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood a while back, so I knew I’d like the food at Everest. We took the scenic route and picked up SecretMeat on our way there.

The inside is very bright and lively and it was very full when we got there on a Friday night. Not surprising, I suppose. The menu is full of all kinds of delicious-looking dishes and there are great descriptions of the food, so you’re not too terribly surprised what comes out to your table. Nepali food is a cousin of Indian food (actually North Indian food is prevalent in Nepal and Tibet), so a lot of the dishes look very similar. The exception being that I don’t recall seeing a lot of Yak on the menu at Indian food restaurants.

I always have a heck of a time deciding on dinner at places like this. I want to try everything, but I can’t, sadly. We all decided, finally. We were going to start with the Pyaji – onion and jalapeno strips fried in gram-flour and chickpea batter and fried – and some Yak Momo – basically steamed dumplings with ground yak (yes, the furry beast of burden from the East). SecretMeat ordered Bheda-ko Maasu (Lamb curry), D.Rough got the Kukhurako Maasu (Chicken curry) with Jogi-tarkari, and I got the Yak Keema – ground yak with peas, herbs, and spices. We all asked for our dishes to be prepared Medium-Hot, since we’re not wusses.

We didn’t wait long for the appetizers to come out, thankfully, since we were starving. The momo/dumplings were delicious. They were firmly steamed, so they weren’t slimy like you get sometimes with pot-stickers. The ground yak on the inside was seasoned perfectly with onions and cilantro, and the dipping sauce (mom achar – cilantro, tomato, and spices) that arrived with the dish got fought over by the three of us.

The Pyaji was one of the best things of the entire dinner. Indian food has a similar dish, but the breading on these things is perfect for the flavors inside. I tried not to eat too many of these, but they truly are addicting. Again, the dipping sauce (achaar – but different than the momo achar, this one had tomato and tamarind in it) complements the flavors of the breading and the onion/jalapeno mix extremely well. I don’t usually like tamarind at all, but I REALLY liked it with this dish. This was a great way to start our meal.

The waitress then brought out a giant platter of long grain rice, along with our various entrees. We all ended up sampling each other’s plates just to see who had the best one.

My Yak Keema was quite good. The yak meat is ground up and mixed in with the spices, and then tomatoes and potatoes are thrown into the melee. There’s cilantro on top of the dish for just the right amount of flavor. It wasn’t spicy at all, which makes me think I should have gone with the actual HOT designation. But the flavor of the dish absolutely made up for it. It doesn’t look like much (in fact, it does sort of look like mush), but it is really good.

SecretMeat’s Lamb Curry was also really quite good. Better than my Yak, actually. Generous pieces of lamb meat mixed with green peppers, tomatoes, and a bunch of other spices had a fantastic flavor. SecretMeat isn’t from this country, and really likes her food spicy, so she ordered this insane hot sauce on the side. She loved it and ended up putting it on everything. I tried it and really liked it, but I prefer my blazing hot sauce mixed in with my food, so it’s spread over a larger portion evenly. That’s just me. Like I said, the lamb curry is awesome.

The winning dish of the evening was the Chicken Curry. I didn’t think it would be, but it absolutely blew us away. It was combined with the Jogi, so it was a little difficult to pick the flavors apart from each dish, but the whole thing worked really well together. Lots of chick peas and chicken pieces. The spiciness could have been kicked up a notch or two, like all of our dishes, but it was still a brilliant plate of food.

We ended up ordering a plate of garlic Naan for our meal and we were glad we did. IT had large pieces of garlic pressed into the top of the bread, so be ready for that, but you’ll be glad you ordered it. We weren’t sure if it came with the dish (it doesn’t), so we ordered it after our food already came out.

You’d think all three of these plates would taste the same, since they all look like brown piles or mush with cilantro on top. However, they don’t taste the same at all. Each one has a very distinct flavor and texture, even. This is one of the better meals we’ve had in a while and all of us went home full. Well… sort of full, we walked across the street to Kowalski’s to grab a little dessert…

Just go here. I REALLY want to come here for the lunch buffet they have, but I’ll have to figure out when I can “work” from home…

Top 5 things about Everest on Grand
1. Kukhurako Maasu (Chicken curry) with Jogi-tarkari
2. Pyaji
3. Bheda-ko Maasu (Lamb curry)
4. Yak Keema
5. Yak Momo

Bottom 5 things
1. Don’t be afraid of the spice here – order up a level if you like it hot
2. I didn’t get dessert here, and I really like the desserts they had on the menu (my own fault)
3. The coupon we brought couldn’t be used on Saturdays – super bummer
4. There seemed to be a lot of surly unhappy painfully-white couples not enjoying the delicious food they were eating – there were enough there that I’m now commenting on it.
5. A little confusing when ordering a combination of plates from the combo section. We THINK we got what we ordered, but it’s hard to tell (this gives me a reason to go back to Everest a few more times… hahaha)