Friday, August 31, 2012

Papa Haydn – Portland, OR

I was in Portland for some awesome Minnesota Rollergirl action and I got to hang with my good friend, Babo. He’s an IT guy who claims he doesn’t get out much, but he’s always got the best-tasting and most unique food recommendations – so he must get out a little bit, right?

We went to have a light lunch at Papa Haydn. It’s a slightly upscale restaurant known for its desserts in the Portland area. They have a handful of locations, but we went to the one with an adjoining casual space called the Jo Bar – it’s got a more expansive menu due to the wood-fired oven in the kitchen.

The menu had quite a few things on it I wanted to try. It was difficult to decide, so I told the server what I was trying to decide between. They’re always helpful at splitting ties, even if it’s a six-way tie. I finally went with the Asian cucumber salad. It had everything in it I like and she said it was a light enough salad that I wouldn’t want to take a nap afterward. Perfect.

They brought us bread after some sort of butter bottleneck in the kitchen. The butter was a peppercorn butter, which made me smile to myself when I realized why it looked familiar – it looked like Breyer’s Vanilla ice cream, the one with the vanilla bean specks in it. This butter was pretty delicious though. I can’t say I’ve ever had coarsely ground black pepper in my butter before, but now I ‘m going to want it all the time. Brilliant.

The food came out pretty quickly for how busy they were at lunch. My salad was even better than I expected. It had a ton of cucumber slices in it, and also persimmons, cherry tomatoes, a few chili peppers, and some really delicious croutons. The whole thing was drizzled in a very light raspberry vinaigrette dressing, which gave everything a light pink hue. The croutons really made this salad. Keep in mind, I’m a super crouton snob, but these croutons were great. They had soaked up just a little bit of the raspberry flavor and retained their crunch while not tearing the roof of my mouth up. The persimmons had lost their bitter taste with the dressing and the cucumbers were really fresh and flavorful. I’m glad I got this dish.

I had a bite of Babo’s steak salad and was really pleased with his, as well. Great flavor on the sliced hangar steak and the greens were really tasty. This food at this restaurant suited the atmosphere. It was upscale and light, without being snooty and expensive. I’d recommend this place, even though we didn’t try the desserts. We sat very close to the dessert case, however, and everything in it looked great. Maybe a dessert fan should try some of these and give them a review, since Papa Haydn appears all over the place when you do a search for Portland desserts.

A great recommendation from Babo and I can’t wait to go back and visit!

Top 5 things about Papa Haydn
1. Asian Cucumber Salad
2. Pepper butter
3. Steak Salad
4. Unique and varied menu (even more expansive in the Jo Bar)
5. Known for desserts, apparently

Bottom 5 things
1. I didn’t get the main thing Papa Haydn is known for
2. The menu is on the pricey side, but still reasonable
3. We didn’t know the Jo Bar had a broader menu when we sat down (hard to tell they’re the same restaurant, except we walked through the Jo Bar to get to the restrooms)
4. The server took my bread plate and pepper butter before I was done with them – I stopped her and asked her to return them
5. The online menu doesn’t line up very closely with the menu in the restaurant
701 Northwest 23rd Avenue
Portland, OR
(503) 2238-7317

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pineda Tacos – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have driven by this taco place hundreds of times and said we were going to go there. Well, when Food Truck Wednesday got last-minute cancelled, I decided to hit it up. Thankfully, she wasn’t too mad that I went without her…

The outside looks like the building used to be an old timey diner, and judging from the inside, that’s pretty accurate. A bunch of booths are in the main dining area and the menu is on large signs above the cooks’ line. You sort of tell the guy behind the glass what you want and he makes it right there. You tell him what you want in and on your food and he puts it all together for you. Efficient operation.

I was in the mood for a chimichanga, so I ordered one with pastor (pork) on the inside. The guy wrapped up beans, rice, and pork in a flour shell and deep fried it. He added some lettuce, avocado, tomato, and sour cream, and handed it over. I also can’t pass up a pineapple Jarritos…

The food was piping hot and delicious. The shell was perfectly golden brown and the pastor was tasty. I had gotten it with the spicier green sauce on top (you can get red if you want it more mild), and it had a great flavor. I didn’t feel any heat at all, but thankfully, the flavor was great. The cheese was just starting to melt on the top of the hot fried shell and also helped with the flavor. I ended up cutting up the chimichanga into pieces and then folding in the lettuce, avocado, and tomatoes. I was pretty happy with this.

Maybe it doesn’t stand out in the vast array of delicious Mexican food in the West St. Paul area, but it’s pretty darn good. I’m looking forward to going back here. It’s pretty solid Mexican food and the guys working behind the counter were really nice and helpful.

It’s one of four locations in the Twin Cities (I think they’re all connected somehow), so feel free to hit up any of their locations.

Top 5 things about Pineda
1. Chimichanga
2. Expansive menu with a lot of options
3. Friendly staff
4. Reasonably priced
5. Got to watch Mexican soap operas while eating lunch

Bottom 5 things
1. Still kind of has a greasy spoon diner feel to it, decoration-wise
2. Styrofoam plates (doesn’t bother me, but I’ve heard people complain about that before)
3. The tomatoes weren’t the greatest (I realize it isn’t tomato season)
4. Weird empty vending machine just inside the door
5. It isn’t very busy, which is surprising

Pineda Tacos
1304 South Robert Street
Saint Paul, MN 55118
(651) 455-6833

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Strip Club (Poutine Crawl) – St. Paul, MN

If you’ve spent any time at all with me, you’ve probably heard me talk about The Strip Club - it’s one of my top 5 favorite restaurants in the Twin Cities. So you can imagine how excited I was when the Poutine Crawl group I’m part of picked The Strip Club as the next stop on the crawl. I love the name of this place, since how often do you get to take your parents/boss/in-laws to a place called The Strip Club. On top of this, the food there is out of this world good, made with love, and served by some really awesome staff who seem to love their jobs.

And of course, TSC is known for their amazing cocktails. Tim hand makes all kinds of infusions and bitters and comes up with fun cocktail combinations that people rave about. I can’t get past the whiskey sour he makes there. Homemade simple syrup with lime flavoring and good whiskey – I may have had a few of these…

I’ve had TSCs poutine before, but this restaurant is one of those that changes their menu regularly. So the poutine changes, as well. The last time I had it, it was stellar – all covered in mushroom-wine gravy and filled with pork belly. Brilliant. I had no idea what to expect this time.

When our group finally all arrived, we put in orders for 11 poutines and assorted accoutrements for a few people. The poutine, this time around named Poutine Polpettine, had a distinctly Italian feel to it. Fries, homemade marinara, meatballs, chilies, and parmagiano cheese. It was fantastic.

It’s a one-person sized portion, which is nice (it’s on the small plate section of the menu, so basically an appetizer). The red sauce was quite tasty with a bit of spice to it form the chilies. The meatballs were top notch as well. A little crisp on the outside with excellent flavor of meat on the inside.

The only bad things I heard was that the lack of curds made it not poutine-like enough. People thought the dish was delicious, but it didn’t feel like Canadian food – unless there’s a Italy-town in the back alleys of Montreal that we haven’t heard about – which, now I wonder if that’s the case.

Our poutine crawlers weren’t ones to pass up dessert, either. So while people munched on four-less chocolate cake and peach crumble, I ordered a Scotch Egg (a hardboiled egg, covered in sausage and breading, and then deep fried). I’m not much of a dessert person, but I do love fried and sausage. This scotch egg was awesome. It had a runny yolk (which I thought went well, especially with the tasty garnishes on the plate), so be ready for that, and the fried sausage casing was perfect.

I can’t rave enough about The Strip Club. It continues to be one of my favorite places in the Twin Cities. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the next adaptation of poutine will be when the menu changes in September/October. The other folks on the crawl also said they’d LOVE to do another run here.

Thanks again, Tim and JD! Amazing, as usual.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Bukhara Indian Bistro – Wayzata, MN

I’ve been in the mood for Indian food for a few weeks now and I finally managed to buckle down a day to have lunch with M. and Trash Giant. I had read about Bukhara on the internet and didn’t see a lot of reviews. It was close enough to hit during the lunch hour, so I made them meet me there.

It’s got a lunch buffet, and that’s what we needed. They’ve got a pretty good sized buffet with many options for vegetarians (like Trash). We all loaded up our plates and headed back to gorge ourselves. The servers had brought a basket of naan to our table for us, so you really don’t need to get any from the buffet, but you can if you want. I did, only because I was unsure if my dining companions had ordered a special kind of naan and weren’t sharing.

There are a lot of things to choose from. Chickpea battered fried cheese, fish pakora, Matar Paneer, Paneer Makhani, Beef in a curry sauce, Chicken Tikka Masala, Tandori Chicken, yellow lentils, tofu masala, biryani rice, and a few other things I can’t remember off the top of my head.
I started with the deep fried cheese, but I was immediately disappointed with the lack of salt in the cheese. I really love chickpea batter, but if whatever it’s coating isn’t delicious too, it’s a waste. There wasn’t much flavor in the cheese, sadly. The paneers were both just a little bland. Im not sure if they’ve been sitting there a while, or just not seasoned enough for my palate, but I couldn’t tell the difference between many of the dishes. In fact, even the vegetarian couldn't tell the difference betwen the tofu and the cheese. The curry beef was one of the better tasting dishes, as were the yellow lentils (and those generally don’t have much flavor at most places). The naan was fine, but I think that’s difficult to mess up – it’s basically a mechanism for me to scoop things, and sop up juices on my plate afterwards anyway.

I tried a few different things when I went up the second time, but it was pretty much the same result (you can see the missing spot where I dove into my beef curry before remembering to take a photo – hahahaha). The second plate was also pretty lack luster.

I finished the meal with some kheer (which thankfully, they had). It was fine – nothing special, but it isn’t a hugely flavorful dessert anyway. I liked it just fine though (both bowls that I ate…).

I’m not planning any trips back here to Bukhara anytime soon. It wasn’t the best showing, even for a buffet. There are other Indian buffets I need to try!

Top 5 things about Bukhara
1. Beef Curry
2. Yellow Lentils
3. Kheer
4. Super-fast service
5. Many items to try

Bottom 5 things
1. Chickpea battered cheese – paneer pakora
2. Matar Paneer
3. Paneer Makhani
4. Tandori Chicken
5. It’s kind of a pain to get to

Monday, August 20, 2012

Magic Thai – Eagan, MN

I have friends that are scared to recommend places to me for fear that I won’t like the restaurant and they’ll forever be heckled on the internet by my review of their favorite places. Rug wasn’t scared though – he just layed it out there: his favorite lunchtime Thai restaurant is Magic Thai in Eagan. He even told me what he usually orders.

I went to check it out since Wednesday Food Truck day got cancelled. It’s in a strip mall next to a Montessori school, and really easy to find, just off 35E. I read online that they had a buffet, so I thought I’d check that out, even though Rug recommended something specific. I like to get a feel for a lot of things on the menu without having to take a gamble on one meal. I took a look at the buffet to make sure I would like at least one thing on it and decided to go for it.

The inside is sparsely decorated with some Thai wall hangings and there are more seats than I assumed from the front of the building. The buffet is really small. It’s got 4 or 5 entrees on it, fried and white rice, cream cheese wontons and fried egg rolls, and sweet and sour chicken. There’s a small table with Thai chicken salad against one wall, and another small buffet area with cookies, honeydew, and a crock of chicken noodle (this changes daily) soup. Not a huge amount to choose from, but I wasn’t’ going to starve or anything. In fact, I could eat anything on the buffet – and I did.

Here’s what I got for round 1

The cream cheese wontons were shaped more like a square pocket than a puff. They were really flat and didn’t look like they contained much cream cheese. The amount that was in there was about the bottom limit of what many would consider appropriate. But how much do you really need in there? It’s an appetizer, right? There just seemed to be a high fried-wrapper to cream cheese ratio. All I tasted was “fried” – which thankfully I’m alright with. I know people that would have issues with it. It was fried to the point of chewy in a lot of places, but I still thought they were acceptable.

The fried egg rolls were really good. Surprisingly so. They’re skinny, but they seem to have plenty of glass noodles and cabbage in them. I’m pretty sure these were vegetarian as well (didn’t ask). I really liked the crunch on these and they weren’t greasy at all, which was nice.

The chicken drummy was gristly, but had a super good fry on it. The flavor part was good, the crunch part was good, but there was some part of bone or cartilage that I didn’t recognize. Good flavor, bad texture.

The Red Curry Pork was the winner of the day. Absolutely delicious flavor and plenty of heat with it. I’m bummed that it didn’t have more than 2 small pieces of pork in it, the rest was bamboo shoots and mostly onions. But the flavor was so good, I kept getting more just so I could have the curry liquid with my rice. Delicious!

The Beef and Broccoli was also really quite good. More spicy than I’ve ever had it before, especially on a buffet. Again, very few pieces of meat in the dish, but when one of four bites did get meat, it was delicious. Very good quality ingredients and the veggies seemed fresh.

One of the different things on the menu than what I’m used to was something called Pad Gratium Prig Thai Chicken – chicken and garlic with black pepper and steamed vegetables. This was spicy as well, but so flavorful, even after I picked out most of the onions. I really liked this one, as well. Again, it could have used more pieces of chicken, but the flavor kept me coming back for more.

The veggie lomein was even better than the average stuff. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but the veggies were good and fresh. I originally took it as filler to go along side my fried rice (which was also good), but it really does stand on its own as a dish, despite the lots of onions (sense a pattern here?).

On the table by itself was something labeled Thai Chicken Salad. I took a trial sized portion of it, not knowing what flavors to expect. I went back for more. It was cold, which I wasn’t expecting. It was also very bright and vibrant, like the inside of a fresh spring roll. Cucumbers, mint, cabbage, and of course, onions.

I went back for more of everything!

And then a third time!

Each time I finished a plate, I had a huge portion of onions left on my plate. Enough to cover the entire bottom of the plate. There are soooo many onions. Thankfully, they’re all large enough pieces I can pick them out. I don’t mind the flavor of onions, but they don’t agree with my insides, so I have to seriously limit the amount I eat. This amount probably would have killed me before I made it out to the car.

The owner of the place, a really nice short fun lady, ran around and made sure people had their orders and full water glasses. She remembered everyone that came in there, what they usually order, where they sat the last time, everything. She’s quite impressive and takes pride in her restaurant. The cook in the back was a fully made-up and fancy pretty Asian lady, even though she was slaving away over stoves and grills! I was impressed.

I think vegetarians might have a tough time here. Even though there was VERY little meat in the dishes, most of them were cooked with meat (except the veggie lomein). If you’re the kind of vegetarian who can pick meat out and still be alright, you’ll do just fine here. Especially if you like onions.

The price is right, as well. $8.45 for the buffet ($9.05 with tax). I know Rug told me to get the #35 – the Prik Pow with Basil, but I’ll consider getting it next time. That is, if I don’t order the Red Curry Pork. That’s going to be a tough call. It isn't my favorite Thai place in the Twin Cities, but it is definitely on the higher end of the scale. I’ll be back here for sure. Thanks for the recommendation, Rug!

Top 5 things about Magic Thai
1. Red Curry Pork
2. Awesome spice/heat level – absolutely perfect
3. Pad Gratium Prig Thai Chicken
4. Fried Spring Rolls
5. Thai Chicken Salad

Bottom 5 things
1. Serious overabundance of onions in almost everything
2. Small buffet selection
3. Lack of meat in dishes
4. Super flat cream cheese wontons
5. Gristly chicken drumstick

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mr. and Mrs. Torture’s Incredible Bachelor/Bachelorette Party – St. Paul, MN

I normally don’t review super personal things like this, but I’m making an exception since it was so awesome. Mr. and Mrs. Torture are awesome people and know other people who know awesome people. Some of these aforementioned people know about this underground bowling alley in the basement of a catholic school in St. Paul. And by underground, I mean it’s in a basement. The Torture’s rented out the entire 6-lane facility for their pre-wedding shenanigans and got the ok to bring in booze (it’s run by Catholics, so it didn’t take much)(Hey! I went to Catholic school. I’m allowed to say things/facts like that). It’s one of two tiny church-related bowling centers in the Twin cities and likely one of less than a hundred church-run bowling alleys in the country. It’s a secret big deal. (So secret, they don't even light their sign outside...)

The lanes are standard lanes, with automatic pin setters, and even scorekeeping computer monitors. The seating area for bowlers is almost on top of the bowler who’s up, so you have to be careful, but there’s a nice seating area behind the lanes for bowlers and hecklers alike. You can rent shoes at the counter where you pay for your games and they’re got houseballs for everyone to use. It’s a pretty fun operation. It’s isn’t going to be all fancy black lights and discoballs like at Brunswick FunZone, but it’s absolutely the kind of awesome you’d expect when you tell someone you’re going to a secret bowling alley in the basement of a catholic school. This totally reminds me of a super small bowling alley back in my home town – they bowling alley was called Hob Nob and had eight lanes of cigarette-smelling, super dark awesomeness.

Here are some shots of the funiosity, starting with Mrs. and Mr. Torture themselves!

We started off with a bit of craziness to make sure people had fun. The first bowler on lane one got to pick what everyone will do for frame one – funny walk, spin around, between the legs, football hike, opposite hand, and then everyone does that for a frame. Then the person on lane 2 picks the second frame bowling style, and so on. It got a little ridiculous, and I think I ended up with a 37 for the first game. The next games were much better when it was a free for all. Or maybe the flasks of liquor helped (you have to keep the booze off the lanes though and in the seating area – very simple house rules we were happy to comply with).

There’s even a copy of Mark Roth’s well-known book available in case you need some tips. My father is cracking up right now, since I guarantee he has this book in his home office right now.

And of course, you get to use the school gym locker room for the restrooms, should you need it. Bring a towel, take a shower! D.Rough has no idea how close I came to doing that during the party. I’m amazed she puts up with me, but I’m glad she does.

D.Rough and I were excited to use the bowling balls her parents got us for Christmas last year. We’ve only been bowling with her family once since we got them, but we’re making sure the balls get put to good use. Thanks, parents-in-laws! We love them!!

Seriously, this was one of the best bachelor/bachelorette party ideas ever. And… it was just the start of the evening.

Note: There doesn’t appear to be a lick of oil on the lanes here (for non-bowlers, yes, there is supposed to be oil on the lanes). I didn’t even ONCE hit the right side pins the entire time. Choose your weapons accordingly if you plan to go here. Don't even bother with urethane or resin balls (sorry to get all fancy-talk on you...).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Kip’s Authentic Irish Pub & Restaurant – St. Louis Park, MN

I met the librarians at Kip’s for happy hour. You laugh, but you have no idea how social librarians can be when you get them out of the work environment and pump them full of drinks. Don’t knock it! Librarians are the some of the best partiers I know. One of the girls had gotten engaged, so we thought we’d all meet up and drink to help her wedding planning. Drinking helps, right?

Kip’s is the hotel bar/restaurant of the Minneapolis Marriott West Hotel, so it isn’t difficult to find. It’s got a large patio you can see from the parking lot and surprisingly looks like what you’d expect from an Irish pub on the inside. Dark wood, dim lighting, nooks and crannies to sit/stand in, and some pretty awesome sounding things on the menu.

I couldn’t wait for everyone to get there before I ordered. I was starving and it was happy hour for another 30 minutes! I finally narrowed it down to a few things and, after ordering a Snakebite (beer & cider), decided on Irish Spring Rolls and also Chicken and Pepper Jack Boxty. Both sounded awesome and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to share with anyone. Sometimes this group gets a bunch of things and shares, other times the people order individual things. I wasn’t ready to wait to find out how tonight was going to go. I went for it.

Both plates came out at the same time and both looked awesome. The Irish Spring Rolls were odd, but surprisingly good. They were fried Asian egg roll wraps stuffed with corned beef, cabbage, and farmers cheese. They came with some sort of ranch/thousand island (almost a frisco sauce) dipping sauce. I was a fan. They were really crunchy without being greasy and the insides had plenty to fill me up. Really an interesting take on spring rolls.

The Chicken and Pepper Jack Boxty was like nothing I’d had before. It’s a pair of Irish potato pancakes filled with chicken, melted pepper jack, and roasted red pepper aioli. It had a sort of salsa-like or pico-like garnish on the top that added some more pop to the flavor, which was nice. The insides were a little bit bland – you could tell you were eating chicken and pepperjack, but the red peppers I wanted more of. If you got the sauce AND the pico AND the insides AND the pancake in a bite, it was mostly good. Not mind blowing, but good. I was glad I checked it out, frankly.

It’s actually a nice place to have a drink after work, despite it having an initial hotel experience walking in. The menu is really thorough and contains some traditional-ish Irish fare. Also, the happy hour is pretty darn good (only until 6pm though). The wait staff were super friendly and didn’t even bat an eye when we asked for a table for ten without advanced warning. They made sure we were all properly lubricated and made sure we liked our food – which everyone ordered to share, making me look like a jerk when I didn’t. hahahah. Oh well, these librarians are used to that by now.

Top 5 things about Kip’s
1. Irish Spring Rolls
2. Happy hour specials
3. Comprehensive menu
4. Super friendly servers
5. Really big patio
(6. You can get super loaded and sleep right upstairs if you want!)

Bottom 5 things
1. You still have to walk through part of the hotel to get there – still weird to me
2. I was stupid not to try the Bailey’s Crème Brulee…
3. Despite it being a librarian party, there were comments about the number of random books used for decoration – just odd
4. Interesting that they have a specific menu just for the patio (are the items less breakable or wind resistant?)
5. The Boxty could have had more flavor – it’s world famous, according to the website

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Valley Pastries – Golden Valley, MN

It was disc golf Saturday, and I was driving all the way across the Twin Cities to play the course in Plymouth. When these longer drives occur, I try to find a good place to stop along the way, so I can bring the guys the nourishment they need to make it through a round of disc golf. Donuts always hit the radar first. Valley Pastries was close to the course and I could still make it before the round started. Perfect.

The shop is in a small strip mall in the Western suburbs. It’s a pretty small shop, but the cases are full. One case is mainly donuts, the other is mainly cookies. I ignored the cookies and focused on the donuts. There were a bunch that I wanted to try, but I knew if the guys didn’t eat what I brought, I’d be eating the left overs. I had to pick wisely. The ladies behind the counter were very friendly and got me taken care of without any problems at all. Super nice.

I got a glazed apple-filled donut and a raspberry jam filled bismark.

I also got a chocolate raised donut and a maple frosted cinnamon roll.

And I finally asked what these huge donut hole looking things were. They were, in fact, huge donut holes. Biggest donut holes I’ve ever seen. You weren’t going to be popping these bad boys into your mouth. They were like two- or three-biters. Here's a photo so you can see the scale.

Fortunately, all of these donuts were really good. Better than average and I’m glad I popped in there. They were moist without still tasting of grease, like some places. The fillings were fresh tasting and I’d be happy to go back here anytime I head that direction. The only downside was they didn’t have milk in the cooler to drink with your donuts. Just water and sodas. Not to worry though, there’s a gas station within walking distance if you HAVE to have milk with your donuts.

Valley Pastries
2570 Hillsboro Ave. N.
Golden Valley, MN 55427

Friday, August 10, 2012

Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery – Spring Valley, MN

D.Rough and I were driving the scenic route back from Illinois, when we drove past Four Daughters Vineyard on a very out-of-the-way country back road just south of Rochester. The building itself stuck out against the cornfields nearby and when we saw what it was, we turned the car around and went back. We’re always up for little adventures like this. It was lunch time, so we thought if they had some sort of food, we might grab a bite to eat and continue on. We’re VERY glad we stopped.

The building and the grounds look very inviting. The restaurant/tasting area of the building has very modern but homey architecture, complete with a nice open patio with tables and chairs for lunch. We walked into the nice open building and found an open table to sit at and looked at the menus. They have a Patio Menu and a Pizza Menu – there’s also a more full menu of offerings, but we didn’t see that until we had already ordered. The menu isn’t super comprehensive, but it does contain some really nice sounding dishes. It’s upscale fare, like you’d expect, but the prices are VERY reasonable. The best part is they have a wine tasting/flight for $5. You get to try six wines (pretty small samples) throughout your meal. Obviously, this sounded great to us. We also decided we would split a fancy pizza.

The server helping us was very down to earth and seemed relieved that we were pretty easy going and told her exactly what we thought of all the wines. We’re not pretentious or anything, but we know what we like and she could tell we weren’t the most formal people she’s ever waited on. She told us a little bit about the vineyards and said they just opened up for business in December of 2011, so it’s really new. The wines we got to taste were all made at the vineyard there:

• Riesling (sweet or off-dry white)
• LaCrescent (light sweet white with a hint of grapefruit)
• Frontenac Gris (sweet white with peach, apricot, and oak)
• Marquette (medium-heavy red wine with some spice and oak)
• Sparkling Moscato (very light white with some bubbles)
• Big Boy Blend (heavy and high-alcohol red)

The pizza didn’t take long to come up, but we kept watching servers brig pizzas to other tables. They looked really good. They had a cracker crust on them and an appropriate amount of toppings (not too skimpy, but not a complete layer of heavy cheese). We had ordered the Greek Olive and Prosciutto pizza – goat cheese, prosciutto, olives, and house-made herb oil. The prosciutto was the star of this show and there was plenty of it on the pizza. The olives added even more salt and flavor to the meal and paired with the (mostly) light wines, it was a fantastic meal. We had to pace our pizza eating, so we still had pizza left when the final glasses of wines came out for us to taste.

At the end of the meal, we even got to taste their homemade hard cider and the homemade sangria, made with the sparkling moscato. Both were good and light, but we thought the wine was the more important and flavorful draw to this place. Maybe if we were out on the patio, the sangria would have been more environment-appropriate, but I thought the cider was a bit too light for me. It’s very light, similar to Crispin, and I like the heartier ciders like Dupont Cidre Bouche Fermier or Strongbow. Again, that’s just me though.

There is a small shop area for wine-related nick-knacks that’s worth a look and the wine is sold right there, as well. It’s very reasonably priced at $16-28 per bottle (and even sold on Sundays!!!!)
We were thrilled with everything about this place. They have all kinds of tours and movie nights and date nights with special menus and wine tastings and appear to run through the winter as well. I’m sure the tours don’t continue through the winter, but the place has plenty of room for eating and wine tasting. There is a wide variety of clientele, which was nice. Looked like some fancy Rochester people, local bubbas, touring motorcyclists, families, and just about everyone in between. I hope this place does well – I know we were very impressed with the servers, the food, the wine, and the whole location. Now that we know this vineyard is on the back way home from Illinois, we might just be taking the scenic route every time!

Top 5 things about Four Daughters Vineyard & Winery
1. Prosciutto and Greek Olive Pizza
2. Sparkling Moscato
3. Frontenac Gris
4. Awesome staff
5. The entire operation/grounds/

Bottom 5 things
1. It’s south of Rochester, so if you’re in that area, it probably isn’t in the bottom 5
2. I know you get six different wines, but I always wish the samples were larger. hahahaha
3. There’s nothing else bad here!!!
4. N/A
5. N/A

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blue Door Pub – St. Paul, MN

It has been a while since I reviewed the Blue Door Pub. It’s a fantastic non-divey bar that takes its food pretty seriously. They offer a variety of “fancy” Jucy Lucys (which are Minnesota’s famous burgers with cheese on the inside of the meat patties), and have quite a few other delicious sounding items to choose from, including Spam bites, a burger with peanut butter on it, and build-your-own grilled cheese sandwiches.

Words of warning I always give for this place: It’s always busy. It’s the perfect size for maximum capacity. You’ll always wait, but normally not long enough to frustrate you. They turn tables around pretty quickly here. And it’s worth the wait.

I was meeting Taco and TheDoctor for lunch, and fortunately, they got there before I did and scored a table. The hard part was over. The next difficult part was deciding which sandwich I wanted. I finally had it decided on when TheDoctor pointed out the special burger they had today. The Picnic Bluecy (they call their Jucy Lucys BLUECY Lucys because of the Blue Door name). This sounded brilliant to me. It was a burger with American cheese on the inside, covered with bbq pulled pork and then topped with chipotle cole slaw. Yeah, that was what I needed. I also got a side of buffalo tots, which I had never had before. And finally, we decided our table needed a basket of beer battered deep fried green beans to share, as well.

The green beans came out first and were piping hot. Also delicious. They are slightly greasy, but you convince yourself the whole thing is healthy since they’re green beans! Awesome strategy, Blue Door. They come with a seasoned sour cream ranch dip that’s awesome. They’re not floppy at all, either – the batter gives the illusion of crispiness, so you just keep shoveling them in. I love these things.

The burgers came out pretty quickly, especially considering how busy the place was at lunch. The burgers looked awesome, but I went right in for the tots. Holy Balzac, these things are awesome. I used to think nothing could top Cajun seasoned tots, but these buffalo tots win everything. They come with a blue cheese dipping sauce and the whole combination is incredible. The tots aren’t soggy (at first), so the crunch they have mixed with the spice of the sauce is exactly what you want. I’m telling you, even if you don’t know it, it IS what you want.

I’ve never had a bad burger here (and yes, I’m including the jiffy peanut butter burger in with the non-bad burgers) and this one was one of the best I’ve had. The bbq pork had a great flavor and went well with the chipotle cole slaw. I’m not generally a chipotle-flavored anything fan, but I really liked this slaw. And, of course, the meat and cheese of the burger was also top-quality. I love this thing. I was absolutely stuffed when I left, but it was one of the best lunches I’ve had in a while.

Top 5 things about the Blue Door Pub
1. Buffalo Tots
2. Picnic Bluecy
3. Deep fried green beans
4. Incredible menu options
5. They pride themselves on having good quality craft beers, if that’s your thing

Bottom 5 things
1. There’s always a wait here, just deal with it
2. There are foods here that will destroy your insides. You know what’s going to happen and you don’t care. 100% worth it
3. There are plenty of tots, but I ALWAYS want more. I may start ordering my own extra side
4. This isn’t the place to come with more than 3 or 4 people, or strollers, or baby carriers…
5. Make sure you read ALL the chalk-written specials and food/drink options or you’ll find something ELSE you should have ordered

Monday, August 6, 2012

Decrease Your Species Tour – Beat Coffeehouse – Minneapolis, MN

Having scored a bachelor’s degree in music performance, I can say honestly that like a lot of different music. People sometimes follow that up with “except rap” or “except country”. I have no caveats. I’m all in. When I heard the Decrease Your Species tour was headed to town, I made sure I was there. I’ve seen a bunch of metal and hardcore shows at the Beat Coffeehouse, but never a rap show. Not intending to sound racist at all, but I had no idea the Twin Cities had any sort of underground white-guy rap scene. But it DOES. It isn’t the following that Atmosphere has or anything, but it’s there (and it’s YOUNG). I honestly teared up a little bit during the show when I realized I really missed my recently deceased friend ThrowerOfBolts – who was one of the hidden gems of white-guy rap back where I’m from. I’m not an expert on the genre or anything, but I’ll give it a go.

First up (at least when I showed up – I may have missed the first group), Milky Way from Milwaukee. Great, super-solid content and super-fast delivery. The kid has a lot to say and it’s bustin to come out of him. He was even better than the last time I saw him at a house show in Davenport, IA. Good mix of multi-rhythm rhymes and tempo changes.

Next up, Codependents from Missoula, Montana. These kids are a little green, but still did a great job. They didn't mix up the rhythms much and kept it the same speed and pace, but were still likeable. I’m not sure about hard times in Montana, but if there are any, I hope they can channel it into some darker messages. I’ve always had issues with the “woke up one morning”-style of lyrics. Again, just me. These guys are right on the cusp of solid hip hop, so I hope they don’t give up. I also don't know how they didn’t end up in a mess, with four mic cords circling and circling the stage. Kudos to their ninja cord-untangling skillz.

Third up, Errol Hemm out of Chicago. I’m slightly biased having known this guy for years back in my home town. I had the honor of playing guitar for one of his metal bands and I respect his talents as a writer and frontman. He’s so much better than his earlier stuff lets on – he’s matured, having spent some time in Chicago and some rough situations, and he draws in the crowd (small as it was) with lots of volume, passion, and crowd interaction (read: comedic one-liner shots at his friends). I love this kid and it does me proud to see him taking life and music almost-seriously while spittin and rhymin on the stage to kids barely old enough to vote.

Finally, MC Nobody Cares out of New Hampshire. This guy probably gets told he looks like Steve-O a lot, but he was really quite good on stage. I didn’t know what to expect. I heard him talking metal outside on the sidewalk a bit, but his rap chops are waaaay solid. Good mix of fast raps and sung parts without being corny. He likes to keep it dark and doesn't “believe in that happy music therapy shit”, though he’s quite humorous on stage. He’s got really good timing and had some good crowd interaction. None of his stuff sounds the same (all the songs sounds identifiably different), and his style is unique even amongst the other guys he’s touring with.

One of the best parts of the night was going outside the coffeehouse between acts – the audience was out there freestyle rapping. If you were just walking past, it might have sounded like they were cracking wise or making fun, but these kids actually DO this stuff regularly and for fun. Generally, one or two of the kids would beatbox and the spotlight would get passed around the circle as one after another kid rapped it out for a minute or two. It wasn’t all good, obviously, but you have to start somewhere. Timing and quick thinking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but you got to stay in there and practice. It was especially good when one of the touring guys would walk past, bringing in equipment from the vans or carrying merch, and they’d drop in a few lines of scary-solid freestyle and then walk away. I think Errol Hemm handed out an ass-whoopin, vocal-style, right before he started his set. I told you the guy is good.