Monday, October 29, 2012

Saffron – Minneapolis, MN

It is restaurant week and D.Rough and I like to take advantage of a restaurant or two that has a special menu. We’d both heard Saffron was worth checking out, so we drove to downtown Minneapolis in the rain. We probably could have found some on street parking, but due to the weather, it was worth $10 (not really) to park in the parking lot next to the restaurant.

The inside is smaller than either of us imagined. It isn’t necessarily small, but I think we had expected it to be more expansive, based on the number of people who had told us to go here. It’s also really dark and atmosphere-y in here. I tell you this so you’ll understand when you see my REALLY crappy photographs due to the lighting. With the downtown Minneapolis crowd, you get a mix of everyone, which is always nice to see. We were looking forward to some delicious Mediterranean food. I had already peeked the Restaurant Week special menu, so I had some idea what I wanted. But I knew I wanted to start with a cocktail. D.Rough went with a Saffron Rose (gin, saffron, orange blossom water, and sparkling rosé) and I needed a Balvenie DoubleWood (scotch). Both were delicious.

The Restaurant Week menu is a sort of special tasting menu that lets you pick from a few appetizers, entrees, and desserts. I think this helped us out tremendously, since we wanted everything on the regular dinner menu. Seriously, it all sounds good. But we wanted to limit ourselves to make things easier. Thankfully, almost everything on the tasting menu sounded delicious as well. The only questions were if we were going to play nicely and share with each other. Hahahaha. Oh wait!!! The OTHER question was if we were going to do the additional wine pairing with each course. Dur.

We decided to get one of each salad: The Green Salad had sherry vinegar, smoked paprika almonds, poached black figs, and Spanish blue cheese. The Blood Orange & Feta Salad had oranges and feta, as well as oil cured black olives, Aleppo chili, and mint.

For our entrees, we got Arni Youvetsi (a Greek dish) – stewed lamb in tomatoes and greek spices baked with orzo and mizithra cheese. We also got the eight vegetable couscous (a Moroccan dish) with vegetables, chick peas, and north African spices.

For dessert, we went back and forth but decided to both get the same thing, since we don’t always share desserts well. We got the Salted Caramel Trifle – a salted caramel pudding layered with chocolate cake, cashew praline, and whipped cream. SUPER EXCITED!

They brought out the first wine pairing: for the Green Salad, Santa Barbara, Verdichio, Marche, Italy ’09. And for the Blood Orange & Feta Salad, Arona, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand ’11.

Then the salads arrived. One looked like a salad we expected – the Green Salad. IT was really flavorful, thanks to the smoked paprika almonds, figs, and blue cheese. I was really happy with this salad and would absolutely eat this again. The Blood Orange & Feta salad looked unusual, but ended up being great. The oranges (which were decidedly NOT blood oranges) went well with the olives and mint. And the aftertaste was a delicious chili burn that enhanced the citrus from the orange. Really a fun salad! Additionally, the wines they had paired with it were amazingly appropriate. I’m not a wine snob, but both wines went with their respective salads better than I expected. They added another level of flavor both to the wine and the salad. Well done, sommelier.

The next wine pairing came out for the entrees. For the lamb, Santa Barbara, Rosso Piceno, Marche, Italy ’09. And for the couscous, Domaine Pichot “Demi Sec”, Vouvray, France ’10.

The entrée courses arrived shortly after – now it was serious. The lamb was served in a really hot cast iron dish sitting on a wooden plate and it smelled incredible. The lamb was shredded and mixed in with the orzo and cheese. This is, I’m pretty sure, one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had. There was a faint hint of tomato in the flavor, but the spices used brought out the non-gamey features of the lamb perfectly. Wow. It was the best thing we had on the table. Without question. Additionally, when paired with the Rosso Piceno, it was even better. It was nice to see that D.Rough finally saw the value of the perfect pairing of wine with different courses. Of course, it has to be done right, but this was the best pairing I’ve had.

The couscous should not be left out of the mix though. I’ve had very few couscouses I didn’t like, but I’ve had even fewer that I’d rave about. This was one of them. I couldn’t’ even figure out what the eight vegetables were, but they were fantastic. There were some squash elements in it, and possibly a turnip or rutabaga or something. But the seasonings brought it all together with just a tiny hint of cinnamon. I’m extremely sensitive to cinnamon (or so I’m told), and this was the perfect amount. Enough to taste it, but not enough so that it’s an ingredient – it’s a seasoning, after all. Perfectly cooked couscous hidden under a mound of delicious vegetables. That made me not feel sad that I didn’t get to eat most of the lamb (I promise I’m not complaining, D.Rough). And again, the wine they paired with it was perfect. I’m a fan of Vouvray normally, but oddly, I don’t’ think I’ve tried it with a couscous dish. I will, going forward, however.

Finally, the wine came out for the dessert – Lustau, Rare Cream Sherry, Jerez, Spain NV, followed by the Salted Caramel Trifle.
The server warned us this thing was pretty rich, and she was right. It was heavy duty. A layer of crushed dark chocolate cake/cookie on the bottom of the highball glass it was served in, topped with a thick layer of salted caramel pudding, and then a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top. A few sprinkles of praline brittle completed the dish. You really have to scoop deep in the glass to get all of the flavors on your spoon. It’s worth it though. The salted caramel flavor is wonderful and goes well with the bitterness of the dark chocolate cookie at the bottom. We got about half way through the thing before we both slowed considerably. There is a LOT of dessert in that cup. I’m glad I got it, but it totally wiped me out. The sherry was a nice accompaniment, but by then, we were so full of dessert, we didn’t finish it.

Overall, this was one of our best Restaurant Week experiences (so far). The food itself was brilliant, but the wine pairings added so much more than either of us expected. If you’re in the mood for some wine with your dinner at Saffron, let the servers pair you with something nice here. It was the best set of food-wine matches we’ve ever had. The atmosphere is upscale without being snooty here. If you’ve been to the Red Stag, we’d say it’s just down a slight peg from there in atmosphere, but still really nice. I’d love to come back here again and order some fun things off their regular menu. In fact, we’re both looking forward to that.

Top 5 things about Saffron
1. Perfect wine pairings enhanced both food AND wine
2. Arni Youvetsi – stewed lamb
3. Eight Vegetable Couscous
4. Blood orange & Feta Salad
5. I now crave salted caramel pudding
6. (Seeing David Boil when I went to the bar to check out the Scotch selection)

Bottom 5 things
1. Large, heavy dessert portion (still delicious tasting though)
2. Parking was pricey, even for downtown Minnie
3. Blood oranges weren’t actually blood oranges
4. The food is on the pricey side, but is doable if you’re not ordering 15 things
5. I really wanted to get the grilled halumi cheese…. Sigh… next time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Little Szechuan – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I have been meaning to try this place. Whenever people talk about good Chinese food in the Twin Cities, inevitably Little Szechuan comes up. It’s ranked number 1 on Trip Advisor for Chinese food in the area, for one thing. But the main reason we thought it worth trying is that it is ranked in CNN’s “50 Best Chinese Restaurants in the United States.” That’s a pretty big statement in our book, so we popped over for a visit.

The outside of the building is a little unassuming, especially on University Avenue, right in the middle of the Light Rail construction zone. There’s a large parking lot behind the building, so take advantage of that.

The inside is pretty spacious and bright. It’s filled with a few four-top tables and a few larger round tables for 8-10 with lazy susans in the middle. And most of these tables were filled. I found it interesting that the larger tables were filled with Asian groups sharing everything on the table and the smaller tables were filled with non-Asian with everyone eating their own dishes and not sharing. Just a cultural observation.

The menu here at Little Szechuan is thorough. It also has photos for almost every dish on the menu. And not little cheap grainy snapshots. There are professional quality photos in this tome. The very last page is a section called “Traditionals” which is where the boring things like fried rice and sweet and sour chicken are at. Do yourself a favor and look through the front portion of the 15-page menu. Everything looks delicious and non-standard. Unless you’ve been to China – then these dishes look quite familiar. I know everyone and their mom says that THEIR Chinese restaurant is authentic, but this one can be vouched for by actual Chinese people. There are all kinds of things you’ll never see on a menu at “your” place. Duck feet, pig ears, beef tendon, jelly fish, tongue, tripe, lotus root, and lots of things with spicy whole fish. These are the kinds of things I saw in China.

D.Rough had never had Peking Duck before, so we thought we’d order one of those (we actually got the Honey Duck – just a half duck). And people recommended the Ma Po Tofu, so we got that. We needed an appetizer of some sort, and we heard the Dan Dan Noodles were delicious, so we got that. And a couple of beers, since we also heard this place isn’t afraid to use the heat. Ohhhh, man, we were excited!

The Dan Dan Noodles came out first. They looked simple, but had a surprising amount of flavor – most of it being garlic. There is a sauce at the bottom of the bowl, so be sure to stir it up to coat your thick noodles. There is also a bit of ground pork on the top of the noodles when it’s served – it is really delicious and again, stir it all up and make sure it’s evenly distributed. As long as you don’t mind garlic, these noodles are quite good. I’ve had them at a few places and these are the best I’ve had herein the US. There’s a lot of flavor, but the flavors are pretty simple, not complex and jumbled. I like that.

Then the duck arrived. It looked and smelled fantastic. I’ve had Peking Duck a few times, both in the US and in China. In fact, I had Peking Duck at Quanjude in the Wangfujing District in Beijing – it’s one of the famous places for top-notch roast duck (I’m not bragging, I’m just saying I’ve been around the duck block), and a few other places around China that I can’t remember the names of. The Peking Duck at Little Szechuan holds up pretty well against these places. I’d put it in the top places I’ve had it in the US. (It loses against the Peking Gourmet Inn in Fall Church VA – also on the list of 50 best Chinese Restaurants in the US – where numerous presidents have gotten their Peking Duck fix). The skin is crispy and delicious with just a faint hint of honey. The duck meat itself is really delicious as well. You are given a plateful of lettuce, onions, and duck sauce, as well as four or five wrappers to make your own small duck rolls. I’m glad D.Rough liked this, since that means we can have it a lot. My only minor complaint is you don’t get to watch the chefs slice up the duck in front of you, like some other restaurants – it’s a very impressive process and adds to the experience. I read a few reviews of people complaining about the price of this – it was $16-ish. That’s sooo reasonable and I’m not sure why people would complain about that. It’s a serious upscale dish. Worth it (and delicious!) at Little Szechuan.

The Ma Po Tofu wasn’t what we thought we were getting. It is cubes of soft tofu in chili oil. Thankfully, it is also delicious. Again, I had this exact dish in Beijing and it’s just like it is there (well, maybe I trust what’s in it a little bit more, here in the U.S.). The oil is exactly what I’m saying – oil. It isn’t a broth or a gravy. It’s chili oil. Not painfully hot chili oil, but still made with chilies – and the flavor was fantastic. Don’t get “oil” mixed up with “grease” though, it’s totally different. The tofu is the softest I’ve ever had. I guess I’m used to much more firm tofu, since this almost jiggled. However, with the flavor of the chili oil mixing in with the tofu, it was quite good. We were glad we got it, but we honestly started to get full about halfway through. We kept talking about how we just assumed the tofu would be fried cubes, since everything in American Chinese restaurants is fried. So, the following afternoon, we took out our leftovers, drained off the chili oil, rolled the cubes in flour and fried them right up and finished if off. Honestly, it was delicious both ways!

I didn’t even mention the huge bowl of rice we got to split between the both of us. This is the biggest bowl of rice I’ve seen for two people ever. Normally, you get a small saucer with a mound of rice on it. We ate as much as we could, then took home the left overs and made enough fried rice to have three meals for both of us. Serious amounts of rice.

I’m glad we got to try this place. We had fantastic food and the servers were really friendly and helpful if we had questions. The reports are correct on the portion sizes – make sure you under order and you’ll still get full. The heat is there, so also be warned if you have a Minnesota palate, drink lots of water. It IS slightly more than your dive-y hole in the wall Chinese restaurant, but the food quality, selection, and atmosphere are worth paying a couple dollars extra – I promise. I’ve only been to a few upscale Chinese restaurants and this was an impressive showing. There’s a reason it’s on the Top 50 list, and the only Chinese restaurant in Minnesota to make the list.

Top 5 things about Little Szechuan
1. Peking Duck (Honey Duck)
2. Dan Dan Noodles
3. Ma Pa Tofu
4. Impressive and thorough menu
5. Fantastically nice staff

Bottom 5 things
1. They don’t cut up the Peking Duck in front of you
2. Construction traffic is brutal – there is a spacious parking lot in back though
3. It IS a little bit more expensive – don’t complain about it
4. Some of the menu items you’ll be taking a gamble on, since there aren’t descriptions (you CAN ask the servers though)
5. Nothing else is a downside to this place. Go here!!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Masu Sushi & Robata – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I needed a date night, and she was feeling sushi-ish. We had to decide whether to do our favorite place, or try something new. We went for the new option and decided on Masu – we’d wanted to go there since it opened and we’d heard good things about it. To Masu!!!

We walked into Masu and instantly liked the energy there. It was filled with a good mix of people – classy, hipster, college, groups, couples, friends, old, young. Everyone had smiles – it was almost weird, but not quite. The walls were decorated with both giant paintings and also fun Japanese toys. We looked at the food as we walked past, and despite it being dark in the dining room, the food looked fantastic. This was going to be awesome.

We started with the drink menu. It’s got enough items on it to be intimidating. Two pages of sake and then cocktails, beers, and fun drinks. They do have drinks with gummi bears on them, but we skipped those and went right to cocktails. I got a Lamuné Ramuné and D.Rough got a Lucky Millionaire Mojito. The night was shaping up.

The drinks were perfect and just what we needed. D.Rough’s drink was garnished with a lottery ticket – seriously, a scratch off (which we didn’t win), and mine was a pint glass with strawberry sake rum and a bottle of Ramuné (a Japanese kids’ soda that’s fun to open and drink due to the marble that plugs the hole when you drink or pour too fast – I love me some Ramuné).
We ordered a seaweed and cucumber salad to split, and an order of three steamed pork belly buns. The rest of the menu is pretty substantial, so we needed to order something to get our first course out of the way so we could focus on the main course.

Once we got to focus, we asked about the robota – it doesn’t have anything to do with robots, much to my chagrin. It basically means small bits of food (usually skewered) that some restaurants let you cook at your own table and others do it for you – like Masu. It might be the Japanese version of tapas. D.Rough and I thought we’d do a couple of robota items and then a few sushi rolls. We ordered some grilled rice balls, grilled asparagus, beef tenderloin wrapped around burdock (root veggies), and then for the sushi, we got a spicy crunchy salmon roll and a Firecracker roll – shrimp tempura, crab, avocado, cucumber, spicy tuna, and tempura flakes.

The seaweed salad came out and divided it up between us. It was very fresh and not ocean-tasting (in a bad way). The crab was plentiful and the cucumbers and seaweed were delicious. A couple of sprouts, some pickled veggies rounded it off and made for a great light salad.

The pork belly buns were out of this world, however. Two slices of thick and tender pork belly on a perfectly steamed bun with pickled carrots and hoisin. That was exactly what we needed. The next time we go back, we’ll likely both get our own orders of these. They were that good.

The small plate items came out next and looked great. The asparagus was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of char on them. On the same plate were the beef burdock rolls. These weren’t D.Rough’s favorites, but I really liked them. I liked the crunch of the veggies on the inside of the roll. And the dipping sauce was really sweet. I’m not even sure what it was, but it was tasty on everything I dipped in it – which was everything.

The rice balls were grilled – I have no idea how that’s done, but it was. The crunchy bits almost had a nutty flavor to them and the insides were delicious and soft. I really liked these, especially dipped in the sweet sauce. We saw a lot of these going to tables, so I’m guessing they’re a big seller at Masu.

The sushi came out immediately after we finished our small plates. The spicy crunchy salmon roll was good and I was surprised to see jalapeno slices on top of it. I really liked that flavor combination and hadn’t seen it before. It was really quite good.

The sushi winner of the night was the Firecracker roll. It had a lot of ingredients inside it and was covered with sri racha (that spicy rooster sauce). It had a great crunch with the shrimp tempura and the tempura flakes and good substance with the tuna and avacado inside. I really liked this roll a lot.

D.Rough got a finisher cocktail that I was a little jealous of – His Majesty Emperor Albert. It is a plum tea Collins. And it tasted like candy. Wow.

We had a fantastic server, but we actually had a few people helping us out, including the hostess and some other folks. Everyone working seemed happy to be there and all of the people we saw dining looked to be not only enjoying their own food, but raving about it and then forcing their dining companions to try their’ s as well. It was really nice to see – THAT’s what we’re talking about with the high energy place. Not some ridiculous hippie crap.

We look forward to coming back to Masu. Now we know what all the hype is about and we completely buy into it. It isn’t cheap, but it’s fantastic if you don’t mind paying for high-quality food and a fun atmosphere. We don’t mind – we just can’t afford it all the time. Hahahaha. Worth it for a fancy date night with my lady, though. I promise.

Top 5 things about Masu Sushi & Robota
1. Pork Belly Buns
2. Firecracker roll
3. Lamuné Ramuné
4. His Majesty Emperor Albert
5. Atmosphere

Bottom 5 things
1. It is a little pricey, but also high-quality
2. The kitchen is open to the dining room, but the all is so high you can’t see their chefs working their magic
3. Some simple explanations of menu items would make deciding slightly easier (but there’s still so much awesome to choose from)
4. Parking is never fun in Northeast, but just bring your quarters
5. Nothing else is even remotely bad here

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taqueria La Hacienda – Minneapolis, MN

A-Wow and I were having a mini-bad movie night and thought we’d walk to Taqueria La Hacienda up on Lake Street for dinner. Eating at the Mexican restaurants on Lake Street has always been at the top of every list I have, so being able to knock out another one made my heart happy. We headed over, at A-Wow’s recommendation. He’s a big fan.

I had no idea what to expect. The range of atmosphere in restaurants on Lake street is widely varied. But I was surprised by how nice, open, spacious, and clean this place is. TLH is really pushing their claim to fame – the best Tacos Al Pastor in Minnesota. Which is probably why the prominently display their pole of pineapple-covered chicken front and center behind the counter. It looks delicious. I didn’t want to be rude, so I snapped a quick blurry photo.

They have a nice digital menu board with photos of the food – and they’re delicious looking photos, not dirty snap shots. Nicely done.

I debated a few things and then went back to an order of Carnitas Alambres. Everything is made fresh at the restaurant, so I was able to order it without onions (my kryptonite, since I’m allergic). I also got a Pineapple jarritos. I may regret not getting the Al Pastor, but I can always order more or come back if this is good, right?

A-Wow and I took our drinks and sat down at a table. We heard them calling out ticket numbers over the intercom. Wait. In Spanish. Oh buddy. We tried to determine if we knew how to say 199 in Spanish. Or 200. No we did not. Thankfully, during a flurry of numbers, a nice server walked by our table and told us these were our numbers. Thank you very much, kind lady.

I was impressed with the size of the order I got. 8-10 small corn tortillas covered in carnitas (pork), green peppers, bacon, and cheese. How could this not be good?!? It was better than good. It was some of the best Alambres I’ve had. The flavor of the meat was fantastic and the cheese was about the perfect amount. The two different sauces – a creamy tomatillo and a spicy red) were perfect for dumping all over each taco. I basically made 8 or nine small tacos out of this dish and absolutely cleaned my plate. It was great. I would eat all of this again and am looking forward to coming back.

I had a bite of A-Wow’s Al Pastor meat and was really surprised how sweet and delicious it was. I will probably try some of that next time I come here. It’s really quite fantastic.

Top 5 things about Taqueria La Hacienda
1. Carnitas Alambres
2. Al Pastor Tacos
3. All the food looks really appealing
4. Really friendly and helpful staff
5. Lots of space and clean!

Bottom 5 things
1. Food is served on paper plates, which some over-privileged people have issue with
2. If you don’t speak Spanish, learn your numbers so you know when you’re food is being called (See what I said? “Patrons should learn to speak a minimal amount of Spanish”, NOT “please speak English in your own restaurant.”)
3. I couldn’t figure out which door to go into – there are a few different entry points
4. The sign is in front of the building, but the restaurant is back behind everything
5. There is sooooo much yellow happening

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

D-Spot – Maplewood, MN

D.Rough and I love to take her Sister SalsaSandwich to eat fun food with us. We’ve been hearing people rave about the wings at D-Spot. D.Rough thought we should take SalsaSandwich out for dinner and a movie. It was going to be a good night for all of us.

D-Spot (the Maplewood location) is in a small strip mall on Century Avenue. When we got there, the place was filled with people. Thankfully, most of those people were sitting around waiting for pick-up orders. We grabbed a table towards the back of the dining room. There are only 8 tables in the place and I have a feeling it’s full most of the time.

Before I came here, I didn’t know what their shtick was. I thought they were just good wings. I didn’t realize the thing this place is famous for is the combinations of wing sauce. They have a few hundred different kinds. I’m not kidding. Look at the website. The owner and chef takes great pride in his combinations of sauces for his wings. I don’t mean he’s simply proud of them, I mean he’s a trained genius that isn’t afraid to push the envelope a little bit.

You can generally order wings in 6 or 12 piece batches. Flavors can be split up per 6-wing order, so you can’t get 6 different flavors in a basket unless you order 36 wings. I mentioned there are hundreds of wing combinations, right? Well, they only put 70-80 on the menu at any given time, so they can keep the number to an easy-to-manage process back in the kitchen. They have different groups of wings. They have spicy wings – exactly what you’d imagine: different spicy seasonings and glazes. They have comfort/savory wings: lots of rubs, garlic, and things to make a meal out of. Then they have PhD wings – these are super fancy combinations of ingredients. Things like horseradish buffalo sauce, ancho chili, and peppercorns. Then they have sweet wings. I wouldn’t call these dessert wings, because they aren’t. Chocolate, boisonberry, crème anglaise, and powdered sugar. I told you they were waaay outside the box. Then, of course they have the standard fireball of doom wing challenge under the Scorpion’s Lair. Devilishly spicy wings that will destroy your insides.

You can sit down at the table and view the menu, then you have to get up and get in line to order at the counter. While you’re in line, there is a small collection of free chocolate chip toffee cookies that will tide you over if you want. Actually, these were pretty awesome. I was kind of surprised.

I won’t go into all of the confusing conversations we had to get to a final order, but suffice it to say, it was a long time. SalsaSandwich isn’t much of a wings eater, so she ordered a cheese burger and some onion rings. Aside from a large basket of seasoned fries, here is what D.Rough and I ordered to split:

Buffalo Wings – you need something to be the control group, so you can know how good they are compared to other wing places.

Widow Maker Wings – a combination of their Iron Man wings (sweet and spicy) and Black Widow wings (soy glaze, cracked fennel, dry rub).

Goat’s Blood Wings – red curry, tomato, and goat cheese.

Tarantula Wings – soy glaze, roasted garlic, chili dry rub, and fried garlic.

One thing we heard people talk about when they discussed this place was the amount of time they had to wait for their wings. I understand that and I think it is perfectly acceptable since the sauces are made from scratch and they take some time to perfect. I have no problem with that. It DID take a while to get our wings, but understand we were there on a Friday night and it was packed with sit down orders and to-go orders. I’m fine with it. And, I’ll be honest with you, once I bit into the first wing, I would have waited a day for these wings. They were the best I’ve ever had. Not kidding at all.

Here is how we would rank them in order:

The buffalo wings were good. Better than most places I’ve been. It didn’t taste like Frank's Red Hot, so I was thrilled. It actually had some quality flavor and a little bit of zing to it. If we had only ordered these, they would have been good enough for me to come back here, without question.

The Widow Maker were even better. Very good sweet to spicy ratio. There was a faint hint of fennel on them and the dry rub was fantastic. And the soy glaze on them tied everything together and made your mouth not burn at all. Delicious.

Then, the Goat’s Blood wings really rocked my face off. The curry on them was better than most Thai places I’ve been. Absolutely stellar. The faint hint of tomato added a bit of sweet to the wing and the small sprinkles of goat cheese added a great zing to the flavor. These things gradually grew in their spice level, thanks to the curry. Brilliant wings!

And the winner of the night was the Tarantula. I’ve never had wings this good in my entire life. The soy glaze was sweet, but countered the chili flavor and the different garlic flavors. On top of all these, there was pork floss on them. If you haven’t had pork floss, you should – it’s like dried pork that’s then shredded like you rat someone’s hair in the 80’s. It’s fluffy pork strands and it’s life-changnig on these ribs. I can’t rave about these enough. Just get them. You won’t be disappointed.

We asked SalsaSandwich about the cheese burger and we got a non-committal “it was good” review. It looked good to me, but I would have gotten one of their crazy burgers with chili poured all over it or something. The Chilly Willy was the special of the night and it sounded great. SalsaSandwich IS a big fan of onion rings though, and she really liked them a lot. The basket was serious and she ate all of them before she even started on her burger. Yeah, they were good.

The seasoned fries we got shouldn’t be forgotten either. They were heavily seasoned, so if that’s not your thing then you may not like these. It IS, in fact, our thing and we fought over these fries. They were phenomenal. Just the right amount of crisp on them. Maybe could have even used a tad more crisp towards the end, but they were great, especially with the delicious dipping sauce that came with them. Eventually we started using our leftover sauce from our wings on the fries, which changed everything. Get the fries too!

I can’t rave about this place enough. I want to go here every day now. We discussed this and the reason they do so many to-go orders is they don’t serve alcohol here. They have a TV in the dining room, but I’m guessing they don’t want people hanging around. Eat your food and make room for the next group of people. As we said, there is considerable wait time (WORTH IT), so plan ahead for that. But you will not be disappointed with these wings. We’ll be back VERY soon.

And keep in mind, the St. Paul location not only does wings, but it also does the same insane kinds of gourmet flavors for their homemade pizza rolls. Get in on THAT!!!!

Do yourself a favor and check out the website for the flavors. Your mouth will start watering right away.

Top 5 things about D-Spot
1. Tarantula Wings
2. Goat’s Blood Wings
3. Widow Maker Wings
4. Buffalo Wings
5. Seasoned Fries

Bottom 5 things
1. People will complain about the wait, but just be patient - really
2. The dining room is small, cramped, and FULL
3. Sometimes it gets smoky in the dining room from the kitchen, just deal with it
4. Soooooo many things to choose from
5. No alcohol, but absolutely the best decision to keep turnover high

Monday, October 22, 2012

St. Petersburg Restaurant & Vodka Bar – Robbinsdale, MN

I had heard about this top secret Russian restaurant a few years back from a co-worker. She said the place has a weird and powerful vibe to it and when you eat there, you keep your eyes down and it’s all business. I didn’t even know what that meant.

The librarians and I like to have the occasional happy hour after our various work hours and some of them chose this place. I had forgotten all about hearing about this place until I saw the stair case. My co-worker told me you had to go up a hotel-like staircase to get to the restaurant and it had a weird flow. When I walked into what looked like the basement of the VFW (same building, but next door over), I immediately thought I was in the lobby of an old-school hotel. Here’s what I mean.

Hello? Anyone?

That’s all there is. Nothing around. No signage (except for the elevator sign). No people. No nothing. Anywhere. Is this the right place? Like any good video gamer, if you don’t see people, but you DO see a staircase, you cautiously proceed up the staircase, wary of any gun shots that may come from above. I’m not joking.

I got to the top of the stairs. Looked to the right, and there’s a huge dining room with blue linens and blue heavy curtains. Swanky. With no one in it. Apparently, that room gets closed off on non-busy nights. Looked to the left and there’s a small bar area filled with people. A surprising number of people, based on what I expected when I walked into the empty and unmarked lobby. I strolled in like I belonged there and found the librarians. Already drinking, as I suspected.

People laugh when I tell them librarians are formidable drinkers. It’s true. Think about it. People who work construction don’t want to come home and work on their house. They want to relax. It works both ways. If you’re quiet and holed up all day in the office, you don’t want to come home and be quiet, you want to drink. Hahahaha. These are my people.

The bar is almost movie-like in its décor. Lots of curtains.

Lots of mirrors.
REALLY dark, but energetic and loud. It hints at being swanky, but it’s more like that old-school like 40’s swanky that old people love. Like Mancini’s Char House in St. Paul. This is the Russian version of that. Even the wallpaper is awesome.

I like this place. A LOT.

Let’s get to happy hour. Two-for-ones until 6:30pm. BAM! That’s like a bonus round in Mario Brothers for librarians. We want ALL of the martinis, thank you. We started with Lemon drops, which the high-energy (as in red-bull-since-noon-high-energy) bartender made “extra sexy” for us. The sexy part must mean alcohol.
They’ve got some appetizer-y things on special, so we all ordered a few things and split them all.

Country-style Pelemini – homemade ravioli with beef covered in mushroom sauce. Actually quite good and we may have fought over it.
Chicken wings – decent, but nothing ground breaking.

St. Petersburg Chips – sliced potatoes deep fried and served with dipping sauce (aka ketchup). These were pretty unexciting, but we didn’t seem to have a problem polishing these off for some reason.

Chebureck – this thing was fantastic. It is a puffed pastry filled with smoked chicken. Really flakey and delicious. I’d order a bunch of these. Not the best size/shape/format for sharing, but we managed to get things done. I didn’t get a photo of this, but it’s worth ordering.

By then, we were out of drinks and needed more. I got a something-or-other martini with mango puree in it (I can’t remember what it was called). It was awesome. I should have been drinking these all night. Wow. Super tasty.

I had to use the restroom and sometimes I take photos when there are funny things inside. This one had three urinals that were almost on top of each other. There is no way to use all three at the same time without leaning against another man. No way. Now imaging large burly Russian men packed into this space and you’ll chuckle like I did.

Which brings me to some of the stories the librarians were telling me about this place. This part is all hearsay, so I can’t vouch for it. But they’re generally honest people. I guess they’ve come here before and were not dressed appropriately and didn’t eat. Whether they were told they couldn’t eat or they just didn’t feel comfortable is up for debate. But suffice it to say you had better dress NICE if you come here for dinner on a weekend. They also don’t allow jackets in the dining room. Not for men or ladies. Apparently, there are weapons issues from the past. Seriously. I understand the food is quite good, but also pretty pricey. It’s where the fancy Russian community comes to eat in the Twin Cities, so they make it count. Remember that when you want to come here for a date. Dress up with a removable jacket and no gun. Keep your eyes down and do as you’re told. I can’t wait to bring D.Rough here for a surprise dinner date sometime. She will absolutely love it! She loves old-school swank like this.

The moral of this story is, go to St. Petersburg for happy hour and have a blast. Get cheap food and 2-4-1’s and live it up. It’s a really fun place with a very unique atmosphere, like few other restaurants. And maybe try some vodka flights, since that’s what they’re known for. Hahaha Whoops.

Then, on the drive home, you can pass the Amazing Oriental Supermarket, Restaurant, and Bait Shop! Apparently, the city ordinances are looser in Robbinsdale. I’ll take these noodles, some kung pao chicken and some night crawlers. Thank you.

Top 5 things about St. Petersburg Restaurant & Vodka Bar
1. TWO-For-ONEs
2. Chebureck
3. Country-style Pelemini
4. Super fun staff
5. Really swanky but kitschy and energetic/tense atmosphere

Bottom 5 things
1. Unmarked and unmanned lobby
2. If you want a fancy sit-down dinner, you may have to wait for the weekend
3. The bar gets packed
4. The restroom is better used alone
5. A cab ride home to West St. Paul could be very expensive if you have too many 2-4-1s