Sunday, March 31, 2013

Roasted Pear – Burnsville, MN

D.Rough and I were in Burnsville to see Tracey Morgan perform. We needed to eat before the show, so we went to Roasted Pear since the menu looked like it had some good things to eat when we looked online. When we walked in, we joked about the mix of people inside. It honestly was like 60+ happy hour. The entire bar area was filed with older people and they were having a blast. I’m not joking one bit – these people were rocking this bar. Not a few people, a lot of people.

When we sat down and got our menus for happy hour, we figured out why. There’s a complimentary burger bar setup near the bar and the old guys were swarming this free burger area. Their wives were eating food they ordered off the menu and the older guys were eating for free and drinking tons of free refills. Really a hilarious situation, when you stop and think about it.

D.Rough and I helped ourselves to the burger appetizers and were expecting small sliders. But nope. These were full sized burgers – they weren’t bad, either. Standard, but still better than some fast food places I’ve had. And did I mention they’re free?

D.Rough had ordered some fruity margarita and it showed up in this really large glass. This is her trying to look angry that the drink was so large. Ha ha ha.

We got a couple of apps off the happy hour menu – a dozen wings, some sweet potato fries with various dips, and a mini giardiniera pizza. When we ordered the pizza before, the server said, “obviously you’ve had this pizza before.” And we both simultaneously said, “No. Why do you ask?” She then proceeded to tell us this pizza was extremely spicy and people sometimes had serious issues with it. We assured her we were alright with the spice level.

Everything arrived all at once. And we started in on the sweet potato fries. Really quite good – even better than we expected. The dipping sauces were ketchup, some Asian stuff, BBQ sauce, and then some really random sauce we had to ask about. As soon as the server told us it was a rootbeer sauce, we could taste it right away. Not bad, but reallllly weird flavor with fries.

The wood-fired wings were decent wings. They weren’t slathered in sauce, and you were supposed to use the sauces that also came with the sweet potato fries, so that worked out – the Asian dipping sauce was the best we decided. The wings were a mix of drummies and wings and were cooked just fine. No complaints on these, but pretty standard.

The pizza was good – quite good in fact. It was covered in peppers. HOT peppers. The server was correct in warning people about this pizza. It is probably the hottest giardiniera I’ve had in a long time and it was delicious. The flat-bread style pizza was covered in a thin layer of mozzarella cheese and a few bites of tasty Italian sausage, but mostly covered in peppers. It was a tiny bit oily, but mostly it was great. D.Rough let me eat most of the pizza, for which I was thankful. I’d highly recommend this pizza if you’re alright with some heat.

This was a fantastic random choice for our pre-show dinner. It would have been great, even without the burger starter, but I’m really glad they were good burgers. The servers that helped us were really nice and one server recognized my Minnesota RollerGirls sweatshirt and knows one of our friends. Small world.

Top 5 things about Roasted Pear
1. Giardiniera Pizza
2. Complimentary burger bar
3. Sweet potato fries and dips
4. Giant margarita
5. Fantastic happy hour menu and prices

Bottom 5 things
1. Wings were just alright
2. Not a young person’s hang out (despite the food being really good)
3. Weird wine room that seems out of place in this casual environment
4. Maybe consider putting some indicator of spice level on the menu for the giardiniera
5 .We felt bad for not actually getting anything with roasted pears (I think there’s only one item on the menu with roasted pears)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Moscow On The Hill – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough and I wanted something a little bit different. We hadn’t been to Moscow On The Hill since my birthday the precious year, so we headed there for some delicious Russian food and drinks. They had changed the inside atmosphere into something a bit more glamorous than the last time. D.Rough actually commented on it to the server by saying, “Oh, you got rid of your old Russian lady shawls and funeral feel! It’s so nice in here now.” I think the server was amused by this – I know I was.

We scoured the drink menu for a bit – if you haven’t been there, this place is all about the vodka. They make their own and they also have tons of other varieties. They claim to have the largest vodka selection in the United States. I ended up with a girly cocktail called the Carousel – house-made cherry, raspberry, citrus, and pear vodkas, sweet and sour, and cranberry juice. D.Rough got the Pear Pressure – house-made pear vodka, Ace pear cider, and ginger beer. Both were absolutely delicious. They take pride in their house-made vodkas and they are very smooth, without any artificial/fake fruit flavors in them.

Dinner was very difficult to decide on, as everything sounds tasty. They have very unique things on the menu like escargot, Lamb Cheboureki, Babuska Stew, Chicken Kiev, and Duck Breast Ekaterina. Stuff you aren’t likely to find at a lot of restaurants in the Twin Cities. We got an order of Moscow Fries – a basket of dill potatoes with some dipping sauces – for an appetizer. I wasn’t thrilled about this, in all honesty - it really didn't seem like a fries kind of place. And we thought we’d split an order of Siberian Pelmeni (hand-made dumplings) – beef, pork, and wild rice dumplings, steamed and butter-brushed and served with sour cream. These, I was very excited about!. And since I had never had it before, I got a bowl of Borscht – a traditional Russian beet, cabbage, and potato soup.

The Borscht came out first. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I have heard this soup is served both hot and cold, so I wasn’t sure what I’d get. I’d also seen this soup in ethnic grocery stores before and frankly, it didn’t look appealing to me. But there was nothing jarred about this soup. It was very home-made and actually looked quite appetizing. It was served hot and after the first bite, I was hooked. The red color of the broth comes from the beets, but it isn’t particularly strong like many pickled beets are. The potatoes were in chunks and the beets were shredded. There was a lot of dill flavor and the dollop of sour cream was already dyed red. It came with a slice of thick course bread that went very well with the soup. I would order this again in a second. It was one of the better soups I’ve ever had.

The basket of potatoes came out next. A really LARGE basket of potaotes, actually. As I said, I wasn’t excited about these. But I should have been. They were thin sliced potatoes deep fried almost crispy and then covered with generous salt and dill. They were perfectly cooked and amazing. Not soggy, but not crunchy. The dipping sauces were also wonderful – a sour cream and dill dip, a [some Russian word with c’s and j’s and z’s]-aioli dip, and a tomato based dip. We ended up asking for a replacement of the aioli since it was our favorite and we went through the small cup they brought us before we were halfway through the large basket of chips.

The Siberian Pelmeni were quite good. The thick doughy wrapper held together nicely after it was steamed and the flavor of the ground meat inside was good. There was plenty of seasoning in the meat and it went well with the sour cream that came on top of the dish. Only one of the dumplings fell apart when we picked it up, although cutting the meatball in half proved to be quite a challenge, since they were slippery on the outside and the inside. As a warning there are a TON of these dumplings in this bowl. We were both stuffed by the end of it. I remember the Peasant Pelmeni having a bit more flavor than this more plain version – the Peasant ones have a mushroom sauce with some cheese to add a bit more complexity to the dumplings. That being said, I still enjoyed the Siberian Pelmeni very much.

Across the board, we were very happy with our meal and we are glad we went. We will be back, without question and look forward to our next dinner there. Maybe we’ll take an afternoon and try out a flight or two of their various vodkas. That always makes for some lively conversations!

Top 5 things about Moscow On The Hill
1. Borscht
2. Moscow Fries
3. Carousel
4. Atmosphere
5.Siberian Pelmeni

Bottom 5 things
1. Moscow isn’t cheap – just a heads up
2. Lots and lots of dill, thankfully we both like dill
3. We finished up before awesome happy hour started at 9pm
4. I wish the borscht came with more pieces of bread
5. Sooooo full afterwards

Monday, March 25, 2013

La Cabana – St. Paul, MN

Coach was in town and we thought we’d get some Mexican food for lunch. La Cabana had been recommended by one of D.Rough and my friends, Fanny and Manny, so we headed over to Dayton’s Bluff in St. Paul to check it out knowing nothing other than it is tasty.

When we got inside, we realized this was a happening place. It was apparently Mexican Karaoke Saturday Afternoon and the music was rockin. There are two dining rooms in the place. The main seating area was where the karaoke was happening and was almost full of people. Then the extra dining room looked like they had just purchased it and had put some temporary folding tables and chairs in there. Maybe not, since the restrooms were off this dining room. Obviously, I don’t care what I’m sitting on while I eat, so this isn’t a downside for me. We thought we’d escape the volume of the music in the auxiliary dining room, but it was still pretty loud in there. Mainly because the people singing were having a blast. People were laughing at the non-professional singers and Coach and I found it amusing that people didn't even get up from their lunch when singing. The guy would just bring the mic to their table and let them belt out their song. Really, it was a fun vibe here.
The server brought out a delicious basket of thick-cut tortilla chips and a red and green salsa. Coach isn’t much for salsa, so I ended up cleaning up both bowls. The green was cilantro-based and the red was more tomato-based. Bother were pretty fantastic. A little bit of heat, but not too much.

The menu is pretty geared to Spanish-speakers, so be ready for that. But most things have an English translation. Hey, they have the home-court advantage here, so if I can’t read the menu, then it’s my own fault. Thankfully, they had lots of things I recognized on the menu (and quite a few I didn’t – which is awesome). I ended up ordering Puerco en Salsa Roja (pork in red sauce). Coach got chorizo and eggs.

The food came out fairly quickly and looked and smelled delicious. My pork was shredded into pieces and came with beans, rice, and a simple salad drizzled with sour cream. I started on the beans and rice. They had decent flavor – nothing ground breaking, but good. The pork had some onions in it, which I sifted through quickly, since there weren’t a ton (I love the flavor of onions, but I’m mildly allergic). Both of our dishes came with small corn tortillas, so I ended up rolling and devouring four or five tacos with pork, rice, beans, and lettuce. The flavor of the meat was pretty darn good – one of the better red-sauced-porks I’ve had, in all honesty. Not greasy or gristly, and the flavor was warm and vibrant. There wasn’t a ton of heat in these, which would have been my only issue with it, but flavor-wise, it was fantastic. Very authentic and not watered down with American boringness (THANK YOU, La Cabana!).

Coach’s eggs and chorizo were a little disappointing to him, since he was expecting Mexican chorizo sausage and he said his tasted more like American breakfast sausage. It must not have been that bad, since he beat ME to a clean plate. But he also was disappointed with the lack of heat, just a little bit.

Overall, I’m looking forward to coming back to La Cabana with D.Rough and getting a few non-standard items. Who knows, maybe I’ll bust out a Mexican karaoke song of my own. I’ll be working up some magic between now and then. There’s a few people that have expressed interest in me watching me bulldoze my way through a Jose Jose song in 2013. It may happen…

Top 5 things about La Cabana
1. Puerco en Salsa Roja
2. Mexican Karaoke
3. Table salsa was very good
4. Very nice staff
5. Generous portions

Bottom 5 things
1. It was very loud in here during karaoke (not complaining, just warning)
2. Not very spicy
3. Chorizo may not have been Mexican chorizo (I can’t confirm, since I didn’t try it)
4. Just a tiny bit bummed there wasn’t pozole here. I bet it would be awesome!
5. The temporary tables and chairs might throw people expecting a fancy atmosphere

La Cabana
868 East 7th Street
St Paul, MN 55106
(651) 774-7547

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Joe Rouer’s Bar – Luxemburg, WI

I’ll make this review short, since I’ve written about these folks before. This place has won all kinds of awards for their burgers in the Green Bay area. They’re kind of an all business, no frills burger place that is always packed. They’ve got burgers and a bunch of things they can throw in a fryer for you.

I went with the double cheeseburger with no onions and since the other people I was with at the table had already ordered fries and cheese curds, I felt our bases were covered. Thankfully, they were.

The burger was just a juicy as I remember it being from a few years back. I’m convinced this is juice and not greasy. It doesn’t feel nor taste greasy and some people with our group couldn’t even finish the single burger they had ordered – wusses, I say. You will get messy eating this burger and it’s one of those kind of burgers that you should just carry around a napkin the rest of the day because you’ll be oozing (in a good way, not in an Alli way) this burger for the next few hours out of all your pores.

The fries here are decent, but the cheese curds are where it’s at! They’re soooo good. In fact, we were going to order another batch of them, when another portion of our group brought over an unfinished basket of curds for us to finish off. Well, fate was realy looking in our direction during this meal.

I’m a fan of Joe Rouer’s and I look forward to hitting this place up every time I’m back in Green Bay. Just go here. And prepare to sleep the rest of the afternoon away.

No website, just plug in the address on your GPS and it will get you in the ballpark.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco

TheDoctor and I thought we’d go check out the new Doritos Locos taco at Taco Bell. I was a little underwhelmed with the Nacho Cheese Doritos Loco taco, but I was willing to give the new one a shot.

First off, it’s quite confusing ordering one of these – you have to specific whether you want the original nacho cheese flavored taco (and compound that with the fact they have things with nacho cheese on the menu already) or the Cool Ranch flavored shell. Then you have the option of the original taco or the supreme. It’s a significant process, especially the first week these things have been out – the staff might be a tad unprepared for this product launch.

Maybe it’s because I expected to be underwhelmed and maybe it’s because I’m not a huge fan of Cool Ranch Doritos, but I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did. I think the flavor is subtle on the outside of the shell and enhances the ingredients, rather than adds a new flavor. I was really surprised it was as good as it was. I’d order another one of these anytime. And I’d order one of these before I’d order one of the original nacho cheese Doritos Locos taco.

Well done, Taco Bell test kitchen. I know it was only a matter of time before you added the cool ranch style, but you did well. And I also love the new commercials with the Spanish version of Lionel Ritchie’s song. Brilliant.

Also, have I mentioned I love going to lunch with TheDoctor? I never know where the conversation is going to lead. I had no idea that conversation was going to be about caramel ho-ho’s being thrown out the window of a moving car on the interstate.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

3 Squares – Maple Grove, MN

DRough and I were up in the northwest suburbs for some random reason and needed to grab some dinner. It was restaurant week and we knew 3 Squares was a place that had a special menu for the week – sort of a fixe prix menu for the week. After a quick look online to see what was actually on the menu, we popped in and got a table. For the record, 3 Squares is owned by the Blue Plate Restaurant Group – the same folks that own Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill, Groveland Tap and a few other tasty places we’ve been to multiple times.

We ordered a couple of pre-dinner drinks – I got a Ginger Peach Cosmo (I’m comfortable drinking that in public) and DRough got some drink with bourbon and orange bitters in it. My drink was pretty delicious, although I didn’t eat the large ringlet of candied ginger that came with the drink. It was a little too bite-y for me. DRough and I ended up switching drinks since hers was a bit harsh for her palate. I can power through most drinks, so I wasn’t really out anything. It just had a LOT of bitters in it.

For dinner, we could pick an appetizer each, an entrée each, and then a dessert for each of us. To start, we got a caprese salad and a pair of crab cakes. Our entrees were lobster lasagna and a ribeye steak. For dessert, something called a pint-o-cake and some chocolate cake.

When we had walked into the restaurant, I ran into a former co-worker of mine who made a few recommendations for us for the special menu, so we felt pretty good about our orders. The caprese salad was pretty good. Some greens with 6 or 7 mozzarella balls, a few cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic. It was a pretty standard salad, as salads go.

The crab cakes were surprisingly good. They had the perfect crisp on them and there was not an overwhelming fishy flavor in with them. Paired with the lemony dressing on the salad that came with the appetizer, it was pretty darn good. I’d recommend these pretty highly and they ended up being the best thing we ate that evening.

The entrees arrived and looked delicious. The lobster lasagna came with a long buttered and grilled piece of bread and had a lot of cream sauce in it. I expected to see a tomato-based sauce, to be honest. The first bite I had didn’t thrill me. The lasagna noodle was really long and rubbery. It even took me a few tries to cut it down to an actual portion I could eat. The sauce was also pretty salty – and this is coming from a guy who likes salt. It was salty enough D.Rough couldn’t eat all of hers. Pretty disappointing.

I thought I’d check out the garlic mashed potatoes before I went after the steak. The potatoes were pretty delicious – plenty of garlic and not pasty like some places that overcook them. I dug into my large ribeye. I had to scrape off the onions and mushrooms to get to the steak itself. The steak had a decent flavor, which I was happy about. What I wasn’t happy about was the amount of gristle and fat in the steak. I was actually surprised how much I left on my plate by the time I was done. I didn’t finish the steak because it was frustrating and I got sick of trying to power through the gristle. This is why you don’t order a steak at a non-steak restaurant. Disappointing.

The chocolate cake D.Rough got was a little sub-par. A multi-layered cake with some decoration and nice presentation. It was a tad dry, but when dipped in the extra chocolate syrup, it was much better. Not an incredible cake, but I’ve for sure had worse.

The pint-o-cake was a cake in a pint glass. It was actually much better than I expected. It had a lemon mascarpone whipped cream on it that appeared to be handmade – it was quite delicious. It was a little difficult to eat since the strawberries and cake had settled to the bottom and you had to dig deep to get all the ingredients. But I will give them props for presenting it in a different way. I actually enjoyed the cake in a glass a lot.

Overall, I’m not a fan of 3 Squares. The meal was disappointing, especially for Restaurant Week. I’ve enjoyed the other Blue Plate Group restaurants much more than here, so I won’t feel bad about not going back anytime soon.

Top 5 things about 3 Squares
1. Crab cakes
2. Pint-O-Cake
3. Ginger Peach Cosmo
4. The staff were all really nice and friendly

Bottom 5 things
1. Lobster Lasagna
2. Ribeye
3. Chocolate cake
4. Bourbon-y bitters-y cocktail
5. Caprese Salad

Friday, March 8, 2013

Teresa’s – Mendota Heights, MN

I’m sort of a Mexican food snob, as some of you know. But that doesn’t stop me from trying as many Mexican restaurants in the Twin Cities as I can. I needed a quick lunch, so I thought I’d hit up a place I’d driven by hundreds of times on my way to and from work – Teresa’s. There were always cars outside it, but with it being in a strip mall, you never know if the cars are patrons of the restaurant or patrons of any of the other stores in the mall.

When I walked in, I was surprised at both the size of the space and also the number of people that were in there. It was doing pretty solid business for a lunch hour. I was shown to a booth and given a basket of chips – a LARGE basket of chips. Now THAT’s what I’m talking about! No tiny bowl at this place! It came with a small carafe of salsa that was decent. Nothing spicy (it’s Minnesota, remember?), but it tasted just fine.

I ordered a lunch chimichanga, since it came with beans and a small guacamole salad. I was counting on demolishing the entire basket of chips, so it wasn’t like I was going to starve or anything – even if it was a smaller lunch size. I honestly waited about 3 or 4 minutes before the dish came out. Lightning lunch round, apparently!

The chimichanga was a smaller portion, but that was fine with me. The shell was fried perfectly and the insides were better than average. It was especially good when paired with the fresh guacamole salad and beans. I was pleased with the dish. The cheese Teresa’s uses is the kind that you need to eat while it’s hot or it gets a thin skin on it. I know this bothers some people, but it doesn’t change the flavor of it – it’s just a warning. And if that just makes you eat the chimichanga faster, then that works just as well. I didn’t have any problems with it and I cleaned my plate completely.

Teresa’s is a better-than-mainstream (Don Pablo’s), but not as good as divey Mexican food. I enjoyed my lunch there and was surprised at both the cost and the speed of the whole operation. And the bonus is they have a bar there! I look forward to going back here, and since it is really close to my house, it’s a safe bet I’ll be back soon.

Top 5 things about Teresa’s
1. Giant basket of chips
2. Chimichanga
3. Guacamole salad
4. Speed
5. Price

Bottom 5 things
1. Cheese needs to be eaten fast
2. The place gets busy
3. Menu is big enough to be intimidating
4. Nothing
5. Nothing