Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Las Mojarras – Minneapolis, MN

Some friends were having a double birthday party and thought they’d invite everyone they know to go out to dinner and then some drinks. Of course I was in, especially when I found out it was a place I hadn’t been before. Despite Las Mojarras being a small village in Argentina, Las Mojarras was like no Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s a one-stop-shop for all your banquet/wedding/dining needs. Even before I get to the food, I’ll explain what this place has going on – it’s a lot.

First off, there is a dining room – pretty standard for a restaurant, I suppose. It’s straight forward, but there are some televisions and a SERIOUS sound system for karaoke. Which is a pretty big deal at Las Mojarras.

Then there’s a larger dining space with room to move long tables around in a banquet-style reception area. This was where we were seated. I’m not sure who booked the room, but when we told them there would be 20+ people, they pulled out all the stops. They put white seat covers on all the chairs and bows and table settings and fancy napkins. They were quite serious about us having a professional experience at their place. In fact, we were all pretty impressed. I had hoped no one told them it was a small wedding or something inaccurate. Just a nice birthday party.

Then there’s a serious bar. Plenty of tequilas and Mexican beers for us to drink. And they do make a strong margarita. I forgot to take a photo of the giant fish tank, but believe me, you can’t miss it.

Ok, enough with the standard restaurant-y things.

There’s a small stage – we’re not sure if it’s for puppet shows for the kids or dramatic renderings of community theater. But it’s there.

In the back of the place, there’s a Frida Kahlo-themed hair salon. Yes, I said hair salon. It looks like they’re doing some renovations in that area, but I’m sure it will be open soon.

There’s a huge glassed-off enclosure that I can only explain as a display case for potential wedding setups. There are multiple full size tables set up with place settings and fine china with bolts and bolts of different cloth patterns and colors. Different candelabras and table centerpieces, and tons of other things you might need for a large banquet. All set up for you to sit down and see if you enjoy it. And all hermetically sealed and cordoned off. Now we know why we got the royal table treatment for our riff-raff group.

And the Pièce de résistance: the Virgin Mary Breathalyzer. You read that correctly. It will cost you a dollar (in quarters), and you’ll need your own straw. But since they mix their drinks strong here, I’m guessing people utilize this machine more than you might think. Absolutely awesome. Both Mary and the Breathalyzer are fully functional.

Now I’ll get to the food.

The chips and salsa were better than average. Pretty good (and mild) salsa and thick cut tortilla chips with just enough salt. I was happy with this, even though we didn’t have a very quick turnaround on the refills of these. We were sitting and looking at empty bowls much more than we were eating chips. Bummer.

The menu is about average (both in number of items and prices). There were a lot of seafood dishes – which makes sense since Mojarras are fish – and plenty of other things for non-seafood eaters. I found a few things I wanted and finally decided on a Chimichanga. Normally, I want something more adventurous than this bastardized American version of a burrito, but it still rang a bell in my head and eventually won out.

I know we were a large group, but I didn’t think it was large enough to warrant the time it took to serve us. We were served individually over the space of about 35-40 minutes. No lie. The person next to me was half way done with hers before mine entrée came out. The person across from me was the last one served and everyone had finished eating. Some of us sat around after other people had left since he was still eating his dish. A LONG time to wait (especially without chips being refilled to snack on in the meantime.

The food was generous – very large portions. My chimichanga was one of the largest I’ve had around here and was decent. The chopped beef on the inside was cooked, but didn’t seem to be seasoned very well. It was fine, but I thought there would be more. A few of us asked for more salsa (since it wasn’t being refilled at the tables) so we could add some dimension of flavor that was missing. It wasn’t BAD or anything, it just was a little bland – even by Minnesotan standards. I was kind of bored with my dish about ¾ of the way through, but I kept eating since the guy across from me was eating by himself at that point. Solidarity, my man. The rice and beans and guacamole were all just ok. Maybe I should have gotten something more adventurous. I’m not sure if I can chalk this one up to ordering error or not. Maybe.

And on the speed front, it took us over 25 minutes to pay for our meals. I’m not sure if it was a computer oddity, but we had to pay in order of placing our order. If you ordered last, you had to wait for everyone else to pay first. I’m not sure why, since we all had separate checks in our hands, but that’s just how it happened. So the server would grab our bill and credit card/cash, go in back and ring it up, and walk back out a few minutes later. There were 20 of us and it took forever. Sorry to complain about this – I usually don’t, but there were a lot of comments about it from everyone. Thankfully, we had the awesomeness of the main dining room karaoke to tide us over while we waited.

Average food and slow service remind me I have a ton of other Mexican restaurants to try before I head back here. Based on some other reviews, this might not be an unusual experience.

Top 5 things about Las Mojarres
1. Atmosphere – this place has it
2. Chips and salsa
3. Drinks were strong
4. Sooooo much awesome in one building – Breathalyzer Mary, salon, wedding display case, etc.
5. Staff were very nice

Bottom 5 things
1. Speed of service
2. Chimichanga was bland, as were a few other people’s dishes
3. Billing issues
4. We sat there long enough waiting to pay that no one even needed to use the Breathalyzer
5. There were some portion discrepancies at the bar with the size of comparable drinks. Some people got smaller glasses – visibly – and paid the same amount

Las Mojarres
1501 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Monday, April 8, 2013

My Champion Wife – St. Paul, MN

Saturday, my awesome wife and her amazing roller derby team won the season championship for the home season of the Minnesota RollerGirls. She’s a pretty big deal and I love to see what a fantastic role model she is for younger female athletes. She signed so many autographs that night and it’s clear she’s someone this next generation of athletes looks up to. This makes my heart happy.

Sorry to be so sappy, but I’m proud of her.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Hamdi Restaurant – Minneapolis, MN

It was a guy’s night out with some of my favorite people. Dinner and watching some wrestling on TV (don’t ask). Killsbury Doughboy suggested we try something new to all of us and not our usual fare – Somali cuisine. Absolutely. Why not? What is there to lose? And it was within walking distance, right on Lake Street. Perfect.

We headed to the restaurant and grabbed a seat in the pretty spacious and sparsely decorated restaurant. We still honestly had no idea what to expect. Here’s what we knew – A-Wow claimed Somalia had some sort of Italian influence so there might be spaghetti. I’m not joking – this was all we knew and for that matter, we didn’t believe a word A-Wow was saying after that statement. When the server brought us menus, we were relieved to see that almost everything on it included a photo. Whew, much less of a gamble when you can see approximately what you’re getting. Not a ton of description on it, but I’m guessing most of the regulars in this restaurant – and there were a number of people eating or drinking coffee inside – didn’t need descriptions.

While the menu isn’t expansive, it has very recognizable items. Chicken, beef, goat, fish, and served with sides of chapatti (sort of a tortilla/bread), rice, soor (a cornmeal/grits mash), or spaghetti – damn, A-Wow wasn’t making that up. There are various meat stews, grilled meat and grilled fish. Actually, the photos of the food look pretty appetizing. I asked about a dish called KK and through some rough translation and quick search of the internet with my phone, discovered it’s sort of a stir fry stew with chapatti strips cooked in with the vegetables. I tried to order the KK, but I think it got lost in the translation (since we had a lot of questions about the various foods and they were out of some things). I think I ended up with the Stewed Chicken and a plate of rice – we still didn’t order spaghetti.

We were brought a pretty simple iceberg lettuce salad in a bowl that we all managed to tip over numerous times – it wasn’t the most stable dish in the world. It ended up making us all laugh though. It came with a small cup of Italian dressing and was garnished with a lemon. Nothing fancy. Pretty boring salad, but we’re clearly not vegetarians, nor judgers of salad in any way.

The generous entrees arrived pretty quickly and to our delight, looked really tasty. There were strips of the chapatti cooked in with the chicken and vegetables (chick peas, green peppers, onions, and corn). If you picture a stir-fry but a little dryer, you’ll get the picture. The flavor was really much better than I even expected. You could taste all of the ingredients and it was seasoned really heavily, but not in a bad way – just the traditional seasonings of Somalia, I’m assuming.

The plate of rice that accompanied the entrée was also generous and had a bit of a seasoning garnish on top of it. Better than average rice, dish and since it was an accompaniment, it was fantastic when eaten with the Chicken Stew. Very nicely done.

I had a bite of Killsbury Doughboy’s fish dish (also served with rice) and it was light and flaky and mild. Nothing fishy nor offensive about this dish at all.

We will warn you that they bring out a small dish of green liquid with the entrees. We aren’t sure what this is made out of, but it’s basically liquid fire. I am REALLY glad I didn’t pour this all over my dish or it would have been inedible. It’s one of the spiciest sauces I’ve ever seen on a table, and that’s simply dipping a finger into it for a taste. Blazing hot, so use it sparingly!

Overall, the place is absolutely worth going back to. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to bring some other people here. Sure there were some translation/language problems, but our group rolls pretty easily with that and don’t get bent out of shape. Sure there was a msising item or two, but honestly, we all left full and pleased with our decision to go here. Looking forward to going back and trying the KK and maybe some mango juice!

Not enough items to do a top 5, but we were all pretty happy with our dishes. Well done, Hamdi!

Hamdi Restaurant
818 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Friday, April 5, 2013

Glam Doll Donuts – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I had heard about this new donut shop in Minneapolis from one of the local newspapers and also heard it was sort of a late night spot. We showed up after a roller derby event and found it well-populated and hopping. If you haven’t heard about this place, it’s a sort of retro flashback 1940-1950’s pin-up doll inspired donut shop that is open late, as well as the crack of dawn kind of hours. In fact, it’s open until 1am Thursday through Sunday nights. Brilliant!

But it isn’t all about the atmosphere here (though that IS very important and amazingly well crafted – by hand in many instances) – the donuts they make are both delicious and waaay outside the box (pun intended). The woman who comes up with the donut menu is immensely creative and not subtle at all with her flavor combinations. Call wacky donuts a fad if you want to, but if it’s done right, the fad is going to stick around for a LONG time – that’s my hope with this place.

D.Rough and I got a couple of donuts to split and try some new things. We got an orange, cinnamon, and ginger donut, a curry glazed donut stuffed with provolone, and D.Rough got one of those damn cake circles (some people call them cake donuts, but I won’t give that species the honor of calling it a donut) with peanut butter frosting and sri racha. I told you this place is adventurous.

The orange, cinnamon, ginger donut was really quite delicious. It almost tasted like an orange slice with a little bit of bite to it. Very tasty and recommended.

I keep hearing how the cake circles at Glam Doll are really much lighter and fluffier than many I’ve had, but I just didn’t want to take the chance that it would ruin my experience, so I didn’t try it. D.Rough loved the bites that she ate, and I did try the frosting, which was oddly wonderful. But I can’t give it a full review, since I couldn’t bring myself to eat it – I wasn’t in the mood for cake. I was in the mood for donuts.

The curry glazed provolone stuffed donut was the best thing I had that night. Maybe in the top 5 donuts I’ve ever had. I haven’t had a ton of savory donuts, but I would recommend this to everyone. It looks a little bit like an empanada – sort of a folded over and fried dough pocket covered with a slightly orange-ish curry glaze. Not a spicy curry, but still distinctly curry flavored. And the inside had this really awesome salty cheese in the center. It wasn’t molten, so it held together nicely and you got some with each bite without having to worry about all your cheese oozing out. Honestly, this made every part of me happy. Get this donut.

Now, I’ve decided I need to go to Glam Doll often enough to figure out the donut schedule and when I can get certain donuts. I’m REALLY glad this place is open late and is more fun than I thought it might be. Wel done, Glam Doll. Quite an impressive operation you have here. Thank YOU for being so awesome.