Thursday, March 31, 2016

Corner Table – Minneapolis, MN

Sometimes, my birthday falls during Twin Cities Restaurant Week, which means sometimes we try out two or three new restaurants in the Twin Cities. For my birthday this year, D.Rough booked us at The Corner Table, where I’ve been meaning to go for a few years now. This night it was a set menu with some choices for starters, entrees, and desserts, so I was looking forward to eating some delicious food.

For a limited menu, they really found a way to make me want everything on it. We had some difficulty choosing, as usual, but finally decided on a bowl of sunchoke soup and also a pork belly with chow-chow, chile-raisin vinaigrette, and pepita oil. And of course the wine pairing for the upcharge was totally worth it.

(Apologies for the low light levels in the photos) The first course was exquisite. The sunchoke soup was not at all what I expected and was really wonderful. Nice and warm and smooth, but with a lot of flavor, and a nice pop when the olive oil they drizzled on top found its way onto the spoon.

The pork belly was really good, and even a bit larger than had expected. It wasn’t too fatty (meaning there was actual meat and flavor, not just soft gristle), and there were little mustard seed everywhere that gave it a great texture. One of those dishes where you needed all the flavors in each bite to really make it hit home. Well done.

For the main course, D.Rough got the potato gnocchi, red table ham, chestnut soubise, and hen of the woods mushroom, and I shocked D.Rough by getting the faro risotto, roasted squash, saba, and pecorino cheese (pecorino is my kryptonite).
The potato gnocchi was really good. It actually had a lot going on with it, and was a pretty generous portion for such a heavy dish. Again, the flavors were perfect when combined in the same bit and the earthy mushroom balanced everything out nicely. I really liked this one.

….But I liked my risotto more. This dish had awesome texture and lots of vegetables in it, and was seasoned better than I ever expected. Rich flavors, probably from whatever they cooked the risotto in, and the pecorino was stellar. LOVED this dish. I need more pecorino and risotto in my life, I’ve discovered.

For dessert, D.Rough got the crème caramel, which was sort of like a flan, and I obviously got the sweet potato donuts with molasses and toffee cream. D.Rough didn’t have much to say about the caramel crème, but I really liked it. But I love custardy things like flan and panna cotta. I think I liked this one more than she did.

But, the donuts came out with a birthday candle (thank you wonderful server!), and the donuts were magical. I’ve never had sweet potato donuts before, but I will now try to find them everywhere. Such a unique flavor and the molasses and toffee cream kicked the whole thing up another level. I really liked this dessert more than I usually do.

Overall, a wonderful birthday dinner with the woman I love and a new restaurant for me to look forward to going back to!

Top 5 things about Corner Table
1. Farro Risotto
2. Sweet Potato Donuts
3. Potato Gnocchi
4. Pork Belly
5. The wine parings were spot on

Bottom 5 things
1. I still wish I had gotten the cow tongue reuben
2. The menu changes all the time, so it’s hard to get the same thing twice
3. It’s a small dining room, so you need reservations
4. It’s a little spendy on non-Restaurant-Week evenings
5. It’s impressively dark inside, so your photos won’t turn out (sorry bloggers/hipsters)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hoban Korean – Eagan, MN

D.Rough and I had both heard really amazing things about this place from a number of articles claiming it was the best in the Twin Cities. I hadn’t heard any friends talk about it, but it was in a further suburb, so I suppose I should have factored that in. We also heard they have karaoke attached to the restaurant, so we thought we’d better go check that out.
We went and checked out the Karaoke rooms while we waited for our table to be ready. They have four rooms of different size and they will bring you drinks and appetizers to your room, which sounds awesome. Looks like this could be a potential evening activity with some of our ridiculous friends…

The restaurant seated us in the large dining room, which was full. We scanned the menu and tried to figure out if we should go adventurous or play it safe. We decided on a safe appetizer and adventurous entrees. We got some spicy chicken wings to start. Then we got Meat Jun (sort of like a fried meat/bulgogi pancake), and also Hot and Spicy Octopus.

The chicken wings were really pretty darn good. Even better than I suspected they would be, since sometimes, Asian restaurants like to overcook the chicken and hope the sauce covers it up. These had a lot of meat on them and the sauce was really tasty and not very spicy. Just a little bit, but for Minnesota, that’s a lot. We both really liked these wings. 

The Hot and Spicy Octopus was next. We both love octopus, especially fried and grilled. I know Minnesota doesn’t have a huge bumper crop of octopus usually, so it was a gamble, but we were both up for it. It looked really pretty on the plate, so we were excited to check this dish out. D.Rough took the first bite to test it out. It was a small piece and I could tell by her face she wasn’t thrilled with it. Then I could tell, when she wasn’t through chewing it 5 minutes later, that it might not be the best-cooked octopus we’ve ever had. It clearly wasn’t. I’ve never actually had octopus this chewy before and I was really surprised how long it took for each piece to break down. The sauce itself and the vegetables were delicious, but the octopus was basically inedible. It was like eternally chewing on pieces of rubber and eventually, both of our jaws hurt from chewing and we gave up on it. I’d suggest a different dish to my friends who end up going there.

The Meat Jun sounded delicious. It arrived and looked a little drab. It was a sort of gray-ish-brown color that didn’t look all that appealing (especially compared to the awesome photos on the website). We were hoping to get over the texture of the octopus by eating this – but that wasn’t going to happen. The texture of this was possibly even worse. The meat was extremely chewey, and whatever breading they used on the outside was basically uncooked flour, yet super greasy. We tried a couple different pieces to make sure we didn’t just get one piece of non-perfect beef. But the whole thing was like this. We just kept chewing and chewing. The flour-y breading made the whole thing worse, so we just ended up stopping.

We figured we might as well drink, just to help recover from this. We ordered a small pitcher of Soju. Actually, we ordered three or four different kinds of flavored soju and they would come back and tell me they were out, so we finally ended up with the mango soju. Which, frankly, was DAMN delicious. Yes, we loved the awesome little ice-filled pitcher that it arrived in at the table, but the flavor was perfect. We know we can’t pour our own soju, so we kept filling each other’s glasses. We’re both givers. And yes, it did help us a little bit forget how bad the meal was. A LITTLE.

We got our large amount of uneaten food boxed up, so it didn’t look like we hated everything, and left. We immediately threw away the food when we got home. I apologize to the people that enjoy this restaurant. We simply had a bad experience here, which significantly pales in comparison to many other Korean restaurants we’ve eaten at. We may go back for the karaoke, appetizers, and drinks, but I don’t know that we’re going to order much off the main menu next time. We really wanted to like this place, but it just wasn’t up to our expectations nor past experience. Bummer

Top 5 things about Hoban Korean
1. The Mango soju (not even our first choice and it was great!)
2. Spicy Chicken Wings
3. Karaoke rooms looked awesome and the kid giving us the tour was really nice
4. Great menu photos for every dish
5. All the dishes come with many small accompanying dishes of various radishes, vegetables, and kimchee
Bottom 5 things
1. Meat Jun
2. Hot and Spicy Octopus
3. Out of all the best flavors of soju
4. The service was noticeably slow – we weren’t in a hurry, but geeeez
5. I don’t like writing bad reviews – it always makes me feel bad

Friday, March 25, 2016

Slayer, Testament, Carcass – Myth – Maplewood, MN

I’m one of those old guys that still listens to loud music. So when I heard Slayer was coming to town, I knew I’d not be the oldest one at the show. I immediately bought a ticket. And, it was a great line-up, as well. Some sweet bands I used to play a lot when I was a radio DJ back in Davenport, IA.

Carcass was pretty good. I like their older stuff more than their newer style, but they’re great musicians and have great presence on the stage. They’ve been doing this a really long time, so they’ve no doubt got their style and stage antics honed in. They played a lot of newer songs, but peppered in a few of the older ones.

Testament never disappoints. Chuck Billy hasn’t lost a beat, despite some health issues and being one of the older guys. Still has some solid pipes. Also, it’s good to see Alex Skolnick (aka Alex Trebek) still shredding like he’s 18. I always forget they came from some thrash-era styles of music, so it’s got that fast running tempo in most of their songs. I really enjoy these guys live (and have for like 25 years…).

Slayer kills it. Every show. They’re not running around like monkeys or jumping off things, but they’re in the upper echelon of incredibly influential bands for a reason. Solid playing and larger than most stage presence, even while standing there looking angry. I know they lost one of their founding members a few years back, but they still pulled off every song with perfection with the new guitarist. The singer and bass player, Tom Araya, has a giant white beard and black hair and still sounds fantastic. I am always bummed when I see the band without Dave Lombardo on the drums, but Paul Bostaph is flawless – I love watching both of them play equally, to be honest. But apparently, Dave Lombardo is touring with Suicidal Tendencies (who were playing the Myth the next night, oddly enough). Slayer puts on a pretty impressive show and I’m always happy to shell out some cash to see them. That being said, I still won’t shell out $80 for a Slayer sweatshirt, no matter how awesome it is.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Yum! - Minnetonka, MN

This will be short and sweet this time, I promise!

I love Pot Pies (actually most meat pies, in general, I would push people out of the way to get at). I was meeting a friend for lunch at Yum, and have never seen anyone order them from here. I asked about them and the counter person said they were fantastic. They were right.

These pot pies are super fluffy and delicious!!! I wondered if it was going to be a biscuit on top, but it wasn’t – it was absolutely a light fluffy poofed up pastry. The fillings, chicken, veggies, and sauce were delicious, and I’d order this thing anytime I go back, which sadly, isn’t often enough.

Time to put pot pies on my work calendar to make sure it fills the pot pie-shaped void in my life.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

My Birthday!!!

My wife makes the best food in the whole world. She’s super underrated when it comes to what she can just “throw together” (things that would take me days to complete). She’s one of those people that always knows what to make and when.

For my birthday, she made me rice krispy treats with sprinkles. She knows I think everything is better with sprinkles, so she went nuts with the sprinkles. Sprinkles in the mix and then a layer of sprinkles on top. Thanks for being my lady. I hope you’ll be by my side for a hundred more years. (when the sprinkles get under my dentures)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Mucci’s Italian – St. Paul, MN

D.Rough has a pretty good grasp on which restaurants are planning to open in the Twin Cities – I rely on her a LOT for this. When she told me the guys who run the Strip Club and Saint Dinette were opening a new place in St. Paul, I perked up a little bit. I will admit: I’m biased. These guys can do no wrong in my opinion. Oddly enough, I saw on Twitter and Instagram that Strip Club was making donuts – like FANCY donuts – as some trial they were running. As it turns out, these donut trials were very closely tied to Mucci’s.

Mucci’s Italian is a very small restaurant with an unassuming (and unlabeled) storefront and room for about 40 people inside. On weekend mornings, Mucci’s makes delicious fancy donuts. I don’t mean the same garbage that everyone is doing, where they put on maple glaze and a strip of bacon. That isn’t fancy. Fancy is what we saw when D.Rough and I rolled in and shook hands with the super personable owner Tim (who may or may not recognize us from frequenting his other restaurants). The donuts have some creativity and they’re also larger than most donut places. I mentioned these weren’t snacking donuts, these were meal donuts.

We got a vanilla glazed donut (with tons of vanilla beans),
a salted caramel glazed something-or-other twist, a chocolate glazed donut,
and a donut filled with mascarpone cheese, covered in chocolate glaze, and then sprinkled with fried salami bits. I’m not joking. I can put back some donuts, and I was honestly full after I ate the ONE mascarpone filled donut. So embarrassing. I loved the donut, though! Salty and sweet and fried and chocolate. There’s no bad part of this donut. We brought the other ones home to eat for lunch, since we were quite full.

But, wait! There’s more! During the evenings, they serve really interesting modern Italian food at an extremely reasonable price. We knew right away after eating the donuts that we’d be back for dinner sometime. That sometime was VERY shortly after the donut experience. This place doesn’t take reservations, so when we rolled in, we were told there was a little bit of a wait, but they suggested we walk down the block to The Spot – a wonderful St. Paul dive bar – and wait for a call. We walked down, ordered a drink, Mucci’s called, we pounded the drinks in one fell swoop, and walked back to Mucci’s. They’re REALLY friendly here, and not in a bad or creepy way. Just super helpful. We got seated at the counter (not a bar, despite it having high stools to sit on), and everyone was able to help us.

The drink list is short, but they have everything you need on it, including Prosecco on tap and a custom-made beer from Maine called Hive. But they also have something called Mucci Juice – it’s red wine with Orange Fanta in it. And it’s cheap. And it’s DELICIOUS. Just shut up and order this. So good.

Deciding what to order was more of a challenge. Too many good things on the menu. There is also a tasting menu available, which changes each night, so you’ll have to ask about it. While it sounded wonderful, we had sort of decided on getting one of their signature items: Deep fried pizza. They roll out the dough, deep-fry it, and then put toppings on it before putting it in the oven. Brilliant. So we got the Kenzie-Jo – crème fraiche, pears, pecans, pancetta, mozzarella, and a red wine reduction. We also ordered the Devil Hair pasta, which has cioppino, guanciale, mussels, mint, and chili oil. And since we obviously needed a starter, we ordered some potato croquetas. Then we hung out with the serving staff and got caught up on all the happenings and what their favorites were and what were the best and worst sellers on the menu and why. I will say, the counter is the place to sit – you get to watch ALL the food being brought out, and you get to chat with really fun and helpful people.

The croquetas arrived and they were like big tater tots with a delicious marinara-type sauce and locatelli (a very nice parmesan). They were stacked high and looked incredible. They also tasted incredible. Very crunchy outside and light and fluffy on the inside. I’m not sure how they got that crunch on the outside, but it was perfect. The Mucci’s sauce has great flavor with it and paired well with the salty cheese. A great start! Time to order some wine!

Our entrees came out after we had finished up the croquetas. The Devil Hair looked like a simple dish, but it had some very complex flavors in it. The mussels were perfectly cooked and not chewy nor rubbery, and the black pasta noodles were also cooked perfectly. The sauce the whole thing was in was amazing, we were dipping everything in it to make sure we didn’t waste it (yes, even the pizza crust, like savages – don’t judge us). The chili oil just made this dish sing. Soooooooo good.

The Kenji-Jo pizza was awesome. The fried pizza dough is like nothing I’ve had before – it’s brilliant. It tastes fried, but doesn’t taste greasy. I’m a huge fan of this now. Each of the flavors had their own profile in this pizza and the mozzarella didn’t hide any of it. Plus the wine reduction was perfect on top of this pizza. Seriously, the best pizza I’ve had in a really long time. You ned to get one of these Pizza Montanara (that’s what they call the deep fried pizza).

Since we were already on a roll, we decided to get dessert, although the decision was difficult. So we just doubled up. The chocolate budino (like an Italian lava cake) has a scoop of olive oil gelato  drizzled with olive oil and salt and is exquisite! This was awesome. They home-make all of their gelatos, so you should order a trio like we did. The red wine gelato was great, the pistachio was also good, but the real winner was the coffee gelato  – really great!

As you can see, we had nothing bad here. In fact, while we were still eating, I was texting some of our friends and setting up a dinner date with them the following Wednesday. That’s how good this place was. And we’ll keep going back!!! Thank you, Mucci’s!!

Top 5 things about Mucci’s Italian
1. Kenzie-Jo Pizza Montanara
2. Devil Hair Pasta
3. Potato Croqeuta
4. Mucci Juice!!!
5. The staff was so impressive and fun

Bottom 5 things
1. Just a heads up, it isn’t labeled at all on the outside, so you’ll likely drive past
2. No reservations (like the other restaurants they own), but you won’t mind waiting for this food
3. The waiting area inside is pretty small, so you may end up outside waiting for your table (or… go to The Spot! down the street to wait)
4. They’re not set up for groups of more than 4 (although they were incredibly nice about rearranging furniture and booths for our group of six when we came back with more people!)
5. The Mucci’s sauce is delicious, but some people like it more spicy (which they are totally willing to spice up or change out for arrabbiata sauce if you ask)