Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Germany – Day 3 – Bad Nauheim

When I walked to the conference the next morning, I realized the creepy walk in the park during the pitch black night was actually an stunningly beautiful 1 mile walk in a park past a pond and golf course and past a stream and up a dirt path in the woods. 

Conference, Conference, Conference….

The evening reception involved drink tickets and unlimited food. I accidentally ended up with an alcohol-free beer, which was a waste of a ticket and of my time (but not to worry, the bar took cash, as well).

The reception may have also involved a segway obstacle course. Which, after a few rounds of alcohol-full beer, sounded like a great idea. Thankfully, there are no evidence pictures of me riding these insane contraptions steered by wizardry.

Finally, a beautiful walk through the creepy park back to the hotel to find that vending machine…

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Germany – Day 2 – Oberferrieden

We woke up and had a “traditional” Bavarian breakfast. I use the quote mainly because I couldn’t tell if Joe and Yanni were making this up as an excuse to pound liters of beer for breakfast. Yanni’s mother got up early to make us a wonderfully delicious home-made breakfast before we headed out on our adventures. A traditional Bavarian breakfast includes playing yodeling and oom-pa-pa Bavarian music loudly on the stereo, eating weisswurst (white sausages), large pretzels with sweet mustard, potatoes, and this amazing cheese spread called “Obatzda”. Obatzda is a Bavarian specialty that combines two-thirds aged Camembert and ones-third butter. Apparently, everyone’s grandmother makes it differently by adding a little of this and that, so you’ll never get the same one twice, but it’s truly delicious and I plan to make this myself. It’s life-changing cheese (but then again, which cheese isn’t?!?!?!?!) Then, as I said, there are liters of beer involved. In the morning. It was going to be a long day.

We hopped in the car and headed over to Burgthann, another small village with a cool castle-like structure. We climbed all the staircases and took lots of photos of the view. Really beautiful country here in the hillls of Bavaria. As Joe and I were walking past a random doorway, these women were getting ready to open some sort of shop inside. They yelled at Joe and somehow talked us into moving this bookcase/desk thing for them. The thing had to have weighed 500 pounds or more. Neither of us were expecting that kind of effort, but they were sweet little ladies and Joe and I are chivalrous strapping young men who were smart enough to fake like it was as light as a feather. Hahahaha
We continued the drive to the Ludwig-Donau-Main-Kanal (Ludwig Canal), which links the Danube basin with the Rhine basin. This doesn’t sound impressive, but when I explain what it is, it will get exponentially more impressive. King Ludwig I (not the “mad” one build this canal between 1836 and 1846 and used horses to pull barges full of goods more than 60km in the hills of Bavaria. Sounding more impressive? It’s gets more impressive when I focus on the word “hills”. The hills were a bit of an engineering challenge since canals generally need a flat area to traverse, since pulling barges up waterfalls isn’t ideal. So King Ludwig moved MASSIVE amounts of earth to basically “fill in the gaps” between hills. Think about how much dirt you’d have to re-locate to fill in a gap between two small mountains, now multiply that by like 100 mountains. NOW, it’s impressive. There are  number of cute tiny locks and dams along the route, but it’s really a neat engineering feat. The canals are basically abandoned, but a few times  a year, during festivals, they break out a team of horses and pull the 70 year old “Elfriede” boat up and down the canal for fun.

That was about all the time I had for fun this morning as I had to catch a train to go to my work conference. I thanked Yanni’s lovely, generous, and hospitable parents for everything. Then we walked the five blocks back to the train station, so I could head back to Frankfurt. Yanni and Joe even accompanied me part of the way, so they could have some fun time after touring me around Bavaria. Seriously, thank you both so much, Yanni and Joe, I can’t wait to see you two again. Possibly next year during conference time!!!!

I made it to my hotel and was amused to find these hilarious pillow sculptures they made on my bed. I was pretty underwhelmed with their work on these. I’ve seen waaaay more impressive towel, pillow, and blanket sculptures at other places. But let’s be honest – I don’t usually stay at places fancy enough for any sore of sculptures to make appearances, so I shouldn’t complain or make fun. Hahaha

I’ll point out two additional weird things about my hotel, however: The buttons on the elevator aren’t in any real order. I understand the words for basement and lobby don’t start with the same letters in German as they do in English, but at least the numbers should be in a consistent order. Bizarre.

I also found out (when I pushed the wrong button on the elevator) that my hotel has beer in the vending machine in the basement. Hard to complain about THAT…

There was a quick happy hour at the conference hotel, so I walked down this creepy dark path for a mile to drink some drinks and network with some really smart people. You don’t care about the conference, I assure you.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Germany – Day 1 – Nürnberg

This isn’t so much a review, as it is a quick travelogue of my recent “work” trip to Germany. I took a few extra days before and after to see some friends I haven’t seen in a long time.

I flew into Frankfurt and hopped on a train to Oberferrieden (just Southeast of Nürnberg) to go the small village where my friend Yanni lives. She graciously offered her parents’ house for me to stay for the first day of my trip, before I had to head to the work portion of this visit. I met her and her boyfriend at the train station and walked about 5 blocks to her house. I got a very warm reception from her parents and then we headed off to see Nürnberg!

Yanni is a wonderful tour guide. She and her boyfriend Joe speak almost flawless English and know the entire history of everything in all of Europe (that might be an exaggeration, but it definitely makes me want to learn more about the history of the town I currently live in). We walked all over Nürnberg, which is known for a lot more than just the Nürnberg Trials after WWII. It’s known for all kinds of things during the Hitler years and there’s a lot of photos from the 1930s and 1940s depicting a lot of pre- and during-war activity, parades, parties, festivals, and other things.

We stopped by this massive church in the center of town. St. Lorenz is a massive structure started in the 1300s and continuously built for about a hundred years. It took some damage during WWII, but has been restored since then. It’s really massive.

We walked around without much of a plan (which was perfect), and saw how pretty the entire city is. We walked by the Heilig Geist Spital (Hospital of the Holy Spirit), which is now a restaurant in an absolutely beautiful spot, sitting above the Pegnitz river. It was built in 1332, so it’s a little old.

We walked near the area that Albert Dürer was from and saw his old home, and saw a large bronze statue. It’s called “Der Hase – Hommage à Dürer”, and it’s considered by Travel and Leisure Magazine as one of the “World’s Ugliest Public Art” pieces. The description is “This dazed or possibly dead rabbit seems unaware of the swarm of mice that shares its busted-up crate.” You’ve got to love weird sculpture!

We were right next to the Nürnberg Castle, so we popped into this massive sandstone building built on top of a hill. It’s got wonderful views of the entire city and some beautiful gardens. There’s a spot where a man jumped a horse (while riding it) off a wall to a pile of garbage 75 feet below and rode away to escape his captors. Stories like that thrill me, so I had to see where that happened.

And when you’re in Germany, you really should eat the local sausages. Yanni and Joe hooked me up with “3 im Weggla” or three small Nürnberg-style sausages in a sliced open hard roll. And they don’t care if you put ketchup on them here, so suck it! It was the perfect snack before we headed to a biergarten to have a drink before dinner.

It was good to be back in Germany. It’s been a few years, and I needed some sausage and beer and time with friends.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mac’s Macaroni and Cheese Shop – Wisconsin Dells, WI

D.Rough and I were driving to Chicago when we got hungry near the Wisconsin Dells exit. We saw some signs for Mac’s and thought it sounded interesting. If you’ve never been to Wisconsin Dells (or haven’t been recently) on a Friday night, it’s …. Interesting.  There are thousands of what appear to be high school and college kids driving up and down the main street in souped-up, tricked-out pick-up trucks and cars, drinking cans of “something” in koozies, waving American flags, and yelling out their windows at people on the street and in other cars. They drive to the end of the populated walk-able area, then turn around and go back the other direction. For hours. It’s like an all-night red-neck parade. And this happens every weekend. I’m not judging (I’m TOTALLY judging, by the way), I’m just letting you know what you’re in for if you roll into Wisconsin Dells on a weekend after 6pm.

Mac’s is directly in the center of all this activity, so we found ourselves a spot right in front of the window and watched it all happen. The concept of Mac’s is pretty simple, they have Melts (sandwiches with cheese), Salads (various greens with cheese), and Signature Mac and Cheeses. The melts all sounded interesting, as did the salads, but we were there for the Mac and Cheese, obviously. They’ve got 12 different kinds on the regular menu. All of which sound pretty delicious. D.Rough got the Buffalo Chicken Mac and I got the Hangover Mac.  We sat down to watch the weekly parade.

D.Rough’s Buffalo Chicken Mac was pretty fantastic. It’s got provolone, mozzarella, blue cheese, chicken and buffalo sauce on it. The cheese itself was really good, and surprisingly not soupy with cheese – just the right amount. The chicken and the buffalo sauce went well with the cheese flavor and I honestly liked D.Rough’s choice more than mine. Here’s why:

The Mac that they brought me wasn’t what I ordered. I ordered the Hangover Mac, which had ridiculous amounts of bacon, hot dogs, green peppers, sri racha, and a bunch of other things. What I got was clearly the Loaded Baked Potato Mac – cheddar, mozzarella, baked potato slices, bacon, and sour cream. I didn’t say anything, since I was starving, and I  just dug into it. I was surprised again, by how non-soupy the cheese was. I think they’ve got the ratio dialed in pretty well here to keep it from being cheese soup with a couple of noodles. Well done, Mac. The bacon and potato were delicious together in this things, and the toasted baguette pieces were also really good. I really can’t complain, other than I got the wrong item (tat just means I have to go back, right?)

Overall, the Mac and cheese lived up to our expectations, although the ambiance is impressively weird in the Dells at night. And this is late spring – imagine what the peak of summer would end up like. Yikes. Thankfully, the food here made this little detour NOT a waste of time. There’s a small distillery next door to Mac’s that has a patio overlooking the street. I can’t imagine the lunacy that happens up there, based on the amount of yelling to the people driving their cars that was happening. But there’s only one way to find out, right?

Friday, May 13, 2016

St. Genevieve – Minneapolis, MN

D.Rough and I decided to go someplace a little upscale for our 4th anniversary dinner. I’d like to start a  trend that we go out to eat 4 times for our fourth, 5 times for our fifth, and so on, but I don’t think it will fly. St. Genevieve sets aside a small portion of its table for reservations, and then the rest are walk-in seating. We weren’t lucky enough to get a reservation, so we took out chances and showed up unannounced. There was a 90 minute wait on a Wednesday, so be ready for that. thankfully, there is a wonderful store next door to do some shopping and kill some time.

Once we got seated, we were really impressed with the place. Very nice without being snooty and the windows in the front open up onto the sidewalk for a really open atmosphere. It was pretty slick. This is the kind of place that not only has a nice wine list, but also a nice champagne list. D.Rough enjoys champagne more than most, so she ended up getting a nice glass of it. A glass which she thought was $9, but didn’t know that was for a half glass. (And, I didn’t tell her until afterwards, since it was our anniversary and we shouldn’t be watching our pennies.) It was a Chigny les Roses from Montagne de Reims. I got a really heavy red (Languedoc Roussillon) from that I loved, but D.Rough thought it was too meaty for her.

Also, a side detail. The coasters under your water glass are color coded for the servers. Red for tap/still water, and blue for sparkling/bubbly water. Genius time-saver idea!

The menu is quite French, so if you can speak any French at all, it may help you decipher some of the things. We do alright, so we ended up not starving – hahaha. We ordered some pomme frites (French fries with béarnaise aioli) and some Morels with Parisian gnocchis. St. Genevieve is also known for its Tartines (sort of a fancy open-faced sandwich), so we went a little extravagant and got the foie mousse tartine. We decided to split a large plate, so we didn’t over eat – we got the pork dish.

The pomme frites were awesome. Very crispy and the béarnaise aioli was good enough, we probably should have ordered another container of it so we didn’t have to ration it so much. Seriously good version of elevated French fries.

The morels were fantastic. I’ve never had morels before, but I know people fist fight over them in the woods. I know a lot of people that hunt these things and I’m glad I finally got to try them. These were fantastic and served with some of the best, lightest, fluffiest, creamiest gnocchis I’ve ever had. There was a sherry reduction on them and also a bit of fried chicken skin. Really? Yes, really, and it was awesome. It’s a pricy appetizers because of the morels, but it was really good.

The tartine was one of those things that I really liked, but D.Rough didn’t care much for it. A little too rich for her taste. A generous slathering (sorry for not using a more fancy word) of foie gras mousse on top, and then topped with some tarragon and pistachio. The kicker was the green strawberries, though. They were a really nice sweet tart pop in this dish. Really fantastic.

The pork medallions were really top notch. The pieces of pork were served together with some pieces of pork belly, but if you ate the together, it was quite a different flavor and texture combination. It was served on a small bed of cheese grits along with an onion puff and kind of a celery remoulade. The onion puff was referred to in another review as a grown up funyun and it was a pretty apt description. IT was also delicious. I think D.Rough got too much of the pork belly and wasn’t expecting it, but I really devoured this thing. One of the better pork dishes I’ve had recently.

Did we need dessert? No. Did we get it anyway? Yes. D.Rough went with the butterscotch crème brulee and I got the orange chiffon. I didn’t even really know what orange chiffon was, but it sounded intriguing and I was in the mood to gamble.

The orange chiffon was like nothing I’ve ever had before. It was sort of a fluffy cake with blood orange reduction drizzle on it. It also had black sesame macarons on it, as well as… wait for it… fennel sorbet. The cake was delicious, especially with the blood orange sauce on it. And the black sesame macarons were also good, but the sorbet I struggled with. Seriously struggled with it. I tried really hard to like it, but I just couldn’t. I almost ate all of it, hoping it would change my mind, but it didn’t. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve eaten in a long time. It was like a pizza flavored black licorice sweet ice cream. I’m sure it was fantastic and very high-brow, but it was rough for me.

Thankfully, D.Rough’s was mindblowing. The butterscotch crème brulee was quite good. Impressively good, if you must know. It had banana malt ice cream on top with cacao nib brownie pieces and caramel corn. This thing was an immensely elevated crème brulee. Get this thing.

Top 5 things about St. Genevieve
1. Pork medallions with pork belly pieces
2. Morel mushrooms with gnocchi
3. Butterscotch crème brulee
4. The atmosphere here is energetic and loud and open and fun, but still very upscale
5. The wine and champagne list is pretty baller

Bottom 5 things
1. Fennel Sorbet
2. D.Rough would put the tartine here, but I liked it
3. Be ready for the price tag, but it was worth it (just be careful on the wine ordering)
4. You’ll likely have to wait in line, unless you email the place weeks in advance
5. There isn’t a website (use FaceBook, yelp, or various articles to learn more)

St. Genevieve
5003 Bryant Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55419