Friday, October 23, 2009

Cloudy with a chance of food and drinks

Wine Bar
Breaking news. Eden Prairie has a wine bar. I repeat, Eden Prairie has a wine bar!

The excitement of this news is tempered a bit, I suppose, by the fact that it appears to be a coffee shop whose owners merely decided to keep it open later, add some snacks and a wine list, but still! Something in E.P. that’s not a chain – this is welcome news!

Josh and I checked out JJ’s Coffee Company and Wine Bar last Saturday when we were feeling mellow, and it was the perfect venue for a quiet night. It is located in a strip mall off Mitchell Road, but once you get inside you are lulled (in a good way) by the neutral tones and general coziness. We sat in the (faux) leather club chairs next to the (faux) fireplace, had several glasses of wine, a flatbread pizza and some nachos. Next time I’d skip the nachos (not enough cheese) but the wines I had were all very good (I got a flight of reds). I’d go back, especially on a night when I was feeling like going out but not overly ambitious about it.

Nicollet Island Pavilion
Wednesday night Josh and I went to an event at Nicollet Island Inn sponsored by Mintahoe Hospitality Group. It was basically an open house to show off their company, which meant free food, free drinks and free entertainment. I even made some business networking connections, so it was a hit in many ways.

They had various food stations, including noodle bowls, kebabs, barbecue, turkey with a Riesling sauce and garlic mashed (my favorite), tortilla roll-ups, a dessert bar and more. They had a signature drink of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, white wine, soda and lemon. In a word, YUM. I have become a big fan of St. Germain in the last six months. They also had red and white wine as well as a table sampling various beers. Josh and I both tried Widmers, mine was a traditional ale and his was a hoppy seasonal.

They had caricature artists and we got ours done – a good laugh. They also had casino tables set up, tables showing off linens, flowers, centerpieces and other things you need to make an event spectacular. They also had a band. I hadn’t been to Nicollet Island Pavilion in some time, and I forget what a beautiful space it is. I definitely recommend hosting an event there if you get the chance. Events like these are one of the things I really love about living in a city – or at least close enough by in the ‘burbs that you can still get to them!

Monday, October 12, 2009


Kay and Chris came up from Mankato Saturday night to celebrate Oktoberfest with dinner at Gasthof in NE Minneapolis. Although I had been to the Mario Keller bar downstairs many times I had never actually eaten at the restaurant, and Josh had never been there at all.

We were glad we had reservations because the place was a zoo! We got seated quickly and started on several large beers and ginormous platters of German food. I was drinking Hacker-Pschorr Alt, Josh was drinking hefeweizen and Chris was drinking Murphy’s Irish Stout. Kay, oddly enough, was drinking diet Coke.

We all got salads and ordered a cheese and cracker platter, so had plenty to eat even before our food arrived. Kay and Chris got a multi-food platter to share, and had enough left over for probably a couple of more meals, Josh ordered a single platter and managed to finish most things except for the spaetzel, and I – not being a big fan of German “cuisine” (as I learned when I was in Munich back in 1999) – ordered steak (which, I have to say, was awesome). I ate some off of everyone’s platter, though, so still got the meat and beet experience.

Gasthof is always a blast, because in addition to eating and drinking until you burst, the other general goal is simply to have a lot of fun. This is accomplished by drinking bier, clinking your glasses, doing apfelkorn shots, maybe trying snuff for the first time (Josh!), listening to “Sesame Street” on the accordion or yelling Ziggy Zaggy Zicke Zaki hoi hoi hoi whenever you get a new round of shots and/or someone – anyone – finishes a boot of bier. The waitresses are dressed in dirndls and you always see a few customers decked out in lederhosen. Downstairs and occasionally outside, you polka.

After dinner we went outside to the tent since they were celebrating Oktoberfest. It was darn cold but we played a round of Hammerschlagen (where you try to pound a nail into a piece of wood with the narrow end of a hammer in one stroke) before we bailed for the tent and warmth. Although we had several biers in the restaurant, we hardly drank outside because we were so full from dinner.

Stayed for a while but eventually decided to bail. Checked out Donnie Dirk’s Zombie Bar since it was close by and on our way out of NE. It’s a little off the beaten path from the other NE bars but has fun decor inside. I actually got talked into ordering a gin drink that, while it smelled like gin, was creamy and had no pine tree taste whatsoever. All in all, probably not a place I would go out of my way to hang out at, but I’m glad we stopped by. It was opened recently by the woman who owns Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge (tiki hut kitsch bar) in NE and Saint Sabrina’s Parlor in Purgatory (tattoo/goth shop) in Uptown.

The four of us drove back to our place where we popped the cork on a bottle of Kuleto, kicked back and chatted. A good night with good friends!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sip 'n Sample

Last night Josh and I went to our first Sip ‘n Sample event. Sip ‘n Sample basically arranges tasting tours at local restaurants and gives you an excuse to get out, have a drink, eat some good food and maybe meet some people. We did all of the above.

In a rather strange coincidence, this Sip ‘n Sample event was at The Minnesota Room, which we had just been to for the first time last week. They touted it as a “chef’s battle”, and I thought that meant we would get to watch the chefs cook in front of us, using the same or similar ingredients, and that we would get to judge whose food was better. That wasn’t really the case at all.

We got there a bit early but at least they had a couple of wines to try. Josh and I drank a tempranillo whose name I am forgetting at this moment, but which I really liked. They also had passed hors d’ouevres, which included tomato bruschetta and a caramelized onion/goat cheese crostini. Both were good. Even more fun, our friend Shaun, who is taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, was serving apps. It was fun to see him in his chef’s toque and hat.

Once they opened up the dining area, we grabbed a table. Two women asked if they could join us, and at first I thought maybe they were mother and daughter, but later I decided perhaps they had just met in the hallway. I really liked Erika, who works for Target Corp and was probably a bit younger than us. Amy, the older woman, was quite the character. For instance, there were many typos in the materials and she edited them all and gave them back to school administrators. I was kind of like, “Go, AMY!” because I always want to do that but usually keep those urges under control. She had something to say about everything, which was both annoying and something I really appreciated about her. I definitely want to be the older lady who doesn’t give a damn and just says what she thinks.

The wines they were serving were a chard and a pinot from Sterling Vineyards, which we visited when we were in Napa. We both had the pinot, of course, as we generally favor reds over whites. I don’t drink much pinot, but this was the first time I really made that connection of, “Ah, yes. This is what pinot tastes like.” It was kind of neat. Even so, I preferred the tempranillo over the Sterling Vintner’s Collection Central Coast Pinot Noir.

Instead of a “battle” we were basically served three courses and asked to complete a survey about flavor, consistency and presentation for each dish. There was no head-to-head competition and there was no “winner.” Still, I’m sure it was good to have feedback for the chefs and students who made the food.

The first course was a roasted root vegetable soup garnished with fried leeks and crème fraiche. This was very good! Carrot soup is probably not something I would ever order if I saw it on a menu, but it was really delicious. In addition to carrots I tasted parsnip; I’m not sure if there were any other root vegetables in it. The fried leeks gave the soup a nutty flavor and the crème fraiche gave it just the right zip. I would recommend it to anyone.

There were two “meats” to choose from for dinner – salmon or pork loin. Since I don’t do seafood, I had the pork and Josh had the fish. Overall, the entrees were the most disappointing part of the meal. Mine was roast pork loin with chanterelle mushroom polenta and grilled brussel sprouts. The pork loin was quite rare in some spots, but the cooked parts tasted good. I like brussel sprouts anyway, so it’s hard to go wrong there. I’m not a fan of polenta any time, and this was cooked unevenly as well. Parts of it were creamy and parts of it were overcooked. I didn’t eat most of that.

Josh had dill and goat cheese ravioli (delish) with artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes topped with seared salmon and finished with a white wine lemon sauce. There were bones in his salmon and it was overcooked.

For dessert we had buttermilk and cinnamon panna cotta with apple gastrique, apple chip and apple chutney. VERY good. The panna cotta was rich and creamy and had just the right touch of cinnamon. The gastrique was delicious and really added another layer of flavor. (I am not a foodie, but I play one in my mind.)

Two students did a demonstration of bananas foster, one of whom was our buddy Shaun. We couldn’t really see it, though, because servers kept standing in our way. I did learn that cinnamon will spark when tossed in a flame, which I did not know before. Kind of makes me want to set some cinnamon on fire! We got a bite of the bananas foster, which was tasty (hard not to like bananas, rum, butter and brown sugar!).

You didn’t have to leave a gratuity, but we did because all monies were again going toward student scholarships. Gotta support those great chefs of the future!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Deal of the Century

Josh and I stumbled onto the deal of the century last Friday. I’m not even sure how I heard about it, but students at the Le Cordon Bleu school run a restaurant for weekday lunches as part of their hands-on learning, and anyone can go and have lunch there. We thought it sounded cool and, despite not knowing too much about it, made reservations at The Minnesota Room.

Le Cordon Bleu classes are held at Brown College in Mendota Heights. Therefore, the “restaurant” is basically converted classroom space. They have jazzed it up with curtains, paintings, ambient lighting, etc.

The menu includes your choice of three appetizers, three entrees and two deserts. I had the fowl consommé with brunoise vegetables and dill spatzel and Josh had the nicoise salad with poached egg and tuna. The other option was veal sweetbreads with apples and cipollinis (who in their right mind would intentionally eat sweetbreads is beyond me). My soup was very good, especially the dill spatzel. Josh enjoyed his salad as well.

For an entree I had the meatloaf au jus with potato puree and Josh had the sautéed skate with white beans and romesco salad. My meatloaf was a bit dry, actually, and not out of this world by any means. I’ll give the meatloaf award to Great Waters Brewing in DT Saint Paul any day of the week. The pureed potatoes and au jus were good, though. Josh liked his skate, and even though I do not care for fish I tried it. I thought it was edible but not liking seafood is really a texture thing for me, and it definitely had that seafood thing going for it. The other option was roasted chicken with butternut squash risotto.

For dessert I had the apple financier with caramel sauce and Josh had the chocolate tart with crème anglaise. I liked the apple cake better, but we shared pretty evenly. We both agreed the chocolate tart may have been *too* chocolate-y.

Our server was extremely nervous, which made me feel nervous in turn. She did fine, though. In addition to your meal you can get a glass of wine: Josh had a J. Drouhin-Macon Villages chardonnay and I had a Luzon-Jumilla monastrel-merlot blend that was quite good.

It was a very good lunch and I was curious to see the bill because there are no prices listed anywhere. We were guessing maybe $30/person or so. The total was something around $40 total. What, you say?! How is that possible? The lunch itself is only $12.50/person. Can you believe it?! Really good food and such a deal. The wine was $6/each, and then add in sales tax. We tipped extra because all tips go toward student scholarships.

At the end they ask you to fill out a quick and painless survey, give you a chocolate mint and send you on your way. All in all, I’d recommend anyone check this out!