Monday, July 12, 2010

Shiraz

PiC went out last Thursday as well to a Persian style restaurant on the south side of town called Shiraz.

It's clear that this sort of restaurant does not get a whole lot of traction in this section of town. Which is a shame. They've changed their menu and style slightly apparently to be more of a "steakhouse" style, though they do still have a whole section of Persian entrees. They just make sure there are steaks as well. Makes sense when they're competing with the Sports Bar next door.

Not surprising, PiC and I went straight for the Persian dishes. We started off with dolmeh, which had an unexpected tomato sauce on top. Dolmeh in Persian cuisine are served warm, unlike Greek where they tend to be cold. However, I could see why they wanted the extra acid of the tomatoes to balance the beef on the interior. Over all, the flavors were well balanced.

For myself, I got a cornish game hen (Joojeh) kabob with the barberry rice. I had never had Cornish game hen, and was surprised how the texture seemed slightly different from chicken. I'm not sure that I could put it into words, but it was cooked just to tenderness and still had a slight charring on the outside tips to add that fresh grilled flavor.

PiC was greatly disappointed that they no longer had the Fensenjan on the menu, it's a chicken stew simmered in pomegranate and with walnuts. He did however order the Ghormeh Sabzy, a filet mignon and red bean stew with lime and herbs. This isn't just a little bit of herbs. This is herbs on the order that it looked like a green dish. And the sour cherry rice. Regardless, we had to remind ourselves to stop eating. PiC had left overs for two lunches and the prices were quite reasonable.

I think that if I had to choose for Persian restaurants, if I want a greater variety of Persian, I'd go to Caspian, but do think that the food at Shiraz is better flavored. I was much happier with the overall balance here than I was at Caspian.

Accompaniments were perfectly acceptable martinis.

First Course

I apologize for the break in posts here since January. I went on a particularly restrictive elimination diet to figure out what I should and should not eat for a few months. The results were conclusive, if not fixing EVERY health problem I have, but I call it a win. In the mean time, I hadn't been going to very many new restaurants. But there are a handful now that I have been to and have not posted about yet. But will.

My personal cross to bear is that for the most part I have to avoid tomatoes. Being of Italian descent (among other things) this is particularly sucky. But it does inform where I tend to go. As does my intense need to avoid artificial sweeteners and flavors, be those HFCS or aspartame, or even MSG.

It means that my focus on restaurants has shifted a little, and I mostly focus on ones that tend towards making their own entrees from fresh ingredients and are less likely to use those sorts of short cuts. Not always, but I do try.

I go out to eat less, but I would like to think that the quality of restaurant that I'm going to is elevating as a result.

In any case. The actual review.

Tonight I biked on down to a local restaurant hidden near my local Kowalski's - First Course. I have immediately put this restaurant into the "why have I taken this LONG to find this place?" category. It is a cute french-american bistro style restaurant. The outside seating is plenty, though I went at the bright part of the evening so opted to sit inside with my book in the relatively dark interior.

I started off my evening with an Argentinian Malbec whose name I have sadly forgotten. If you haven't tried a Malbec for a red wine, you should. This is the current "hip" grape, passing by any Cab, Merlot, or Shiraz, especially for a summer red. It is slightly acidic but not harsh with the tannins. And it ends up with a full enough body but not enough to weigh you down.

As I was eating alone, I did not have any appetizers. I did note however that they had a $4 calamari tapas. Since PiC is a calamari *addict*, noting that I was certain I would at least have to come back here to try that with him.

Instead, I asked for the specials, and though they all sounded lovely I decided I wanted a entree that would challenge me. I went with the butternut squash with gorgonzola cream sauce, sweet potato strings, rainbow chard, and julienned vegetables. Understand that I *hate* blue cheese. I hate the feel, I hate the quality of the sharpness, I hate the way that it always feels out of balance with whatever else is in the meal. Gorgonzola is only one of many blue cheeses that I dislike.

And I loved my meal. Had to convince myself not to lick the plate loved my meal. The balance made the blue cheese subtle but strong enough to stand up to the other flavors of the meal, and it all danced across my tongue. It made me wish I had not snarfed the fantastic crusty bread that came as the appetizer as I would have used that to sop up more of the sauce.

To balance my meal, I had a glass of '05 Three Saints Chardonnay on the recommendation of the waiter. Chardonnay is also one of those wines that I drink occasionally but rarely enjoy. For this particular meal I thought it had enough body to compliment my meal, with the acidity cutting through some of the cream. It would be brassy if served at the wrong temperature, but here it was a lovely compliment.

To end my meal, I went with what I am required to go with if I have the option - I tried their creme brulee. With a sugar crust that was caramelized but not burnt, a rare treat in this town I have found, and an exceptionally smooth custard underneath, again I had to fight with myself not to lick the dish. The custard and caramel flavoring was especially lovely with their bold strawberry sliced on top.

I can guarantee that I will be back at this restaurant, only a few blocks from my house. I can bike to it and have a mostly lovely coast home on the way back.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Travelling: North Shore Restaurants

Fourth of July weekend, OSO, PiC, and myself went and rented a "cabin" on the North Shore. It was more like a house, but it was quiet, and ours for the weekend and for the most part we weren't bothered.

Mostly, in order to save on money as well, we cooked in the kitchen. But for one day, we drove into Grand Marais and messed around, ate at a couple of places, and generally enjoyed ourselves taking pictures.

Lunch was at Sven and Ole's pizza. Now anyone who has lived in Minnesota, and probably parts of Wisconsin and the UP as well have seen the bumper stickers for Sven and Ole's. This is the best advertising in the world for them because I remembered them, and decided that I wanted to see what was so good that people had permanently tacked these bright yellow stickers to their cars. It was well worth the attempt. I will put it in as some the better pizza I've had in Minnesota. It's not the floppy thin crust perfection that is a proper NY style pizza. But it was just a little bit bready. The quality of the sauce, cheese, and toppings (sausage and mushroom for us) all seemed to be pretty gosh durned good, dontcha know. And I'm fairly certain that should I find my way back to this cute little shore town in Minnesota that I will be having pizza here again. Also, the beers were very reasonably priced at $3.75 for a bottle in general. Though I imagine the lambics were more.

We picked up donuts at the World's Best Donuts for later because the pizza had filled us up greatly. They also turned out to be really good donuts. You have to get there early enough to get the right variety. When they run out, they run out.

We spent much of the rest of the afternoon wandering around town until it came to dinner time. Like going into an honest to god Ben Franklin store to pick up bug bite cream and conditioner.

Dinner time rolled around and we found our way to the Angry Trout. PiC is a fish fanatic in general, and had heard good things about this place from one of his friends before. We went in and found out that it was a place devoted to sustainable fishing and locavore foods. Right up our alley. The fish that they were serving were two of their typical three that come straight from Lake Superior, and we decided that even though they had other things on the menu, we needed to try their local fishes.

PiC got the grilled halibut and wild rice dish. OSO got the grilled trout and pesto pasta. And I got the fried trout and fries so I could have local fish 'n chips. Everything came with ginormous salads, and there were a bevy of salad dressings that we tried with them. The fish tasted like it had just been lifted from the water. Out of all the sides, I think we agreed that the pesto pasta was definitely the best, though they were all quite good. I was also surprised by how light the fish tasted even though it had been fried. I like the delicate touch they take with it there.

I can no longer remember PiC's beer, which was from Wisconsin, but I do know that OSO also had a Minnestalgia wine, which is local and usually fruited. I think hers was the raspberry mead. I got a glass of the Alexis Bailey Seyval Blanc. Both are on the sweeter side, but they were styles we were looking for that day and definitely enjoyed.

And we left there incredibly full. Definitely will also remember the Angry Trout for when we return to that area.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Brasa Premium Rotisserie

OSO had her birthday recently, and she had also decided to start with a gluten free diet. In looking for a restaurant that would cater to her new dietary restriction, she also expressed a desire for southern style food for her birthday. Couple that with a desire to move towards local and organic food, we came up with Brasa as the destination for PiC and myself to take her out to. St Paul edition.

First, make sure you have their sangria. OSO and I split a pitcher of the sangria and were both pleasantly happy with the flavor and alcohol content.

We decided that for dinner we would go with family style eating, so we got 1/4 pound of the braised beef and 1/2 pound of the slow roasted pork. The pork was nice, but we were in LOVE with the braised beef. The BBQ sauce was definitely worth the red meat, and had we the chance to do it again, we would have switched the proportions.

We went with a side of the cheesy grits, which is apparently an old time favorite of both of them, and the fried green plantains. PiC also had himself a side of the collards and smoked turkey, because he has a thing for the bitter leafy greens. The two at least that OSO and I had were perfect in their starchy goodness, not oily for the plantains and definitely smooth with the slight grit of cheesy grits.

We skipped the dessert for having something at home for her that was gluten free. But all in all OSO declared it her favorite restaurant in the Twin Cities, and it is added to our rotation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Merlin's Rest

So tonight I was on my own for dinner, and already out at 6:30, so I decided it was time for me to try a pub I had heard had did scotch tasting. So I was down Lake St and stopped in to Merlin's Rest for the first time.

I walked in and had an immediate sense that it was the sort of pub I've been looking for. The decor was homey; there was an older gentleman with a long but well trimmed bushy white bead and a fisherman's hat; it smelled of beer, fried food, and malt vinegar. And there was a table right up front for me to sit at. I got excited.

After 10 minutes waiting for someone to hand me a menu though, I started to become a bit cautious. To be fair, I think that the poor waitress was the only one working tonight. But I have to say that the lack of service in general over the course of the evening really put a damper on my enjoyment of the establishment.

But I didn't walk out again, and I finally had a menu, and a scotch menu (14 pages of scotch....). I ordered a Deerstalker 12, light herbal flavors, a little bit of burn, just enough to make the smoke a little harsh, but it was enjoyable enough.

And I ordered my vegetarian Cornish Pasty. This sounded like the perfect thing for a winter night. And I had never run across a Vegetarian Pasty. Excellent! So I waited. and an amount of time I thought was generally appropriate later, my pasty arrived with a mushroom gravy and very flaky looking pastry cover. I cut into it, and the pastry was a little bit soggy. Truly, it's the sort that seems to happen when one microwaves a pastry. I bit in, and the flavors were lovely. It was even better with the gravy, and it all balanced the scotch beautifully. It was really disappointing to have something that I knew could be spectacular, and have it just miss the mark.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And really, a person shouldn't have to wait 30 minutes with their dishes piled up before the waitress comes back to ask if there's anything else I'll be having. Which, I still would have gone for pie if it had only been a 15 minute wait. But by that time, I was irritated and just wanted to pay and go home.

I'll certainly try the place again, but next time with company so that I might not notice the delay in service quite as much. It is the sort of pub one could sit in for hours. I just would rather choose to and keep paying for stuff rather than be sitting there bored and waiting for the check.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Neighborhood Round Up

Since moving in with PiC and OSO in August, my old beloved Eat Street haunts are a little far for me to be eating at on anything regarding a frequent basis. This would be the main reason for radio silence for some time. Out to eat is frequently only on date nights, and otherwise we’re eating at home. And I got out of the habit of writing when we did.

However, we do have an entire new neighborhood of restaurants that are relatively nearby that we have been able to check out. In almost 6 months, we’ve hit almost all of them multiple times; it leaves me a little bit wanting to branch out and experience a new neighborhood, but really we have a good enough variety that we don’t have to go far to get most types of food that we want if we’re feeling lazy.

Ba-gu
Here we have our local sushi restaurant. OSO and I decided this last Friday that we just didn’t want to bother with the last minute grocery run, so when PiC walked in the door post we swooped him up and walked over to Ba-gu, a fairly small sushi and Thai restaurant nearby. Now granted, I haven’t had a chance to try any of the thai offerings at this restaurant. But we have had the sushi. And let me say, having sushi within walking distance is a delight.

They don’t have the flair of a place like Fuji-ya. But they do have really good quality fresh sushi, and some of the best unagi I’ve had in town. The service is quick and efficient, and on a Friday night in January, it was actually rather quiet in there at 5:30. I hope this place stays open, but apparently they’re used to business being slow in January.

We split the Pirate Platter, which would be one of the illustrious sushi boats. Plenty of sushi for three that left us just a little hungry for one of the specialty rolls: the Three Wise Guys maki, made of salmon, tuna and yellowtail and topped with tempura flakes. And an unagi dessert sushi.

Bottles of wine are $15 on Friday and Saturday, happy hour till 5:30 on Sunday through Wednesday.

Pumphouse Creamery
This is a small ice cream shop dedicated to making ice cream using local and organic ingredients, preferably both. Their offerings vary a bit through the course of a year. We highly enjoyed their pumpkin ice cream this fall, as well as a brandy soaked cherry and chocolate ice cream. They aren’t Izzy’s, which will always be my favorite, but it’s walking distance from my house, really really good, and did I mention tasty?

Turtle Bread
I know that some people like this place, but I don’t get it. Their food has been sub-par in my opinion, with the breads and pastries tasting extra yeasty and the cakes being extra cold/frozen. I was sadly disappointed with their red velvet cupcake. The one thing that I’ve enjoyed that I got here was the slice of quiche I got when running late for dinner for myself, but even then I prefer my own quiches.

L’Ecosse
That would be the French word for Scotland. It’s Scottish food. With a French twist. It really is as odd as it sounds. It’s not bad for a brunch place if you have nothing else to do that day. I have not liked anything there that was meat based, from the little sausages to the patties. But it may be that I’m not a fan of Scottish food. However, their French toast is fantastic, and a reason that I will continue to go there on occasion. I hear they also serve beignets, but you have to get there while they still have them because they sometimes run out and there’s only so many platters of them they make in a day. The d├ęcor is sparse; and they use the Papyrus font for their wording which honestly I don’t want to forgive (being a font geek as well; it makes me a little sad). I will say that while I’ll still go there though, it is not one I would return to once I leave this neighborhood.

Adrian’s Tavern
This is exactly the little hole in a wall sort of tavern that it looks like from the outside. However, their food is *cheap* and it’s relatively tasty. I had a perfect grilled cheese sandwich here the day that PiC and OSO went with me to it. They have Delerium beers on tap sometimes and according to PiC this is a good thing. Burgers, fries, your standard pub fare. But a great little deal when you’re running through.

Sovereign Grounds
Standard independent coffee house, but with an apparently right-leaning bent from what I could tell when I went in the one time. I got my chai, and it was a standard Oregon chai, and my blueberry muffin tasted stale. It was a big disappointment, and I have not been back, for all that the chair was comfy. It’s a shame, I like going to indie coffee houses.

Pepitos
Perhaps this is the place that I have frequented most since moving to this neighborhood. I remember when the three of us first went here together, OSO was enquiring about what kind of glass the 64 oz margarita they had on the menu. The waitress said “Usually people share those, as it’s a pitcher.” OSO quipped back, “I just see it as a challenge.” Very clearly not serious, but amusing nonetheless.

Really good queso dip and for a little more you can have it served with fried wheat tortillas that are a little less crunchy than your standard corn chips. Highly recommend that. Also you are offered a choice on salsa – mild or hot. That is a nice change from the Minnesota mild that often gets served around here.

Good standard Tex-Mex, the reason to come here has more to do with the variety (and relative cheapness) of their varieties of tequila and happy hour. Really good house margaritas, for instance. And I can get a really good grilled vegetable burrito at a good price too with huge portions. And sometimes I prefer the Americanized version of Mexican food anyway.

It’s a very comfortable restaurant. And as far as I can tell, it has a great deal with the second run movie theatre right next to it, with discounts on dinner or drinks if you go to the movie. And you can bring your margarita with you if you want. That does not suck.

Bonus post: Fat Lorenzo’s
This would be the pizza/pasta shop that delivers to us that is not one of the major chains. Not really within walking distance, though we may start biking there when the weather gets better. And OMG is this food good. Mind you, it is called Fat Lorenzo’s for a reason. The portions are huge, and I think OSO and I will take to splitting one of their entrees in order to cut down on leftovers in the house. I love it, I don’t eat it too often because loving it that much might be bad for my waistline. At least until I get to biking there for dinner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nye's Polonaise

So I started the blog, and then life got super busy. To the point where I'm not going out to eat all that much, but there are a few reviews that I probably should get in here, so I'm going to take a few days to do that. This blog will possibly also shift to some of the dishes we're cooking at home because we're starting to experiment there as well.

In any case. Date night! PiC and I went out this last Monday to a new to us restaurant, but one that has been around for forever. Nye's Polonaise in Nordeast has been around since 1950, but with the fantastic Kramarczuk's nearby, we'd never headed here previously. This will not be a mistake I continue.

You walk in, and it's this dark, fully wood paneled bar. They have the cutest sparkly gold covered vinyl curvy booths. There's stained glass everywhere and some neon... And it if *very* clear that this place is close to its 1950s roots. My understanding is that it's packed on Fridays and Saturdays with polka fans and hipsters.

Seriously, I walked in and fell in love with this place. It is *adorable*.

And then we ordered. We started with a spinach artichoke dip that was served with garlic pita chips. Okay, not so much with the authentic experience, but it was *good*. We were hungry, so it was devoured pretty quickly. I also had a cosmopolitan, and it was one of the rare places that do them right: with gin instead of vodka.

You can tell that by this point, I'm still looking around with this big grin on my face proclaiming how much I am in love with the adorableness of this restaurant. I mean, it has a neon sign saying it's a POLKA LOUNGE (and is on Fridays). I sent a pic to my Elder Brother just because I know of his fondness for polka.

Anyway, dinner arrived and it was this ginormous platter called the Polonaise Platter. There was absolutely no need for us to order an appetizer. Between this and the loaf of onion bread, and the pickled things they just gave him, we were stuffed with leftovers.

Let me just say that the pierogies were among some of the best I've ever had. They served us three of them, and before we had realized that they were three KINDS of pierogies, I had already inhaled the potato pierogie. I felt bad because it was *just like grandma's* used to be, and I could have been able to show him what it was that I remembered from my visits to Detroit as a kid. Ah well.

The other two were a prune, which was quite sweet and surprisingly good, and a sauerkraut pierogie which.... Okay, I hate sauerkraut. Hate hate hate. It's made with cabbage and vinegar and is evil and I hate it. Or at least I thought. Because this stuff, this is different than German kraut which is raw. No, this is a cooked kraut and mellower.... and... Well there was a bunch of it on the spare ribs and that was just as tasty as it would have been without the kraut.

The kielbasa was good and polishy. And sausagey. The potato dumpling was the size of a softball, and had a smaller sausage hiding in it as well. And my biggest surprise: I tried a golabki. And I liked it. See previous comment about hating cabbage. But if you drench it with enough sauce, and meat and rice, it's not bad at all.

This place totally touches my retro heart. The food tastes authentic to me, for as much as I could have it having been vegetarian while my grandma was alive. Eat, drink, and loosen your belt indeed. This is not the sort of place for a person on a diet, but my god, this is a fabulous example of eastern european cuisine done well.