Category Archives: Food | Drink

Featured Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Bin Wine Bar

The view towards Mears Park in Bin Wine Bar | Photo via Yelp.com
The view towards Mears Park in Bin Wine Bar | Photo via Yelp.com

Saint Paul, Minnesota: Bin Wine Bar is in a great spot, nicely decorated, comfortably furnished and serves exquisitely delicious morsels of food that complement an intriguing wine list.

Set on the northwest corner of Mears Park, Bin is perfectly situated in the heart of a resurgent section of downtown, an area that has sprung to life over just the last few years.  The room is perched on Sibley Street and offers a relaxing setting with pillowed benches, decent space between tables, and a noise level that makes it easy to have conversation with your friends. read more »

Featured Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: The Happy Gnome

The patio at the Happy Gnome
The patio at the Happy Gnome

Saint Paul, MN: The LSW and and I were driving through one of our old neighborhoods on a recent weekend in that happy quadrant that encompasses the University Club, WA Frost, Whole Foods and F Scott’s old townhouse on Summit.

 

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Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Pier 500

To celebrate the end of the school year and because we were feeling a bit restless, I took the brood to have dinner at Pier 500.

The restaurant is in a great spot.  Situated on the riverfront in downtown Hudson, WI, it has a large terrace overlooking the St Croix which throws off the same vibe as the deck of Lord Fletcher’s: great views of the river, near the Marina, and just the perfect spot to refresh yourself after a day of sailing.

The weather was cool and threatening rain so we ate at one of the tables off the bar.  The dining room and bar is a big, open space with an open kitchen. The restaurant was full without being crowded and everything had the nice hum of people relaxing at the end of a good week.

The food was good but not fabulous.  The Caesar salads were crisp and fresh but fairly standard. The chopped onion and tomato salad was flavorful and not overdressed.

The LSW raved about the Walleye cakes, which must have been good since I had no chance of trying any.  The kids split an order of ribs which were tender, flavorful and you could still taste the meat through the marinade. My choice of the Ahi Tuna and the Brie Cheese Curds was a good indicator of my restless mood.  Both were fabulous – just not when eaten together.

The service was attentive and the wine list showed a great range of choices.

Recommended.

 

Food | Drink

Restaurant Review: NOSH

Humor is a difficult thing to begin with and we live in a humorless age.  After a visit to Rochester, I took the family on the scenic route for the drive home and we headed northeast to Kellogg to stop at a LARK toys.

LARK, known for its handmade, pre-electronic age toys, has a carousel, a collectors’ shop, and a decent kids bookshop. Unfortunately, it’s all housed within a building that would aspire to brown paper if it were a bag.

One of the most distressing elements of modern architecture is the unironic mix of high- and low-quality materials.  Like hand-joined oak paneling on walls which rise from poured concrete floors. And handmade, wooden toys on oak shelves labeled with sheets of letter paper printed from a laserjet.

Difficult enough, so far, I agree.  Yet taped to one of the shelves was a sign describing the displayed toys which said “Native Americans and Cow People”.  I can’t honestly tell you whether the author of this sign was serious or joking.  And it distressed me that I had to stop and wonder.  A chap needs to be able to tell whether he’s in friendly or hostile territory, after all, and it’s terribly disorienting when he’s not sure.

After refusing to allow my children to spend fifty cents to smash a penny into the shape of the White House (or some similar capital-destroying ruse), we headed north on 61 and enjoyed the winding drive along the bluff above the river.  With the smooth, black ribbon of road wedged in the snowy hillside, it’d be easy to think you were in the foothills of the Alps if it weren’t for the Treasure Island casino billboards and Kwik-Marts you encounter along the way.

Arriving in Lake City, we stopped near the marina and spotted NOSH. Stepping inside, we had the instant feeling of sanctuary.  The warm colors of the rooms, the dark wood and big windows overlooking the harbor are inviting.  The four of us were taken to a window table in the dining room upstairs. Not many people there but we were on the early side of prime time.

The bar selections were good. I had a Macallan 15 and the Long-suffering Wife ordered a Vinho Verde, an effervescent Portuguese white that we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

Perhaps sensing our efforts to help our kids understand that they could enjoy foods whose names they can’t pronounce, the kitchen sent out a delightful amuse bouche (take that, kids!) of pumpkin puree topped with a small, crisp bacon chip for us to sample.

Our starters were the grilled shrimp, which were firm and whose garlic-and-oil saute had just the right amount of spice.  The calamari was, thankfully, both free of breading and very tender.

The LSW ordered a roasted beet salad followed by a small plate of seared Marlin.  The tenderloin I had was nicely done, covered with a brandy reduction and served withsimple, fresh mashed potatoes.  Nothing so difficult to pull off well as something simply done and they pulled it off.

The staff was patient and attentive and provided some eminently palatable, off-menu options to the junior members of The Firm.

This is a great, cozy place to have a winter dinner and it must really buzz on a lovely summer evening.  That’s when we’ll be back.

Featured Food | Drink

Restaurant Review: Fuji-Ya

Tucked away in a small space at the corner of Divisidero and Geary in San Francisco is a little place which offers what may be the finest sushi in the world. Perhaps it was because it was my first time eating sushi, but Godzilla’s will forever be the best in my mind. It was also a dinner the cemented my now 20-year friendship with the High-Energy Bond Guy.  HBG and I were among the Friday night crowd trying to get into the place.

Divisadero and Geary is a bustling corner and Godzilla’s is a pretty small place so when they fill their 20 or so seats, the waiting crowd spills out onto the sidewalk.  HBG and I were among the Friday night crowd standing curbside to get into the place and the whole thing had a festival feeling.

In addition to the delicious tuna sashimi, the tender edamame was infused with just the right amount of saltiness, and I will forever be grateful for having been introduced to wasabi, truly one of the world’s most fabulous creations.

A few years later, I was staying and working in Knightsbridge, in a place just around the corner from Harvey Nick’s. It’s then that sushi became a staple of my diet.    On the fifth floor of HN’s is their famous food court and I would often run over there to have a rolls for lunch at Yo! Sushi. Yo! Sushi is a Kaiten-zushi restaurant, where plates of food come by on a conveyor belt.  You grab what you want, stack up the plates then hail the waitress who comes over to count them up, does the math (colors on the plates indicate different prices for the dish), and gives you your tab.  The food court had terrific atmosphere.  The great energy of one of the world’s great cities could always be felt at that counter and I had lunch there frequently enough to become a recognized regular.

There’s something terrific about being a regular.  They know your name, your preferred table, and, if they’re good, know enough to let you know what special things are on hand that you’ll care about.

Here in Saint Paul I’ve had trouble finding that place where I could return frequently without tiring of it – until Fuji-Ya opened at the corner of Wabasha and West Seventh a few years ago.  Like Godzilla’s, it’s a smallish space that provides an intimate atmosphere.  It fills up quickly providing a nice buzzing energy without feeling crowded.

Sit at the sushi bar, if possible, where ordering is quickest and you’ll get your sushi as soon as it’s ready.  Be sure to order the Wasabi Crunchy, a roll with cucumber, shrimp in a spicy mayo covered with wasabi tobiko flakes. The decor is bamboo-meets-bang and olufsen and the “Godzilla vs Mothra” movie playing on the big-screen plasma near the bar adds a hip-kitsch vibe to the whole experience. This is a place where you can pop in, be certain of a terrific meal, and simply enjoy the experience.  This is a place for regulars.

Food | Drink

Restaurant Review: Stella!

Stella’s Fish Café – 1400 West Lake Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408

We had a big night planned: Four 40-ish couples, a limo, and a prime-time table in the kitchen at Stella’s Fish Café in Uptown Minneapolis. The ladies were lovely, the men large, and the energy was – well, we were the real deal. Knowing that I’d be evaluating this later, I hoped Stella’s could handle this Perfect Storm of exuberance and expectation that was about to roll up on ’em.

One of the great lessons of my middle adulthood has been a trick for dealing with the Big Event Effect. You know how the Big Event is often a disappointment due to the overboard buildup. It’s been true for me, and the same thing happens at parties, weddings, and – strangely – certain funerals.

The solution is as simple as the problem, and just as reliable. As best you can, avoid thinking about the Big Even (this is difficult if you are planning or preparing, but try anyway) and engage in some other novel treat for your consciousness leading up to it. Novelty is the key; Go for a bike ride or climb the rock wall at Gander Mountain or get a massage. Or start a fight at the mall. Something active.

It works like a charm. You go from being the guy you were on your wedding day, milling around in a tux all day waiting to being, say, Steve McQueen dropping into a hot party nattily dressed despite having spent the day racing motorcycles in the desert.

The limo – a stretch – pulled up at my house promptly at 6:30, stopping right in the middle of the intersection (I live ‘On the Grid’ in Saint Paul). The driver was a world-weary but ceremonious fellow, and he held the door with consummate patience as we waited the requisite, ain’t-no-mountain-high-enough extra ten minutes for my wife. While doing so, a bitter green Subaru pulled up close behind the limo, the beshawled lady at the helm straining her horn-honking, white-knuckled, heavily stickered little anger bus for some novel form of expression to more fully villify the atrocity idling before her. I waited uneasily for some resolution to this unfortunate scene, and when the long-suffering motorist finally managed in her Peace Coffee-fueled rage to navigate a seven-foot-wide car through a fifteen-foot-wide space, I turned my attention back to the driver, and was impressed to find the same benign gaze, the same readiness to assist in any way. In that moment, his emotional mettle proven, he became our Driver, and he would be an able guide as long as he was needed, so long as we paid up front and in cash.

I led us in, in full Walter Mitty mode, expecting the whole place in some small way to appreciate our arrival with some small sign that their wait was worth it. Did I just smile knowingly and nod at the hipster couple sitting near the bar? God help me, I think I did.

We were escorted, perfunctorily, to our table in the kitchen, where the clamor of copper and steel perfectly complemented our mildly raucous coterie. First, drinks. Stella’s offers a decent range of specialty cocktails, along with Cosmos, Mojitos and Martinis. Drinks like this run the same gamut as my favorite Hollywood starlets ’90’s. The Stella’s Sidecar is high-spirited and romantic, a club-night Drew Barrymore. A couple jiggling rocks in a sturdy glass round out this classic jewel. I loved the subversive, not-too-sweet Bootlegger Mojito, my Winona Ryder. I could have stuck with that drink all night and not tired of it. But they all dimmed a little in the gleaming splendor of the Grey Goose Cosmo Blanco, the Gwyneth Paltrow of Stella’s cocktails. This cosmo is simple, elegant, with a classy distinction true to its pedigree. As with Ms. Paltrow, I could be happy just looking at this drink. We started with a round of Ruby Red Martinis that even raised a long-furrowed eyebrow of Prince Van Slick, my dear friend and expert mixologist. Understand, Prince knows his cocktails, and when he tastes one he can tell me whether the fruit was muddled using wood or ceramic.

The best way to handle the food order in a situation like this is to casually order a Buchler. Be patient with your puzzled waiter as he asks you to repeat yourself since he’ll have no idea what you’re asking for. As many patrons of the finer restaurants in San Francisco (and remarkably few around here) are aware, ordering a Buchler is simply handing the reins over to the chef. Ideally, he will visit your table and learn a little about you to inform the culinary direction he chooses. As a true artist, he or she will happily oblige, and you’ll get the best specialties, if anything prepared with extra care.

In this case, Chef Chad first calmed us with some forgettable crab legs, then really let us have it with a round of scallops that were simple, succulent, and remarkably large. Now, I’ll usually one-hit a scallop, even if it’s a stretch, but not this time. Those babies were the size of White Castle sliders. The Bananas Foster was a dividend, finishing off a solid A- dining experience.

We strolled out the front door, and there was the Driver, not ten feet away, the disinterested chaperone at the junior high dance. This is when I felt the peace of that particular logic that I rarely feel outside Vegas: Whatever cash I have in my pocket – and it’s a lot – I’m going to spend tonight. The only decisions left to make are what I buy and for whom I buy it. Thus predisposed, we saddled up and headed out for Lee’s Liquor Lounge. How I went from that circumstance to broke and laryngitic within 90 minutes is a story worth telling sometime.

I recommend you do it, the whole deal. Email seven friends with this article attached and let them know that the night, if you’re thirsty, will cost about fifteen hundred bucks. Call Stella’s at 612-824-8862 and City Limo at 651 641-1946, and get it on the books.