Restaurant Reviews: 2005 Archives
There's one thing you can say about chain restaurants: they have standards. Everything from how often the bathrooms get cleaned to how much salad dressing to put on a dinner salad is set down in some manual somewhere, so that the experience can be duplicated.
There are advantages to this. Uniform rules make it easier to train new waiters and cooks.
Eden Prairie is shaping up to be the west metro's best dining destination. One of the delights of the area is Little Sushi on the Prairie.
Even though Minnesota has a saltwater port, we cannot be said to be anywhere near the ocean. Happily, air freight from the coasts provides us with fresh fish on a daily basis, and sushi on the prairie isn't an incongruity at all.
If you like pizza, you'll like a panino. If you like wrap sandwiches, a panino is exactly what you want. Imagine a good, and very thin, pizza crust, baked with your choice of dozens of ingredients, then topped with those items best uncooked -- and the whole deal wrapped, cut, and served piping hot. Simple idea, delicious execution.
We think dim sum is one of the best Chinese culinary traditions. It's a meal of bite-sized portions and small plates. When the Spanish do something similar, it's called tapas. Dim sum is eaten in the late morning and early afternoon, and some people claim that dim sum is the origin of brunch.
We are the sort of people who think a perfect evening is one spent with friends over tasty food and good wine. The brand new wine bar, Chateau Lamothe in Burnsville, is well on its way to being the ideal spot for such a pleasant outing. We liked the quiet, comfortable surroundings with lots of menu choices.
Our complaint is that we want them to emphasize the wine more.
Thai can be a deceptively simple cuisine. A single dish can be a perfect meal. It's so good you just tuck it away without much thought for how complex the flavors are or for how well they go together. The subtle perfect balance between spicy, salty, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors is what makes Thai food a standout.
It's all about spice. The American palate, and even the famously timid Minnesota diner, has come a very long way in the last 15 years toward embracing flavorsome foods. We're happy to eat cinnamon on lamb, mysterious tastes like cardamom, and chili peppers on everything. Indian food is the perfect celebration of this great adventure, and it doesn't have to burn your tonsils.
There's a trickle-down effect in American dining. Some chef discovers something new, then it becomes trendy, and before long it's being served at every restaurant in town. The menu at Harry's Cafe feels like the final stop on that trickle-down chain. It has a little bit of everything.
The world is overrun with bad Italian food. Be it bland, inauthentic, salty, greasy, or just plain horrid, no cuisine can go bad so quickly as Italian. We're convinced the problem is one of interpretation, and we know the perfect solution. Head to Joe Cecere's kitchen, a wonderful restaurant called Giuseppe's.
For us, romantic weekends always seemed to begin with an airplane ride -- until we found Canoe Bay. The secluded inn, just a two-hour drive from the Twin Cities near Chetek, Wis., offers quiet, gracious service and luxurious rooms -- but no telephones or in-room Internet hookup. Who needs the outside world when you're in a warm, woodsy room next to a quiet lake? Canoe Bay is the Midwest's only Relais & Chateaux, a collection of only the top 440 luxury hotels and restaurants in the world, so it's our area's own gem of a hideaway.
Why go now
Fall colors are peaking and the lakes are still open for canoeing.
It's lunchtime on Wednesday, and we're sitting at Kabobi. We're enjoying wonderful kabobs fresh off the grill, perfectly grilled sweet corn, and a delicious chopped vegetable salad. Our meals arrived less than six minutes after we placed our order. Outside, the national chain restaurants overflow with hungry Eden Prairie officeworkers: Chipotle, Culver's, Ruby Tuesday.
Time capsules are fascinating. They're messages from the past that show us what was important to those who came before us. Places can be time capsules, too: unchanging peeks into a world that now exists only in memory and other out-of-the-way places. If you want to visit a time capsule, eat at Lindey's.
There's something really special about hole-in-the-wall restaurants. When we find a tiny place with a handful of tables and a tempting menu, we think we've stolen a march on the food scene. But in the case of Rice Paper, we want everybody to know how great the place is. This month, they're expanding from just eight tables into the storefront next door; we're not the only ones who've noticed that chef/owner An Nguyen is doing something very right indeed.
Wouldn't it be great if your neighbors were really good cooks, and invited you over for dinner every single night of the week. And they served a lot of foods you and your family love, along with some unusual and delicious options? That's pretty much the case in Farmington, where exceptional homemade food awaits you at Ted's Pizza.
The restaurant is nothing to look at, and we're sure you'll have second thoughts about eating there.
Big Buck is a family restaurant with an upscale feel. The service is friendly but unpolished. There's a reasonably-priced wine list, and some fun cocktail specials. The menu has options for both conservative and adventurous diners, as well as more casual burgers and pizzas.
Chicken wings entered the American consciousness, we think, with the wild popularity of buffalo wings. Since the hot-sauce-covered wings were invented in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, chicken wings have become a ubiquitous appetizer, snack, or light meal.
Which is why we were in Blaine, bellied up to the counter at the Wing Joint. It's a clever name, especially since the wings here are not disjointed drummies, but the full three-part appendage.
Oh, we miss the Lincoln Del. And Zaroff's. We're embarrassed to admit we haven't wandered the skyways to find the Brothers, and we haven't crossed the river to Cecil's in much too long. But we do like the Jewish soul food served in delicatessen restaurants. We, like most of you, don't even mind if it's Jewish without being kosher, the sort of food called "kosher style."
And so we go to Crossroads Deli. Serving soup and good sandwiches, breakfast any time, various entrees at dinner: it's a family restaurant with a kosher-style kick.
We've got a great idea for escaping the workaday world. Pick a lovely summer evening, and watch the sun set over Wayzata Bay from the new Calypso Grill at NorthCoast. They've got palm trees, plenty of island décor, and some of the better calypso- and Caribbean-inspired cuisine around. Chef Ryan Aberle is serious about providing "a vacation away," and we can't think of much that's nicer than the relatively intimate space upstairs, outside and under the fine Minnesota summer sky.
We're a thousand miles from the ocean. It takes a certain amount of bravery to buy seafood from the back of a truck parked in a gas station, especially when the truck wasn't there yesterday and won't be there tomorrow. But every month, thousands of Twin Cities shoppers do exactly that.
"Their stuff is really, really fresh.
If we told you the best Turkish food in the Twin Cities is where the blue ball stallion used to be, we think a whole lot of you could drive straight to the place without directions.
But we'll make it easy on you. On the frontage road for 394, on the north side, just east of Wayzata, in the little strip mall called Westdale, there's a great Turkish restaurant called Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine is similar to what is served elsewhere around the Mediterranean, though naturally the dishes have Turkish names and so are perhaps unfamiliar.
We come from the "Who doesn't like Chinese food?" school of dining out. When we go out with our vegan friends, or with fussy eaters, or picky kids, we know we can usually all find something we'll like at a Chinese restaurant. Even better, a Chinese buffet.
The buffet at King is so large pretty much everyone can have a good meal.
What could be worse than heading out to your favorite restaurant, with your heart set on your favorite dish, and discovering that everybody else in town had the same idea and is standing in the lobby when you get there?
It's maddening, we say. And we avoid any such problem by heading to Tea House late on the weekends. Go early or get there around 8 PM, and you'll get seated pretty quickly.
Korean cuisine is some of the best spicy comfort food on the planet. At the end of winter, when it's hard to remember being truly warm, head to King's for their soul-warming, substantial delicacies.
Two of the appetizers are exceptional. They call haemul pajun a pancake, but it's far more interesting than that.
American cuisine has been a long time coming. Our melting pot takes in ingredients from anywhere and everywhere. Combine that with a continental approach that makes dinner an event and the increasing sophistication of everyday diners, and you have the uniquely American restaurant we call an "American bistro:" the small, upscale, funky, limited-but-interesting-menu, wine-friendly, neighborhood restaurant.
Muffuletta exemplifies the trend.
To us, the key to Guatemalan food is black beans. We ate them at least once a day during our weeks in Guatemala. It's an oversimplification to assume that black beans are Guatemalan and pinto beans are Mexican, but that's what we've observed.
Guatemalan food shares several similarities and some subtle differences with its prominent neighbor.
Singapore Chinese Cuisine doesn't look like much from the outside. It's in a strip mall, and looks like a perfectly standard below-average American-style Chinese restaurant. The decor isn't inviting. But don't let that dissuade you; the restaurant makes some of the best Southeast Asian food in the Twin Cities.
It's not that we hate chain restaurants. Some very good restaurants are owned by corporations. Small local chains seem to us like markers of success, not focus-group encroachment. But we resent how national chain restaurants set the public taste and squeeze the independent restaurants out of the business.
We have great affection for really fake-looking fake cactuses, adobe-like décor, and mariachi hats hung on the walls. These make an earnest and admirably corny dining experience. This stuff is so not-Minnesota, and that's what we adore.
Lone Spur Grill, in Minnetonka, serves a Texan and Mexican menu.
Interesting Indian restaurants used to be hard to find around town. There wasn't much of a local population to support the restaurants we did have, which tended to be hard to find and not very good. But times have changed, and the Twin Cities' Indian gets better and better. One of our favorites is Surabhi, in Bloomington just off the 98th street exit of 35W.
Thanh Do has got to be the busiest take-out place in St. Louis Park. We arrived at seven on a weeknight, and the crowd for take-out orders was so big we didn't understand at first that we weren't in line for a table. And every table was occupied. Happily, we were seated in a few minutes, and away from the door at that. The stream of people coming in and out made it chilly near the front.
We think Mexican food makes a great winter meal. Not the simple and minimalist dishes developed in the Mexican climate, but the heartier Tex-Mex style with lots of sauce and side dishes. The platter completely covered with food: that's what will get you through a cold day.
At El Loro, your meal starts off with a bowl of fresh hot corn chips with dip.
On Central Avenue in Columbia Heights, inside a nondescript commercial building, is the best Indian restaurant in the Twin Cities. It's a vegetarian restaurant, but don't let that worry you. The food's so good that even dedicated carnivores will enjoy Udupi Cafe.
India is a huge country, and "Indian cuisine" is actually many different cuisines from many different cultures and traditions.
Japan's noodle shops tend to be tiny, crowded and noisy. Slurp up noodles with audible satisfaction while on your way to somewhere else: that's what noodle shops are for. Translate that to Minnesota, and you don't get the rush, the tiny space or the noisy slurping businessmen with neckties thrown over their shoulders. Instead, you get Tanpopo.
Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.
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