Restaurant reviews: 2005 Archives

Granite City Food & Brewery (Eagan, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • December 28, 2005

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. Portion control keeps food costs down. And the customers know what to expect every time they visit.

The downside is that too often the food is bland and uninspired. Even though they promise “non-chain-like food” at this chain restaurant, much of the Granite City menu failed to excite us…

Little Sushi on the Prairie (Eden Prairie, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • December 14, 2005

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.

The menu lists 21 different rolled maki sushi, ranging from the familiar to the exotic. Everything we tried was fresh and good. We appreciated that the nigiri sushi was carved generously, and that we got a good thick hunk of fish on the rice…

Panino's (North Oaks, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • December 7, 2005

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.

Panino’s menu features a mind-boggling 42 different paninos, with enough choice to please anybody we can imagine. Meat, chicken, veggie, ham, turkey — all the traditional sandwiches you can think of and a whole lot more besides. And if that’s not enough, feel free to design your own with exactly the filling you best like…

Yangtze (St. Louis Park, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • November 16, 2005

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. On any weekend lots of families, both Chinese and western, will pile into Yangtze for dim sum.

The presentation of the dim sum meal has no equivalent in the West. Servers push carts through the dining room and past your table. They are loaded with a variety of foods in little dishes and steaming containers. The diners look at the different dishes on offer, and chose what looks interesting. You’ll get an English-language explanation from the server as to what’s what…

Chateau Lamothe (Burnsville, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • November 9, 2005

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. A wine bar should be fun both for people who know wine, and those who just want to enjoy their wine. We expected it to be an opportunity to learn more about wine.

Unfortunately, Lamothe doesn’t go far enough. The wine list isn’t very extensive. Wine aficionados expect to see years listed for the wines, and novices need even more information. We liked that many bottles were $25 or less, but we wish this wine list explained a bit about the different wines. Tasting notes can be intimidating to the uninitiated, but a little information can go a long way…

Mongkok (Shoreview, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • November 8, 2005

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.

We found good Thai at Mongkok, in Shoreview. Mongkok serves dishes from across Asia: Chinese, Thai, Japanese. It’s the Thai dishes that are the winners.

Thai food is traditionally spicy, and Mongkok’s menu ominously says “not responsible for side effects” when talking about spice levels. Don’t let that scare you. In America, Thai food comes in a variety of spice levels. Tell the server what level of spice you want, and he’ll make it happen…

Great India (Brooklyn Center, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • November/December 2005

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.

Great India has a broad array of familiar and interesting dishes that will please everyone, no matter his or her preference for spice or his or her familiarity with the cuisine. The dining room is fancier than you should expect for a strip mall place, but it’s the kitchen that really shines…

Harry's Cafe (Lakeville, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • October 19, 2005

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. Remember the “blackened” craze? There’s still a Cajun-seasoned burger on the menu at Harry’s. Wrap sandwiches made a big splash a few years ago, and Harry’s offers several. This is a sound strategy for a restaurant: offer plenty of likable, recognizable fare.

Harry’s does some things very well indeed. Often they’re at their best when adding their twist to dishes you already know you like. Take the simple club sandwich. Their Lakeville club is a tasty triple-decker sandwich served warm on hearty grilled bread, quixotically cut into three, not four, pieces. It’s a fine sandwich, and so big we couldn’t finish it…

Giuseppe's (New Brighton, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • October 12, 2005

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.

He and his wife Maria are from southern Italy, the source of the tomato-based dishes commonly thought of as Italian food. And he’s an excellent cook. We’ve loved almost everything we’ve tried here.

The fried mushroom appetizer was juicy, very lightly breaded, and exceptional dipped in the accompanying marinara sauce. Hand-dipped onion rings might not be Italian, but they are the best we’ve had in far too long, sweet with cooked onion and crunchy with a batter coating. They don’t come with marinara sauce, but should…

Punch (Eden Prairie, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • October 12, 2005

If we could ask one thing of you, it would be this: Stop eating bad pizza. Give up on dreadful bready crusts, pale red sauces, and cheap cheese. Treat yourselves. Go with the good stuff.

The real deal must feature a hand-kneaded crust, no more than 14 inches across, and come out of a wood-fired pizza oven. Every detail about it, from the type of flour used to make the crust to the choice of toppings, is important.

Good pizza is so well-prized in Italy that they’ve passed laws describing what a true Neapolitan pizza must be. And rightly so; protecting their brand and image is important…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.