Restaurant reviews: 2007 Archives

Jay's Café (St. Paul, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • The Mix
  • November/December 2007

We chanced upon a gem of a café about a year ago, near Raymond and University, in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood. It’s the sort of place you want to keep secret since it’s fabulous, but the space is tiny and often full. But we’re good guys, and we’ll share what we know about the delightful Jay’s Café.

Jay is Jay Randolph, owner and the café’s original chef. Five months ago, that job was taken over by Carl Gerstenberger, who’s picked up some impressive West Coast cooking credentials: Chez Panisse, Stars, Oliveto, and a stint as the private chef for the Estée Lauder family. He’s the visionary in the kitchen today…

Namaste Café (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • September/October 2007

A short-hand description for Nepali cuisine: “It’s like Indian.” Unfortunately, that’s horribly wrong. There’s no such thing as Indian cuisine — India is a large, diverse country consisting of many different cultures and traditions — and Nepali cuisine is unique in its own right. But the curries, lentils and spices used are similar to Indian cookery.

Namaste Café
2512 Hennepin Ave. S.
Minneapolis
(612) 827-2496
www.namastechai.com
Cuisine Type: Nepali
Reservations: Recommended for large parties
Diet Choices: The menu is varied enough to accommodate everyone…

Happy Gnome (St. Paul, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • July/August 2007

Beer is the new wine. Wine has always exhibited a classy mystique, while beer has been the low-rent cousin from across the tracks. These days, what are called craft beers are in the spotlight, as American beer drinkers rediscover dozens of different brewing styles from around the world. Regular guys compare porters and stouts with authority, and discuss their favorite small breweries just like the wine geeks compare appellations and grape varietals.

Happy Gnome
498 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(651) 287-2018
www.thehappygnome.com
Cuisine Type: American Bistro…

Chambers Kitchen (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • May/June 2007

Individual chocolate cakes with molten centers: one could have a worse legacy in the culinary landscape of America. This singular inspiration from Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been released into the wild, resulting in over 20,000 Google hits for the recipe and frozen cakes to microwave at home.

Jean-Georges is a master chef. His namesake restaurant in New York is a foodie pilgrimage. His other properties are also destinations. And given the current instability of the Twin Cities’ restaurant scene, at least at the high end, we are pleased to have his hand in at the Chambers Kitchen…

Kip's Pub (St. Louis Park, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune West
  • April 25, 2007

The Irish pub, a worldwide export of the Emerald Isle, has been carpet-bombing the Twin Cities. Pubs pop up everywhere, with dark wood, good beers and Irish food on the menu. They serve basic bar food and Irish staples such as fish and chips, lamb stew and pot pies.

Kip’s Pub in St. Louis Park has the bar part mostly right. It has several Irish beers on tap, as well as the local Finnegan’s Irish Amber. We wish it served Strongbow cider on tap, and not the much sweeter Woodchuck.

Quite a bit of Kip’s menu is fried, and most of it tastes like the fryer instead of whatever it is supposed to be. Think of State Fair fried foods, and you’ll know what we mean…

Taiko (Mounds View, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • April 18, 2007

Enough with the jokes about bait. We mostly hear such from people who are so sure they dislike sushi that they won’t try it. But once a skeptic tries sushi, we hear things like, “It’s not bad,” “It’s not fishy,” or “Hey, I like this!”

Don’t think of it as raw fish, think of it as top-quality protein.

Sushi is the best thing at Taiko. Nigiri sushi is a piece of fish on a chunk of rice, and maki sushi is a roll of rice and other ingredients wrapped in seaweed and sliced. Order these in small plate or larger combinations. Hamachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), and ebi (cooked shrimp) are all easy to like, and generally available…

El Patio Cantina and Grill (Lakeville, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • April 11, 2007

We found the best Mexican food in the south metro.

The food isn’t like the Mexican food you’ll find on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Most of El Patio’s dishes aren’t overly spicy and generally don’t include traditional seasonings such as cilantro. But the food is well made, the flavors are complex, and a lot of it is delicious.

El Patio offers the recognizable Mexican standards: tacos, burritos, enchiladas. They’re available alone or in combination dinners, served with very good seasoned rice and pretty good refried beans. These dishes are a little ordinary. But move to the “Especialidades” and the “Seafood” portions of the menu, and you’ll see where the restaurant really shines…

Willie's Wine Bar & Cuisine (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • March/April 2007

We don’t like the name “Willie’s Wine Bar” because we worry that you’ll think it’s just a bar and not go there. First and foremost, Willie’s is a restaurant, one with a great wine list. It’s a pretty space, great for dates or convivial meals with friends. You should go for the food.

Willie’s menu is divided into smaller and larger plates, and both are filled with gems.

Willie’s excels at combining interesting flavors. Standards like lamb chops and pot roast are prepared with interesting twists. You’ll be charmed, even as you wonder what the chef could have been thinking…

Mekong River Thai Cuisine (Burnsville, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • February 14, 2007

We have no fear of spicy food; we go for the endorphin rush every time. And we each have our own remedies for the burn of too-hot food: Karen likes a beer, while Bruce will bite a lime or lemon. But that doesn’t mean that we down habanero peppers like a handful of jelly beans. Spicy for the sake of the heat alone is a macho game we don’t play; we’re there for the flavor.

Some restaurants serve food that’s just too hot to enjoy. This is a problem more often with Thai food than with any other cuisine we can think of. And so we were utterly delighted to find Mekong River, a Thai place where the kitchen is happy to cook anywhere from “Minnesota Mild” to authentically dangerous…

Bella (Blaine, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune North
  • January 24, 2007

“Fine dining” used to be the pinnacle of the American restaurant scene, when steak was king and wine with dinner meant you were having a fancy meal out. Whole books have been written on how much American dining has changed in the past 20 years or so, how new ingredients, preparations and attitudes have revolutionized the industry.

Meanwhile, we still have a lot of affection for classic fine dining. And we’ve found it in the northern suburbs, where Bella serves mostly unpretentious Italian fare in a modern, elegant dining room.

The room’s exposed limestone, swooping lines and glowing bar all set the stage for a special evening out. Our expectations were lowered by the nametags on the wait staff, and the special card on the table, but Bella has a beautiful, welcoming space…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.