Restaurant reviews: 2009 Archives

Pop!! (St. Paul, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • November/December 2009

Pop!! — yes, the exclamation points are part of the name — is probably the best thing to happen to downtown St. Paul dining since the Great Waters Brewery. Situated in the old Fhima’s space, Pop!! has one of those eclectic Latin menus that takes you south of the border and keeps on going.

You’ll discover fish tacos from the Baja California peninsula and chicken posole soup, in the style of the pre-Colombian corn stew from Mexico. And before you know it, you’re slurping up ceviche like a Peruvian or Ecuadorian, and munching on empanadas like an Argentine. And that’s just the starter menu…

Nosh (Lake City, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • September/November 2009

A conundrum of modern eating is that, in general, the more rural the town, the lousier the restaurant. One might think that, being closer to the land, one would find plenty of fresh vegetables and local delicacies there. But rural dining hasn’t progressed much since the 1950s.Things are changing, however. Farmers’ markets continue to expand. People want fresh or unusual ingredients, and this foodie culture is expanding the market for chef-driven, locally sourced cuisine from city to countryside.

And that’s why we drove to Lake City. The lovely lakeside Nosh Restaurant sets a fine standard in Southeast Minnesota. Expect farmers’ market-fresh veggies, including organics from small farms like Many Hands, meats from local producers like Au Bon Canard and Happy Hog Hollow, and cheese from area cheesemakers like Fenceline and the Upland Cheese Company. You can even find locally foraged mushrooms on the menu…

Signature Café (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • July/August 2009

We all have a favorite neighborhood restaurant on that good corner or the busy street, that little café or bistro we can probably walk to even if we drive most of the time. After all, drive-by traffic keeps neighborhood places in business at least as much as word-of-mouth.

Now imagine a neighborhood restaurant with no drive-by traffic at all. Imagine a charming little dining room, with good art for sale on the wall, a pretty patio, all snuggled into a residential neighborhood. It’s so hidden that you’re sure you’re lost when trying to find it and think of it as a zoning mistake once you’re there. Oh, then you discover the food is delicious…

Heidi's (Minneapolis, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • May/June 2009

One of the problems with restaurant reviews is context. You can’t judge fine French restaurants by the same criteria as Mom-and-Pop restaurants. Of course the former is better, but it’s also 30 times the price. But when our imaginations overtake us, we consider the possibility of a neighborhood restaurant with a chef trained in the finest kitchens. We imagine the good food, the unpretentious and congenial dining room, the reasonable price. We’d travel for such a meal, oh yes we would.

Heidi’s, however, is walking distance from our home. Run by Stuart and Heidi Woodman, Heidi’s occupies a narrow South Minneapolis store-front. Stuart Woodman, of course, is one of Minneapolis’ star chefs, and a former sous-chef at New York’s Ducasse. Heidi’s dining room is pretty and unassuming…

The Dining Cryptographer: Salt House and Yoshi's (San Francisco, CA)

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Show Daily (2009 RSA Conference Newsletter)
  • April 23, 2009

It’s the last day of the RSA Conference, and this is my last column. Thanks for reading; it’s been fun.

Salt House is great for either lunch or dinner; it’s close and easy, and it’s good. The food is basic New American, and they mix some really fantastic drinks at the bar. Sandwiches, burgers, salads, and more for lunch; all sorts of good stuff for dinner. If you’re French Canadian or want to pretend, they serve poutine. It’s just that kind of place. (545 Mission St., 415-543-8900, www.salthousesf.com)

Yoshi’s is attached to a jazz club, which — depending who you are — is either a plus or a minus. Even if it’s a minus, don’t let that scare you. If you’re in the dining room or upstairs in the bar, you won’t hear a thing. And I think that’s good, because you don’t want to be distracted from the food. Chef Shotaro Kamio serves some of the best sashimi in the city, flown in from Japan, but it’s the modern preparations that make this place a real treat. “Seasonal, simple, surprise” is the motto on the website, and they mean it. Ignore anything you recognize — the sushi is fine, but you want the surprises. (1330 Fillmore St., 415-655-5600, …

The Dining Cryptographer: Yank Sing and Gary Danko (San Francisco, CA)

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Show Daily (2009 RSA Conference Newsletter)
  • April 22, 2009

Is it Thursday already? I know it’s hard to leave the convention center, but the food there just sucks. Here are two alternatives.

Yank Sing is probably the best dim sum in San Francisco, and it’s walking distance from the Moscone Center. For the uninitiated, dim sum are Chinese appetizers. You sit down at your table, and wait for the roving carts filled with dim sum varieties to come by. You choose what you want on the spot, and the process repeats itself until you’re done. This is no fun alone; you want at least four people, so you can try a variety of things. The only problem is that sometimes the things you want don’t show up until you’re full. So ask for the scallion prawn — with bacon! — and the Peking duck if you don’t see it. And the soup dumplings, which are literally inside-out won ton soup. No kidding. Lunch only; no dinner. (101 Spear St., 415-781-1111, …

The Dining Cryptographer: LuLu and Nettie's Crab Shack (San Francisco, CA)

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Show Daily (2009 RSA Conference Newsletter)
  • April 21, 2009

Another day, another pair of restaurants: the first one walking distance, the second one an easy cab ride.

LuLu is in a large 1910 warehouse. This makes it a good choice for a conference lunch, as there’s likely to be a table free when you get there — although, as always, it’s smart to make a reservation. The food is Provençal in style, and generally delicious. The appetizers are usually good, and it’s worth getting a bunch for the table. The pizzas are good, but ignore them in favor of the more interesting options — unless you want to try one for everyone to share. Every day of the week, there’s a different dinner special; go Tuesday for the rabbit or Friday for the squab. Both the rotisserie pork and chicken are good. I especially like the wine list, with over 70 different wines available by the glass. They even have flights of several different wines, so you can try a bunch of things. The only real downside to Lulu is the noise. (86 Folsom St., 415-495-5775, …

The Dining Cryptographer: Ame and Incanto (San Francisco, CA)

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Show Daily (2009 RSA Conference Newsletter)
  • April 20, 2009

If you think about it, providing restaurant recommendations has a bad positive feedback loop. If you all go to the two places below, they’ll be too crowded. So my advice is to hack into the conference’s computers and steal the recommendations for tomorrow.

Ame in the St. Regis is great for both lunch and dinner. The vibe is elegant and sophisticated, but not overbearing or stuffy. You can take either a date or a business associate — but I don’t recommend doing both at the same time. The menu is what I like to think of as New American Celebrity Chef, but with Asian accents. The sashimi dishes are good, but I prefer the more involved fish and game dishes. Actually, ignore the menu and just order “Lissa’s Staff Meal”: cuttlefish noodles with sea urchin, wasabi, and umami soy sauce. And be sure to check out the sake menu. There’s a lot to choose from, and the staff will help you if you’re unsure. This place has won a lot of awards recently, and for good reason. It’s not cheap; though; this place will blow your per diem. (689 Mission St., 415-284-4040, …

The Dining Cryptographer: ThirstyBear and Piperade (San Francisco, CA)

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Show Daily (2009 RSA Conference Newsletter)
  • April 19, 2009

Welcome to the 2009 RSA Conference. There are a lot of places to eat around Moscone Center, more if you realize how cheap a taxi ride is compared to your restaurant bill. In each issue, I’ll give you two recommendations: one within walking distance, and the other a short cab ride away.

ThirstyBear is a combination brew pub and tapas bar. First the food: ThirstyBear serves some interesting Catalan specialties. If you’re a small group, just order a bunch of small plates and share everything. Get a variety: seafood tapas, meat tapas, vegetable tapas. Get some hot and some cold. Really, that’s the way to do it. If you’re alone, their lamb burger is great for lunch: juicy and flavorful. Or their daily paella. Okay, now the beer: ThirstyBear serves seven different house-brewed beers. Personally, though, I’m happier ordering a pitcher of sangria. (661 Howard St., 415-974-0905, …

Hoban Korean Restaurant (Eagan, MN)

  • Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
  • The Mix
  • March/April 2009

The best thing about Korean cuisine, we think, is the panchan. That’s the little dishes of pickled vegetables that are served with your meal, and are refilled as needed. The most famous of these is kim chee: napa cabbage pickled in brine with peppers and other seasonings. Some say a Korean meal isn’t complete without kim chee. But panchan also includes things like daikon radish, brined and seasoned in various ways; mung bean sprouts boiled and served cold, dressed with sesame oil; and potatoes boiled, brined, and served with garlic and ginger. And Hoban serves some marvelous greens — a mix of lettuce and spinach, gently cooked and dressed with peppers…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.