Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Nick and Eddie

First of all, if you have Anchor Steam on your drink list, then you are alright by my standards, so Nick and Eddie was off to a good start. I had heard a lot of hype about N&E on various local food blogs and other credible food sources and hadn't found the time to make my way over there to check it out yet. A gorgeous July night presented a fine opportunity to head over, so I jumped and brought my empty stomach and girlfriend along for the ride.
I called the day before to get a reservation, but found that it wasn't too jammed on a nice summer night when I arrived. I was glad that there was outdoor seating available, mostly because it was one of those rare Minnesota nights where the temp was comfortable and the mosquitoes were merciful, but also because although the restaurant is very nice and well designed on the inside, it's also very loud. Anyways, we cruised out side to soak up some sun and the seasonal offerings on the N&E menu.
The first thing I noticed was that almost every entree was grilled, which I guess is fine for a seasonal menu - it is grilling season, but a bit more variety would have been nice as well. Anyways they had a few steak options, a fish special, a pasta and some other misc entrees (chicken of course) that sounded nice too. I was leaning towards the ribs, but that's not a good move on date night, and the lady was already set on the Duck, so I resisted the urge to pig out on my own bar menu (the bar menu looked great by the way) tasting feast and opted for the grilled Mahi-Mahi special - simply grilled with a simple herb rub.
We tore into the bread basket and the dense, pillowy slice reminded me of the pull-apart bread I used to fiend for when I would visit my grandparent's old lake home in Alexandria. A few minutes later, the waitress brought out a perfectly cooked plate of fish, accompanied with a intensely green pesto and some salty, citrusy, perfectly fried fries. Although the plate lacked any color balance, the dish worked well. I think eating fries with grilled fish is a lot like eating salad with polenta, but the odd combo was still good. The fish was huge, and although I enjoy my Mahi-Mahi drenched in butter, wine and lemon, I dug this preparation too. The herb rub was subtle enough to taste the individual essences (I loved the oregano), and the pesto was a nice twist too. I will say that I am used to a more traditional italian pesto with plenty of cheese and olive oil, but this was a bit more balanced for a lighter finish. Needless to say, it was gone quick.

As mentioned before, my girlfriend ordered the duck which was served up with an intensely colorful summer succotash. The succotash was really quite good. I love lima beans and the accompaniment was light and fresh - in my mind a nice match for some succulent duck in a summer preparation.
The duck itself was pretty fatty (as duck normally is) and was a bit chewier then I'd like (it was pretty ashen and not the deep brownish pink you normally see), but it was still fair. To me, duck is better reserved for heavier preparations more suitable for the cold months. There was almost an equal amount of fat to flesh ratio and if it would have been a bit more balanced, it would have helped the dish. It's tough to have nice crispy skin when you are fighting a thick layer of fat. Anyways, I dug my fish, so it would have been hard for the duck to stand up to it - I couldn't think of two proteins that have less in common.

So, when it comes down to it, I would go Back to Nick and Eddie, but I would wait until I could check out a different seasonal menu. When I go back it will likely be for their brunch, which I've heard a lot of good things about, or to try their bar menu with friends and plenty of cocktails - that is if I can resist the urge to stroll right down the street to pillage the mecca of all bar menus at Cafe Lurcat.

Happy Eating,


Monday, July 28, 2008

Can I Have Some Sandwich With My Turkey?

Like any abnormally obsessed-with-food individual, I have a "list" of places I need to eat at. One of those places just so happens to be a sandwich shop. That's right, a gourmet sandwhich shop. Be'wiched opened a bit over year ago and have positioned themselves as a "chef-driven" sandwich joint. There menu is filled with impressively concepted combinations and a few spins on old classes. They cure their own meats in-house and also offer an array of salads and soups to accompany the massive delicatessen creations. They have beer and wine too!

I have a mild obsession with good sandwiches and create my own unique pairings before work so I can have a nice home-made lunch. I don't do the ham and cheese on bland bread thing, so I was especially attracted to Be'Wiched and the allure of new sandwich combinations to inspire my own creations.

So I drove down Washington, walked in, scrolled the impressive, but small menu and settled on a three-way tie as most ambitious diners tend to do. I asked the gal behind the counter if I should get the pulled pork, ( I make a naughty pulled pork by the way) the poached chicken or the smoked turkey. After some thought she said what I was kind of (just kind of, seriously) hoping, "go with the smoked turkey." So like any good seeker of food intelligence ,I did.

The sandwich was friggin' huge. I mean there was probably two inches of richly, woodsy-smoked turkey on this beast of a sandwich. The pile of turkey was served on a nice dusty ciabatta with bacon, medjool dates and goat cheese, along with the contents of what felt like two entire turkeys. It's no push over sandwich and I knew immediately that I would take the whole thing down. I stretched my mouth and prepared myself, physically, to take on the first bite. Texturally, the sandwich was perfect. The fresh baked ciabatta was soft and the thick dense meat was padded nicely by a thin layer of dates, soft goat cheese and a few strips of thin, limp bacon. The bacon was just OK, but if you are going to take a serious twist on a turkey club, you better deliver on the bacon. The date combined with the salty swine did remind me of the classic bacon-wrapped date appetizer commonly served around the holidays, which truly highlights to beauty of a good salty and sweet combination. I only caught a hint of the goat cheese unless I was eating around the edges, which was a bit disappointing (I like the kind of creamy goat cheese that will curl a grown man's toes, personally) but there was still enough there to round out a unique sandwich. Lastly, I know I made fun of the obscene amount of turkey on this guy, but it was perfectly smoked (just like the turkey my Dad smokes every year for Thanksgiving ).I love it when food evokes memories, if you haven't noticed - I know my turkey, and this was the real deal.

The sandwich was served with a nice side of Israeli cous-cous and what tasted like a curried eggplant salad with olives - simply delicious.

The good lord has blessed me with a metabolism as active and constant as the sex lives of the rabbits that seem to at least double everyday in my backyard. I typically eat up to six times a day to try and satisfy the constant cry from food echoing from my lonely stomach, but there was no need for that this day. I took the whole sandwich down if nothing else then to not take the shot to my machismo, and the afternoon snack, and food as a whole was not deeded until I made dinner at about 7 p.m.

Overall, the sandwich was good, but I would definitely get something else if I go back. I had been eyeing that sandwich on their online menu for quite some time, and in fairness ,I had big expectations for it despite my three-way tie when I stepped up to the register. Be'wiched delivered, but is probably one of those places where you need to try a few things, and maybe never land on a favorite - a pretty good business model. I'll definitely go back, but since I rarely go out to lunch during the week, I likely will reserve it for a special treat on slow work days.

Happy Eating,


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

If You Look Close, You Can See It!

That's right. If you look close, you can see the very beginning of my first pepper. You will recall from an earlier post that I am making more of an effort to produce my own food to append to my current drive to eat more local and sustainable foods. Any normal person may just see what appears to be the very infancy of a pepper's life, but I already have big plans to stuff this little bugger with a rich mixture of beef, garlic, home-made bread crumbs, fresh herbs from my garden and some artisan cheese from the co-op near my cabin - My Nana would be very proud, indeed. OK, I'm definitely getting ahead of myself, but just you wait! I hope to have a follow up post to show you the meal I'll make out of this little guy - when he is finally done germinating.

I've really latched onto this slowfood movement, and I'm excited to start reaping the results. I just wish this pepper would hurry up and mature! Seriously though, check out the link and read up on how you can support slowfood even when dining out.

Happy Eating,


Friday, July 11, 2008

Done with Duplex

So we tried Duplex again last night. Now, before I get into this, I have to give you the proper gastronomical history I have experienced at this establishment. My girlfriend and I had two phenomenal - top drawer, experiences there last year. Then, we went back in the late summer and they fired off a total dud. It wasn't pretty, and I won't get into the details, but I didn't consume more then a few bites of my food , which totally goes against the vacuum ethic I normally bring to the table when it's time to eat.

So, Jess and I made a pact. We said we would wait a few months and head back on a nice night when we could enjoy their patio and see if they could reverse the course we had been lead down our last time we dined there. I didn't happen.

We got there and the Duck "Sloppy Joe" (A  cute name for a braised duck sandwich) jumped off the menu at us. Jess and I both decided to order it only to find out the worst possible menu news that could have been whispered into our eager ears - "There's only one left." I hate that phrase, but chivalry is not dead, and I let Jess get the duck. I had been eyeing the ravioli and also caught the gnocchi at the last minute so I inquired with our server and she proclaimed that I should go with the gnocchi, for sure - so I did.

Mistake. Our server touted the gnocchi's perfect pan seared, yet soft consistency, and it was there, but pasta typically has some sort of sauce, which implies moisture and or liquid, and this arrangement totally missed that, feeling more akin to a large gnocchi hash then a true pasta. The accompanying ingredients were oven roasted tomatoes (which were quite good, roasted portabellos, rosemary and brown butter. Needless to say the brown butter was totally dried out and the pasta had more crunch to it then you would ever want from a nice pillowy gnocchi. A simple olive oil drizzle, more brown butter or even the oven roasted tomato jus could have pulsed a slight sense of salvation, but this was  a miss, and I just didn't enjoy it.

I will say that the duck dish that Jess ordered was pretty good. The duck and sauce were rich and spicy as a duck ragout/braise should be.  The only knock on it that I have was that it was served on what appeared to be a brioche or brioche like bun that quickly absorbed all the rich braising liquid making picking up the sandwich near impossible- but at the end of the day, it is a sloppy joe, and I need to get over myself.

I also can't get to the end of the post without saying that the sandwich was served with the hands-down best sweet potato fries that I have ever had. Perfectly sweet/salty and a great pair with the accompanying lemon aioli. 

So to recap - I have had 2 good experiences at Duplex, and now 2 very forgettable ones. I don't believe  return trip is in order either, when I have too many other places that I would rather try in the area. Fifty percent just isn't a good enough conversion rate for a city that is booming with other tantalizing culinary experiences. I did want to see if we could revive the memories of the past pleasant meals we've had there but it just didn't work out. 

If you do go I would peruse the menu here before hand and try and dine a bit later or go earlier for the happy hour (cheap beer/wine is a no-brainer). I will say that dining later tends to lead to a more limited menu. Also, check out the deserts. At $5 they are cheap and good, but the last 2 times we went we passed due to the results of the main course. If any one else out there has a Duplex experience, please share, as this is just one man's opinion

Happy Eating,


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Victors 1959 Cafe

So I have been going out to eat on my regular schedule (all the time), yet have not found the time to jot down my thoughts. However, I had a pretty good experience  at a new place that just hit my radar - Victor's 1959 Cafe - a Cuban Joint in Minneapolis. Cuban food, and everything about Cuba intrigues me - it seems such a melting pot of the unknown. I checked out there menu online and was immediately interested so I rolled down there last Friday. 

It was tough to not abort mission and head to the neighboring Grand Cafe, which has been on my list for months, but I stuck with it because I needed something spicy, bold and different. The place is small, overflowing with character and extremely inviting. Our waitress had 2 ice cold Pacificos in our hands before our asses hit the seats. 

The menu is full of traditional Cuban fare and I isolated my entree within seconds. I was set on the Picadillo a la Cubano which appeared to be a mash-up of strong flavors featuring  ground-beef, peppers, capers, olives and raisins. The preparation sounded closer to something I would have thought I'd seen in Sicily before Cuba. I also ordered the Cubano platter for the table which was a combo of Empanadas, croquettes and tostones. The platter was a heavy triumverant - all fried, but some items were clearly better then others. The tostones were huge and pretty bland, other then the refreshing citrus and garlic toping. The croquettes were rich and had a distinct powerful ham flavor similar to serrano. Lastly, the Empanadas were huge and full of a robust and flavorful chicken mixture, but it got lost in the amount of dough incorporated into the folded crunchy pocket. If the execution was a bit smaller, it would have been better, in my mind.

Next I received my entree which looked and smelled like  flavor explosion the size of the Cuban Missile Crisis - although I don't believe anything actually blew up in either instance. I tore into the dish hungry to continue to feed my craving for some spice and bold flavors, and it just never really happened. The powerful ingredient list was all there, but it never really integrated they way I was hoping it would. Everything just kind of ran together and all the integrity of the individual ingredients was sort of lost on me. I never got the brininess of the capers and olives or the sweetness of the raisins, they just sort of cancelled each-other out. It was still a decent dish, but I was looking for some fire and flavor. I will say that the accompanying plantains we're freakin' awesome. They were cooked perfectly - soft, with a nice little caramelization on it. They were really the highlight of the meal. 

Conclusion: I'd go back, but I think I would reserve it for a Saturday lunch or breakfast. They have a list of sandwiches that looked really good and I'm always down for a good Cubano (although it will be tough to beat my Muddy Pig favorite). Serve it up with one of their cheap mexican beers and you've got a killer lunch. The breakfast options looked good as well. I think the dish I picked out was a bit too complicated to stand on it's own pillars, but I think they could whip up a bang up lunch or a mean, authentic Cuban breakfast.

Happy Eating,


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