Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque

I took a mental health day (lovely) on Monday and figured the only way to truly rest my mind was to feed it some quality food. Given the nice sunny day I decided to hop over to Stillwater with my girlfriend to take in the antiques, cool shops and most importantly, Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque. I parked the car and the headed straight to the restaurant only to find out that it didn't open until 4 p.m. (at least on Mondays). So much for rum and pork on my lunch ticket! We skipped around the quaint shops and antique stores for a few hours and purchased a few items (I got a a nice antique mezza luna!) before we grabbed a glass of wine to prime our bellies for a seriously comforting meal on a cool autumn night.

We finished our vino and headed back to Smalley's and were amazed to see how vacant it was given the buzz around this place. However, it was a Monday night in a weak economy, so I wasn't too concerned. Our server came out and gave us the run down about how they're only one of three restaurants in the U.S. to use authentic pimento wood for their Caribbean (Jamaican/jerk) Barbeque. I figured that was impressive enough, so we dug right into the menu. The waiter came back to take our order and was very knowledgeable and friendly, which is always appreciated.

We started off with the fried green tomatoes. I love fried green tomatoes and have been longing for the version I used to feast on at Big E's before the Minneapolis soul scene was abruptly shaken up. Regardless, these bad boys were little discs of bliss. Perfectly fried in a corn meal batter and accompanied with a nice light aioli. The crisp breading offered a nice textural contrast to the firm tomatoes, and they were perfect for dipping in the delectable sauce. Needless to say we were off to a good start.
Now, it's important to remember that this is Caribbean Barbeque, so if you are used to Memphis or Texas Barbeque this will be different. My family has been smoking (not herb, but high quality meats) for quite some time and I have grown an appreciation for the complexity smoking can bring to a meal. Smalley's did not disappoint on that end at all. I ordered the brisket and chicken combo. The meat was really moist and super flavorful. The smoke was present in every bite. You could see the nice smoke coloration on both the brisket and chicken, yet the flavor of the meat was still present. It's not the same hickory or mesquite that I'm used to, but I thought it was unique and brilliant at the same time. Jess had the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and it was killer too. The accompanying sauces (on the side) left a bit to be desired in my mind, but I would have no idea why someone would want to dilute the pure smoky, salty goodness I was experiencing with a thick glob of sauce anyways.

The sides were killer too. Jess got a side of sweet potatoes (or was it yams?) with sausage that rivals their counterpart over at Brasa. I had the mac and cheese with chilies and bacon and was ready to surrender next to the warm fire and take a nap after digging into the comforting tranquility - that is after the wonderful bite supplied by the chilies mellowed a bit. I also had a decent bowl of red beans and rice, but any dish short of greatness would have played second banjo next to the rich mac and the perfect sweet potatoes anyways.

We gorged until we could eat no more and packaged the rest up for lunch the following day. Needless to say leftovers have never been so eagerly anticipated. You'll have to run up there for yourself though and let me know what you think about this BBQ joint. It's well worth the drive, and I'll have to find an excuse to get up there again soon.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ngon Bistro

I originally heard about Ngon Bistro from one of my favorite blogs. The review seemed favorable and I love Vietnamese food and trying new things. I jumped in my car with my favorite dining partner in shotgun and headed over to St. Paul. I had pretty high hopes based on the menu and what I'd heard from people I view as credible sources. The dining room was full for a Tuesday, but we managed to get a table with no reservation. I perused the drink list and instantly saw they had Kayak Kolsch. My eyebrows raised and my liver giggled. I ordered the beer and put in an order for their pork lettuce wraps (we were aggressively hungry) and started perusing the rest of their menu.

The service was friendly, but odd. At times we had up to 3 people all over us and at other times it felt like we were completely ignored. Regardless our appetizer was out before we even ordered our entrees, so the kitchen is a speedy one. The menu is intriguing and inventive. It's laced with local and sustainable ingredients (Thousand Hills beef and Kadejan chicken) and features both traditional Vietnamese favorites as well as some new and complex dishes. I'm a huge fan of Pho so I ordered a bowl of the chicken Pho and Jess settled on a broken rice with three kinds of pork dish as it came highly recommended from one of our various servers.

When the lettuce wraps came out we had the plate for the wraps, our appetizer plates, 2 drinks, 2 waters a condiment rack and all 3 of our menus on the table. It was hard to fit everything on and it became difficult to eat anything. It would have been nice for them to take our order so we could get rid of everything, but we were almost too hungry to care. We tore into the delicious looking wraps, and noticed instantly that something was completely wrong. The skewered strips of pork were essentially all fat. The crisp veggies and rich peanut sauce were totally lost because of the mushy, chewy strips of fat. We basically had a mouthful of salt and nasty. I am the founder and President of the Clean Plate Club, and we were so grossed out by the pork that we just sort of picked at everything else and left half the items on the plate. It was seriously disappointing.

Our Pho and broken rice dishes came out soon after they cleared the appetizers, and we dove right in hoping to find satisfaction in our entrees. I will say that my Pho was huge, packed with chicken and very good. It was very flavorful and hearty and the crunchy jalapenos and bean sprouts offered an explosion of freshness to contrast the comforting soulfulness of the soup. It was just what I was looking for.

Jess' dish was just OK. The pork loin, egg and rice all worked well together. I though the cucumber and tomato offered a nice twist of freshness similar to my Pho, but Jess didn't care for it - I think it's sort of an acquired thing. The other pork items were BBQ'd pork and pork skin, and I have to say the mixture was pretty garlicky and actually kind of cold which I thought was really odd. It was just sort of an odd dish that came highly recommended from our server and it was a bit disappointing.
I wouldn't go back to Ngon Bistro. The people were nice, but the food was hit or miss. Lettuce wraps were the biggest layup in terms of complexity on the menu and they were awful. If the ingredients don't look good, they shouldn't go out, and I highly doubt sending us 4 strips of gristle was an oversight.

Between the fresh Vietnamese flavors and all the sustainable ingredients, I had set high expectations and they just came short. The Pho was great, but there are plenty of great places on Eat Street where I can go to get a good bowl of this pleasant dish that are closer to home and will scratch my itch for something a little different.

Happy Eating,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teddy's Take On Harry's

I've been to Harry's twice now, and both trips were after Steven Brown had left, unfortunately. I I took some clients there last night, so unfortunately there are no pictures (that would have been a bit uncomfortable, right?), but I did get to try several items, so I'll have more of an exhaustive representation from which to report.

They had Schell's Oktobefest, so they're in good shape over all on the beer and cocktail front. The starters were all good. The wings were nice and flavorful, with a  rich and tangy sauce to accompany them. The flavors of sriracha, honey and vinegar were all well incorporated so there was no lack of excitement there, nor should there be in an order of hot wings. I also had several samples of the Plownman's platter (cheese and sausage plate) and everything was good, but not outstanding. The brie was standard and the goat cheese had a nice fruit reduction on it, which was tasty on a lovely piece of grilled bread. They also have tasty home-made pickles to go along with your drinks and snacks!

I had the burger the first time around and it was good. pretty standard, but it didn't disappoint. The beef stayed moist and flavorful which means they buy a good product with the right fat content and no how to cook to order.  They also have several burgers/sandwiches that take twisted looks on old favorites that I can appreciate and look/sound quite appetizing - Turducken burger? Sounds good! The fries are good and greasy. much smaller then the fries many of us are accustomed too, but grease, salt and ketchup is always heavenly. 

I had the meatloaf last night and was pretty underwhelmed. The standard mix of veal, pork and beef ended up being pretty dry, and wasn't served all that hot either. If I have something with veal in it, I would anticipate a level of richness and moisture that was totally absent. I learned quickly that the mushroom gravy was likely there to gussy up the dry pieces that were probably made well in advance of serving (I'm sure many places do this as a part of their service prep - no one can make meatloaf to order, but it got totally dried out). The mashed potatoes that were served along side were pretty lackluster and I would have much rather had some of their heralded creamed corn instead. Some roasted veggies accompanied the plate as well. The broccoli was long and stringy, but the carrots had good flavor and I am a sucker for the earthy caramelization on a well roasted-brussel sprout.

The service was just OK. The waiter was very nice, but the kitchen lost our ticket (a ticket for 10 people?). I know that's not the waiter's fault, but the house wasn't exactly packed, so you'd think the management or kitchen would be all over an order for a group of 10.

I probably will go back to Harry's - it's close to work and we can get clients in and out fast for a quick lunch. If I do go back, I'll have to stick to the burgers or sandwiches which seem to have less of a likelihood for error and an increasing level of excitement. And if I head for happy hour I know I can find some nice starters, too.  However, if I have a hankering for meatloaf, I'll head over to my lovely mother's home for her delicious Italian take on the American favorite. I know she won't lose the ticket, and all my dinner will cost me is 10 minutes worth of dish duty. It will be well worth it!

Happy Eating,


Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Second Helping of HungryinSW

That's right. It's time for another heaping helping of food, and this serving, like HungryinSW, is calorie free. Epic Sandwich will be my casual, quick service sister to my usual musings on local fine dining.

This blog will be dedicated to surveying and evangelizing the best sandwiches in the Metro area. I can't deny my obsession between the goodness that can be created between to tasty slices of bread, and I'll extend that to other delights such as burgers, burritos and any other creation that resembles a good old sandwich. Stop on by and leave me a comment for any place you want to see reviewed or to let me in on a hot tip!

Stop on by whenever!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Cafe Levain's New Menu

I originally fell in love with the Levain of Steven Brown fame when I dined there to celebrate my Mother' birthday. This comforting little cafe is connected to Turtle Bread in south Minneapolis and is a perfect little culinary escape. Steven has since left, and the restaurant has re-opened with a slightly more affordable and dressed down concept, but I feel that the food is still stellar and priced in a place where I can indulge more often. The exposed kitchen is still captivating and gives you a nice little glimpse into the mastery that is cuisine.

They've recently unveiled their new fall menu, and I think it looks great! Three words: Local Foraged Mushrooms. The only other word combination that could get my belly more motivated would be: Huge Free Steak. Since that isn't going to happen I'll have to sneak over to Cafe Levain and let my taste buds ravage some of the little goodies. The Fall Vegetable Salad sounds like an epic construction of fall flavors including butternut squash, bacon, apple puree, pistachios and a poached egg. SOLD. I might as well order it when I make my reservation. 

The thoughtful menu also takes the time to call out the feeding scheme for the beef they are serving which is appreciated, and if a big hunk of bovine doesn't sound good to you then I'd be willing to bet the 1/4 fried chicken with truffle oil and chicken just may sway your appetite. The vegetarian barley risotto accented with sage sounds perfect for a nice windy autumn dinner too. Levain embraces the cafe concept of offering enticing sides including brussel sprouts, cannellinis and some more of those addicting mushrooms all gussied up for the fall.

Pick a nice brisk night and head on over to soak up some of that  warm ambiance and tear into the flavors of the fall.

Happy Eating,

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