Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name

For years now, we have said our favorite sushi restaurant in the Twin Cities is Fuji Ya in St. Paul.  We like the Minneapolis location too when it's just the two of us.  We don't go too often, usually once a month in the winter, close to 2 or 3 months between visits in the summer.

One of the things we loved about Fuji Ya was that everyone knew us there.  The wait staff, the sushi chefs, the owner.  Part of that is because we have taken the kids.  Not everyone would take kids to sit at the sushi bar so that makes you a little easier to remember.  We were there often enough that the sushi chefs KNEW as soon as we went in to make a California Roll, just so, for our daughter.  She likes the tobiko (small fish eggs) on the top because they are fun to eat. (she likes how they pop!)  We celebrated many a birthday and anniversary there.  They even gave our daughter a tea set during one birthday celebration!  We were always well taken care of, and the sushi was always top quality.  We knew we could say surprise us, and they always would know exactly what new creation to make.

Recently, the owner of the St. Paul location started a new restaurant, Fin, in Lakeville.  We knew this, but this past weekend, Fin was closed, so we went to Fuji Ya in St. Paul.  The sushi itself was still excellent.  Their quality of fish has always been at the top of the cities in our opinion.  Everything is fresh, cold, and creative in it's presentation.

What was missing was everything else.  We didn't know the sushi chefs, we didn't know the hostess, we didn't know the wait staff...and they didn't know us.  It really is true, you want to go where you are known.  It changes the experience of a place.  Having the friendly banter with the sushi chefs or the bartender really did make a difference.  When we would come in without the kids, everyone we encountered would ask about them.  This time, no one talked with them.  Don't get me wrong, everyone was friendly enough.  It was just...different.

We love to try new restaurants.  We try not to go back to the same place too many times.  This was the exception.  We'll be starting the search for our new "Cheers" next time we are hungry for sushi.  There are places we haven't been in a while that will now warrant another look. 

And we will definitely be making the trek to Lakeville to visit Fin...maybe more for the conversation than the fish.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Nonni Osteria-amazing all around experience

The first review of a restaurant I posted on my blog was of a restaurant I would not go back to.

My second review will be the exact opposite...I cannot wait to revisit I Nonni.  The whole dining experience was amazing and the food was spectacular.

The website for I Nonni describes it as Roman inspired seasonal cuisine with European service and ambiance, in a setting of comfort and old-world charm.  What a perfect way to sum it up!  The restaurant was beautifully decorated.  The ceilings were high with cathedral trusses.  The colors were warm and welcoming.  The light fixtures were glass in red, yellow, and orange.  The wall sconces had the look of flickering torches with how the colors were blown and used throughout the glass. 

We had one drink at the bar.  The bartender was knowledgeable about the wine selections.  She also gave a detailed description of the cocktails that were on the menu.  I had a cocktail made with prosecco (sparkling wine), grapefruit liqueur with a sugar cube at the bottom soaked with bitters.  Topped with a lemon twist served in a champagne glass, it was a beautiful drink with a citrus scent.

The menu was broken down into 4 parts.  Asseggini (a selection of first courses), Antipasti (appetizers), Primi (first course) and Secondi (second course).  We ordered the Cacciucco, Rucola, Osso Bucco and the Spaghetti Nero.  We asked our server to recommend wines paired to what we had ordered, and she was right on the mark. 

The Cacciucco was a seafood stew in a tomato broth.  The seafood included clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and octopus.  The broth alone was amazing, full of tomato, wine and a hint of heat.  The portion was large, enough that it could be a complete meal, not just a starter.  This photo is from the I Nonni website.

Rucola was a salad of micro arugula, wrapped with prosciutto, topped with a slice of Gorgonzola cheese.  Included in the salad were thin slices of apple, walnuts, and topped with a bacon vinaigrette dressing.  Here is a photo from the I Nonni site of how it is plated...presentation was beautiful.  My salad was slightly different than the one pictured, since I had micro arugula and Gorgonzola and this is spring greens with peppers and Parmesan.

Spaghetti Nero was a squid ink pasta, making it black in color.  The tomato sauce was spicy, but not overpowering.  The waitress warned me when I ordered that it might be hot.  I like spicy food, but I could see it being a little spicy for the 'typical Minnesotan' palette.  It may have been spicier than usual because I did ask the waitress not to tone it down :-)  I still could taste the flavor of the pasta and a hint of the tomato.  It was topped with baby octopus which were extremely tender.  This is our photo, a little dark since we did not want to blind the entire restaurant taking photos.

We have had Osso Bucco before, but this one was the best by far.  The meat on the shank was fall off the bone tender, the perfect mix of meat and fat.  It was plated on a saffron risotto that was creamy while still having the perfect bite to the rice.  The reduction on top of it all pulled it all together.  With Osso Bucco, you are given a small spoon, smaller than a teaspoon, with the purpose being to scoop the marrow out of the bone.  If you have not tried this, it is a delicacy.  The description I gave our kids was it has the consistency of jelly, with the flavor of slow cooked meat.  This particular shank had no shortage of marrow.  Here is the photo before we devoured it-the green at the top is where you started into the marrow-it's a parsley herb combination.  That section was the bone, the surrounding is the meat.  Again, our photo, colors are just a little off.

After all of that, there was no room for dessert.  Their dessert menu looked amazing, with variety to choose from including fruit, hazelnut, chocolate, cake, gelato or sorbet. will have to wait for another visit.

We can't wait to go again.  We said the next time it would be fun to have a wine with a few appetizers and dessert.  The atmosphere is such that having just a few things and lingering over them would make for a perfectly relaxed night out.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Hanger Room...high hopes crash and burn

After reading reviews of The Hanger Room I was excited to see them offer a deal on Living Social.  We decided to use our certificate on September 24th for date night.

We were slightly early for our 6:15pm reservation, so we had drink in the bar.  Their beer menu is quite extensive, well organized by flavor and style.  I read online it was close to 80 beers on tap!  I ordered a Blood Orange Martini (I'm not a beer drinker).  Made with real blood orange juice which gave it a beautiful color (don't knock them until you've tried them-their outer skin is orange, but the insides are deep red).  These oranges are not too sweet either, which was perfect for the drink.

We then went to check in for our reservation and the hostess was quite talkative, explaining to us how the space had been a bowling alley.  Because of this, the inside of the restaurant did not match the outside.  Inside was traditional steak house decor with dark woods and white linens.  The outside had all the appeal of a gray box, but they did have a beautiful sign.

Our appetizers (or small plates) were wonderful.  We had the pork belly which was served on celery root cole slaw.  The pork belly was akin to large chunks of bacon, with a sweet glaze on the top (the web menu says cherry, but ours had something different, closer to brown sugar)  Eaten with the slaw, which was not too wet, the flavor combination was tantalizing.  The other appetizer we ordered was the mussels.  Again defering to the web menu, they were steamed in a combination of cider, sage and shallots.  Steamer clams is one of my favorite dishes, so as long as it is close and you give me bread to soak up the cooking broth, I'm happy.

Our main entree was a major letdown.  We ordered a ribeye, which the waitress mentioned as a special, and decided to share it.  The sides that came with it were mushroom risotto and green beans.

Now my idea of a good ribeye, especially for the price, is something thick.  By thick, I mean at least 1", up to 2".  This steak came out, they had split it in two (I know, we said we were sharing it, but did not specifically ask for them to plate it on two plates, which they then charged us for) and it was no thicker than 1/2".  I had heard great things about their steaks in reviews, so I was thinking it would be right up there with Mannys.  Not even close.  It was done to our request (medium rare) but was a tougher piece of meat.  Ribeyes should be tender, almost melt in your mouth.  This one did not.  We also like steaks without too much salt.  This one was quite seasoned.  I think that sometimes too much salt is used to hide the quality of the steak.

The risotto side was also disappointing.  Now, if I may say so myself, I make a mean risotto.  I know what it takes to make it work.  One of the problems with knowing how to cook is that my bar is pretty high.  Risotto is not one of those things one makes on a whim.  It takes time.  When we tasted it, there was something not quite right.  Not creamy enough.  And a strange taste.  I finally figured out it was goat cheese.  Looking at the menu online, it does mention the goat cheese.  It just didn't work.  Goat cheese has too pungent a flavor for something like risotto.

We both said we would not go back to the restaurant again.  Had we stopped at the appetizers, we would have had a much different experience.  I could see ordering just appetizers (small plates) in the bar area if we were nearby.  I don't see making a special trip.  I would not revisit the dining room side of the restaurant. 

On a side note, I am glad we had the chance to use our certificate after reading this article.

All of that said, it was still a date night, which is always good.  But the restaurant overall did not live up to what I had expected.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I like bread

I started attending womens bible study at our church when my son was little.  I still see one of his former teachers from time to time (they had a great childrens program).  She told me this story about him that made me smile. 

They were getting ready for snack one morning, and she asked him what he would like to have.  Now, if you know him, he is pretty shy, not too loud (usually).  In his little toddler voice, he said "I like bread."  She said even when she sees him now all these years later, that's one of the things that comes to mind.  It made me smile to think of him saying this at that age because it is still true to this day.  As much as we try new foods as a family, his favorite thing is still bread.

This is what happened the other day when I asked him to put away the extra bread after a meal.  Note the holes dug out of a few of the pieces:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It's a start...

Some of you know I have been thinking about this for a while now. My perfectionism was really getting in the way though...what to name it...which blog site to the list went on. Well, on this bright and sunny fall day, I have just jumped in with both feet. Mistakes will be made, changes will be necessary, but I had to start !

The idea started as a food blog, a way to share my stories of restaurant outings, favorite dishes, new places and food stuffs I have tried. I think it will start to include more and more subjects as time goes on, but for now, I'll end with a quote from one of my favorites, Anthony Bourdain.

I have long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we're talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime 'associates', food, for me, has always been an adventure.~Anthony Bourdain