Sunday, October 3, 2010

Plate 52, Week 9: Fini

Fini is not the name of the restaurant I went to with Eric Norman last Friday but rather the state of my blog series, Plate 52, and my blog, Trap Traphagen.

In regards to Plate 52, the intent of my criticism was never to diminish a restaurant or a meal but rather to share my honest opinions with others because, more often than not, my friends used me as a resource for restaurant recommendations. But even with that disclaimer, I now find myself in an awkward situation when I was about to publicly criticize a restaurant where I know someone who works there and that has provided in-kind gifts to a respected nonprofit organization. So having said that, I decided to end Plate 52 to avoid jeopardizing any relationships. Sadly, not all restaurants bring me such joy as Sidney Street or Haute Dish. So, if you want to read a fun blog about food and see awesome food photography, check out my dear friend Irvin Lin’s blog, Eat the Love.

In regards to Trap Traphagen, when I first started it in February 2010, the goal was to share things that brought me joy. Well, I can tell you in one sentence what I enjoy: I enjoy my family who loves me unconditionally; my friends who I adore and are an extended family; my work and the volunteer employee council that I am a part of; my health, wellbeing, and the anticipation I feel about next year’s 2011 Red Ribbon Ride; and my enthusiasm for opera and my volunteer work with Tempo; and learning how to play the cello. To have six focuses right now in my life is enough for me; blogging for a fan base of 12 (ha!) was just one extra thing that really wasn't adding value to my life. I’d rather do a few things well and a few that I can’t. So, if you want to read a new blog from someone who is inspired by similar things as me and is wickedly talented at creating cards, check out my friend Erin O’Leary’s blog, Denim & Ink.

So until my novella Golf Balls for Fish is written and published, au revoir.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Plate 52, Week 8: Convention Grill

Convention Grill is a grill and fountain soda shop that looks as old as it sounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if everything was original except for a new coat of paint here and there, but that’s part of its charm. Located in Edina, MN where Edina has become its own acronym – “every day I need attention” – the only customers that need attention are the children running around but that seems to be the norm, or at least it was last Saturday when I went with my father and step-mother, Madelyn, who were both in town for belated graduation and birthday celebrations.

I had heard Convention Grill was known for its burgers, malts, and fries. Sadly, none of us had burgers so I can’t comment on that. Madelyn had a chocolate malt and said it was very good. We all shared the fries and the ‘rents thought they were good; I didn’t care for them that much. My father and I ordered Convention Double Decker sandwiches that were made from Muenster and Smokey sharp cheddar cheeses on whole wheat bread with grilled tomato slices and bacon. My father asked for a single decker sandwich and for some reason I followed suit – big mistake considering my big appetite. It was tasty, though.

All in all, the plates ranged from fair to good. But regardless of the popular burgers, malts, and fries, my impression was that customers went there because it was where their parents took them and now they wanted to take their kids. And even though my parents never took me there, nor had I ever been there, by the time we left we felt like a part of the tradition, or at least appreciated it.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Plate 52, Week 7: Trattoria Da Vinci

Before I get to Da Vinci, let me tell you, this Plate 52 blog series has changed my paradigm on dining out. First, I’m gaining weight as a result of the dairy and other delicious ingredients that I’m consuming and that’s not cool. And second, after living in the Twin Cities for three years, there aren’t a lot of restaurants that I still want to try that I haven’t tried, which I guess is the point of this blog project. Ha! But you get my point. So when someone recommends a restaurant, I’m 99% open to it, but boy, there have been some doozies along the way. Unfortunately, I’ve made the mistake of then trying to find another restaurant within the week to replace the disappointment of the first restaurant. No more. My waist line can’t handle it anymore.

Anyhow, I’m hoping over the next 45 weeks I’ll be rejuvenated by a fresh surge of good restaurants in the Twin Cities that are new to me. Take for example La Grolla – it is one of my favorite Italian restaurants in St. Paul, in the Twin Cities, perhaps in general. It is a true gem – the food is authentic and the atmosphere is energetic – and in my opinion, it is worth the 30-minute drive to St. Paul, MN. However, I can’t write about it in Plate 52 since I’ve already been, so when my grad school buddy Rachel Wright described Trattoria Da Vinci in downtown St. Paul, MN, as “modern Italian … both times it’s been very good” followed by the restaurant’s décor is “over the top,” I had to check it out.

Whoa! Da Vinci certainly isn’t La Grolla! (Rachel and Scottie: we will be going to La Grolla this autumn.) Walking into Da Vinci was a subcultural experience to say the very least. It was quite comical. The décor was hideous; it looked like an Italian cliché threw up all over the walls and ceiling. Vaulted ceilings ... candle lit tables (where none of the tables had their candles lit) ... antique stone fountains ... live entertainment (solo singer covering adult contemporary songs) ... copies of Leonardo da Vinci's work all over the place ... and a mural! Cute.

Now about the food: in only my opinion, which is what this blog is about, the food was fair. I ordered the gnocchi di patate (homemade potato dumplings served with Bolognese). My gnocchi was too pillowy for me, which I’m starting to wonder if it’s a regional thing. Week 6’s Cara Troye ordered the gnocchi at Hotel Donaldson and it was the same texture and she loved it. It’s not that either gnocchi was bad, per se, but that overt pillowy texture is not for me. However, Rachel, who isn’t from the Upper Midwest either, agreed that the gnocchi was too tender, so that’s why I’m inclined to think it’s regionally prepared this way. The sauce was subpar; it needed to be richer.

Even though the food wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I have to say the waitress was darling and even offered us free dessert since we all finished our plates. (See, this is why I’m gaining weight – I didn’t even like my dish but I still finished the damn thing.) However, we declined since we were all stuffed which is why she probably offered it to us for free – she probably knew we couldn’t eat anymore!

All in all, my plate was fair. I won’t be back, though.

- H.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Plate 52, Week 6: Rojo and Hotel Donaldson

Sorry I’m late, birthdays get in the way of blogging, and for that, I’ll give you a bonus treat – my high-level impressions of two restaurants during week 6! I can tell you’re just beyond excited. :-)

Rojo: Rojo was a standard, middle class, Mexican chain with a dreary espresso décor. I went with my former Life Time Fitness FIT gym pals Kathryn Frankson, Gregg Massey, and Cara Troye. Kathryn and I both ordered the chicken enchilada, and I have to admit it was quite delish, but Gregg’s beef enchilada was so horrific that it stole the thunder from anything potentially good. In Gregg’s words, “It was like liquid smoke invited Hickory BBQ sauce to a party on my plate and there wasn’t a chaperon; the flavors were all over the place.” Ha! Personally, I think he was being nice.

All in all, the plates were fair but Gregg’s plate lowered my overall impression: poor.

Hotel Donaldson: The aforementioned Kathryn, Cara, and I, along with Luke Toft and Amanda Kaeding, went to Fargo for my 35th birthday dinner. Honestly, my expectation of Fargo restaurants was so low that anything could have been good, and even though the food at HoDo was in fact very good, I didn’t find the food to be innovative or inspiring, which is what you would expect from a $36 roast rack of North Dakota lamb (however, the side of sweet potato lyonnaise was off the hook). However, since the presentation was delightful and the food was delicious, I’ve posted some pictures of my favorite plates below:

A fried green tomato and walleye cake sandwich with fire roasted sweet corn succotash and a lemon caper emulsion

A goat cheese and artichoke tarlet with confit tomatoes and kalamata olives

A roashed rack of North Dakota lamb with sweet potato lyonnaise, brussel sprouts, and carrot ginger essence

All in all, the plates were very good and I highly recommend HoDo for the food. The service was poor.

- H.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Plate 52, Week 5: Molly Cool’s

Let me preface this blog post by saying that within Minnesota, I rarely venture to another city or town outside of the Minneapolis proper or county zip code of 554XX. (St. Paul is a constant exception due to some of their delicious downtown restaurants, the Xcel Energy Center, and the Ordway.) And after Week 5’s experience, I don’t know if I feel more strongly about that decision or intrigued by abnormal places like Molly Cool’s Seafood Tavern in Lakeville.

Molly Cool’s. Oh, Molly Cool’s. It means so well, it really truly does. I do hope it does well but I fear it will need a quick and life-changing lesson in the concept of cohesion before it’s able to sustain itself. Nadege Souvenir (of Week 4’s Haute Dish) took Jamie Nieman (of Week 3’s The Bulldog, N.E.), another opera friend Eric Norman, and me there for brunch last Sunday. It was, shall we say, a true subcultural experience. Here’s why:

Food: Jamie, Eric, and I had the All-You-Can-Eat family style brunch. It came with a free glass of orange juice or a mimosa, which tasted like a full glass of orange juice; a cinnamon roll for
the table, which was good; home-style scrambled eggs, which really could have benefited from adding some cheese or any other ingredient, but it was fine enough; creamy hash browns that weren’t nearly as creamy and delicious as the ones served at Salut in Edina but that’s a completely different experience, a different planet; applewood smoke bacon, which were good; sausage links, which to me, were the best component of the brunch and I had more than I should’ve; and French toast, which should’ve had a warning that said they were fried because it was quite a surprise to me when I bit into them (the waitress may have explained that they were fried and I just wasn’t paying attention; it happens). However, all these carbs were only $12.95 per person and they replenished items that we had devoured and you could even take home leftovers. I know, right?! I did, and I ate them later that afternoon!

Décor: Good lord. I have to say, even though the interior was mismatched, the personality of Molly Cool’s brought character to Lakeville, which seemed lifeless. Everything was taupe. Seriously. Molly Cool’s is a seafood tavern and carries on the tavern décor of having prominently displayed fish taxidermy on the walls. But since Molly Cool’s kept the furniture, tiling, lighting, and other contemporary touches of the previous establishment, its décor is comical. The ceiling light fixture looks like white bristles of hairbrushes, and in the men’s bathroom is a wall of framed pin-up girls and above the urinals are ads for Snap fitness. It would be a perfect candidate for a makeover show on HGTV. No lie.

Service: The good: the waitress Roxy was darling. When I ordered a Bloody Mary and then the free mimosa, she said, “Oh, that’s a lot of alcohol,” to which I replied, “Are you judging?” We all laughed. But really, she was darling. The bad: the busboy (man, actually) kept grabbing our water glasses right around the rims of where we drank from and that grossed me out but I choose not to say anything. It was a challenging to drink the water. So note to any server, host, or anyone pouring water for someone else: please grab the glass from the bottom. I don’t want to taste your palm.

Cost: Considering I essentially got three meals for the price of $12.95, I’d say the cost was pretty darn good.

All in all, I'd say the plates were good for what you expect.


P.S. – For Week 5, the other restaurant I tried for the first time was Nami but it was before the Scissor Sister concert and I really wasn’t focusing on food.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Plate 52, Week 4: Haute Dish

Go directly to Haute Dish. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Haute Dish is easily one of my favorite restaurants in Minneapolis. In fact, I went last Tuesday for the first time with opera friend Nadege Souvenir and then again last Friday with San Francisco friends Peter Nguyen and Grant Kalinowski who were in town. The food, décor, service, and cost were friendly yet complex: a perfect combo for good friends who wanted good conversation and good food that was cohesive and contemporary but didn’t appear like it was trying too hard.

By nature, I tend to be critical (blame it on astrology), so generally I’m able to provide (solicited or unsolicited) constructive criticism. However, there are times when I genuinely do enjoy something, and those are the experiences where I just let things be as they are because providing feedback feels forced. This would be one of those times, and why I am late in sharing this blog post. I have been wracking my brain trying to think of what to share that would be beneficial to you but I really don’t have anything to say other than try it yourself!

Below are some pictures from my visit with Nadege (who by the way has an impressive knowledge base of the menu):

Minnesota Mule (Prairie Organic Vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer)

House Salad (South Dakota steak house salad)

Fried Chicken (watermelon, cucumber salad, dill, and spoon bread)

Oh wait, I do have one thing to say! Both Nadege and Peter spoke very highly of the General Tso’s Sweetbreads with foie fried rice. Peter said it was amazing and it is a must try for anyone who enjoys sweetbreads. The idea of sweetbreads still scares me but I figure if you’re going to try sweetbreads for the first time then this dish sounds like a good introduction!

Oh, and one last thing they had this killer brie cheesecake. Try it!

All in all, I'd say the plates were very good. The service was hip and cool.

- Hadley

P.S. – For Week 4, the other restaurant I tried for the first time was Tryg’s but I just had drinks because the happy hour menu didn’t look worth the calories.