Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Plate 52, Week 3: The Bulldog, N.E.

The Bulldog in Northeast Minneapolis has received a lot of accolades for its bar menu, so last Tuesday when new opera friend Jamie Nieman suggested we go there – “the one in Northeast, not Uptown” – I was more than thrilled. I tried going to the Bulldog back in February on a Saturday but the wait was over an hour and no place is worth that wait-time, especially if you are hungry!

Now, about the food; the food is exactly what you except it to be: comfort food in a bar. However, it had a good variety of appetizers, a long list of burgers to choose from, some delicious-sounding hotdogs, and lots of cupcake, however, if I remember correctly, the waitress said they only made three cupcake flavors each day.

Jamie and I started with the bacon scallion wontons, which were fun. (Sorry, no pictures. I wasn’t comfortable using the flash on my camera but I got over that for next week’s post.) They were served with a sweet and spicy sauce, which really wasn’t spicy, but as my step-uncle says, “Minnesota spicy is so spicy you can almost taste it.” Ha! The cream cheese in the wontons was all kinds of goodness but the deal clincher was really the bacon. Everything is better with bacon, and I know Jamie really enjoyed them since she posted about them on her Facebook status!

Next I had the Rooster burger based on the recommendation of the waitress (who was just super friendly and looked like Carrie Underwood). The Rooster was served with a sriracha glaze, housemade sweet pickles, roasted garlic aioli, and pepperjack cheese, and instead of French fries I opted for Tater Tots and a side of mayo (I know, you probably need some Lipitor now after reading that, but that’s how I like my fried sides). The Tater Tots were good but that was expected; Tater Tots are usually always good unless you burn them, and even overcooked Tater Tots still have the potential of tasting good. The Rooster, however, well, that’s a different story. The condiments were on point but the burger was overcooked (I asked for medium) and the bun was too thick and substantial that it dominated the potential juiciness of the burger.

I ordered a Boston cream pie cupcake for dessert but it was average. Having said that and in the Bulldog’s defense, I think cupcakes are overrated and in general not worth the calories, so I was biased from the start.

All in all, I’d say the plates were good for what you would expect. I am taking my San Francisco friends there this Friday to fulfill their craving for Midwestern comfort food (unless we come up another place). However, I think this time I will try the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Anyone who has known me long enough knows I love Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, and “love” may be an understatement.

- Hadley

P.S. – Other restaurants I tried for the first time were the Craftsman and Aster Café.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Plate 52, Week 2: Parma 8200

For my second Plate 52 dinner, last Friday I went to two-month old Parma 8200 in Bloomington in a corporate park. Parma 8200 is the type of restaurant that could easily be listed as a first-ring suburb power lunch hotspot and where you could run into your step-first cousin once removed sampling the happy hour menu and then a little while later see your divisional CEO walk in. :-)

When I met former colleagues and friends Lynn Stano and Becky Benson at 4:30 PM, there were probably fewer than 30 people in the bar area during happy hour. However, the same cannot be said around 7 PM – the place was packed. This gives me hope for their sustainability for dinner service. Speaking of, let’s talk about the dining experience.

Let me introduce you to Andres the waiter. He was soft spoken but his tone allowed you to romance the menu. He was knowledgeable and descriptive in a way that would even tempt a vegan to eat some butter. He was never pushy or impatient and was happy to re-describe items as the three of us were undecided due to the all the delicious sounding options. After Andres repeated the specials again, we were all in agreement with sharing the asparagus and we each got the swordfish special.

The first plate served was their cheese garlic bread. Ummm, it was pretty freakin’ delicious. The cheese dissolved on your lips and it wasn’t greasy like a lot of other cheese breads I’ve tried in the past. I was kind of hoping Lynn and Becky didn’t want anymore but alas. Ha!

Next up was the asparagus with burrata, hazelnuts, and brown butter. OMG, it was like dessert. That brown butter was sinfully delicious. I even spoon-fed myself some of the remaining brown butter. I know, classy.

And lastly was the seared swordfish, which had a caper reduction garlic Italian sauce, and seared fingerling potatoes with fennel. Lynn and Becky loved this dish. I admit that it was quite flavorful, though not complex, but my issue was the texture. To me, the swordfish had this ravioli texture, which I couldn’t get over.

All in all, I’d say the plates were good. The service was very good.

- Hadley

Also tried: Ciao Bella

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Plate 52, Week 1: Victory 44

If you are what you eat, and if you are anything like me, neither a gourmet nor a foodie, then what you are is a gourmand, someone who takes great pleasure in food. Whether driven by my state of mind or palate, this new blog post series you are reading, Plate 52, is a one-year journey and opportunity for me to explore new dishes from fifty-two (new to me) restaurants.

Anyhow, I hope to share my plate experiences at the latest every Wednesday, so check back weekly. I’m just a guy who likes to eat, so you won’t find industry jargon in this series, but what you will find are my experiences shared with honesty and possibly a bit of humor. If, for some reason, that motivates (or prevents) you to make that reso, well, that’s fantastic!

But back to me: the launch of Plate 52 could not have come at a better time in my life. Last week was the three-year anniversary of when I moved to Minneapolis and my last semester in the part-time MBA program at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. I was in the mood to celebrate, to try new things, to jump-start the next chapter of my life! I was feeling unpredictable and sought restaurant recommendations from my friends; two people recommended Victory 44. So last Saturday night, my friends Kathryn Frankson and Ryan Stadt and I ventured to North Minneapolis for a celebratory dinner in honor of, well, me! Fabulous!

Now, my objective at Victory 44 was to eat well and select a favorite dish from the possibility of two choices (an appetizer and an entrée). The menu was written on the walls and the items were listed by name only, so after asking, the waiter answered our questions that we had on specific items. Now, I would have preferred the waiter to have proactively explained the menu like they do at Sidney Street Café in St. Louis (seriously, one of the best restaurants, ever).

After several minutes of bantering while trying to get a better understanding of the menu, the waiter suggested we select a few items to share in the form of a tasting menu (and before I forget, let me thank him for being patient and describing each item as I transcribed them into my BlackBerry). I personally wasn’t keen on the idea but Kathryn and Ryan were game and I figured, “Why the hell not!”

Our first course was a mozzarella agnolotti and it was very good. It was made from pork belly, snap peas, peaches, Tasmanian honey, and truffles. The pork was tender and delicious but the agnolotti was all kinds of buttery goodness. Kathryn can confirm. All I remember was the taste of butter and it was heavenly, especially since I rarely eat butter these days. I don’t even remember the rest of the flavors but Kathryn said they were complex.

Our second course was a foie hot dog and it was very good, as well. The hot dog was homemade with bacon jam, Julian apple, foie gras torchon, and French fries with homemade ketchup. It really may have been one of the best hot dogs I’ve eaten and I know that Kathryn and Ryan thoroughly enjoyed it as well. Same goes for the French fries and the homemade ketchup. And let me take a moment to talk about the ketchup – I don’t know what was in it but it certainly wasn’t Heinz. The waiter said there were “800 ingredients” in the ketchup but regardless of what was in it, it was whimsical and brilliant.

The third course was the “chefwich” – chef’s ingredients of choice. On the Saturday we visited, the chefwich consisted of braised pork, sauce gribiche, dried feta, and whipped lardo on a garlic baguette. Horrible. In fact, none of us finished it. I don’t know which ingredient it was – I speculate it was the dried feta – but there was this odd taste that dominated the rest of the sandwich. Bleh. But we did manage to finish the French fries and homemade ketchup that came with it. Our second helping, okurrr!

Next up, not really a course we ordered, but they called it a pre-dessert platter. It consisted of a homemade Oreo, cookie dough, peanut butter maple bacon cookies, and meringue. I don’t really recall anything special about it but it was a decent presentation.

And lastly, the fourth, or arguably the fifth course, was the dessert platter. By that time, the wine had kicked in and since the waiter said that the dessert platter changed, I didn’t bother writing anything down. All I remember was the dried beet cracker that sat prettily on top of the beet dessert. It had a stern crispness and was surprisingly more flavorful than the anchoring larger beet base. Sadly, I don’t remember details of the other desserts.

All in all, I’d say the plates were fair but that's because there were so many and that's the risk of averages -- things can end up subpar.

- Hadley

Also tried: Maria's Cafe