Spoon and Stable

211 N 1st St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 224-9850 •  spoonandstable.com

slide-venison

The food scene in The Mini Apple has officially arrived. Not that there haven’t been gems here and there over years. But now the level of the game has risen so high, at so many restaurants, that I can safely say that Minneapolis can compete with almost any city I’ve ever been to.

Case in point, on a Monday friggin’ night, this place had an hour wait and not an empty seat at the bar. And for good reason. The chef, Gavin Kaysen, is James Beard winner and a former disciple of Daniel Boulud. But not only did he learn a thing or two from Danny Boy, judging from the décor, he picked up a few tricks from Jean-Georges as well, because this place is tres chic. On old horse stable from 1906 turned to gold with white brick walls, wrought iron details, a divided light wine cellar in the center of the dining room, and a long wood bar overlooking the kitchen as a unique twist on a chef’s table, which is where we sat.

Beyond having front row seats to an episode of Iron Chef, the other plus to sitting there is that you not only get recommendations from the waiter, but from the cooks as well. And to quote Quagmire “Giggity, giggity!” were they spot on with their suggestions.

The first reco being a dish we would’ve never thought to order in a million years, yet turned out to be the best of the night, the Autumn Vegetable salad. The centerpiece is an orgasmic disc of squash placed over a bed of spelt berries, pecans and figs that were marinated in red wine vinegar and cloves all pampered in a buttermilk dressing. Need to add this one to Ultimate Salad.

The other recommended starter was pretty damn great too. A bison tartar folded into a harissa aioli and topped with cilantro and radishes. Then served with socca chips as your utensil for piling on the remarkably seasoned meat.

For entrees I had to go with the lamb shank since wifey don’t play that, and while good, it was definitely the most mortal dish of the evening. Fall off the bone moist, and served with yellow eye beans, artichokes and an herb salad that was a bit junipery. The other entrée, however, was a marvel of pasta technological advancement. The Raviolo al Uovo is a single, softball-sized ravioli that contains a sunny side egg inside it! And its magnificence is only magnified by its preparation, with Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, pecorino and brown butter.

Even the side dish was wow-worthy taking an old staple like creamed spinach and making it new again with the addition of a Midwestern guilty pleasure, fried cheese curds.

And finally, the pumpkin custard dessert was an awesome seasonal finish to a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. The custard itself being just okay, but when you had with the apple cider sherbet and the candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds)- look out!

Just eat here already would you! So I don’t have to keep going on and on about it. And I’m not just saying all of this because of the Willet bourbon and Amarone are making me all lovey-dovey. Although it is helping.

5 teeth

Advertisements

Manny’s Steakhouse

825 Marquette Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55402(612) 339-9900 mannyssteakhouse.com

from-sake-bombs-to-stunning-27th-floor-views-this-is-thrillist-s-skyway-bar-crawl

So, apparently the Morton’s Steakhouse in Minneapolis closed down, and that’s not even the bad news. The really bad news is that Manny’s is the consolation prize. A poor man’s Morton’s if ever there were one, not that Morton’s is the end all be all of steakness either, but it’s still better than Manny’s.

Manny’s isn’t exactly bad, however, there’s just nothing amazing about it. It’s your run-of-the-mill steakhouse food you’ve eaten at least a hundred times over, with nothing impressionable enough to make a memory. You’ve got your Caesar salad, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and seafood towers. Your New York Strip, Rib Eye, Porterhouse and Filets. The same old sides like mac and cheese, creamed spinach and baked potato.

But, if an old school steakhouse is what you’re craving in the twin cities, then I recommend The Strip Club in St. Paul. If that’s still not an option for you, however, then best of luck with Manny’s. It’s nothing spectacular and nothing terrible, just smack dab in the middle of steakhouse mediocrity. Good for large parties and testing out the elasticity of your stomach’s lining.

2 teeth

Bonfire

Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport • 4300 Glumack Dr. Saint Paul, MN 55111 • (612) 726-5360 • http://bonfirewoodfirecooking.com/blog/location/msp-airport/

yVQ5JHDI47aEiNZmZqjg4WZ8RGklSUuAE2gVWxlOPHY

I have eaten here a ton over the years due to a plethora of business trips that invariably had me loitering about the Minneapolis airport in search of something to stave off any hunger pangs that might occur mid-flight, causing me to have to buy one of those boxed “meals” that taste only marginally better than some of the luggage on board.

Now it might surprise you to know that the Minneapolis airport actually has a few good dining options amidst the food court riffraff, and right at the top of those options I would put Axel’s Bonfire. Well, I would’ve put them at the top until I just went back recently and they seem to have lost a step… not to mention a knife. But even having lost a knife, for airport nutrients Bonfire is on fire with their excellent chicken tortilla soup and their blackened walleye salad (pictured). The salad used to be served with a wonderful, fresh baked roll, which they seem to have replaced with boring old sliced baguette.

As for dessert, I’ve never actually had it there. I always head over to the DQ in the C terminal and grab a Blizzard. After all, I am human.

3 teeth

Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

o

There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

The Oceanaire

50 S 6th St. Minneapolis, MN 55403(612) 333-2277theoceanaire.com

oceanaire2

Coming from the East Coast, it’s a bit hard to accept that a place so far from any ocean would position itself as such a seafood Mecca. And as no surprise, Oceanaire falls horribly short of the high end seafood restaurants you might find near any coast.

But, within the confines of the Minneapolis comparative, it isn’t too bad. Lots of options. Great for large parties, especially of the business variety. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that its average Yelp star count of 4 is equal to the same star count in the coastal equivalents. Because adjusted by comparison, this place is exactly what I rated it. Particularly if you factor in the hefty price tag.

On the plus side, the service has always been excellent, they have some choice wine options and if you stick to the stuff that holds up to being frozen, for example shrimp cocktail or fattier fishes like salmon, you’ll never see its cracks. Order the swordfish, however, and the mercury in it will be the least of your concerns. Served so overcooked and dry it rendered the dish a complete waste of money. Like if you went to Morton’s and order a filet medium rare and it came back as a charcoal briquette.

Oh and as for the “nice” decor that I keep seeing props for, it’s located in an indoor walkway/mall for Christ sake! I’m not exactly sure what passes for nice these days in Minneapolis, but Oceanaire squeaks by as passable if you ask moi.

2 teeth

Ciao Bella

3501 Minnesota Dr. Bloomington, MN 55435 •(952) 841-1000ciaobellamn.com

 ciao_03

As business park restaurants go, Ciao Bella is tops. A dubious distinction for certain, but should you find yourself in the vicinity, don’t bother trucking all the way in to the city for some grub.

That’s not to say that everything is stellar, but I’ve eaten here at least a dozen times and thus have my order down to a science. First, I always start with their heirloom faro salad. It is so light and fresh and delicious. It makes me smile just thinking about it. But perhaps I’m smiling more as a Pavlovian response because what always follows is more on the heavy side. The Tagliatelle Rossa. Basically a variation on a Veal Bolognese that’s so consistently great you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pasta dish in the Twin Cities, and that includes the one with foie gras meatballs at Eatery 112.

Dessert is the only weak spot, as I have never had anything that I absolutely love, so quite often we head down the road to DQ and get a Blizzard.

Other plusses are the outdoor seating area which is very nice and the service has always been extremely friendly- but that’s to be expected pretty much everywhere I’ve been in Minneapolis.

4 teeth

Birchwood Café

3311 E 25th St. Minneapolis, MN 55406(612) 722-4474birchwoodcafe.com

wide

Located in more of a residential area, you feel like you could be on Montana Street in Santa Monica (granted it only feels like this in the Summer, of course). It’s so hippie, granola cool. And such great food. I had the sweet corn waffle with the kitchen sink on top (pictured). It was near perfect minus the fruit on top- I think that pushed it over the edge of trying to do too much. I mean one should one expect so much from waffle in general as a rule in life.

The French toast was also kickin’. As are the drinks. The only downside is the line, so get there early. Like right when they open. It’s worth being seen with bed-head in public.

4 teeth

112 Eatery

112 N 3rd St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 343-7696112eatery.com

112eatery_imbed

Oh my friggin’ wow! I was not expecting this. Sure, I was hopping for it to be good, but this place in the Little Apple could easily hold its own in the Big Apple.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing of the dishes was the fresh ricotta with honey and white truffle oil. Simple? Yes. Simply amazing? Hells yes!

The lamb scottadito with mint yogurt and the pasta with foie gras meatballs were also both very good, but the other big standout of the night was the burger. Crazy good. But the key is to put the pickles on the burger and not eat them separately. The sweetness mixed with the salty brie, on that Portuguese roll… Trust me.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Burger

Kalbi_Burger

Eatery 112 – Minneapolis, MN

Deceptively simple, this burger shines by simply combining two very well thought through toppings. The first comes in the form of its gooey brie, which they somehow magically prevent from making the burger soggy. The second, a vital part of the equation, the sweet bread and butter pickles on the side. You MUST put them on the burger. The interaction between the cheese and the pickles and the meat is divine. All house in an English muffin that manages to stay out of the way just enough to allow the ingredients to take center stage, but present enough to make its contribution felt.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

It’s all about the meat baby. The Black Label burger is the Mona Lisa of ground flesh. Some kind of crazy concoction of prime, and pork and veal and maybe even a little bone marrow folded in. Hard to say. But there is literally nothing else that special about this burger, and yet that patty will grab you by the taste buds, looks them in the eye, and make them its bitch.

Father’s Office – Santa Monica, CA

I know bold, sweeping statements always get you into hot water, but if I’m wrong on this one, boil me alive, because the fact remains, The Office Burger is the best burger on the face of the Earth. Yes, I went there. Granted I haven’t eaten ALL of the burgers on the face of the Earth, but I’m still pretty sure I’m right. Now, just caveat, however. If you are a burger purist, this is not your burger. This thing is a product of innovation. It starts with high quality prime topped with a blend of gruyere and gorgonzola. Then a layer of bacon and caramelized onion compote. Next comes watercress and finally a wonderful Portuguese roll to house its prowess. Now I know what you’re thinking, no tomato? No. No ketchup or mustard either. In fact, you can’t even ask for it, because the place doesn’t allow it. Perhaps a bit authoritarian for a burger joint, but I promise you will never miss these lesser burger crutches. This thing does just fine without. And therein lies its true greatness, and its rightful place at the top of burgerdom.