Redstone (Eden Prairie) – Consistent but Nothing Special

A quick customer lunch at Redstone was very good. The food is very consistent, nothing earth-shattering but you can count on the same dish every time you go. The servers at Redstone are incredibly trained to hawk the shared appetizers, they are pros at the sales pitch and in 100% of my visits, someone at the table says, “Oh yeah, let’s order a few.” It’s a great business model and my hats off to the management for the training.

On my recent visit we ordered the “CRISPY CALAMARI” and the “SEARED AHI TUNA” to share. The calamari shared the dish with a fried spicy pepper mix and a chipotle aioli. The dish included both rings and tentacles, breaded and fried to a crispy exterior while maintaining a soft interior. The flavor was very good. If you like a little kick, combine one of the fried pepper pieces with the fried calamari and cool with a little aioli. The tuna was crusted with sesame seed and black pepper, seared and served atop Asian slaw, with a wasabi and soy-lime sauce. This is almost standard fare these days and the thrill is somewhat gone from eating this recipe. Both of the appetizers are standard at Redstone and they prepare each of them consistently.

There are four burgers on the menu, two of them are beef. I wanted to order the “REDSTONE,” which includes cheddar cheese, applewood smoked bacon and barbecue sauce, but mistakenly ordered the “ORIGINAL” (medium-rare), which was served with shredded lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise and homemade pickles. As a side I ordered the French fries. The burger was cooked a little beyond medium, which was disappointing. The flavor was very good, not great but I am not a fan of mustard on a burger, preferring ketchup so I ate the patty without the top bun so I could add the ketchup. The fries were also very good, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior. Again, there was nothing special about the burger, just a consistent product.

Overall Redstone knows what it is, it hustles the shared appetizers and delivers basic American restaurant fare…nothing special.

Redstone American Grill on Urbanspoon

Rabbit Hole (MSP) – Could-a-been Great

BL 3Incredibly cool place. Enter the World Street Market from 10th street directly across from the parking lot. As you enter you will notice the open kitchen immediately in front of you and there is a series of tables overlooking the kitchen with high back seating. The booths are all enclosed with 5 foot dark stained wooden walls. They encourage graffiti-personalization of the booths as each has numerous “autographs” from previous guests. There is nothing haughty about this joint.

The host explains that when you need a server you merely press the button on the table and a server will arrive. There are four main sections to the menu “to share or not to share,” bop bowls,” “sammies,” and “goobers.” From the first section I ordered the Wangs ($9), which are Crispy Chicken Wings with a choice of one of the following a dipping sauces, Hoisin BBQ, Gochu, Jerk, or Roasted Scallion Ginger. I chose the Gochu.

BL 1The wings were outstanding. They were not breaded and fried but the kitchen transformed the skin into a spicy exterior delight…incredibly crispy with a good level of spiciness. The Gochu sauce was deep with pungency, a bit of additional spicy plus added umami. They were over the top great…a brilliant combination of flavors and textures.

BL 2For the main event I ordered the Omma ($13), medium-rare. The menu states a 6oz. Patty with pork belly, Parmesan, crispy onions, bacon jalapeño jam, lettuce, tomato, and pickled watermelon spread. Also included are French fries with a kimchi aioli dipping sauce. The burger was an explosion of flavors. If the kitchen would have taken greater care, it might have ranked in the top ten burgers I have ever eaten, but they were a little careless. My medium-rare arrived well-done, they forgot the bacon jalapeño jam and the tomato was stored in a place that was too cold and lost its texture. The patty was loosely packed and fell apart with my first bite so I went to my fork and knife to eat. The meat was very lean, dried out from the overcooking, but the pork belly added the required fat content. The sliced Parmesan cheese was melted atop the patty and added a great nuttiness to the dish. The bun was a good choice but the watermelon spread was more a Thousand Island dressing. The fries were either incredibly crispy on the exterior and pillowy soft on the interior or limp and undercooked. The kimchi aioli dipping sauce was very good.

I will have to return and be more assertive to receive a meal that I believe the kitchen can produce and if a substandard preparation is again delivered I will mention it to the server.

The Rabbit Hole on Urbanspoon

The Nook (MSP) – What Happened to the Burgers?

Juicy Nookie with Fried Onions

Juicy Nookie with Fried Onions

It has been several years since my last visit to The Nook, in fact prior to the fire of 2010. But the Juicy that I enjoyed prior to the catastrophe was one of MSP’s best burgers, so I was excited when my navigation system told me I was but a few miles away after a late afternoon meeting.

The interior is reflective of the former configuration with a notable exception, the previously small kitchen near the front of the restaurant is now located in the rear with and open pass-through that allows the cooks to oversee the dining area.

Wings with Honey Stinger Sauce

Wings with Honey Stinger Sauce

I was also in the mood for some wings and The Nook has also received raves about theirs. They offer nine different sauces and the menu guides the guests to the level of heat. I chose a conservative approach and ordered the “Honey Stinger,” rated #3 on their 1-9 scale. Eight wing sections make up an order. The wings were perfectly cooked, crispy on the exterior while still moist on the inside. The sauce was more sweet than spicy so if you are looking for heat, move up the scale. It did leave a mild tingle to the lips. I would probably try #5 next time.

Tons of Cheese and Bread; Too Little Meat

Tons of Cheese and Bread; Too Little Meat

True to tradition, I ordered the Juicy Nookie Burger with fried onions and a basket of fries. When it arrived it looked delicious, but as I would learn over the next few minutes, looks can be deceiving. I grabbed a few fries. They were limp, cool and without any salt. This was not a good start. I cut the Juicy in half and the cheese gushed out from the middle, not an ooze, but an enormous gush. What was left was a thin shell of meat plus an enormous chasm. It was more cheese than meat. My first bite was incredibly disappointing. The once flavorful meat was flavorless, no seasoning at all. What happened to one of my favorite burgers? And the bun was even worse, crumbly, and flavorless; it did not even meet the low standards of bagged supermarket buns. This may be sacrilege, but this burger and fries were some of the worst I have ever eaten. What used to be one of my favorites is now on the DNR list. After two bites of the burger and a handful of fries, I pushed to the corner of the table, not worth the calories.

Needless to say that even with a pretty good set of wings, The Nook is a Juicy destination, and after this last experience, it will be a hard call to return.

Casper & Runyon's Nook on Urbanspoon

Sonora Grill (MSP) – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Tacos

Located two miles east of 35W on East Lake, Sonora Grill was recently received accolades from several local publications, so I decided to give their tacos a go. With ample parking, both on the side and behind, plus on the side street it was an easy stop. The restaurant offers seating both inside and outside under its pergola.

The menu is broken into several sections, but I was there for a taco sampling so I ordered four, the pork, chicken, tongue and skirt steak. The menu described minor modification to the accompaniments to each of the meats, ranging from Chipotle salsa, to cabbage, to onions, plus a few with cheese. When they arrived the first noticeable trait was the amount of filling; Sonora Grill serves as much filling as any taco I have ever eaten. It challenges the guest to carefully wrap, lift and bite without losing any of the filling. The second, very positive item, was the onions, not raw or flash grilled onions, but beautifully caramelized, which was a fantastic addition.

Tongue Taco

Tongue Taco

The best of the four tacos was the “Tongue.” The menu mentioned it included Chipotle salsa, cilantro, onions and cabbage. I saw no salsa. When I asked the server, he mentioned that the salsa was mixed into the meat. Whether this was true or not, this combination was outstanding. It delivered great flavor and texture from the meat, which was soft and delightful. The cabbage added just a touch of crunch and the thinly sliced jalapeño pepper slices kicked the spice level without overwhelming the other flavors.

Pork Taco

Pork Taco

The other taco that was delicious was the “Pork Guajillo” served with melted Chihuahua cheese, onion and chipotle salsa. The pork was slowly braised to create a subtle texture, and in combination with the sweet caramelized onions and jalapeños create a great balance. Again I was told that the chipotle salsa was mixed into the meat. I really liked the addition of the caramelized onions that added an unusual sweet component to the tacos.

Chicken Taco

Chicken Taco

Unfortunately the other two were not as good as these two. The “Chicken Rioja” was served with Chihuahua cheese, Arbol aioli, and orange salsa. The chicken was first spiced with smoky seasoning and then cut into small dices before joining orange segments, thinly sliced jalapeño peppers, caramelized onions and some cilantro. The chicken was dried out, chewy and the seasoning overwhelmed the flavor. The aioli added a great creaminess (which was really required) and the oranges brightened and balanced the dish.

Skirt Steak Taco

Skirt Steak Taco

The “Beef Skirt Steak” was the polar opposite of the tongue, so much so that I left more than half on the plate. The menu stated it was accompanied with Chihuahua cheese, onions and chipotle salsa. Mine was also prepared with shredded cabbage, sliced jalapeños and re-fried beans. The meat was so vastly overcooked that it was impossible to chew. There was no opportunity to include the salsa in the meat and once again it was missing. The addition of the beans was an attempt to save this combination but it failed. This should never have left the kitchen.

Overall I liked two of the four tacos but the other two were badly executed. The amount of filling was substantial but I question whether the server was completely honest when he told me the chipotle salsa was mixed into the meat.

Sonora Grill on Urbanspoon

Zelo (MN) – Good Food with Great Service

We enjoyed a group dinner at Zelo this week. Located on the corner of Nicollet and 9th, the restaurant is an eclectically decorated combination of woods and leathers, accented by vivid artwork on the walls. On a busy mid-week evening it was bustling but the noise level allowed for conversation at our table. Of special note was our server, who was outstanding. She explained many of the choices and was spot on during the entire evening.

The food was very good, but there was nothing I would rush back for and there were some misses.

We began the evening with a few shared appetizers. The “calamari fritti” was accompanied by lemon aioli and gremolata. These were the most disappointing of the appetizers. I was impressed when they were delivered as there were plenty of heads, which I prefer, but the coating was very flour-y, very unpleasant to the taste. They were slightly overcooked. The “ahi tuna spring rolls” are filled with somen noodles and served with a touch of soy wasabi. This was my favorite of the three. It was a spring roll interpretation of a tuna-avocado roll, with the seaweed replaced with rice paper. The flavors were excellent and they were crispy on the exterior. I was excited about the “caramelized brussels sprouts,” but these too were flat. Served with Ames farm and topped with honey toasted almonds, I was expecting a sweet and crispy presentation. They tried on both counts but came close, but did not hit the mark on either.

For my entrée, the server recommended the “pesto crusted sea bass” served with mashed potatoes, crispy onions, nestled in a swath of Thai chili beurre blanc. This falls into the vertical food category. A mound of potatoes is topped with a large 8-10 oz. filet, topped with pesto and then finally topped with the crispy onions. The potatoes were very good, just a touch of wasabi to give a little spice. The filet was excellent, crispy skin adorned the moist and delightfully flavorful fish and the pesto (not crusted as described) added a great balance with its earthiness. The crispy onions were stale and cold and should have remained in the kitchen. The Thai chili beurre blanc was a little butter with no spice, where was the Thai chili? But I did like the dish, and it would have been excellent if the beurre blanc and the onions were better.

For dessert I ordered the “Bananas Foster Bread Pudding.” This is better described as Banana Foster and bread pudding. They were two distinct desserts sharing a plate. That being said, it was delicious. The bread pudding was moist and flavorful (although it would have benefited from a little more cinnamon) and the bananas foster delivered that sweet-pungent combination from the bananas and the liquor. It was served with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream.

Overall I was pleased with Zelo. It has excellent service and décor and very good food.

Zelo on Urbanspoon

Vincent A Restaurant (MSP) – Outstanding Burger

At my last visit to Vincent’s over four years ago I was not impressed with the Vincent Burger. But four years later I am glad I returned because the burger I recently ate was one of the best burgers I have eaten in the Twin Cities.

To start my lunch I ordered a Caesar salad. It was a standard salad with lettuce, croutons, a single anchovy filet on top plus an interesting addition, diced tomato, all topped with a sprinkling of grated cheese. It was lightly dressed and good, not great nor memorable.

But I was interested to either confirm my previous impression of the hamburger or enjoy what others have told me is one of the best. I was both excited and cautiously optimistic when it was placed in front of me. The Vincent burger is a unique combination…a double-patty of ground beef is wrapped around braised short rib and smoked Gouda cheese; served on a brioche bun; it is a haut cuisine version of a Jucy Lucy. It arrives open faced with French fries. The burger patty was on one side of the bun that contained a thin layer of “special sauce” and the other half is topped with lettuce, tomato and raw onion. The ground beef was perfectly seasoned with just a touch of salt. The Gouda was melted and delivered a creaminess to the burger and then the short rib textures and flavors kicked in. This elevated the Vincent Burger from excellent to incredible. The brioche added a little butteriness to the presentation and the sauce gave a few sour background notes. The burger was incredibly delicious. The fries were not in the same league. They were tasteless, cool and bland, more than likely came from a big frozen bag, deep fried and added to the lunch plates.

Overall, the Vincent Burger is an outstanding combination of flavors and textures and ranks as one of the best in Minneapolis.

Vincent - A Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Porter & Frye (MSP) – Bad College Meal Redux

A quick lunch at Porter and Frye was incredibly disappointing. Our group arrived at 12:15, there were two people at the bar and several tables occupied and there was not one single employee in sight. A guest at one of the tables was looking for her server, or any human, but none. I walked into the hallway to the Ivy, none. I walked back to my group and told them I would check the kitchen. As I approached the swinging doors, a server exited empty handed followed by a second server a few seconds later. If there were close options we would have left.

I ordered the Frye Burger medium-rare. This included an 8-ounce ground chuck patty, with an over-easy egg, cheddar, bacon on a potato roll. The burger was incredibly disappointing. The meat was more a 6-oz patty, vastly overcooked, beyond well done, flavorless and hard. The egg was cooked perfectly but then slathered in salt and the bacon added more salt. The roll was uneventful. The sweet potato fries were tasteless but salted very well.

Service was slim. Two college students were left to their own devices, no manager, no guidance. One takes the order, one delivers the food. They brought one teacup full of ketchup for four people eating burgers and sandwiches, all with fries. When we asked for more, “oh yeah.”

Overall my burger lunch was less than diner quality food served by a couple of college kids.

Porter & Frye on Urbanspoon

La Fresca (Minneapolis) – Outstanding Hidden Gem

BL MenuLocated on South Grand Avenue just north of 48th Street La Fresca is the epitome of the local hidden gem. When you enter under the bright colored awning you will notice the long bar to the right and the dining area to the left. The glass enclosed kitchen is in the rear of the room. At 615 on a Wednesday night the restaurant was already two-thirds filled and by 645 there were few of the 35-40 seats remaining. People now know that La Fresca is offering delicious food at reasonable prices. The dining room is bright with large watermelon prints adorning one wall, a Mexican Indian painting the rear wall and seated on shelves along the left wall are statues of wooden Mariachi bands including a few skeleton renditions. The space is bright and fun.

BL CervicheI ordered the CEVICHE DE HUACHINANGO for my appetizer. The slightly cured snapper was accented with yellow tomatoes, lime, jalapeño peppers, jicama, sea salt, and finished with avocado mousse and ancho chili oil. The mixture sat on three purple-corn tortillas. I was not sure whether to lift the tortillas or try to cut with a knife and fork, so I did both. A quick bite was a little messy when the tortilla broke into a couple of pieces, so I moved to the knife and fork. This seemed out of place but worked well. The flavors were outstanding. The snapper was lightly cured, maintained its mild flavor. The other ingredients delivered balanced acidity and spice from the ancho chili oil, and the guacamole mousse on added a little creaminess and the cilantro added another flavor profile.

BL PorkFor my entrée I decided on the LECHON, medallions of herb crusted pork tenderloin served over a combination of ayocote black bean mole sauce, fennel, potatoes, asparagus, smoked bacon, roasted poblano peppers, pickled habanero onions, and micro cilantro. The four medallions were perfectly cooked to medium rare, just a touch of pink on the interior. The flavors of the vegetable mélange was outstanding, balanced between the salty bacon, a touch of heat from the peppers and the crunch of the asparagus. This was a fantastic dish.

Overall, La Fresca is a great find, serving outstanding nouvelle Mexican cuisine in a relaxed and fun environment.

La Fresca on Urbanspoon

Coup d’État (Minneapolis) – Outstanding in Uptown

BL InteriorCou[ d’Etat opened two months ago and is already serving delicious cuisine. Located on the corner of Girard Avenue South and Lagoon Avenue across from the independent movie house, this newly reconstructed building offers numerous rooms, a hip and vibrant vibe, several bars and interior seating for about 200 people and when the weather warms, another 100+ guest can enjoy the cuisine al fresco. No expense was spared by the people that brought MSP Borough Restaurant in the design with tin bars, leather covered chairs, dark woods, several different chandeliers and an open stainless steel kitchen. Yet the prices on the menu and the quality and the size of the portions reflect a focus on high quality with reasonable prices.

When I entered the restaurant at 600PM on a Monday evening the bar was already 50% full and for the next 45 minutes I noticed people arriving for dinner while others, mid-20’s, leaving for their next stops. The restaurant is both an after-work meeting place for a quick drink and a dinner destination. The crowd on my visit was more 20’s and 30’s versus their parents and this created a very youthful, hip vibe to complement to décor.

BL Back DiningThe opening room contains a large u-shaped bar that seats 24 surrounded by high tables along the windows for another 30, booths to the side for 50 another bar overlooking the kitchen in the rear for another 10 guests. Eclectic chandeliers and soft globes light the main room. There is another huge room in the rear plus additional space on the second floor. The interior is massive.  A large chalkboard hangs on the wall above the kitchen displaying the menu.

The menu on their website is fairly accurate, although some ingredients may vary and some of the prices might be different but it will give a good indication of the cuisine. The server told me the chefs were all in their thirties, had some local experience. From the menu, it appears they tend to lean towards adding a spicy component to most of the dishes and are creative in blending various cuisines.

BL GnocchiFor a first course I ordered the “Gnocchi.” This mildly dense version delivered a good texture, but just missed great with just a tad on the gummy side. They were crisped on the exterior and nestled in a pool of brown butter that contained a good amount of garlic, and topped with chives, grated parmesan and the surprise ingredient, black truffles. I was skeptical about truffles in a $12 pasta dish, but they were there and added their delicious earthiness. The size was a little large for an appetizer and a little small for an entrée, but for the price the flavors, textures and presentation was fantastic.

BL ShankFor an entrée I ordered the “Pork Osso bucco.” It is served with orange, fennel, fregola and turnips. This would be better described as a pork shank on a menu as it was an enormous piece of meat. I asked for a sharp knife and the server gave me one but told me there should be no need for a sharp knife and she was correct. In fact there was no need for any knife as the meat was so tender and well roasted that it fell off the bone. The flavors were great with a good spiciness from “lots of pepper.” The orange gave a nice citrusy background to the meat but the fennel was non-existent. The fregola was delicious and I told the server the kitchen should add more to the plate since it was a meagerly portion given the size of the shank. The three halves of the turnip were sweet and delicious as well. I was looking for some textural contrast, the on-line menu states marcona almonds, and I think the chef should reconsider that or change the grain to one with a crunchy exterior. This was a fantastic shank, one of the best.

And the service was even better than the meal. My server was spot on in every aspect of the meal.

Overall this was one of the best meals I have enjoyed in Minneapolis and for the price and atmosphere this should definitely be a date night destination if anyone is thinking of dinner and a movie.

Coup d'État on Urbanspoon

Figlio (St. Louis Park, MN) – Incredibly Disappointing

BL InteriorAfter so many great meals in the Minneapolis area, I knew my luck would eventually run out. For some reason I changed my normal process of choosing a restaurant, did not check my normal sources and chose Figlio for dinner. As much as the décor was cool and hip, the atmosphere vibrant, the server energetic and the crowd streaming in, the food was the trifecta of unappetizing food.

BL SaladAfter being promptly seated, the server arrived, described the specials and guided me to less food than I thought I wanted to order. The server brought over a basket of bread, four baguette slices that were slightly warmed and the server placed some olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar on the plate. It is important to eat the bread while it is warm as when it cools, it hardens quickly and approaches unappetizing.

BL Salad 2My appetizer, the “Beet Salad” is described on the menu to include butter lettuce, hazelnut, pickled shallots with sour cream and horseradish vinaigrette. This was like no other beet salad I have ever seen, it was a mound of butter lettuce with the others ingredients on top, and the beets were cubes of several varieties tossed with the other ingredients. The beets ranged from sweet to tasteless to bitter, the shallots were overly pungent, not really pickled, the lettuce was bitter and the vinaigrette overwhelmed all the other flavors. The hazelnuts were completely lost. There was not one ingredient other than a few cubes of the light colored beets that were tasty. Each of the components was unappealing and together they were borderline inedible. I had a few bites and pushed aside.

BL ChickenThe oven “Roasted Chicken” was served with roasted eggplant, tomato jam, Israeli couscous, samfaina, and fresh herbs. The roasted chicken was a single chicken breast, cut in half to give the appearance of a half a chicken. It was vastly overcooked and dry, and the exposed meat was even drier than the interior, probably from over roasting compounded by sitting under the heat lamps after being cut in half. The skin was flaccid and lacked any crispness, how the kitchen accomplished this is a mystery. It was completely inedible. The couscous was cooked to the proper doneness but it was cool when served. The samfaina was covered with two slices of melted supermarket quality cheese, without any rhyme or reason. After two bites of the chicken and one bite of each of the accompaniments, it was time to move on. I sent it back.

BL PizzaThe server suggested the pizza and I reluctantly chose the “Sausage” with fennel sausage, grilled apple, rosemary, mozzarella, and tomato sauce. The crust was very a thin cracker crust and the toppings were very generous. The crust was horrible and tasted like flour and water. As much as I saw some fennel seeds, there was very little fennel flavor in the sausage, the cheese was tasteless and the apples did nothing to the overall composition. But a bite of the pie surprisingly delivered an overwhelming mouthful of pepper…none of the ingredients could be tasted through the abundance of pepper. I felt embarrassed not eating at least a few slices, so I suffered through this affront to pizza.

BL CChicken 2As much as the server was pleasant and informative, sometimes overly, and offered dessert “on the house” I declined and decided to cut my losses and head out. Other than the physical plant and the overly eager staff, Figlio was a complete culinary disappointment.

Figlio on Urbanspoon