Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Grand Cafe: Simple Good and Tasty Dinner

Last Night Hubby and I attended the Simple Good and Tasty February dinner at the Grand Cafe in Minneapolis. It was a really nice event.

It was the first time we had eaten at Grand Cafe. I had heard a lot of good things about it. It had been on my "list" for a while, but we just hadn't gotten there yet. What a great way to experience the restaurant for the first time. Lee Zukor, who created Simple Good and Tasty, had reserved the restaurant for the night.

We got there a bit early and got a nice glass of wine. We stopped to chat with Lee for a bit - who was buzzing about from one group of people to the next. I have to give Lee props - we've been to a few of his events now and they have all been fantastic. The restaurants have been top notch, the people are great, and we always have tasty food.

Hubby and I started chatting with a couple. We soon discovered that not only were they from my home state of ND, but they also attended a special summer session at NDSU that I attended when I was in high school. (Oh, that time seems soooooo long ago!) While we didn't attend the same year, I discovered that I did attend with the brother of one of them. It truly is a small world - especially when you start talking about ND. Still, very cool to meet them.

The food was great. It started off with a beet and microgreen salad with walnuts and a nice fresh chevre cheese. The walnuts added a nice sweetness and the vinagrette cut through it all nicely without being too sharp. The main course was a cassoulet with duck from Au Bon Canard and house-made sausages. It was very smokey and the duck leg was very tender. The only thing that I was wishing for was a nice peice of crusty bread to sop up some of the sauce and beans. The vegetarian option, which one of our new aquaintances had, was a Mandan-corn polenta with sauteed greens. It is made with corn the Mandan tribes cultivated that is apparently difficult to grow but very tasty. We finished with a gingerbread pudding with an orange compote and a carmel cream (with the obligatory coffe and cream). I tip my hat to John Radle, the Grand Cafe head chef. It was a great night.

We even managed to park on the correct side of the street (Yes, we love Minneapolis's parking restrictions!!!!). We are looking forward to attending more Simple Good and Tasty events in the future. Not sure if we'll make the March dinner at Sen Yai Sen Lek, but we will make the effort if we can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Let There Be Beer! The Minnesota Craft Brewers Winterfest 2010

I loves me some good beer. Thank God Hubby showed me that there was beer beyond the big American beer/swill that I grew up thinking was beer.

For the past few years, Hubby and I have attended the MN Craft Brewers events - the Autumn Brew Review and the Winterfest. We actually didn't attend them last year, but this year we went to the Winterfest with a couple of friends.

The Winterfest is held at the MN History Center on the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday. Tickets are sold in advance and sell out pretty much as soon as they are released. If you aren't on the email list, you will probably miss out. Tickets cost $45 each with a limit of 6 tickets per order.

Anyway, this is the first time we attended since they moved the event to the History Center (it used to be at the Landmark Center). It was was spread out over 3 floors, which was nice. It provided more room by spreading us out a bit. There was food (covered by the admission price) that included a beef stew, local cheeses and crackers, crudite, and bread. All nice, but of course the real reason to be there is for the beer.

There were a lot of good MN breweries at the festival: the bigger guys like Summit and Schells, the smaller guys like Lift Bridge, Flat Earth, and Surly, and brew pubs like Town Hall Brewery and Barley Johns Brew Pub. We took our commemorative glass around to each stand, handed the glass over and said "Give me the...(insert beer name here)".

Boy were there some good ones, too! I especially liked Lift Bridge's Belgian Biscotti: a golden brew with hints of honey and malt that really did remind you of a biscotti. They served it with the option of a Belgian Biscotti float - adding a scoop of ice cream made with the Biscotti beer. That was sensational!

My other favorite of the night was from Town Hall Brewery. They called their LSD. It is an ale made with lavendar, sunflower honey and dates. Another light-colored brew, this one got the balance of the lavendar just right. I was worried that it would be like drinking soap (a danger whenever you doing something culinary with lavendar), but it was just right. It was slightly sweet with a great smell and light hops.

Here is the program from the event, if you want to let your imagination go.

Next year's Winterfest is Feb. 4th. See you there if you can get a ticket!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Boy Am I Behind!

Ok, I admit it. I am behind on my posts. So much has gone on over the past couple and weeks, but do I write anything about it? No! Bad!!!!!!!

Ok, enough of that. I forgive me. ;-)

What has gone on? Several things, actually. The first week of February I went out to Santa Clara, CA (that's right - Silicon Valley) for a convention for work. It was pretty cool, but I won't bore everyone else by going on and on about copper surface imperfections and their impact on signal integrity.

No, I will talk about the food and drink - what else, right?

I ended up eating at a couple of places. The first was Amarin Thai Restaurant. It was in a strip mall kitty-corner from my hotel. It is a small, hole-in-the-wall sort of place. Not fancy at all. But, since it was so close, I figured I'd give it a try. I took my order to go and ate it in my hotel room.

First off was the Thai Samosa. It was peas, carrots and potatoes with some nice spices wrapped in rice paper then deep fried. It came with a peanut dipping sauce infused with a pepper oil and also had a salad of cucumber and red onion on the side. It was quite tasty. I had a pork dish with basil, garlic, chilis and coconut milk that was also quite nice over a bed of sticky rice. Nothing that blew my socks off, but quite tasty and for the price, quite a bargain.

The best meal during my trip was actually at the hotel restaurant. Now, I know what you must be thinking - Hotel restaurant? Really? I thought those were bad by nature?

But Parcel 104 specializes in seasonal, local cuisine. I was really excited to have dinner there. I started with a coconut and dungeoness crab soup with kaffir, a citrus puree and seared scallop. The bowl came with the seared scallop in the middle over the puree and the kaffir. Then, the server poured the lightly sweet brown coconut soup over the top. It the soup clearly used the brown meat of the crab for both flavor and color. It was quite delicious - slight sweet with zings of citrus. The scallop was perfectly done with a nice char.

My main course was a seared Tombo tuna steak done appropriately rare. The slices were laid out over 3 different purees - all based on cauliflower. One was infused with basil with a bright green hue. The second was infused with truffle oil (I LOVE truffle oil!), and the third was blended with curry spices. The whole plate was mixed with pickled shitake mushrooms. Each puree gave you a completely different flavor experience - all of which were good. I was, of course, partial to the truffle oil.

My dessert was chosen at the recommendation of the server - a very nice man who did a superb job. The dessert consisted of 3 parts - a pot du creme with Valhrona chocolate (very smooth with a taste that only comes from premium chocolate), two mini-chocolate lava cakes (they kicked the butt of any of the numerous chocolate lava cakes out there - and there are a lot of them!), and a scoop of banana ice cream one top of a banana slice covered in caramel. To go with it - a chocolate port that was truly like drinking heaven. I will be on the lookout now for chocolate port.

No pictures - I know! I am a bad monkey who forgot the camera at home. I really need to do a better job of that.

More posts to come to include the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Winterfest.