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4th- nate's deli, king of prussia, pa
5th- papa john's pizza, king of prussia, pa
6th- subway, king of prussia, pa
7th- bassett's original turkey, philadelphia, pa
8th- asian hon, shakopee
11th- 20.21, minneapolis
16th- d'amico cucina, minneapolis
21st- annie's parlour, minneapolis
25th- oak city grill, bloomington
26th- ramy's pizzaria and mediterranean cuisine, apple valley
4th- nate's deli, king of prussia, pa (c)
in the mall food court (the kids wanted five guys burgers and fries, which i really... didn't), so i went to another food court place and got a rachel plus chips and a pickle ($4.95). i've had worse, had better. the turkey was fine. the whole thing wasn't quite toasted enough, and it was kinda smallish.
i did steal some fries (they still needed salt) and apparently the burgers were better at that five guys than they were at the local one. the counter help was good with kids there... though there were no peanuts.
5th- papa john's pizza, king of prussia, pa (d)
papa john's pizza (thin crust, mushroom w. black olive) is still not that good, and worse on the thin crust, which has that cardboard feel about it. the regular crust was mushy. and both pies were not very flavorful.
6th- subway, king of prussia, pa (d-)
i asked someone to bring me back the tuscan chicken on wheat. this is what is on the 'tuscan' chicken, per a press release from subway "all white meat chicken strips, seasoned with a light and refreshing mix of spices that include basil, garlic, oregano, red bell pepper and sundried tomatoes... mildly smoky goodness of fire roasted red onions and red and green peppers with your choice of cheese... your favorite vegetables and the exclusive low-fat SUBWAY® Tuscan Vinaigrette sauce."
what it was- a few tiny pieces of non-food tasting chicken and a lot of non-italian veg on wheat. not as advertised, not sure if i should blame them or the person who fetched them.
it would've gotten a slightly higher grade if it were a veggie sub, but not much higher. i don't like subway, that's why i really don't go there myself.
7th- bassett's original turkey, philadelphia, pa (b+)
airport dinner, due to plane delay. mom had the regular on white with lettuce, tomato and mayo ($6.95) and i had the thanksgiving special (though called turkey, stuffing and cranberry on the menu) on wheat ($7.49 i think). both good, with real, moist tasty turkey. the stuffing needed a hit of salt, but otherwise perfect. would've been better on toast, but for transport, bread was ok. and the suckers are huge. quite good for airport food.
8th- asian hon, shakopee (d+)
usually i do leave a tip at a buffet, just not as much as the regular one. however, since the entire time i was there the more than half emptied buffet (out of the stuff i wanted, too) wasn't filled, no one took my used stuff, and you have to buy water and i didn't get a refill, no point in leaving anything for service. more disappointing than ususal- the food selection wasn't great, nor was most of the flavor or texture, for that matter. even for the low, low price. ($4.95 buffet, $.50 for a bottle of water.)
11th- 20.21, minneapolis (a+)
i found the cost of the cuisineart fundraiser at the walker on the 12th a bit... prohibitive (tickets $1250! though hey, the second ticket is half price... featuring wolfgang puck and a host of local luminaries (langton, pampuch, wadi, fratzke, etc.). but then i got an email from 20.21 saying puck would be at the restaurant on the 11th, and for the first time that i could recall you didn't have to get the $100+ tasting menu.
so i was in. partially for puck, sure, but partially for 20.21, a restaurant that stands out as a place that i have never had a bad experience at- even for brunch, the worst of the brk-bound meals.
after i had my passion fruit puree bellini ($8) in hand, my friend and i decided to skip the tasting menu ($98 is what i recall, with wine pairings, this time, can't recall if it was 5 of 6 courses, but i was allergic to things on it, alas). i had sent in a question via their web site to see if a vegetarian tasting menu may be available, and they said sure, but we opted not to. and props to them for a speedy reply via email- many places don't.
the amuse was the szechuan green beans with candied walnuts, in some sort of soy dressing. always a good way to start, with the spice and crunch and the walnuts.
the same sort of sweet and spicy vibe was followed by our next course that we ordered, the (famous oscar-party) tuna cones ("spicy ahi tuna, sesame miso cones, tobiko, bonito, 2 for $10). some of the best raw tuna i've had (barring morimoto, to name drop... heh)- silky and cream, with the slight crunch of the fish eggs (tobiko) and the slight sweetness of the cone did give it the ice cream sort of experience.
the other starter was a bit different, though was also light and fresh- the chicken with pine nuts in lettuce cups ("stir-fried with orange, thai basil, chili, rice noodles, $14). it was a nice contrast, as it was slightly less spicy. it also seemed something that you could pull off at hime (albeit with less sophistication in the garnishes, and the hint of orange is not something you'd think of at home, but it gives it... well... zest). we weren't sure if we were supposed to use our hands (like a lettuce wrap) or eat them like a salad. i, of course, went with hands.
for the 'main course' (even though also on the 'first flavors' menu versus the main dishes), my dining companion opted for the
"pan-toasted pork pot stickers (tangy black vinegar dipping sauce, scallions, sizzling chili oil" ($14). they thought they were the best they'd ever had, and you can see how detailed they were even in how they were sealed- care was taken in assembly, and they loved the dipping sauce, which had familiar flavors in it but was distinctly different than other dipping sauces.
my choice was the (farm-raised) crispy quail ("pineapple-black pepper sauce, spicy greens, arugula-pea tendril salad, $14 ). an interesting combination of flavors in there with the signature? sweet and spicy combo there, with a more forward emphasis on the spice, which enjoyed. and to me the pineapple somehow brought the whole thing together. the only thing that was a bit of a drawback was that it wasn't boneless. it would've been slightly easier to eat. but i will note it didn't say it was boneless on the menu, so i coped (and really, can i downgrade for that? probably not.). it was messy to eat, anyway, with the glazed cripsiness of the quail. and yes, hands were involved somewhere in the eating of this.
as our side dish, i am sure it will surprise no one when i say we got the blue cheese-potato gratin ($9). it was the potato equivalent of an upscale macaroni and cheese, so let me just say yes, i would like to marry that dish.
we split dessert, a rhubarb napoleon with strawberry semi-freddo (i think that's house-made), a few freeze dried strawberries, lime cream and phyllo ($10). it was the first time i've had rhubarb dessert that was more of a blanched version versus a fully cooked (read: kind of mushy) version. the contrast between that and the semi-freddo made the dessert. very seasonal and very good.
they had so very much staffed up for the event (i've never seen so many people working there), and service by and large reflected that. i was professional, though some staff members were more personable than others. even the leftovers brought home were taken care of with style.
my dining companion had arrived early and had chatted with the general manager, charles hoven, who we talked with a bit more during dinner. he was nothing but gracious (and gave us the inside info on how to get a window table). wolfgang puck did the table go-arounds (more in 'fame' later) and some interviews, plus stopped in the kitchen a bit and was at his 'meeting the public' best.
i think a good time was had by all there, if the happy chatter volume in the place was anything to go by.
i'd like to go back for the cherry tasting menu... which means i may be back again this month...
16th- d'amico cucina, minneapolis (a)
i wanted to get back here one more time before they closed (june 27 is the date, i believe). there's talk of them taking over space (probably where chambers is), but there's no guarantee of that, and also it'd be in a different guise. they were running a special menu of the 'greatest hits' throughout the years, though it wasn't a set tasting menu that you had to follow.
the one thing that stood out on the menu to both myself and my dining companion is the ricotta and egg yolk raviolo with blue truffle brown butter ($13, appetizer/first course portion). ok, yes, i was looking for my beloved mushroom raviolo, and this was the closest- same ingredients, just swap out the mushrooms for the egg yolk.
it's hard to say which one was better- my dining companion, who only had a taste of the mushroom version, chose this, but they also had more of this one. i'd give the edge to the mushroom, maybe... mostly because i recall it having more of the truffle sauce. this version had more visual going for it- since they make their own pasta, and it doesn't have to be cooked for long, the egg yolk is set into the ricotta when they make the raviolo and poached to runny perfection. when you open it up, you get the wonderful ooze.... (cliche alert!) and don't people eat with their eyes?
once more, every molecule of sauce was wiped off the plates with the very very tasty bread (salty and cheese)... and a bit of the slightly less tasty bread.
for round two, we varied. they went for the scallops with asparagus, spring peas, new potatoes in a light cream sauce ($14), as it's the second best place in town for scallops after the departed fugaise. (do you suppose there's any connection to having excellent scallops and closing in 2009?) anyway, they were perfection.
i went for what i will call the pizza caprese, as they have no 'best of menu' i can cut and paste from online. the menu had it with basil, tomatos, mozzarella and prosciutto. i asked for it without the prosciutto. alas, it was served to me with prosciutto. that's not good. i do understand they may be distracted here with the closing, but it was a bit of a suprise. (i suspect the one bad seed person working there was at fault, somehow... they work as a team on the table, with one main server... the bad seed person walked away mid-sentence as i was requesting more bread... do i give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't hear me? the main server heard and sent them back... anyway... that's why not the a+).
but when it did hit the table, it was spot on caprese taste- a bit of olive oil, fresh tomatoes (not sad at all), fresh cheese and herbs with the bonus of carbohydrates with the crispy crust. perfect. ($13 for the pizza, with or without the ham bits).
with all of this i went with just one wine- a dessert one, as they were out of prosecco and nothing on the regular list was girly enough for me... the michele ciarlo moscato ($8.50). more than one, well, i probably could not have driven home. sad, yet true... the other person started with a brut rose ($11), then went with a sabazio ($12), and with dessert had the aureus niedermayr ($17).
and speaking of dessert, i didn't select cheese, thinking you can get cheese anywhere, and if we don't get something else, we'll never have one of their desserts again. so warm almond frangipane crepes with vanilla mascarpone mousse and candied apricots ($8.00). somewhere in the mix there was tons of booze, too. it was a nice way to end the meal, and the memories there... my dining companion was reminded of the first time they came in, probably in the first few years the place was open, and the times since. they've had a lot of local (and now nationally) famous names cook here, that's for sure.
21st- annie's parlour, minneapolis (b+)
we ended up here before a show at the varsity because a lot of other places looked to have waiting lists (shuang cheng) or just wrong (someone's diner, where the steak knife used to be), plus i wanted a bit of comfort food. i hadn't been here in a while, since the whole grilled cheese fest. used to come here once in a while during college, too.
and i always get the same sandwich for lo, these many years (that i can recall, anyway). so yeah, grilled cheese ($6.95). my friend got the 'deluxe' version with tomatoes and bacon, which to me always seems iffy on the tomato front unless it's summer ($7.95). we split a half-order of fries ($3.25). i kind of wanted half a chocolate-banana malt, but it seems weird that it's only $1 off $4-5 or so (can't recall the price) if you get half of it.. it didn't seem worth it, somehow.
anyway, the grilled cheese was spot on, the fries needed more salt but were a solid effort. service was decent. works for me.
25th- oak city grill, bloomington (b)
the most popular post-dinner comment here was along the lines of... i'm surprised it didn't suck. so yeah, our expectations walking in were not high.... it seems no one i asked has even heard of the place or had eaten here ever. it's where billabong used to be- best known for it's may 03 lack of service in my book. (yes, kids, i've been doing this for over six years now...).
the menu is pretty much bar food favorites with some general entrees and such. so since every once in a while i decide to track down a version i like, i ordered the chicken version of the 'nacho average nachos' ("crisp tortilla chips that are covered with melted queso cheese, garnished with fresh diced tomato, black olives, jalapenos, and green onion. served with sides of salsa and sour cream" $10.95) despite the stupid name. i like stupid named drinks, not food. anyway, as the person who brought the food to the table said... they should really call it the huge(ass) mountain of food. it was tall, big, and wide. i got a side of guac, too.
what was all good about them- not only was it some pretty damn fine cheese sauce (and yes, cheese with an 's'), they managed to get it all up in the chip pile, not just on the top. to me, that's an achievement. and the guac was fresh. and yes, the chips were crisp. and there was lots of chicken, and it was quite good.
what was odd is that the smaller things were barely there or missing, except for the jalapenos. there was a decent number of those. the sad tomatoes were almost absent, the green onion was entirely, there were a few black olives, maybe. there was a tiny thing of salsa (there was more guac and sour cream than that). but hey, they were pretty good (see: lots of cheese... 'cause hey, it's what makes me happy.)... what i managed to eat of them. if they ever have a happy hour special when these things are cheaper, it's worth it for the several meals you may make out of it. the pile would feed 2-3 for dinner.
since mom likes the mini-burger trend, that's what she opted for off the appetizer menu ($8.95 for "three burger patties with a trio of toppings done in horseradish crust, bleu cheese crust, and minnesota applewood smoked bacon and cheddar," though she had the cheese on the side. guess who got that?). she said they were the best rendition of them that she's had recently, and the burger/bun ratio was spot on. they came with fresh pickle slices, that's all. what i find interesting is that for not much more money, i got 50 million times more food....
my aunt had ordered before me, so she ended up with the rachel ($9.95, " hand shaved fresh roasted turkey, sauerkruat, melted baby swiss cheese, 1000 island dressing, and served on grilled marble rye bread") with the side of fries. a decent rendition, but i think it needed more toasting, more... islands.... and the turkey was also on the average side, though if it was deli turkey it was on the upper end of that scale (i had the leftovers the next day).
my cousin got the misnamed grilled 'naked chicken sandwich, ($9.45). it had lettuce, tomato, and red onion. how is that naked? anyway. she said she enjoyed it. she also opted for fries. i tried a few, they were in the mid-range of fries... they didn't suck, but weren't good sort of range.
service was ok- competent, i'd say, for the main server- we didn't see much of them. they leave water on the table, so there wasn't much refill needed to quench my endless thirst. i'd go back, i guess, if they keep sending coupons for free things (they took $10 off an appetizer this time). it's decent enough (though the decor has one or two offputtingly cheezy notes- with a z, thank you in with the oak bits), it's vaguely close to where i live, and a place that on the 494 strip you can bring relatives that don't have adventurous palates that isn't a big chain.
26th- ramy's pizzaria and mediterranean cuisine, apple valley (b)
in my never-ending quest to find more than two decent restaurants in apple valley, this newcomer has potential. what's odd is that their other location is maybe a couple miles from my house or so, and i've not only not made it there, but don't even recall it though i must've passed it tons of times. (also odd, they don't mention the new location on the web site, they may want to fix that.)
anyway, since it was mad hot and humid (still) i opted for i had the large greek salad ($5.95) with grilled chicken on it ($1 i think) plus garlic knots with marianara ($1.25), as it came with no bread or anything. i think the total worked out to what dino's used to charge for a similar one with pita (and probably still does, but the location i liked hasn't existed for many years so i don't go to the others hardly ever).
it had some really good dressing (though i kind of wished it was on the side as a matter of course, i forgot to ask), and the chicken was spot on with the grilling (though i did like dino's chicken 'gyros' style better.. i do wish they would've cut everything smaller, and added more of the things that were lettuce (except the sad tomatoes)- red onion, kalamata olives (pitted, so props for that), feta and such. but the flavor was there.
for me the pita beats the garlic knots hands down, though. i prefer squishy bread with things you want to mop up after, and the knots were small and crunchy. and oddly not garlicky. (if i opted for breadsticks, those were twice as much). the mariana was the sweeter kind, but still good. it tasted fresh.
my dining companion opted for their usual, the pepperoni stromboli (small $6.95). i had a corner, and liked the bread.
it's a counter ordering place. i'd would've liked the menu posted instead of handing them out. the staff was quite nice, though, even after a plate accidentially landed in the garbage. though one of them apparently forgot to turn on the 'open' sign.
but hey, all in all it seems a place with potential. i'd like to try more stuff off their menu. so hey, that's place number three in golden valley we can put in the rotation. (in the number one spot- satay 2 go, followed a bit farther back by taste of thaiyai) with the occasional new place thrown in.
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