Monday, July 2, 2012

A Restaurant Roundup

For the last few months, David and I and a group of friends (mostly the Spain Gang) have been working our way through a list of restaurants. The list was initially made a year and a half to two years ago, but we never got going on it. When we decided to pick it up again, we discovered that several places had closed. And of course, all sorts of wonderful places had opened in the meantime.

The list has been hovering around 17 places. It seems that once we've ticked a few off, we add a few more. We chose the first restaurant by pulling a number out of hat. Since then, we have our server pick a number between 1 and whatever and that determines where we go next. We've only "rigged" the selection once. More on that in a moment.

David and I are the keepers of the list. David is a total Excel dork. Before each visit, we randomize the list and then number it. A different restaurant is always number 1. We think it is more fair that way.

The list is quite eclectic. We've been everywhere from 112 Eatery to Matt's Bar. There are places on the list that some people have been to, but we've tried to keep it to places that the majority of us have not visited.

So, this is how my friends and I decide where to eat. And when we plan our big trips, we do Powerpoint presentations and then vote. That's just how we roll (we are spontaneous as well! It isn't all planned!)

I was thinking I should write about these little restaurant adventures of ours. We've already been to eight restaurants, so I'm going to give a little summary of each one. With any luck, I'll write up the rest as we go along.

Restaurant Number 1: December. Scusi. This has been one of my favorites so far. It's owned by the Blue Plate folks, and they pretty much can do no wrong in my book. This visit with just Kym, Kyle, David and I. I love a restaurant where I can get a cheese plate and olives. In fact, an entire meal of cheese, olives, and wine would be just fine by me. I think if you look over their menu, you'll get an idea of the kind of food I like. Garlic, capers, cheese...yum yum yum.

I had the short ribs and the roasted button mushrooms. They were amazing. This was months ago, so sorry I can't provide more of a description. Suffice to say, I still think about those mushrooms, and the short ribs. A mark of a good meal. I'm still thinking about it months later (there is a sandwich at the Longfellow Grill I feel the same way about). I don't remember if we had dessert, so it must have been just okay. But the meal was perfect. Our waiter was great. Super nice and attentive. Overall, Scusi is just a great place. It's fancier than the other Blue Plate restaurants, but not pretentious. I'd probably make sure I put some effort into my appearance before I went there, but since it's on St. Clair in St. Paul, you don't feel like you have to go all out.

Restaurant Number 2: Hazel's Northeast, also in December. We were off to quite a start! Hazel's is in the old POP! space. I loved POP. I used to live in the neighborhood (sort of) and frequented it quite often. Enough that I felt it was sort of my place. Eventually I moved and then they closed. Hazel's is a fine restaurant. But it doesn't stand out as one of my favorites. This time there were all eight of us that had been to Spain (Kym, Kyle, Lea, Amit, Alan, Erin, David, me). A little reunion of sorts. It was date night, so we got some sort of wine or dessert deal. All I really remember about what I ate was that it had couscous and it was the special. I think there was steak involved. It was good, and made for great leftovers the next day. We also had cava, as sort of a nod to the Spain Gang being together again.

If I lived in the neighborhood, I can see visiting Hazel's pretty regularly. But I don't, so it's unlikely I'll be back anytime soon.

Restaurant number two was supposed to be Travail, but they were closed that night. They just close from time to time. Good for them.

Restaurant Number 3: 112 Eatery, January. You really, really, really cannot go wrong here, and I have to put it way at the top of my list. I had eaten here before, and was soooo excited to go back. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say this is the best restaurant in the Twin Cities (but then again I have not been to Travail or Tilia or any number of places yet).

112 Eatery is just perfection. The service is outstanding. Our server really knew the menu. He was friendly and personable. He made great recommendations, didn't make us feel rushed, really just a great guy.

I think between the six of us, we managed to order just about everything on the menu. My main dish was the short rib chili (I have found recently that you really can't go wrong if you order short ribs). It wasn't really chili at all...but it was amazing. Love. Also tried the bread pudding, the fried shishito peppers (reminded me of some peppers we had in Barcelona), the stringozzi. It was ALL good.

But the best part of the meal was the butterscotch budino. Oh. My. God. If this was all I ate for the rest of my life, I'd be one happy girl. It is happiness in a little jar.

Restaurant Number 4: Republic, February. Republic is this great bar on the West Bank/Seven Corners. It used to be sort of a dive called Sgt. Preston's where you could get a fishbowl full of alcohol. Now it's a little classier. I go here quite a bit since it is close to campus, I like their happy hour, and it seems to attract a less obnoxious crowd then some other campus bars. Then again, I'm usually there around 5 p.m. which might have something to do with it.

It was PACKED when we were there. David and I started at the bar and slowly moved around until we found a table that would seat all eight of us. This involved a table switch with some very accommodating people.  We had just the cutest waiter ever (I've seen him there many times...total hipster). Republic has a great beer list. I also like that during happy hour all the burgers are $5. I often order whatever I want and then get a little container of pickled onions on the side. They have great fish tacos and pork tacos as well, and the salads are yummy too. After someplace as fancypants as 112, it was nice to chill here. Oh, and I love their guacamole.

Restaurant Number 5: Bar La Grasa, March. I really really wanted to like Bar La Grasa. I had heard so many wonderful things. The waiter at Republic said he loved it. But...I just didn't. It was so loud. I practically had to shout to have a conversation. I could barely hear our waiter. And it was so slow. I don't remember what I ate. I was too unhappy.

Restaurant Number 6: Matt's Bar, April. Jucy Lucy! There's a debate here in the Twin Cities about who has the best Jucy Lucy. Matt's Bar, the 5-8 Club, the Nook. I think I'll always be partial to the Nook because David and I went there on our third date and he introduced me to the Juicy Nookie. But Matt's Bar is awesome. And remember how I said I liked Scusi because it was not too pretentious. Matt's Bar is about as unpretentious as you can get. You don't even get a plate.

Restaurant Number 7: Eat Street Social, May. I started off pretty cranky here. Finding parking was a chore. When we got there, we were seated at a huge table and I had visions of Bar La Grasa and shouting to be heard. But, it wasn't bad. And our server was just great. I love a fun, personable server.

We started with appetizers...bread and cheese, sausage, and mussels. Now...I don't really like shellfish, but I think I had three or four of those mussels. They were that good. Dinner for me was steak with very yummy potatoes and ramps. These made a reappearance the next morning for breakfast as part of a very yummy egg concoction.

They have fantastic cocktails here as well. I had an "Of the Older Fashion". My drink of choice lately is the Old Fashioned. Yum.

Restaurant Number 8: The Butcher and the Boar, June. This is the only one that we sort of rigged the selection for. I strongly suggested to our server at Eat Street Social what number she should choose. So, June found us at this new restaurant. A place with bourbon flights. How great is that?

This place goes right up there with my favorites. First of all, eating here was enough to convince me that being a vegetarian is just a really bad idea. We started off with a sample of various meats "From the Butcher". This included Turkey Braunschweiger, which was amazing. I've always liked braunschweiger. Call me crazy, but when I was a kid I just loved that stuff. But this was so much better. I split the Beef Long Rib with Kyle. Fall off the bone tender. I also ordered a pickle plate which I really didn't need. The Caramelized Broccoli was also delish.

Don't really remember dessert. I guess I am more of a savory food person. That...and bourbon.

So, that's it. The first eight. My favorites so far...112 Eatery, Butcher and the Boar, and Scusi. I'm going to try and keep up with the next eight so I can write decent little reviews.

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