Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tilia, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Kitchen at Tilia Restaurant in Linden Hills, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dining alone can be a bit uncomfortable.  After all, when I'm alone I have no one to entertain me.  And reading or texting while waiting for the meal to come makes me seem antisocial.  But, on occasion, dining alone can also be fun.  At least, that was my experience at Tilia Restaurant in Minneapolis.  

It doesn't happen often but occasionally I travel alone for work.  When I go out of state, I multi-task my trips and combine my day job as a lawyer with my hobby as a food blogger.  If you follow my Pinterest pinboard, you'll see that I've pinned a list of buzz-worthy Minneapolis restaurants.  Tilia was listed as one of the 50 Best Restaurants for 2014 in Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine.  The list is compiled in part by celebrity chef and Minnesota native Andrew Zimmern, so Tilia's inclusion is a big honor.  Located in the cozy residential area of Linden Hills, this small eatery has been open for only three years and has developed a loyal following in that short time.  After dining there, I now know why.

The restaurant admits its space is small, holding only 40 patrons at a time.  So, reservations are not taken.  That is often a problem for groups of any size.  But the solo or coupled diner has two good seating options:  the traditional bar or the chef's countertop.  As a very inquisitive foodie, you can take a guess where I chose to sit.  The chef's countertop offered a coveted front row seat of all the kitchen action.  From that vantage point, I eagerly watched the cooks prepare plates, toss pastas, sear filets and dress salads.  And the quick pace of the kitchen was highly palpable.  The cooks in front of me volleyed shorthand commands to each other while tracking orders and answering occasional questions from myself and other onlookers.  No one in the kitchen missed a beat.  It was a definitely quite the show ... followed then by a great meal.  

As a solo diner, the Tilia menu was a bit intimidating at first.  Apart from a few entrees, it appears that most of the menu contemplates sharing among friends.   But small plates shouldn't be a conundrum for the solo diner.  They are an invitation to taste a variety of dishes without overwhelming one's palate and gorging one's stomach.  And when asked politely enough, I don't turn down an invitation to enjoy good food.   That night at Tilia, I had three great small plates to enjoy.  All plates an homage to my princess Anna.  She must have been heavy on my mind.  

Raddichio salad with dolce gorgonzola, currants, radishes, chive blossoms and sunflower seeds

Chive blossoms
I like a good salad with an eclectic mix of textures and tastes, and the radicchio salad is one that I certainly enjoyed.  The mix of radicchio, currants, sunflower seeds, sweet gorgonzola and chive blossoms got my curiosity going ... my taste buds too.  Not only did it taste good - the crisp and blended flavors, sweet and slightly sharp - it looked good too.  It's just too bad Anna wasn't with me to take in these tiny, yet beautiful, chive blossoms.  She'd have loved it.

She'd have loved the cavatelli carbonara too.  A beautiful handrolled pasta tossed with local seasonal vegetables, cooked al dente and topped with a unique egg yolk custard.  Salty salume, subtle sharp parmesan, and tart scallion offset by the creamy yolk and buttered pasta.  This dish too would have been right up Anna's alley.  Just looking upon it I knew it would be perfect for my little Italian!

Housemade cavatelli with salume, zucchini, parmesan and scallion topped with an egg yolk custard

But what Anna would have loved most would have been the escargot.  She's been dying to try this French delicacy for a very long time.  She actually has yet to do so.  And while some might have considered my ordering this in her absence somewhat of a taunt, I will always believe I did it for her with love.  The truth is that I hadn't had escargot in years myself, not since I was in college.  I'd forgotten what it was like. And before I let Anna have her first taste, I needed to reacquaint myself.

I know the idea of eating snails is off-putting for some, but I don't quite understand why.  We eat a lot of other things that are equally strange without the same trepidation.  Don't we?  Oysters, clams, mussels are all equally odd, right?  And some of these we'll even eat raw!  Need I say sushi anyone?  So snails shouldn't be at all intimidating for even the most novice of food lovers.

Escargot with grilled bread

Prepared the best way, this dish came out all yummy and piping hot.  I'm glad I saved it for last.  Each little snail was nicely cooked, surrounded in buttery creamy cheesy goodness to complement their earthy flavor.  Some of you might be cringing imaging what it might be like biting into one of these little suckers (no pun intended).  But if you've ever bitten into a nice firm cremini mushroom (and many of you probably have), it's really not that different.  In fact, I find that these nice little gems have a knack of soaking up flavor just as nicely as our little fungi friends.  I'd long forgotten why escargot is such a delicacy and it was really nice to be reminded.  And now I can say with confidence that I know Anna will love it too.  It's just going to be a challenge finding a place that prepares this treat just as well.  Maybe one day I'll bring Anna to the Twin Cities so she can enjoy the Tilia experience too.



Tilia on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 2, 2015

Anna's Mini Review: Peace, Love and Little Donuts, Naples, Florida


Hey! Guess what? I went to Peace, Love, and Little Donuts!
Honestly this is the best donut place EVER!!!!
Here they have awesome donuts!

They have lemonade flavored donuts, chocolate flavored donuts, vanilla flavored donuts and more!
They even have maple bacon donuts!!!!!! Awesome, don't you think?

We decided to get the pumpkin, the samoa, the lemonade, the cookies and cream, the chocolate salted pretzel, and the coconut donut.
They were DELICIOUS!!!!!!

The people that worked there were very nice and even recommend some popular flavors that we LOVED (for an example the pumpkin one was suggested)!!!!

I loved Peace, Love, and Little Donuts and I hope you do too!!!

I rate this FIVE SPOONS!!!!!

Butcher and the Boar, Minneapolis, Minnesota


This past summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis for business, an exciting prospect given the fact that Minneapolis is home to Chef Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods fame.  Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to catch up to the Chef's traveling food truck, AZ Canteen.  But I still took in some really good eats at an eatery I'm sure Chef Zimmern would give his stamp of approval.  (In fact, according to Food & Wine, he already has.)  

The Butcher and the Boar earned its honors as a James Beard award semi-finalist.  This popular downtown Minneapolis gastropub boasts a menu of unique house-made sausages, charcuterie and a variety of other meat selections that would drive any carnivore crazy (think vampire at a blood bath).  If you are a meat lover looking for something other than the ubiquitous steak, this is most definitely the place to be.  The Twin Cities must be full of meat-eaters because seats at this restaurant are hard to come by, so reservations are a must.  But walk-in diners shouldn't fret.  The full dinner menu can be ordered at the restaurant's lengthy bar.  And the casual open beer garden offers its own shorter, but equally interesting menu.  

As a lone diner, I had the good fortune to find myself a seat at the bar.   Turns out the bar is a great place to be when you are dining alone, probably because it isn't so obvious that you are dining alone.  You also get a good vantage point of what everyone else is partaking in and you don't have to feel awkward about asking your neighbor what's on their plate.  That night, I found myself between two fellow business travelers.  The diner to my right travels regularly to Minneapolis and frequents the Butcher and the Boar just as often.  The diner to my left is a fellow food junkie who made a pit stop in Minneapolis on her way to Wisconsin.  She too had heard the buzz about the place and, like me, wanted to check it out for herself.  That was good to know.  If anything, it confirmed that I was in the right place.  

Now, Anna NEVER lets me order lamb when I am in her presence.  You know that she guests on my blog quite often and we dine together nearly all the time.  I have very few opportunities to enjoy lamb as a meal.  So, when I dine sans Anna, I often give undue consideration to any lamb on the menu.  I'm sure there were other equally good options on the menu but that day, I was on a lamb mission.  And lucky for me, the Boar had a rather tasty sounding lamb merguez sausage on its menu that I just couldn't turn down.  Yes, lucky for me.  

Lamb merguez sausage


This sausage was everything I wanted it to be.  Juicy and spicy through and through.  Paired with butter toasted pita points and vinaigrette-dressed cucumber and red onion, this dish brought to mind an elevated, rustic and deconstructed version of the pitas my mother allowed me in my youth.  An interesting kind of ethnic comfort food for me, who often doesn't travel alone.  I savored every bite of this lamb, free of all the guilt that Anna would have otherwise heaped upon me.  Knowing that it would be a very long while until I would have lamb again, I was sad to see the last bit go.  The diner to my right ordered the same after I did and I couldn't help catching glances at his newly served lamb sausage as I carefully rationed the last bits of my own.

Fortunately for me, the diner to my left was about to come to my aid.  She had a hankering for the short rib which, come to think of it, was not at all short.  In fact, it was huge.  It was so large that I had to ask my new friend exactly what she had ordered.  It was big enough that my fellow foodie was practically begging me to take some off her hands.  I tried to graciously decline, but who am I to turn down food ...

Short rib and fried green tomato

So, of course, I had to help myself to some of her rib ... and to her fried green tomatoes too.  Thank goodness I did because that rib was tender and flavorful, as it ought to be.  And the tomato, so crisp on the outside but sweet and juicy in the inside.  I'm so jealous because I can never get my fried green tomatoes to be so good.  I think I'm spoiled on fried green tomatoes forever.  Definitely will put those tomatoes on my "must have again" list if I am ever to go back to the Twin Cities.  I suggest you do too.  Because the Butcher and the Boar definitely lives up to its hype.



Butcher & The Boar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Anna's Mini Review: Cafe Lurcat, Naples, Florida


Hello! Anna here.  
Guess what? I went to ...... CafĂ© Lurcat !!! 
My review is going to be an interesting one.

For dinner, I had chicken and gnocchi.  The gnocchi was delicious.  It was tender and soft.  There was also a mushroom sauce which was delish!  I loved it.  The chicken was thick but awesome.  I also tried some of my Daddy's pot roast.  It tasted just like my Momma's short ribs and my Momma's short ribs are the best!  

Now for the service.  Terrible.  The service was terrible.  The waiter forgot my dad's appetizer and one waitress thought that we were someone else and almost gave us the wrong food!  They also forgot the second basket of bread we asked for.  My Dad now never wants to go there again.  This is the first restaurant I ever rated one spoon!




     

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup


Leftovers.  They are truly one of my most challenging culinary puzzles.  I don't love leftovers.  I'm the kind that asks for the take-out box at the restaurants and then leaves it behind after paying the check.  Or, if I do remember to bring it home, I leave it in the refrigerator so long that it starts to resemble a science experiment.  A meal just never tastes the same on its second round.  

So, you can imagine that holiday dinners are particularly challenging for me.  When I make a holiday dinner, I go all out.  Turkey AND ham, more veggies and starches than I can count on one hand.  Let's not forget the desserts too.  But all this means a lot of leftovers.  And even after I've shoved foil wrapped goodies into the hands of my departing family members, I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my fully stocked refrigerator in the days to come.  

Post-Thanksgiving Fridays usually mean that I'm going to whip up some sort of frittata with my left over ham, broccoli, onions, etc.  But this year, my mind went in a different direction.  And instead of an egg-filled brunch on Friday, for Saturday's lunch we enjoyed a full-bodied turkey noodle soup.  My secret this year?  Gravy.  I know you are asking yourself what gravy has to do with soup.  For me, it's everything.  Of late, I've been using a butter-flour roux as the base for all of my vegetable soups because I like my soup to have a little more substance that a clear runny broth.  My gravy starts the same way, fortified with drippings from my roasted turkey (properly separated and strained of course).  So why not use some of that leftover goodness to build a savory soup.  Think about it.  Makes sense right?  And soup is a great way to use up left over turkey and all of those Thanksgiving veggies - pearl onions, peas, roasted carrots and, yes, maybe even brussel sprouts.  This year, my soup made use of the remaining celery and onions that didn't make it into my signature cornbread stuffing.  And to make it extra special, I added some garlic and herb pappardelle that I picked up from DeRomo's Gourmet Market.  The result was so good, even my husband (the anti-soup nazi) couldn't deny it.  This might very well be my next holiday tradition.  Mine and maybe yours?

Turkey Noodle Soup

Add 1 cup of left over gravy to a cold sauce pan and turn the burner on medium.  Add 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock to the sauce pan and whisk until gravy is heated and incorporated throughout.  Allow to simmer.   Add diced vegetables of any variety (today my soup included celery, bell pepper and onion) and shredded turkey.   How much of each you add is strictly up to you.  I like my veggies to have a slight bite so I put them in raw.   But if you prefer, you can saute them to soften them prior to adding them to the soup.  Add a bay leaf while the soup simmers if you wish.   If the soup becomes too thick for your taste, you can extra stock or water a 1/2 cup at a time.  If you want to add noodles, add them before serving allowing enough time for the noodles to cook to al dente before presentation.  (My noodles only take 3 minutes to cook, so I add them after I know the veggies are cooked through and allow only an additional 3 minutes of simmering before plating.  If your noodles will take longer to cook per packaging instructions you might add them earlier in the simmering process.)  When all is properly cooked and warmed through, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve in deep bowls.  

I don't suggest adding the noodles if you are preparing this soup a day or so ahead.  The noodles will soak up the liquid even while refrigerated.  You can always add noodles when you reheat your prepared soup.   And if you don't have gravy try 1/2 to 1 cup of mashed potatoes instead.  The potato starch also acts as a thickener.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Calling All Home Chefs! MasterChef open casting is coming to Miami!


Do you think you have what it takes to impress Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich? Popular cooking show, MasterChef, is now casting its new season. Amateur chefs and home cooks can compete to win a $250,000 cash prize and cookbook deal. Florida's culinary artists can vie for a spot at the Miami open casting call on Saturday, October 4, 2014 at the JW Marriott Marquis Miami, 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way.
According to casting AP, Ned Johnson, MasterChef is looking for everyday people from all walks of life who love to cook and have always dreamed of becoming a professional chef. They are particularly interested in people with interesting occupations and hobbies. Those selected at the Miami casting call would represent the South Florida area. Interested contestants should preregister for priority at www.masterchefcasting.com and contact AP, Ned Johnson, at castingned@gmail.com or (328) 798-1910.

MasterChef Casting : Official Casting Site For MasterChef Season 6 on FOX
www.masterchefcasting.com
The Official Website For MasterChef Season 6 Casting

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Crust, Naples, Florida

Pizza with tomato sauce, provolone cheese and crumbled italian sausage

I'm a sucker for pizza.  What's not to love about bread and cheese, right?   If you've read my earlier posts, you all know that I'm particularly wedded to a thin crust.  I'm sure my fellow Chicagoans are in disbelief.  After all, my beloved birthplace is the home of the deep dish.  But I just never got used to the gummy crust at the bottom of a Chi-town pie.  Nope.  For me it's crispy cracker crust all the way. That is exactly what The Crust promises.  So, ever on a search for the perfect pizza, the fam and I made our way to the Pavillion shopping center in North Naples during the pizzeria's opening week.  I know I was taking a risk by going on the restaurant's fourth night of operation.  I mean, I hadn't given them a chance yet to work the kinks out.  But curiosity got the best of me ... and I'm glad that it did.

The Crust definitely delivers exactly what it promises.  The Crust serves thin-crusted, midwest style pizza, cut into "party size" squares.  While other pizzerias tout their sauces, the Crust touts ... well, their crust.  The name says it all.  "Crispy on the bottom, fluffy in the middle ..."  The Crust's pizza crust is just as described on their webpage.  And just to prove it, I had to take a pic.

Now that is crisp!  And I'm not the only one that thinks so.  My husband, Italian by heritage and upbringing, is pretty discerning when it comes to pizza crust.  His family is from "just the other side" of the GW Bridge and he's grown up with more than his fair share of New York style pizza.  He doesn't let a  poorly cooked crust past his lips without vocal criticism.  I was nervous bringing him to the Crust without first sampling it myself.  And, to my great relief, it only took one bite for him to succumb to the crust of the Crust.  (Yes, I meant to say that!)

What I loved:  You mean besides that thin and crispy crust?  The options.  While the Crust offers a few gourmet pizza combinations, I was drawn to the Crust for its "make your own pizza" option.  I'm not just talking about the ability to select from a variety of toppings.  I'm talking about the ability to also choose the crust (traditional or gluten free), the sauce and the cheese.  Now that my son is on a mandatory low sodium, low protein diet, the ability to customize our pizza as much as possible is key.  I count this as a big plus for all of you who are on doctor prescribed diets.  The Crust gives you the option of selecting between traditional tomato sauce, pesto or olive oil.  And the latter is ideal for those who are told to keep sodium to a minimum.  So, for my son, we opted for an olive oil coated crust.  I myself stuck with good ol' tomato.  Both were good.

As for the cheese, here the Crust also deviates from the norm.  The Crust's menu pizzas are all topped with provolone cheese instead of the usual mozzarella.  And although you can select a different cheese,  mozzarella is not an option.  I'm not sure why, but I'm not sure I care.  The provolone tasted just as good to me.  I didn't even miss the mozz.  Call it blasphemous if you want, but I call it tasty.

Even better was the service.  For an opening week, I found the staff to be much more than adequate.  Our server, Calesta, was prompt and courteous, frequently checking on us but not so much as to be hovering.   The manager on duty also took a moment to check on us and to converse with neighboring diners.  We sat next to the bar/kitchen but didn't find the activity around us to be intrusive.  And we enjoyed the decor that pairs black and white photos of Old Hollywood with rustic wood tables and industrial elements.  I personally loved the hooks underneath the bar.  Obviously whoever thought up that one thinks just like a woman.  



What I Didn't Love:  Umm ... I'm still thinking on this one.  I've read a few other reviews on Yelp that weren't as sold on the Crust.  Perhaps I just have different taste.  Perhaps I was just as pleased as punch about the customization options.  Perhaps I fared much better going on day four post-opening than those who went to the soft opening.  I certainly mind less than others that this eatery seems to cater to a more "upscale" Mercato kind of crowd.

How much we spent:  ($$)  For our party of four we ordered two custom pizzas, one with provolone and olive oil and one with provolone, tomato sauce and crumbled italian sausage.  We also ordered four sodas.  Our total bill was $48, which included a generous 20% tip.

My rating:  (4 spoons)  I haven't had a pizza I liked this much since my visit to The Blue Moose in Colorado.  The fact that my better half likes it too must mean that there is promise in this pizza.

Before you go, don't forget to check out Anna's Mini Review.  She's got a good pic of our olive oil pizza.  :-)