October 26, 2008

Downtowner Woodfire Grill

Imagine a beautiful living room with dark wood and natural stone. Now, throw in the sound of running water and ambient lighting. Finally, light a fire in the hearth while you sit back with a glass of smoky scotch or a rich red wine and allow your senses to become enveloped in the sights, sounds and smells. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? If only you could do this at home right?

Well if your humble abode doesn’t offer all these amenities, never fear, you can find this atmosphere everyday at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St Paul, Situated on West 7th Street only blocks from the new heartbeat of downtown St. Paul, the Xcel Energy Center. Yes you heard me right, St Paul still has a heartbeat, and it is getting stronger and stronger with the success of places like this.

The minute you walk in the door at DWG, you are surrounded with the rich smell of an open fire followed by the running water from the unique fountains behind the bar. We were seated immediately in the backroom right next to one of the multiple fireplaces located throughout the establishment. It made for a very cozy and quite dinner away from the hustle of the main dining room.

Dinner started with the crab cakes. When they came out my first thought was “crab fritters”. I still don’t know the difference. They were very standard and had a sauce that was rather watered down.

My entrée choice was one of the house specialties (recommended by our server). The Persian Fire Roasted Leg of Lamb was spectacular. If you are looking for a large chunk of meat, you had better check out a different part of the menu. If you are looking for a reasonably (and still plentiful) sized dinner with all kinds of flavor and tenderness this meal is for you. I really enjoyed the lamb which is served kabob style with veggies and a light, almost refreshing rice. Grilled veggies compliment the meal.

All in all the meal was very good. The wine selection was average and the service was better than most, even though our server had quite a number of tables. He was very efficient.

Bottom line, if you are looking for a place in St Paul with a good steak list and a number of other choices, all well enjoying a nice fire and the wonderful smell of real burning wood on a cool winter night, this is the place. Prices are reasonable as well. GO on a non game night (The MN Wild play just down the street) and you should have no problem finding a table.

October 2, 2008

City Cafe - Rochester


So my travels took me outside of the Minneapolis/St Paul area this past weekend. But not so far that I didn’t feel like a write up was relevant. Rochester, MN – Home of the Mayo Clinic, a water tower that looks like a corn cob, and City Café.

Prior to eating at City Café this weekend, I had never been, nor was I aware that it has been named Rochester’s Best Restaurant 3 years running.

I was able to learn about all of the accolades that City Café had earned while I wondered if the food would be good during our 45 minute wait for outdoor seat. Did I mention that we arrived at 8:45. (Who says summer is over after Labor Day? What a beautiful night it was). Once we were seated our real dining experience began. With a few glasses of good wine for the table we dove right into the appetizers. Starting with the Crab Fritters and the Fried Blue Cheese Ball. While I am sure there are Fried Blue Cheese Balls elsewhere, this was my first experience. Set atop a bed of Mushroom jus, and served with wonderful bread, this is something that every restaurant should look into. WOW. A nice mild Blue with a crispy fried shell keeping all of that gooey warmness inside just waiting to be spread over a piece of toasted bread. Perfect, may I get another?

The Crab Fritters were also good, but nothing to really write home about. Fairly standard in my opinion and what is the difference between a crab cake and a crab fritter? I am sure it is size, but to an untrained food novice, I couldn’t tell what it was.

On to the main course. For me it was Parmesan Crusted Grouper with Basic Cream Sauce. I didn’t get the full story, but City Café has a pretty good connection for fresh fish. This story can be seen on the walls in the lobby if you are inclined to read the articles. After having the Grouper, I wished I had read more. What a great dish. Tender fish with a light crust. The sauce was a perfect complement.

For food I would certainly recommend the City Café in Rochester. Atmosphere was also perfect for a late warm summer night and the patio was worth the wait. The critique that I would have was with the staff. The host desk was manned by a couple young girls who looked like they were just dying to text their friends rather than seat tables. Our server also appeared nervous and a little out of touch with the menu. There were a few questions that she seemed to stumble with.

Bottom line, if you find yourself with a serious illness and get referred to the Mayo, tell all your visitors to stop by City Café. And when you are healed, make your own stop to find out what has been keeping your visitors happy.

August 17, 2008

La Grollahttp://www.lagrollastpaul.com/

So, you are looking for a place to eat a nice dinner on a beautiful patio? St Paul’s Selby Ave offers an array of choices. W. A. Frost, Il Vesco Vino and my most recent stop, La Grolla.

The Italian neighborhood eatery La Grolla offers a beautiful patio just off of Selby Ave in the heart of what I consider St Paul’s “Eat Street”. Of course St Paul also offers Grand Ave and Minneapolis has the original “Eat Street”, but this section of Selby Ave in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood has a handful of wonderful gems in a brief few blocks. La Grolla being one of those sparkling gems.

My stop was for a light bite. Despite the mouth watering menu and the ear perking specials, we stuck with just two items today. The Crab Cakes and the Grilled Calamari Steaks, yes steaks. No more rings or mini bunches of tentacles caked in a batter to mask the quality of the Cephalopod. These steaks came out grilled to perfection with an amazing sauce and presentation. If you like calamari, find out if this “daily special” is being offered when your stop (It is not on their main menu).

We also ordered the Crab Cakes. While the cakes had wonderful flavor and offered a twist with the ingredients that were packed inside (red and yellow bell peppers, buffalo mozzarella and jalapenos), there was not much crab. While they were not advertised as lump crab cakes, I was still hoping for a little more of the crustacean. Always a let down in my book! The Cayenne Citrus sauce that accompanied the cakes however was an excellent pairing.

I must also say that the service and atmosphere at La Grolla warrants a stop even if Italian is not on your short list of favorite food styles. The cozy dinning room and the two level garden patio will enhance any dining experience. Your experience will then be completed by the experienced staff that seamlessly and knowledgeably guide you through your meal.

Bottom line, I can’t wait for the next time I get to go back and experience more of what La Grolla has to offer!

August 8, 2008

Gabe’s by the Park

Today we had a St Paul Saints baseball game planned for a beautiful Thursday night in the Twin Cities. Knowing that Gabe’s by the Park offered a shuttle to the games we opted for this option rather then dealing with the parking around Midway Stadium.

At first this seemed like a great idea. A couple drinks along with some food, some great company and a ride to and from the game. What better way to get geared up for a hot summer evening ball game?

Our experience started with fresh air. My previous experiences at Gabe’s had been prior to MN going smoke free. What a relief that was. The eye-burning haze that caked your clothesusedto fill Gabe's woudl stiffen your clothing and required removal from a sandblaster upon returning home.

With Tickets to the 7pm game and a scheduled time to meet friends, I figured if we walked in an hour or so prior to game time we would have no trouble making it on time. That is where I was wrong. We were sat and then left to wonder if anyone was coming to fill the water glasses already on the table or even take an our order. Once our server finally made it to our table, I realized that she was the same one that had walked by us a half dozen times for the past 15 minutes, never once giving us a reassuring “I’ll be right with you”.

Watching our 60 minutes drizzle away we placed our entire order. The BLT on wheat (remember that) and the “Don’t Buffalo Me” chicken sandwich. And to start, yes, Buffalo Wings. I must try them everywhere. (My favorites will be revealed at a later date).

While we waited…….and waited, we tried a few of the free appetizers on the Happy Hour Bar while being serenaded by the piano player. Yes, Gabe’s sports a live piano bar during happy hour. While still on the Happy Hour topic I must say their salsa is wonderful. Rich thick and full of flavor and spice. A must have if you are there between 3 and 6 M-F. After a little while our beers finally came to cool the heat of the salsa!

Food was not far behind now, ALL AT ONCE!! In fact the wings came out shortly after the main courses. The BLT was as typical as any BLT and even came on white bread. Wait a minute, we ordered wheat didn’t we? The Don’t Buffalo Me chicken sandwich was awesome. One of the best I have had. Lightly breaded so as to soak up the sauce a little but not mask the fact that there is actually a large chicken breast under there either. And the flavor was supurbly spiced like real buffalo sauce should be. The thin cut fries that accompanied were above average. I must say the wings that we ordered were very good as well. (not my favorite, but I would order them again). The side of blue cheese flavored water was a disappointment however.

My summary. Great bar food. Will I return? Sure, if I am in the neighborhood. Plenty of other thingson the menu to try. and the slow service? Maybe our wait person’s rhythm was just thrown off by all the St Paul Saints fans who were there prior to the 45th home game of the season. With only 7 more regular season home games she will soon have the entire off season to get her routine down for next year!! I will say we did make it to the game just in the nick of time, but we had to slam our food down to make the last bus before game time.

August 3, 2008

"Spill The Wine"

Spill The Wine (1101 Washington Ave S. Minneapolis. 612-339-3388)

Last night I headed out to Spill The Wine. After making a reservation on http://www.opentable.com/ I wondered in around 8:45. This was my first experience at this restaurant and I didn’t really know what to expect. The restaurant was sparsely filled and we were eagerly greeted. We asked to sit at the bar for a quick drink before being sat. Once the bartender showed up, we settled into a summer inspired white wine flight and a glass of Argentinean Malbec from the Trivento winery. Despite the name of the restaurant, our bartender was not extremely knowledgeable about the wine selections. This was fairly disappointing when spending $7 - $14 for a glass. While on this topic, the wine selection was listed by region and then by color. This made it easy for the novice wine drinker to decipher. The list was also fairly extensive and offered plenty of choice from around the world.

The atmosphere was fairly typical of many downtown restaurants in that location; open and airy with exposed brick walls, and open ceiling that was covered with dramatic tapestries and enhanced with subtle lighting. Seating was enjoyable, as the tables were not crammed together, giving you a nice sense of privacy. The sound level was low, but this may have had to do more with the occupancy than anything else. One of my favorite decorating techniques was enlisted at Spill The Wine. Local artist’s work was hung throughout the restaurant, making each visit just a little different.

Our food included a bowl of the Grilled Chicken and Noodle Soup. While the grilling gave this soup a leg up on Campbell’s, it came out only luke warm and was not as exciting as I had hoped. In addition the heat of summer didn’t seem quite the appropriate season for this soup de jour.

Things did get better from their however. The Caprese salad was excellent. The pesto that was drizzled on top was brilliantly flavored and the Buffalo Mozzarella was wonderfully fresh. The Balsamic reduction, while fairly standard, enhanced this classic Italian salad nicely.

This was then followed by the fresh catch. Grilled Salmon resting on a bead of spinach layered atop a slice of grilled ciabetta. While bread can add to any meal, the ciabetta was only so-so. The Spinach made it very soggy, which sort of defeated the purpose of grilling it. For the condiment lover, a generous portion of homemade tartar sauce was layered on top. I am normally not a fan of tartar sauce but this was rich and buttery with only a hint of pickled flavor. It made up for the spongy bread. On the side came some perfectly grilled Asparagus. While the presentation was a little dull, the grilling really made the Asparagus pop with flavor.

All in all it was a good meal. I will certainly go back. Hopefully the bartender will have a little more experience with the wine offerings next time. I should also mention our wait person. She was very knowledgeable about the menu and was extremely pleasant. She had perfect timing and really added to our experience.

Spill The Wine also offer a lounge side which was a little more lively and boasts a little boutique wine shop in the back. Defiantly worth a stop if you are looking for a nice bottle to take home on your way out of the city.

Don't forget the large mural on the wall in the mian dining room. If you don't figure it out before leaving, ask!

August 2, 2008

An Introduction to 'Brock de jour"


I wanted to start off by introducing myself. I am just an ordinary resident of the Twin Cities. I work in Minneapolis and live in St Paul. One of my passions is EATING out. I enjoy the many dining options that we have in the Twin Cities and have decided to share my experiences on this blog. If you are looking for a true critic’s rendition of their evening out this is not the place for you.

I am neither a writer nor a world traveler. I don’t have any training or culinary background, aside from a brief stint as a kitchen manager at a large restaurant chain that no longer exists (I considered it assembly line food). You will not find big descriptive words here, nor will you find many that you can’t pronounce. I don’t have a large budget so you won’t find a run down of half the menu every time I eat out.

What you will find here is a simple description based on my experiences, something that I hope most Twin Citians will be able to relate to. While I do enjoy eating this blog is really just a hobby for me.

I hope “Brock de jour” encourages you to get out and enjoy the many excellent restaurants that the Twin Cities metro area has to offer – and avoid those may not be up to par.

I encourage your feedback. Please let me know if my opinions have helped you find a great meal and feel free to share your own.

Thanks for stopping by.