Thursday, July 28, 2005

That's Amore

In celebration of my upcoming nuptuals a bunch of my buddies and I decided to hit the town. I wasn't a bachelorette party as my friend Eric came with and that really throws that sort of party out of a wack. Lovely Eric with all his lovely testosterone is an important ingredient for making any party a real success. Also, I put a moretorum on anything phallus paraphenalia. We decided to just bar hop through Uptown.
The first stop was, of course, Dixie's for the soon to be famous Lemon Drop Martini. So, so good. I could write a sonnet about this drink and usually go on about it far too long. I'll try to control myself, but seriously. Do yourself a favor and go get one before the summer ends. The breeze off Calhoun, the silly exercising and occassionally beautiful people and this spritely little drink. There's some kind of lemon syrup in the sugar they use to rim the glass. Wonderful. The thing about Dixie's that always throws us off is the fried food at a place fully of skinny people. It doens't make sense. But we got over it with the happy hour specials. $2 for a plate of fries covered in cheddar, blue cheese, green onions and chunks of bacon. Oh, and lest I forget, these are best eaten smothered in their house ranch dressing. I know! It's like a heart attack on a plate. But, damn. The other yummy treat we had was a little big of fried mac and cheese. It's supposed to be included in this "country fair sampler" but everything else in there sucks. Fishy, oddly crunchy (like eating sand crunchy) catfish nibblers and uber bland fried chicken wings. But can you really go wrong with fried cheese? I've been to the state fair and I've been to Wisconsin, thus far the answer is no. You can never, ever go wrong with fried cheese.
Afterwards we had dinner reservations at Vicortia Amore a brand new restaurant on Lake Street and Irving, where the Giorgio's wine bar used to be. The place is so new that they've yet to even tell anyone that they're open. The website still says that they are nearing opening. Not true, they're open. This Thursday was only their second day in business. Because of that, our poor waiter (Jeff, great guy) wasn't ready for a barage of questions on the menu and wine list by a bunch of amateur foodies. Between the 6 of us, we did manage to navigate the menu. The three different bottles of wine were entirely drinkable. As Jeff filled my glass at nearly every opportunity they were perhaps a little more drinkable than maybe others thought them to be.
The calamari might have been better had someone not doused them in lemon juice beyond recognition. They were cut into little triangles that kind of freaked some people out. The olive oil that they serve with wonderful crusty bread was so fruity it was almost like you could just pour it down your throat and live in happy gluttony for years. It was the best olive oil I have ever tasted. My entree was a cornicoupia of seafood. More perhaps, than they meant to serve, because this was ridiculous, but it was good. They were out of some food and some items weren't entirely what they described on the menu. (I had a whole salmon filet materialize out of thin air.) But I, personally, loved the place in no small part because of our waiter. He was so kind and sweet to me, that I really appreciated the extra mile and will defintely be going back there soon.
Tummy's full we went to the Independent after dinner. I ordered my drink no less than four times before we threw in the towel and left. I do have a very unflattering picture of our waitress and drink ignorer that I will upload to this blog as soon as I figure out how.
My sister & I walked back to my apartment and ended the night on my stoop sipping on vodka lemonades and one of those few magically perfect summer nights.

**Disclaimer, I've had reports since posting this that the service has gotten even worse and my buddy Jeff doesn't appear to be there anymore.

El Meson

I don't know what it is about this place, but I'm totally smitten. The first time I went in there was a less than stellar experience. It was a few years ago and an unfotunate fellow I'd barely been dating wanted me, for some reason, to meet his mother. The little tiny white storefront was the scene of a very uncomfortable and blessedly breif dinner. Also, as it was near the holidays she did give me some very cute coasters. So, there was a little bit of bribery. More unfortunate for the fellow, this was not a love connection. He actually once asked me if I thought he was going bald. I did not know that this was something still up for debate as it looked like the great hair retreat had started years before meeting me. I mean, there was a crown of little barenaked head on his crown! What did he think? He borrowed a yamaca and forgot to take it off for a few years. Anyway, for many reasons the place didn't impress me. Maybe it was partially the bad, breif dating experience. More likely it was just the entirity of the lackluster dinner. Nothing was particularly good.
And then, on a whim and wooed by the thought of half price bottles of wine and sangria Sunday through Thursday! THURSDAY! My favorite day to go out and here they were bribing me! Also, I'd heard that there had been many improvements since about a year ago. They remodled and even more recently they expanded their cute little patio. After one wonderful experience with a small dinner with my best friend I was sold. Now, not only have I been back there 5 times in the last two months, but I've recommended it to friends who are now also regulars.
I still haven't made it to the entrees. The tapas are just too wonderful. On one occassion the meat tray was really oily and too much. The sausage wasn't spicy enough and the quince was overpowering. But for the most part, everything else was wonderful. My favorite is the little calamari stuffed with diced shrimp and crab served over a little crostini drizzeled in olive oil. The last time I was there we had their version of ceviche, which was a little bit different than what I expected, but it was really good. Lots of seafood chopped and limey with lively little cilantro bits over a corn tostada. Also, everything is served with a basket of really wonderful, really simplistic garlic bread.
The cute little patio almost always has openings and in the inside the booths are very private. All in all, it really is the perfect date night. And although I'm sure it will still be lovely in the winter time, it is so romantic for the summer nights. The perfect (HALF PRICED!) sangria and a lovely little trio of dishes to share. Afterwards, Crema cafe is less than a block away.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

You can't got home again, but you can eat nearby.

In the amount of odd decisions and impulses I've acting on in all my 28 years I never thought I'd include agreeing to go to a 10 year high school reunion would be one of them. Like so many angst-ridden souls before me I was certian I held the market on being the most outcast girl in Doc Martens EVER and that I wrote the best morbid poetry of all time.
The couple of times I've driven back to and one time through Grand Rapids, MN I've had physical symptoms that have included hives, twitching, Toret's like outbursts, bladder spasms, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, ichty eyes, sleeplessness and dry mouth.
Then, like a cloud that was lifted, I realized I really didn't ever have to go back there. See, what happened is after I left (cue violins) the small business my family had put everything in to went under. And then the house burned down, which totally sucks in a way you will never know unless it happens to you. The fam picked up what they could, what had been donated to them and moved, evenutally to Duluth. Then dad started getting sick and subsequently died. So, whenever I run in to anyone who might want to know why I don't visit I've really got a good amount of answers. Answers that always make my questioner more than a little uncomfortable. So, I don't go and most everyone who knows me knows why.
But then a really odd thing happened a couple of weeks ago. My sweetie & I decided to have a spontaneous road trip to... somewhere. Three and a half hours later the familiar sites began a series of surprisingly warm memories. Pattersons store where my dad and I would go Satruday mornings on the snowmobile for O.J. and a Betty & Veronica comic for me. The Drumbeater/Captain Hooks/ whatever they're calling in now restaurant where I had my first bite of calamari (years later I would discover it wasn't supposed to taste like plastic tubing or resemble a fish stick.) Then there was Pokegama Lake. We lived in this beautiful log house on Sunnybeach Road. In reality, I think we were the only people on the whole road treated to an actual sandy beach. No weeds, no rocks. It was great.
Once we arrived in town the real reason I left occurred to me. It wasn't because of the hard feelings, the kids who'd teased me, the suffocating feeling of trying to change and grow in a small town, the bad memories, the funky paper plant smell... It's that there is NOTHING to do in Grand Rapids! Seriously, you've got two options 1) Find a beach -- not as easy as you would think or 2) go to a movie. I went for door number 3) recreational eating.
It was hard to decide where to start. There was The Sawmill, wonderful steaks and the most amazing buttery, cripsy brown, melt-in-your-mouth fantastic popovers. There the Forest Lake, beautiful views of the little lake, perfect for all your pre-prom food needs. There's Hong Kong Garden the wonderful Chinese food place that I now feel a kinship with. (Their beautiful water front location burned to the ground and now they're trapped in one of the stinkiest Hotels in town. Wait. Motel.)
We decided instead to go to Sammy's Pizza.
My dad I & used to go in there for lunch together, especially the two years I skipped high school and opted for the Post Secondary option, which meant I could go to the community college and come and go as I please. Wow, was that liberating. But, we'd go in and order a half pepperoni half Sammy's special (their own homemade Italian sausage, onion and green peppers.) My dad would wave hi to Tony, the most Italian guy in the whole city and we'd sit down, open up the daily paper and not talk. And somehow, it was some of the greatest bonding. Just being together and being quiet. He was worried about what I was doing hanging around with all those college guys ("NOTHING, Dad! Geez.") I didn't have to worry about what was going to happen to my family after graduation. After I was gone.
My sweetie and I sat down and ordered a sausage pizza, a compromise in the spirit of Dad. The sausage is great, but damn if I don't continue to hate onions and green peppers on my pizza. It's a crispy thin crust and covered with gooey cheese. We first ate all of the teeny corner pieces. Then to my delight, I found myself shaking on real parmesean cheese freshly grated!! right onto my little squares of pizza. I could have eaten the entire thing. After stopping myself from doing just that. I continued to read my section of the paper while dabbing at the cheese with my index finger. And he sat there reading his section of the paper. Neither of us having to say a word and I knew it was all going to be okay again.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Another round of happy hour with the coworkers

I've been holding off on updating this, because I was a little bit embarrassed to admit that two weeks in a row there were these things that pass for happy hours. The main thing is that it's just not fair to the rest of the world that we're allowed to have this much fun on a weeknight. Granted some fair better than others at these events. Some make wiser decisions. There's P.W., who always seems to know the precise minute that a lady should take her leave. There's me and the nick named J.Lo (not to be confused with anyone ever referred to as Jenny) who really like to take hold of the night and throttle it for all she's good for.
We started out having a couple of Lemon Drop martinis at Dixie's on Calhoun. This is my new favorite drink. It tastes just like lemonade, not overly sweet and there seems to be a lemon syrup in the sugar dipped rim of the glass. They're simply marvey for Babs and Midge after a strenuous spinning session. Personally, I find they're a good way to warm up. I downed three and was feeling pretty festive. The happy hour food at Dixie's always seems so out of sync with the atmosphere. We're right next to an athletic club and their food options are mainly fried. I don't really care for any of the appetizers except for the fried maccaroni in the State Fair special. You only get two mixed in with other fried monstrosities, but these are... so right, how can it be so wrong!?
After the sun started to dip below the rollerbladers circling the lake we decided it was time to move on. No, not go home, as some people who'd been drinking for about three hours right after work would assume. Oh, no. We needed a change in scenery. There was much discussion and disagreement about the next venue. Rocket was in favor of Britt's lawn bowling. I don't know why, but I'm guessing the twenty-something clientle plays into that. I refused to go. I'm kind of a wet blanket that way. I just can't handle downtown past a certain hour. I do not own a tube top and I will not go to downtown Minneapolis after 9 o'clock at night. That's just all there is to it.
We ended up at Chino Latino-- clearly a compromise on all sides. I did remind Rocket of the Chinopolitans that he so adores, helping ease the move. That's their version of the usual Cosmo. It's served with blood oranges hand squeezed by Tibetian blessed Imperial mokey's or some such thing that justifies the $12 price tag. Seriously. It's also served over dry ice to up the danger factor. Once my drink exploded on me. No permanent scarring or anything, but that's just a little too Xtreme for my cocktail needs. Also, they garnish the drink with a dendrobium orchid that try as you might will NEVER stay in your hair. Ladies, trust me, we've tried.
At first we were all crowded around this little table in the bar, but J.Lo being the rock star that she is (again, never dated Puffy) sweet talked the hostess into getting us a table outside. My favorite food that they have there is their cheese dip. Probably because it's just molten, spicy cheese served in a little cauldron. Again, with the danger factor! It tastes just like what I would imagine a tin of Frito Lay jalepeno cheese dip would taste like if you left it on the side walk on a hot summer day. So, you know, tasty when you've been drinking.
I was so into my cheese dip that I didn't even look up when some girl asked me for a lighter. ("Can't talk now. Eating!") The lady at the table next to us pointed out that it was none other than Lindsay Lohan. I'll wait and let you collect yourself. Yup. My lighter. I was underwhelmed to say the least, until I turned around and looked at her.
Christ on a Chruch what a mess!! I thought that the tabloids must take advantage of bad hair days, bad angles and over all terroistic photo taking. Not true. She's really that big of a mess! She was wearing teeny little jeans, floppy top and a black, leather newsboy hat. She was trying, with the help of some friends to negotiate entrance into the back seat of a Rainbow cab. It looked like this was an extremely difficult task. "Wow, she is drunk," someone said. "But she's only 18," answered an US reading Jane. (She admitted it later.) So, Rocket yelled, "Nice pleather hat!!" Cute. Heckle the drunk kid. And yet, it was just a little bit funny.
So, if you heard the radio show on KS95 that Wednesday, and they were talking to a Jane from Minneapolis confirming rumors that L.L. was indeed in our midst: that was my girl.
As a post script, after 3 lemon drop martinis and a ridiculous amount of Mt. Gay rum and cokes I did not have a hangover the next day. I think it was the cheese dip.