Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The End of an Era

Imagine my sadness to find this email this morning:

Arrivaderci and Au Revoir Auriga
Twin Cities fine dining establishment announces its closing
MINNEAPOLIS – Award-winning and celebrated by local, national and ineternational diners and “foodies” alike, Auriga announced today its plans to close the restaurant following dinner service on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2007.
“We accomplished exactly what we set out to do when we opened,” said Doug Flicker, acclaimed chef and one of Auriga’s three owners. “We’re very proud of our work and appreciative of our staff and customers.”
Flicker’s upcoming plan includes an extended culinary working trip on the West coast, and owners Melinda Van Eeckhout and Jim Andrus plan time off to decide future endeavors.
“It’s simply time to move on…on a high note,” the Auriga owners agreed.
Those high notes include a variety of honors for Auriga ranging from being named City Pages’ “Best Restaurant Minneapolis” in 1999, 2000 and 2005, to being featured on the Food Network program “Tasty Travels” with Rachel Ray.
The culinary masterminds behind Auriga also received local and national praise as Flicker was the first Twin Cities chef inducted into Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame and was also invited to cook at the James Beard House in June 2006.
About Auriga: Located on the corner of Franklin Ave. and Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis, Auriga restaurant opened its doors in 1997 with young, passionate chefs driving a cuisine-focused dining experience. Committed to providing the Twin Cities with a common-sense approach to cooking with cuisine refined to uncommon sophistication, the restaurant incorporated fresh, locally-grown, organic fare and distinctive ingredients into every dish. Head chef Doug Flicker and collaborating chef Melinda Van Eeckhout garnered praise for their innovative cuisine and helped establish a long list of accolades for the restaurant.
Reservations at Auriga restaurant are suggested and can be made by calling (612) 871-0777.
Thank you for being our guest.
Auriga ~ 1930 Hennepin Avenue ~ Minneapolis, MN 55403 ~ 612-871-0777
visit us on-line

WAH!!!! This is my favorite happy hour and they're leaving me!! In fact, I've only actually had dinner service at this place twice because I can't afford it, but each time was heavenly. I'm sorry to see them go, but I guess I'm not shocked what with all the other fine dining places tanking around town. But Five and Levain sucked. This was one of the finest meals in town. Sad. So, I'm going to scrape together some change from the floor of my car and try to find a little pizza and an amuse to soothe my sorrows.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hi! Everybody! Here's me after lots of rolling around on the floor and grunting! Aren't I preeeety?
Okay, so yeah, not so much. But like every other food loving American, I could stand to shed a couple of pounds... or dozens, but who's counting besides me and my scale? So, since I'm boring and poor and spend a lot of time in my house alone, shivering and crying out for an amuse bouche, I decided that maybe it's time to move the fat ass around a bit, in hopes of something happening. Something like, I become a stunningly slvet shiksa. So far... yeah, not so much.
I've had this workout video for a while, and I had remembered that I liked it that weekend in '02 when I last promised to do something about said ass's heft. So, I popped this in. And, I pretty much hate all of these people. Ellen (that's her over there) she's pretty cool. I mean, it's not like we're gonna be hanging out any time soon, but I can deal. She's generally helpful and says things that are encouraging like, "Ooo! Feel that stretch!" and "Alright now! We're super warm, so really go for it!" Hey thanks, Ellen. I will. And then I will pull something out of wack that hasn't been moved in this current century and I'm limping for a week. But I did it! Yay me, right?
It's these other hos that I've got my problems with. First off, who in the hell invited Tracy? Tracy is apparently this post-op MTF tranny that just whizzed in from Dusseldorf, judging by her ridiculous french braided pony-tails, rigidly defined muscles and chizzeled Adam's apple. This is the bitch that someone picked to be the one to modify the exercises for the fatties that haven't climbed a set of stairs without getting winded in eons? HER!! She could totally kick Arnie's Swarzy ass and she's going to take it easy on this work out. Thanks a lot TRACY!
And then, I don't know when Tara Reid decided working out was her thing and maybe she did go off to the bar immediately after finishing this workout, but dayum she can do a standing Pilates imprint. She's all in the back, looking stupid, but every so often then show her skinny ribs sticking out all over the place, proturing out under the fake boobs. It's amazing that they don't pop those things.
Why don't they show the kind of frumpy girl in the back doing her thang. She looks cool, like we could hang. But no, they'll go from a wide shot of everybody noticably NOT sweating or breathing hard to this alien lookin' dude they've got in the backgroung banging away like a chimp on bongos. He's gray. I have no idea what nationality results in a gray skin pigment, but there he is with his choppy L.A. in the 90's hair cut and bright blonde highlights. I don't want to look at him! He's not doing anything! I don't want to have to follow along with Man Hands and I really don't want to have buy anything in the Plus department... start shopping at full name stores like Elizabeth or Catherine's.
So, I keep going. Sweat, flail, roll around on the floor and curse my house keeping skills and pray for it all to be over very soon.
I am so totally buff.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hollowed Chambers of Good Eats

I can't believe it took me a week to get to this post! My half dozen fans, you must have been devastated! Oh, cruel soul thy name is Joy. I did finally get to eat at a nice restaurant. Thank the lord above! I thought I was never going to see the inside of a complimentary bread basket again.
My extremely attractive, generous and genius coworker- Jane, took me and my girl J.Lo out for a late post-holiday-man-this-job-can-make-you-crazy-thanks-for-not-showing-up-with-that-Uzi lunch. She let me pick, so of course I chose Chambers Kitchen. I can't believe Jean-George has been in town for months now and I'm only just making it over there.
Just getting to the place on Thursday was a bit of a challenge. We tried to take the skyway as far as we could, but when we made it to the connection to the Institute of Arts, they have a sign posted that only students and faculty are allowed inside. Laura paid it no mind and strode in on her gorgeous Cole-Hahn boots. Trying to walk confidently I followed as we wandered around - WITH PURPOSE- looking for an elevator, stairs or some method for escape. Finally, we crammed into what was probably an elevator reserved for the handicapped, breezed out onto the streets past a glowering receptionist. God, we're awesome.
We made our way to the front of the restaurant, past really interesting decor, an open gas fireplace by the door and art deco furniture. Part of the whole thing of the place is that the developer guy that owns the hotel has a ridiculous art collection. Not only ridiculous in scope, size or known names, but just that, there's some ridiculous art in there. Take one picture of a man of some Asian persuasion in what appears to be a studio apartment with pictures of nakkid ladies on the walls, a pack of Marlboro's and a used bottle of lube next to his bed. EW! Or the photo of the hurricane lantern that's filled with cigarettes butts shot blurry like Elizabeth Taylor. What the eff is that? See? This is why I haven't been to the Walker in ages. I get it when I'm looking at something cool/weird in a local gallery or coffee shop. But thousands of dollars for an approximation of a pervert. ...that was probably the title of the work.
So, Mr. Snooty McMetrosexual guided us downstairs to our table. The room is sparse, very white and a little cold. It does give one the same feeling of clean that the people of the 20's must have picked up from the first White Castle's marketing campaign, though.
The bread basket was so good. The first one I tried had rosemary and golden raisins in it. Tender spicy sweet like the holidays and crusty like your old Ant Edna. We ordered the spinach and cheese ravioli in a brown butter sage sauce and the savory mushroom spring rolls with galangal dipping sauce for appetizers. This was also about the time that we ordered wine. I received a gorgeous glass of Pinot Noir. And I swear I'm not copying that Miles character in Sideways, but there really is something about a great Pinot. It was fruity, without being cloying, rich without heaviness and a plumey little delight in fine stemware. That was another thing I noticed. Everything in this place is gorgeous. The plates and bowls are reminiscent of Crate and Barrel, except really fancy. Again, it was all white with clean lines with soft curves. A bowl's edge would dip up on one end and fold over on the other.
The appetizers arrived and I tried not to hork them down in this basement of fine dining. Everything was wonderful and well executed. I think the pasta could have been just a bit more tender. I think maybe if it had been rolled out a little thinner, that might have done the trick. The spring rolls were sauteed in butter, woody mushrooms tucked into a crispy envelope of wrapper and fried. The galangal was a refreshing and mildly spiced green curry sauce in the most adorable dipping bowl that I have ever seen.
We all wanted the ahi tuna burger as an entree, so I thought I'd be the clever one and order something different. Idiot. I had the raw ahi tuna with wasabi pizza. I know. I can see you recoiling from here. But I thought, hey, why not try something new. Because, idiot, you don't try something new when you already know that you're not fond of one of the ingredients. It's true. I hate wasabi. No matter how many times I try it, or try to convince myself that it's good, it's not. I hate it. And there was so much of it on this thing! The entire debacle was an abhorrent combination of soggy pizza crust with a tuna carpaccio smooshing over about half a quart of what I can only guess was a wasabi mayonnaise. There was no ignoring this stuff. Oh, and the sickly texture of raw tuna on soggy pizza crust GAH! What was I thinking!? Luckily, my companions are of a considerate nature and both gave me a quarter of their sandwiches. I absolutely loved those things. From the tippy top fresh bun to the lettuce and spicy ginger flavor through the pleasant texture of the pink, fleshy middle down to the other half of fresh from the oven that day bun. The ahi tuna burger was a complete success. They also serve them with house made potato chips, the best I've had outside of my mama's kitchen. Thinly shaved potatoes fried and heavily salted. It seems to me that when most restaurants do the house made chip thing they either cut the potatoes too thick, or they scorch them into brown oblivion (Firelake, I'm looking at you!) These were better than Old Dutch. Better than Lays! And definitely better than anything I was going to whip up at home.
And then somewhere, between my greedy hovering over my friend's lunches and the revolting mess sitting in front of me, I ordered another soothing glass of wine. Oh... so soothely. Who needs working anyway? There's nothing there! Pssshh.
To the servers credit, they did take the stank pizza off the bill without me saying a word. Leisurely we took care of the check (okay JANE took care of the check, because I sure as hell can't pay for this stuff) and made our way up the stairs. About half a dozen various staff members wished us on our merry way. On the way out the door, we did decided to stop off at the bathroom. Maybe it was wine glass number two, but this place was gorgeous! It's a paean to the lavatory! Again it was very clean with white and aquamarine tiles. The stalls were each closed with a door that went all the way to the floor. They were practically sound proofed! This goes over well for me, a shy pee-er, unless fueled by more wine than should be consumed on a weekday. Even the way the sinks drain off is really cool.
Satisfied and satiated, I grinned as I walked out of the ladies room with the back of my skirt tucked into my underwear.

Monday, January 08, 2007

6 p.m. in the Garden of Good and Civil

How could you even look at this room and not internally sigh? Garden's of Salonica perfect for a little neighborhood restaurant. Flattering lighting, local art/sculpture and there's the bar populated with wine! Perfection for a date night, or an evening of catching up with an old friend.
Unfortunately, for me, it's in what is now known as the "Other City." I can't help it. I think I've seen all there is in terms of dining in St. Paul. There just ain't that much if you are trying to avoid fried things and "colorful regulars."
Although, we did meet one colorful character when Matt and I stopped in here early Saturday night. His name was Wes and I think he said he was 8. His mom was hanging out at the bar with some friends and he was an unstoppable force of cuteness. He came marching over to our table (the evil me is thinking, "Ew! Kid Germs!") But, maybe it was the baby boom of my friends around me or maybe this kid was just the greatest little boy ever. I'm not sure, but man did we have fun talking to him. While he offered to show us his secret lab and some seriously kick-ass magic powers, he was also kind enough to help me get over my strong distaste for video games. Apparently, I should be playing the games with an E on them, because E means for Everybody, so they are considerably easier. Who knew? Although, there was the time when I spazzed out after my sisters marginally retarded friend tried to assist me at a friendly game of Mario Cart by saying, "No, you need to TURN" as Yoshi slammed repeatedly into a wall in a Sisyphean effort to make it once around the track. I don't know that E does mean for Everyone.
I felt bad ordering wine in front of a child, but figured, he probably wouldn't be scarred for life. The wine list does leave a little to be desired, by the bottle, and you're fine, but the glass list isn't that great. Personally, I don't think the Greeks have got it down with the grapes, but that's just me.
When Wes' mom finally came to collect him, explaining that it was time for him to go home and hang out with Daddy because Mommy's going out with the girls tonight. (Hey, maybe I could be a candidate for motherhood after all! Could I get some kind of guarantee that my kid would be this charming?)
Sadly, with the floor show gone, the restaurant suddenly sparkled a little less. The couple seated next to us were horrible. The woman looked exactly like Janice from Friends and the guy had a Bluetooth thingy in his ear and was taking calls. Irritating, soul-sucking yuppies. I wanted to spit Ouzo at them and yell "OPA!!!"
Anyway, our food was coming at a perfect pace for me to share all of my thoughts with my dear heart. I even made him choke on his Tyro when I did my machine gun impression of Janice's laugh Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!!
We started with the Tyro, a blended cheese and red pepper mix served with warm pita bread. Super garlicky, spicy and heaven sent. It's served with one kalamata olive on top. One is never enough. I don't know what it is that they do, or where they get them, but these are without question the best olives I've ever had.
Another great thing about this restaurant is that they use local and organic ingredients wherever possible. While you'd expect that of Lucia or Brenda, not so much at the ethnic restaurants. I hope this is a trend that stays. The food is always better for it.
For entrees, Matt had the Pastitsio and I had the Ambelodolmades. Pastitio is best described as a Greek lasagna. It's layers of tubular pasta mixed with seasoned ground beef and bachamel sauce, baked with a crispy crust on top. It was wonderful, rich and full. It was crispy, crusty and satisfying, the holy trinity of winter food. My little stuffed grape leaves were so garlicky that I don't think I'll be making any new friends for the rest of the week. I'll probably be weeding out a few of the more sensitive ones that I already have. Their tzatziki is rich with Greek yogurt, bright with dill and lemon and crashing down on all your taste buds with crazy amounts of garlic. The whole thing was delicious and persistent. There was no forgetting what I'd had for dinner that night or for the rest of the weekend.
They also do a great lunch service, if you're looking for something place different near downtown Minneapolis. I'll be back before too long.
If you see Wes, please tell him he was right. I should let Matt play video games, even if it's just one day a week, like Tuesday.

Friday, January 05, 2007


Wassup mah bitches!?
I'm sorry, the pictures that I've been getting of this kid are killing me! Allow me to introduce you to Emma Jean Melius- just how cute is she!? My girl's Kelly and Penny (formerly) Conley both had baby girls just before the holidays. Two sisters that got pregs within two weeks of one another! Those crazy kids do everything together. So, between them and my cousin Mara, my entire holiday line of quesitoning was baby related. You know, nobody asked me how much nookie I was getting before I got married. Now, everybody's all up in my bizzanaz. I suppose that's what family and friends are for. If your single, it's are you seeing anybody? Or worse, why haven't you found anybody -- which is just mean. Then you're dating and people start asking when are you getting married? And now the baby question. I'm holding Penny, Kelly and Mara personally accountable for at least 75% of the familial harassment I was forced to endure this holiday season. 'Course it was good to see everyone, but I'm exhausted. Did you make it through scott free? I doubt it. What is it about the people that you love the most that they are the first to get just right under your skin?
I talked with my sister (we'll call her Typhoid Mary for the purposes of this article) on the phone the other night and suddenly I'm 10 and I want to tell her to stop touching my stuff!!! It never ends. I'm a thirty year old brat. But that's one of my charming points too.
And boy, oh, boy did I eat well over the holidays. My Great Auntie Joy bought us a prime rib the size of Manhattan. Typhoid is totally the anal-retentive chef and fussed and fussed over her creation of the perfect Yorkshire pudding. What a meal. We paired it with a really good Zin and all was right in the world. It was even snowing! We're goddamn Currier and Ives, I'll tell ya.
Everything since then has been all about hybernation. I haven't been going out to eat. I haven't even been cooking! I've been heating, which is a sorry state for my kitchen. The microwave has been getting so much action, the springs are busting.
But, hopefully, now that I'm over the Death Cold - evil sister!- I'm ready to start my new year off with some new restaurants. Next week I'll FINALLY be getting over to see the Ice bar at the Chambers Hotel. I'm also looking forward to checking out the new Shamrocks (I could do without that name) in St. Paul that's being taken over by the dudes that run the Nook. I could soon be living blocks away from one of the best Juicy Lucy's in town! I'll keep you posted.