Friday, February 29, 2008

The Strip Club in St. Paul

Finally! I made it! I went out to eat. There were linen napkins and everything. It was wonderful - glorious - transcendent!
Restaurant week has been agony on me. (Andy telling me about her meal at Lurcat made me tear up a bit.) No longer working in a place where I have a large expense account has been a bit of an adjustment. I'm probably never going to dined at the new r. Norman's or see the inside of Porter and Frye, but I'd be damned if darling J.D. Fratzke and Tim Niver's joint venture was going to open up just a hop, skip and jump from the hovel and I wasn't going to get my ass in there. I refused to be denied no matter what that damn ATM machine kept telling me. I do not have insufficient funds! I will fund this venture - dammit!
Thankfully, Matt's actually the one who funded it. Wednesday night was the first evening in months that he was relatively busy slinging drinks to actual, paying patrons. He made just enough in tips for me to beg - DATE NIGHT! PLEASE! Darling husband, it will make me so happy. Don't you want to see me happy? You don't want me to be angry. You wouldn't like me angry.
Nice guy that he is, he even drove downtown to pick me up so my delicate feet wouldn't have to be bruised by climbing onto the train platform and be squished in with the slush and scads of other people. Tushie protected from hard bus seats, we headed to the East side of St. Paul.
The Strip Club is nestled into a little block just across from Metropolitan University. It's one of those neighborhoods that could be fixed up with a lot of public money and some crazy, devotees to the Victorian architecture. Those people have not yet arrived. Matt described the area as a "Demilitarized zone." (Which reminded me of a line in Ghostbusters, which made me laugh, which drew an odd look.)
We were even lucky enough to get a parking spot right out side the front door. This was almost too good to be true.
The soft light beckoned and Tim greeted us at the door before letting us choose our table. We picked a cozy looking spot right next to the bar. I noted that Mike Doughty was drifting through the air as we were seated, soon followed by Wilco's Sky Blue Sky. As I love this music and play it often, I nestled into my chair, sighed and let go. It was over. The long search through the desert had landed me in the middle of my Oasis. I ordered a glass of the Valpociella. It was delicious, mild blackberry notes and ... I can't even explain it. I hadn't ordered a glass of wine in a restaurant in over a month. I slurpped it up and I was happy.
After consulting the menu and listening to the dazzling array of specials, we decided just to order a few of the small plates. We had fried oysters, mussels, the meat on a stick and the fries with bacon ketchup (Bacon! Ketchup! Genius!)
First to arrive were the fries. I was a little worried. They looked to be the usual McDonald's wannabes out of a plastic freezer bag. They came not only with bacon ketchup (Bacon! Ketchup!) but also a remoulade.
"Isn't remoulade like a seafood thing?" Matt asked.
I couldn't answer - mouth full of bacon ketchup. The fries were better than they looked, but not extraordinary. The bacon ketchup was pretty good, but I didn't get much of a bacon (BACON!) flavor in there. It was just a sweet, husky little home made ketchup. It was good with just a little whisp of smokey flavor. It tasted almost a little bit like curry.
The remoulade was a delight, though, creamy and full of herby notes. The fries were really just a vessel for the remoulade.
Next arrived our little oysters. I was a bit concerned because I imagined they would be sloppy and taste old. We're not exactly seaside here. I was so wrong. So very, very wrong. They were crispy, salty crunchy on the outside and achingly tender, briny and delicate on the inside. They actually tasted like the sea, but better - because, ya know, they're fried. Incredible. They came with a little swipe of a rose colored sauce on the plate that further accented the flavor. It was wonderful!
Then arrived the skewered meat and the mussels. The meat was strip steak (naturally) and served atop a darling little mixed salad, radicchio and curly endive - buddies! Where have to been? The steak was cooked medium rare - perfection. Perfectly tender, expertly seasoned and lovingly prepared. I tried to cut it into tiny bites and savor. This was all rushing by too quickly! I knew that soon our money would be gone and I'd be forced back onto that couch watching Dr. Drew and those wacky druggies on VH1. (Weirder - when we did eventually return, we actually watched a Toby Keith biography. I cannot begin to explain this decision to you. I even had the remote control! The hell was I thinking? I do not care to know about the life and times of a guy who came up with the genius line, "We'll put a boot in yer ass." Probably still on a food high.)
Matt wasn't as concerned and horked it down like he did everything else.
The mussels were all jumbled into a tiny little bowl and dressed with falling apart stewed tomato, concentric ringlets of fennel and some little slices of sausage. Our server asked if I'd like another wine. I inquired about my favorite rum and he said they didn't carry it. He elaborated that his best friend had just been deriding him for not stocking it. Apparently, he makes his own tonic and the friend suggested that Mt. Gay would be the perfect foil.
"Wait, I have to address this. I'm a bartender," said my gorgeous husband, puffed up, full of mixology talents. "Did you say you make your own tonic? How do you go about doing that?"
He happily explained what he did, make a simple syrup, some bark from Brazil and lemon grass - voila! Tonic. Matt asked if we could try some. It was amazing. Seriously, nothing like what you normally get. There was no cloying sweetness. It was herby, with just a hint of bitter a the back of your throat. You can really taste the lemongrass and the ... bark. "Oh, yeah," Matt said, "Can I get that and some Beefeater?"
"I'd love it with some Hendrick's. And your friend is right. You need to start stocking Mt. Gay."
We chatted a bit more with our server - Dan. Dan really, really knows his way around a bar. He's obviously way more than some guy who waits tables, but is more the guy that runs the entire bar and could probably be making big, big bucks working from some corporate restaurant, but he said he really admired what J.D. and Tim were doing.
Back to the mussels - I think I only got about four because Matt was so busy shoveling them into his gaping maw that I was afraid to reach for another, fearing he'd take off a finger. The fennel gave the broth a gentle anise flavor paired with the musky beer (Summit,) and slick butter flavors. The sausages were billed as spicy, but weren't hot spicy. I thought they would be like a chorizo, but were more like a Fraboni's garlic sausage. They were gently spiced and paired really well with the fennel. After slurping up all the broth, we sipped our expertly made cocktails and breathed deeply.
From where I was sitting I had an excellent view of downtown Saint Paul. Cars zooming, lights shimmering in the inky winter evening. The last few snowflakes were dancing under the streetlight.
We were tempted by all of the deserts - blueberry crumble with Izzy's Cinnamon ice cream, flourless chocolate cake with framboise strawberries and a decadent triffle that I can't fully describe because as Dan was telling me about it my eyes rolled back into my head, my tongue draped out of the corner of my mouth past my chin and the garggling made it difficult for me to concentrate. All sounded heavenly. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. We had to pack up our remaining pennies and head back down the hill. Our moment of glory was fading, back to the realities of life on West 7th.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Would You Like to Smell the Bottlecap?

Oh, thank God. After weeks in restaurant exile I'm going out tonight! Matt's promised to take me to a restaurant that I've been obessing over. I hope it's good. I hope they have straws. Talk to you guys tomorrow!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Saturday at Midtown Global Market

This despicable weather is said to finally be breaking this weekend. Hurrah!! Time to get out and EAT! I've found that the absolute best way to shed the woolly winter gloom is to spend an entire Saturday at the Midtown Global Market. I always show up famished and inevitably leaving before I'm ready. Like a child at Chuck E. Cheese, I just want one more fix! (Although I'm also gluttonously full.)

Here's what usually happens, I wake up, roll over and stare at Matt. Sometimes this works. Other times, I've forced to either give him sweet angel kisses, or pull his pillow out from underneath his head.

"I'm hungry," I'll mew.

"Good morning, Sweetheart."

"I'm huuuuuuuunnnngrrrrryyyy!"

"Me, too! What should we do about that?"

The goes the conversation of breakfast, yes, but breakfast where? Day by Day cafe isn't worth the money, Barbette is too far, Bennett's isn't to be trusted, Mickey's is a God send, but I don't know if I'm hungover enough to admit I'm eating lard.... And so on, until it's past 11 o'clock and I'm getting crabby and Matt starts thinking about lunch. Which usually leads to talk of sandwiches.

But, where oh, where can we get the eggs and bacon we'd already be enjoying were we not so lazy, a sandwich, something cheesy - possibly fried and get it all without going broke?

"Let's go to the Midtown Market!"

He reaches out and shoves me, "Yes!" I've learned to brace myself, so I don't usually fall of the bed anymore.

We take the winding, interesting and somewhat dangerous drive down Lake Street. The parking lot is located in some kind of mean wind tunnel that whips those chilly temps down even further. And, although you might be tempted to curl up in that fluffy looking snow bank, do NOT go to sleep.

The door whooshes open and past the cool, blue entry way, is the warm tropical beginnings of your latest culinary adventure.

The first restaurant that you will happen upon is A La Salsa. This is the little sister to what I consider the best Mexican restaurant in town, Salsa La Salsa. It's also the only full service restaurant in the place. You can sit down, order a margarita and the incredible, garlicky, butter, snappy, hot little Shrimp Devil Mary Style. Munch on warm chips and try to decide which is better, the smooth green salsa, or the choppy little pico de gallo. Last time we were there we tried the pupusas. They were tiny little masa cakes, filled with cheese and topped with lettuce and avocado. They were divine. The crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside masa gives way to the most heavenly gooey queso. It strings from bite to lip like a spaghetti noodle you have to slurp up. Their tamales are also good, but there's another place where they are even better.

If you don't feel like being waited on, there are plenty of other options. Grab a cup of the I'm-Not-Kidding-You'll-Be-Up-For-Days espresso from Mapps coffee and venture in, past Holy Land deli. The deli case filled with different varieties of olives and feta cheese is impressive, but prepared to have your socks totally blown off by the buffet of food. Swarma, gyros, chicken all piled high in bins flanked by fresh pita. There's also a part of the deli where you can buy their wonderful hoummus and pita chips.

We usually veer left, though. Past the Chinese place that seems to serve only Americanized Chinese food (the cream cheese wonton lovers need to eat, too) past the delectable desserts made by Muslim women at the Starlight Cafe to La Loma.

La Loma serves a Oaxacan tamale. It's a tamale wrapped in a banana leaf and stuffed with masa and spicy, moist shredded chicken. Traditionally, this is where we always start. Matt and I can't stand not to have them. We split it, and sit at the near by tables surrounded by families, people clicking away at laptops (taking advantage of the free wifi) or watching whatever TV is being projected onto the wall. Last time we were there it was bowling. Our lips still tingling from the heat, we're ready to move on.

Having dealt with the crazy hungries, we can choose our next food item more carefully, the edge, the desperation has been held at bay. We have time to wander.

At Farm in the Market I usually pick up some farm fresh eggs, local organic half and half and some of the Pastures a' Plenty meat stuff, so at least on Sunday, we can have a more traditional breakfast. There are all kinds of amazing fruits there, too. The organic tangelos I picked up were other worldy sweet. The juice ran down my forearms as I tried to inhale it.

On the other side of the market is Manny's Tortas. For my money, the only torta in town. The meat is hammered thin, quickly fried, and then put into the perfect sandwich. This goes back to Matt's thing about the club sandwich. On the bottom of the crispy baguette style bread is the hot meat, then a layer of cheese, then the cold ingredients, in this case, jalapenos, lettuce, onion, tomato and chipotle mayo. All served with a bag of Barrel O' Fun potato chips. C'mon! When was the last time you had some Barrel O' Fun? These little fried salt bombs are the perfect foil! And, I insist you order an orange Jarritos to wash it down. The experience is incomplete if you don't have it. They are also quite filling. Don't stop there! There's so much more to see, smell and taste!

United Noodles has a bunch of fun Asian stuff to buy. Skip Lund's for your fish, oyster or soy sauce needs. Here you can get better products for an even cheaper price. Have people over tonight? Pick up a package of mochi, the greatest entertainment desert ever. It's slightly sweet ice cream inside some kind of a fondant type coating. My friend Nami served them once at a dinner party and I can't get enough of them now. No mess ice cream! How can the white carpeted people of the world resist?

I love perusing the meat cases at the subtly named Bymore Meats. It's next to a heavenly smelling pandaera and I can never identify all the meats that I see before me. I always drool over the chiccarones. (That's fried pig skin to you laymen. Do NOT roll your eyes until you've tried it.)

I skip the seafood market with the milky eyed fish and frozen stiff shrimps. The place can't get everything right.

The next food destination could be West Indies Soul for a Ploughman's lunch. It's a savory pastry filled with juicy, mildly spiced meat that is served inside a warm fresh baked bun. (That's right - a pastry is wrapped in bread.) It's like what I imagine the Hot Pocket was based on, except edible. They serve it with a thimble full of their green hot sauce, and boy howdy, they are not kidding. I can handle some spice and this stuff is slap-yo-mama spicy. Incredible! And incredibly filling. If you order one, plan on sharing or going home for a long winters nap.

Another not to miss spot, that I only recently discovered, because geez, how much can one person eat in the afternoon, is Los Ocampo. All of their items seem to be a variation on a theme - fried masa cakes. You'd think that this is something that could get boring, but that's hardly the case. There are all different sorts of meats and toppings for you to mix it up with. I allowed Matt to order. We decided on the sopa, rather than the more traditional huarache because it was smaller, and I'm never ready to get full or stop eating at this place. The wait is a little longer than at the other food stands, but the reason for this is gently explained by sign by the pick up window (or by the register if you read Spanish well.) Everything at Los Ocampo is made from scratch and fresh. It's worth the wait if you're going to get something quality. (At this I sneared at West Indies. Last time I had ordered the meat pie at an off time of day and it had clearly lost its luster an hour or two before being served to me.)

What we were served was nothing less than revolutionary. I'm not kidding. Now, every time I go, I'm going to have to order one of the tamales and one of these Sopas. It was somewhat like the pupusas we'd had at A La Salsa. They were fried masa enveloping stringing, viscous cheese and topped with an incredible smokey, crispy, meat slathered in red sauce. That was topped with lettuce and a drizzle of sour cream. Usually, I pick up the lettuce as it's usually superfluous (and why eat a superfluous veggie?) I didn't in this instance because it played an important role in cooling down the mouth. The meat was generously spicy. I could feel the last icicle clinging to me break off and melt into the floor. Ahhhhhh. I couldn't get over how great this thing was! I asked Matt what kind of meat he'd ordered.

"Chicharron." Naturually.

Our last stop, if I can muster it, is Café Finspan, which I always call the Swedish place (or Andy's place, even though I've never been here with her. It's just very Nordic.) They have the most amazing little sweets - not to mention their refrigerator pickles! Everything is sensibly sized and hard to resist. I love the little carmelly cookies dipped in rich chocolate, or the little almond flavored cakes! Heaven.

At this point, I'm exhausted and know it's time to leave. It will be many, many hours before my stomach settles, let alone begins the call of the hungry again. I watch children pointing at pinatas, and tired punk bikers searching for vegan. Matt pointed out that as cliche as it sounds, this really is a place for everyone.

Times Are Tight

Aren't I always complaining about being broke this time of year? It's because it's colder than Posh Spice's heart cockles outside and nobody is spending any of their time out and about, cavorting and tipping bartenders a living wage. Matt and I are in the purgatory that hits us every year. It's the Death Valley months between the holidays and spring fever. It sucks. But, I'm trying to budget accordingly. Therefore, I saved my money on my lunch today and brought in some instant noodles.

I'm happy to report that my Mom, originator of all of my food obsessions in driving in for the weekend with me. I have all kinds of adventures planned for us. Until then, I penny pinch. And that is how this appeared on my desk at work today:

That's right. I'm having ramen dusted with kibble. YUM.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Raclette Revelation

Have you ever encountered one of these before? I'd never even heard of a raclette until Eric came home from Christmas with the inlaws in Quebec and started raving about it. I didn't entire get what he was saying. "It's like fondue... except totally different!" Those crazy French Canadians. What will they come up with next? I would have been happy to settle on poutine as the greatest accomplishment, but no, they were always coming up with new and innovative wonderful food things that I can't find anywhere in these twin cities!

Eric had ordered his own raclette and invited the usual suspects over for a dinner party. Up until Saturday before we went over, Matt and I were still having this delightful tete a tete.

"What are we having for dinner, again?"

"Eric got a Raclette and we're going to do meats and cheeses on it, " I yelled while applying stunning eye makeup.

"What's a raclette?"

"It's a thing. Like a fondue, but different."

Confused silence, spare change falls from his pockets onto the floor in the next room.

"It's also the name of the cheese."

"What cheese?"

"The cheese we put on the raclette. It's both an appliance and a cheese."

"So, we're having cheese for dinner? Will there be a fondue?"

I rolled my eyes as I was fastening my necklace. It was beside the fact that I was only operating on this flimsy explination that I'd gotten off of Wikipedia. I wouldn't miss an opportunity to pull out my bossy pants. I sighed heavily, hoping the sound would carry from one room to the next. "You'll SEE."

More change falling on the floor. "Goddamit! Where did that come from? I haven't even worn these pants this week!"

After gathering the quarters from the floor we set off for the Western suburbs. It'd takes about 45 minutes for us to get there. This is due to Eric an I marrying outside of our Minneapolis comfort zones. Great men. Bad location.
When we arrived Andy and Laura were already there, all were contemplating which bottle of wine to open first. The easy to get to Frontier with the screw top and the scarily potent alcohol content? Eric had suggested that we could all bring either wine or an appetizer. We'd all brought wine.
Soon we were opening the second bottle and seated at the table with our salad plates before us and a centerpiece of Raclatte. The salad was a delicious blend of arugula, Roquefort, candied pecans and a couple of slices of green apple to garnish, all was drizzled with a delightful vinagrette that Andy had helped season.
"Are we ready?" Eric asked. As I'd finished picking out all of the blue cheese from Andy's and Matt's plates, I emphatically nodded yes. "Let's turn it on."
I spun the dial up to 4, second highest setting.
"Did you turn it on?" Pierre asked me. Pssh, what? Of course I'd... I pressed the POWER button in front of me.
As they cleared our plates, Eric started to bring out bowl after bowl. Andouille sausage, steak, bacon bits, shrimp and scallops. Baquette slices were set on either end of the table. A plate of pickled delights, "When I lived in Germany, they always served Raclette with pickeled things, " Eric explained. Blue and sundried tomato stuffed olives, Italian onions and corinshrons. There were Bella mushrooms and tri-colored bell pepper slices. And then there were the cheeses! Wisconsin aged cheddar, Edam, Gouda and the star of the show, Raclette!
"Wow! You actually found Raclette cheese!" I leaned over Laura's plate to get a better look.
"I know! I couldn't believe that Trader Joe's had it, " Eric called from the kitchen.
Laura grabbed a slice, broke it in half and handed it to me. I'll be up front here, it did not smell good, but that's never been a deterrant for me where cheese is concerned. I popped it in my mouth and let the creamy texture give way to the taste that seemed to permiate my nose, throat and stomach. It was...
"How is it?" Matt asked. I looked at him, corners of my mouth tugging downward.
"Here you try."
Moments later, "AUGH! That's Terrible! It tastes like - " Let me just stop the narritive there for a moment. Matt's description was both colorful and accurate, but a bit vulgar for a blog that his mother and mother in law occassionally read. Let just leave it that I asked Pierre how one would say, "Prostitute" and "Hoo haw" in French. This also lead to me later shouting out, "VAGINA!" like some misguided player on the Fued. You can't take me anywhere.
Pierre returned to the table, as Matt was scouring off his tongue. Eric brought in the dipping sauces, Coconut Curry, Rose sauce, Spicy Thai Peanut and horseradish for the steaks. Matt threw droplets of water at the grill top. They sizzled and scooted their way across the length of it. We were ready to begin.
I loaded up my little tray with gouda, baby bella mushrooms and bacon. I slid it into the bottom and slapped a bunch of steak bits on the top. Anxious from the waiting, we decided another bottle of wine might be neccessary. As soon as the cheese was sizzling and most of the pink was gone from the meat, I poured it all onto a slice of baquette and seasoned it with salt and pepper. Oh, blessed food alchemy, it was delicious! Even the steak was above board. Eric explained that his butcher had given him the trimmings from some of that days high quality cut steaks. What I had tasted like a perfectly dry aged bit of NY strip.
I wanted to do it again! This time I grabbed the cheddar cheese and stuck it down below.
"So, Eric," Laura said, "Have you ever had Raclette cheese before?"
"No, which one is it?" She pointed at the plate. Eric grabbed a piece and placed it on his toungue. His face slowly fell until he was softly gagging. "Oh my God, that's terrible! Have you had this before?" he asked Pierre.
Pierre smiled beatifically, "Sure. It's good." The entire table recoiled. Eric slid the plate of cheese in his direction.
Enough of this, crazy people, I had shrimp to get to. I pulled the first one cooked through off the grill. I sliced into the pink outter shell and gazed upon the perfectly opulecent flesh. I put a tiny little dollop of the coconut curry sauce on top. It was delicious. The skin popped like a perfectly ripe grape as I bit into it and the sweet curry pungancy gently wafted towards the back of my throat. There was only the tiniest of kicks at the back of my throat, very mild curry. I drizzled the sharp cheddar onto another hunk of bread. It was surprisingly cheddar-y flavored for a cheese that melted so well.
The pickle tray was making its rounds and everyone was raving over the onions, but I couldn't be bothered. I had to get me one of those scallops! They weren't ready, so I nabbed a crusty little slice of andouille. I put a dollop of rose sauce on it and down the hatch. This had more of a spicy kick that was mellowed by the ketchup and mayonaise. It was campfire smokey and crisp like a snapped twig. Finally, the scallops were ready. I pulled one off, temporarily abandoning my cheese level (so unlike me!)
"Where's the spicy peanut sauce?" I asked.
"Where are any of the sauces? I haven't seen any of them, " said Andy. Everyone looked around the table, and stopped to my left, where I had abandoned all, but the Thai sauce.
"What?" Forks rested on Crate and Barrel plates. "What?" Finally, I got my sauce. Jerks. TAKE the ketchup and mayo. Rose sauce. Like that's so fancy.
I placed a quivering piece of scallop on my tounge, seasoned only with a little salt. It burst and then melted with the sweet flavor of dried sea salt on the tip of my tongue. The Thai sauce was added to the next bite. Oh, sweet salty, spicy, sweet, succulant heaven this thing was good!
We decended into a food orgy. At this point, I must have had a food blackout, because I can't remember exactly what came next, only there was probably another couple of bottles of wine involved. Soon we were splayed over living room furniture moaning. "Uuuuuuuhhhh, my Goooooood, that was soooooo goooooood. uhhhhhhhhhh."
But, our gracious hosts weren't done with us yet. Oh, no. A dinner at Eric and Pierre's is not complete without some manner of decadent dessert. As, my night caps are usually more alcohol and less chocolate based, I pulled out the bottle of wine that I had brought.
Earlier in the day, I'd made a stop at the Wine Thief. I've only been going there for about a year now, but they have yet to steer me wrong. Everytime I cross the threashold, a giddiness builds in my chest and my eyes glaze over like they haven't since I was four. Every wine I've had has been wonderful and every request I've had (My friends just moved into a new house and I don't know that they know much about wine, so could I please get something unoffensive for pretty cheap?) has been given a thoughtful and accurate answer. (Joy! That bottle was wonderful. It reminded us of what we had when we were in Italy!) Score.
When I'd gone in on Saturday, they were doing a tasting. Unfortunately, as occassionally happens, there was this boorish dude blocking the counter and happily slurping down glass after glass while dominating the room and the attention of the guy working there. I was only able to sneak a glass of a very light Pinot Noir. It was so light, in fact, that I think I could have drank away the whole bottle just while browsing, not unlike a liter of Evian. Next to the tasting counter, however was a bottle that I'd never seen before. I recognized the art to be something from Bonny Doon vineyards. I love the work they do. It's all about cultivating different grapes and having fun. The art seemed to be a picture of a monkey in a fez happily gazing up at a high heeled woman, who may or may not have been a stripper. The accompanying sign said, "Bouteille Call, you know you want it." (Eric, flush from French class pointed out that Bouteille is bottle.)
Truth be told, I didn't even read the back of the bottle until I proudly showed it to Matt. "What? What is this? What's with his little fez?" Giggling, he turned the bottle over. "Grape wine, raspberry wine and grape liquor? You got a fortified wine? What, no Nighttrain?"

"That Nighttrain's a mean hangover." I wasn't worried. Much.
It was much to my relief that when we did remove the cork and take a sip, we all agreed it was delightful. Just a hint of syrupyness, but dense with sweet blueberry smells and jammy consistency.
"I love jammy!" Andy exclaimed.
With our jammy, risque wine, Eric brought out Elclairs, truffles and other fine delictbles. Pierre made Andy some coffee, which Eric brewed Matt some espresso. I was curled up at the end of the sofa, slowly sipping and trying to prop my eyelids open, reflecting on what I've learned. A Raclette might be sort of like fondue... but not really. I have got to get me one of these. Wait, I live in a tiny house with no dining room table. "You guys have got to have us over again!"

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goodies at the Golden Fig

Today was a rough day at work, boy I'll tell ya. I was charged with ordering chocolates for our clients for Valentine's day. I know, rough right? Oh, the drugery. My bruised fingertips ache from all the Googling I've been doing.
Right, like this isn't my dream assignment. Being a moderate localvore (I can't give up grapefruit - you can't make me!) I'm always looking for the opportunity to take advantage of the great food resources that we have here in Minnesota. I think one of the greatest places to shop on the planet is Golden Fig on Grand Avenue. I did a majority of my Christmas shopping for my mom and sister (and okay, me too) there.
Julie got ruby colored popcorn and a beautiful photograph of pickles, Mom got a cookbook from the Gunflint Trail, gouda with fenugeek in it (delicious!), Matt got a book written by D.J. Tice and I got to sample poke, fondle and smell my way through this tiny little store front. The size belies the resources within. There is an ever changing array of culinary delights held within. There are the sassy jams and pickles from Talmage Farms outside of Duluth, cheeses from everywhere, cider from small orchards and various house made spice blends. Try the hot cocoa with the delightfully gooey raspberry marshmellows! To DIE for!
It stands in stark contrast to the Cooks on Crocus Hill just up the street. Where they are layden with all kinds of exotic and facintating tools, the ubiquious Le Crueset casseroles stacked to the ceiling and the buzz of big money gourmands flitting excidedly around the store. At the Golden Fig you're greeted warmly by the enthusiastic and helpful staff before being turned lose on the free samples. These people are clearly a tight knit group who are there because they love and believe in what they are doing. It's not often, in this world of Big Boxes and Noodles & Co. that you can find such a happy Mom 'n' Pop type homey atmosphere. Not to mention that their products are pure and made with the best intentions. You won't find any High Fructose Corn Syrup listed on the back of anything. Pure, golden maple syrup, hand made coffee mugs with adorable little snowmen dancing on the front, kicky little salsas and framed prints of art, the subjects all discovered at the St. Paul Farmers market. This store is a haven for any foodie and a real gem for the saintly city.
If you're out shopping for some chocolates for your sweetie, I highly recommend getting some here. I bought the Twin Cities blend for most of my clients. The one that claims she doesn't like chocolate (unfathomable) I got the Talmage Farms strawberry rhubarb jam with shortbread cookies! Who wouldn't be thrilled to open that?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Want Some? or Every Day Should Be This Good

Okay, it's just wacky cold outside. (-45 degrees is NOT fit for habitation.) I allowed Daisy, our temporary canine visitor out to do her business and lost all feeling in my toes while waiting in the mud room while she happily bounded around the frozen landscape. Therefore, I have pledged that I will not be going anywhere. It is too damn cold to do any damn thing. My day began with three cups of Dunn Bro's coffee, scrambled eggs on fresh ciabatta with strawberry jam from my mom. I've accomplished about fifty loads of laundry, and some general cleaning. By 2:30 ish, I decided I'd earned a break. I drew a steamy bubble bath and squirted down the room with Lilly of the Valley Eau de Parfum. I soaked and savored. Matt fed me spoonfuls of liquid brownie mixture. Not having the committment to laziness that I do, he'd gone out and bought Hope Creamery Butter and Gharidelli dark chocolate. After I got out and moisturized with my fancy lotions, the brownies were just about done. I pulled out a hunk anyway. I have my gooey warm brownie square, Daisy curled up next to me and a tall glass of cool milk. I could get used to this kind of living. I think it's just about time to get to that pedicure I've been putting off. Happy weekend, everybody!

Friday, February 08, 2008

Wild Times in the East, Fueled by Vodka

Well, my night last night didn't exactly turn out as planned. Andy had gotten tickets to last night's Wild game through her work. She invited me to go with her. There were four tickets, but we couldn't get any of our other friends to drop their previous plans. Matt had to work, Laura needed to stay home nursing pink eye and Eric and Pierre just had to go to this Lavendar event at Picosa. Fine. Andy was kind enough to give the extra two to the new girl in her office, April. April was apparently so thrilled with the opportunity to go to the game that she was bouncing off office walls the rest of the day.

We were set to all meet up at the Eagle before heading over to the game.
Traffic was snarled up all the way to Minneapolis so Andy was struggling to get to downtown St. Paul where she and Dan were to meet up with me, April and April's friend (who I would later learn was named Derek.) I was going to have to meet April myself and give her their tickets. Andy described her as having a darker complexion and and brownish hair. She was wearing a white Wild baseball hat and her companion was in a Wild hat and a red turtleneck. "Oh, that narrows it down."

Matt was kind enough to drop me near the bar before heading off to work. I trotted up the frigid street to the Eagle bar. I would rather go to the Eagle in Minneapolis for their 3 for 1's and hot leather nights, but... what are you gonna do. So, I pulled out my phone to call Andy because I did not feel like hanging out with a couple of strangers. Before I could dial, this woman comes racing out of the bar and sweeps me into a giant hug. "Joy! You're Joy right? Andy's friend! RIGHT!" Yeah. "COME INSIDE!!!!" Uh, okay.

I walked past the scantily clad girl guarding the tub of Bud Light and through the pulsating music. I was unfurling myself scarf, jacket, other jacket, gloves, and hoisted myself up onto the tall chair. They were both staring at me with deranged looks. "Oh, I should give you your tickets." I fished them out and was about to say, "So... we got a wait---"

They had their coats on and were out the door. Nice. I hate her. So, I sit there, with my hate, and the loud, terrible music, and the throngs of assholes. I text Andy who assures me she's on her way. I ordered a drink and slammed it. $6, three swallows, but what price can you put on the stopper of your vile of rage? Thankfully, Andy and Dan arrived soon. Dan and I attempted to shake hands. It was awkward because we didn't really. I just shrugged and said, "We'll work on our secret handshake for next time." He laughed. Dan thinks I'm funny = like Dan. (See how easily won over I can be?)

We went inside, I concealed my flask filled to the brim with voddy. We got regular drinks and made our way to our seats. Now, you would think seats 1 and 2 would mean aisle seats. They do everywhere else. But no. They are the absolute two inner most seats in the whole stupid row! PAST a girl with two raccoons strapped to her feet, her moron boyfriend and past April the Guerrilla hugger and her friend MAW Boy. GRRREEAAT. We sat down. The game had started and it wasn't even very good. They were just kind of floating around the ice. Where was the hustle! How 'bout a little fire boys, this is the team that Texas stole from us! No. At one point, two guys looked at each other, shrugged and decided to fight. They did. The crowd cheered. There was no conviction or reason to throw off the gloves. You know, I hated that Russel Crowe Gladiator movie. And already, I was dry.

We waited until the first period was over and went and got regular diet cokes. For some stupid reason I set my glass on top of the garbage can, that had a slight curve to the top of it. Suddenly my glass plunged to the floor and I was out $3.50 that I would never see again. Plus, now I'm the jerk that spilled soda everything. Andy was kind enough to poor half of hers into my cup. Love. Andy. I doctored them and we sipped while watching the crowd go by. A particular perfume wafted past us.

"Do you smell vomit?" Andy asked.

"Yeeaaahh." I grimaced.

"Could just be nacho sauce."

"Does that make it any better?"

We tried to move upwind, but it was no use. Free ticket or no, I was done. I love hockey, but I just couldn't. My mood was ruined and I'm still working out how I can legitimately pin that on Ape.

We left and we went to Moscow on the Hill. As we were approaching two ladies of a certain age passed us. One brunette-ish under some grays, one blonde, one taller than the other. "Hello," they said as they passed us by. Andy and I smiled, warm air escaping into the cold night, whisps of fog passed between us. We smiled at our shared premonition.

The interior of the restaurant was diametrically opposed to the Xcel. The lighting is soft and complimentary, it was warm, cozy and they have piles and piles of Vodka that they're just BEGGING you to drink. Inviting smells wafted from the kitchen, spices and simmered meats. I ordered a shot of Stoli Gold and a gherkin. The waitress carded me and my flask glinted in the candlelight as I opened my purse. Ah, classy.

Andy ordered the Premium flight of vodka, some chicken blini to share and a peasant pelmini. Everything was exquisite. The vodkas were amazing. Each were nuanced and had different flavors. One was even a dark cocoa color. Another had an almost sweet rosy flavor, made from grapes. Yet another tasted like pow, right in the kisser. Ho boy! That'll knock the snow off of your shoulders!

The food was awesome. The little delicate crepes wrapped around diced chicken and mushrooms was outstanding in its simplicity. The rich, cool sour cream generously dolloped on the side like a newly minted snowbank. I could stay here eating these things for days! And they were only 6 dollars!

Why haven't I been eating here every night of this long winter? The food and room are perfect for warming the icicles off the end of your nose and putting the feeling back into the tips of your toes. And it's a great date place, with all of the draped shawls over the lights, and enthusiastic encouragement to enjoy many spirits.

The cheesy, hearty pelmini were draped in golden, gooey cheese and earthy mushrooms. Each little dumpling contained spicy little sausage meatballs. Hearty, warm, winter food. My soul and faith in humanity restored, I was able to go home and get a sound sleep. Maybe I'm not quite the hockey head I once thought I was. I'm much more the bring-on-more-vodka kind of person.

Schast'ya i zdorov'ya!