Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Feliz Nachodad

Ohhhhh-kay. I think I can finally move from the after effects of that Thanksgiving dinner. I might have made too much food. The upside was that everyone got leftovers - the downside is that I tried to eat them all before admitting defeat and busting out the Tupperware.

Of course, the minute the Thanksgiving holiday passes means that my second most favorite holiday of all year has arrived - my very own Birthday Month! YES - skip that pesky Christmas crap (or Chauhnukah Chrap. Kwanza Kwap...)

Matt & I decided to go old school and get in the car for a good ol' fashioned road trip. The only problem was this was our first wintry road trip, which made the destination decisions difficult. Usually, we'd throw back the top on the car and hit the sunny open roads for some where specializing in cheap booze and fried foods - usually somewhere in Wisconsin. The decision for a December trip involved a lot of waffling on my part. I made and canceled reservations for Madison. I love Madison. The problem is that the hotel I wanted to stay at was prohibitively expensive (considering this was being funded by the Holy Bank of Our Mothers) and it's really far. In the convertible, the trip is most of the excitement. In my maroon mom-mobile, it's better either get there in a hurry or go off-roading with the 4 wheel drive.

Besides, while Matt and I make an extraordinarily attractive couple when gussied up, we're more prone to cheese dip stains and bacon breath. Fancy hotels aren't really our style.

Finally, we decided to hit Mankato. I absolute love the landscape of southern MN and we happened to know someone who lived down there. Matt's friend Mark had moved a while ago and was running several restaurants. I figured I owed it to him and my stomach to go check it out. Besides, I reasoned, it's a college town. The drinking should be plentiful and cheap! Woo!

I got us set up at the Mankato Hilton Garden Inn, which was downright luxurious by our standards - they had a POOL and the rooms didn't come in dead hooker scent. After a nicely leisurely drive down we found ourselves in the cozy room overlooking the Verizon logo on their hockey stadium. Classay!

We called Mark only to find out that the Gophers and the Mankato State... guys were playing hockey at that very stadium that night. His restaurant Number 4 was about a block away and they expected to get slammed for dinner rush. This is how I ended at Number four at about 4:30 pm. We are beyond old. Old people at least wait until 5 to have dinner. This was not making me feel better about the impending birthday number. I tried to think of it as a really late lunch, but I know me. My eyelids were propped up with toothpicks by the time we got there and I just hoped I didn't pass out in the bread basket.

Our 19 year old waitress was adorable. She commiserated with Matt and Mark about how the restaurant business can burn you out. "I've been doing this since I was fifteen..." Wow, how'd you make it that long? Sweet. I'm OLD. Sigh. Okay, I'll try to move past that.

I loved the decor of the room, all rich red and blacks. Very stylish and dimly lit. The overhead music was swinging and sounded like icy martinis. It was a welcome reprieve from the annoying Christmas jangly butcherings of standards that seem to be playing everywhere these days.

We started off with some mussels in tomato fish broth. Matt couldn't get enough of them. I wasn't crazy about them. I'm not wild about fish flavor. Matt love
s to eat anything that swims, so I took his word for it that they were wonderful.

Meanwhile, I dove into the pork wontons. They were delightfully crisp and light. The minced pork interior was teased to life with cardamom that snapped into my mouth with the jazzy little ponzu dipping sauce that tasted like a dressed up Hoisin sauce. I only let Matt have one. I ate the rest. And half of the French fries that came with the mussels which also tasted wonderful dipped in the sauce.

Because I gorged myself on all those, the time for the entrees came and I wasn't that hungry. Idiot! The menu for the evening sounded spectacular - venison medallions in particular sounded amazing. Between the almost full stomach and the already nearly empty wallet we decided just to split the Torta. I'm so glad we did.
It was a revelation of a sandwich. The slow roasted beef was meltingly tender, tucked into the crusty bread with soft, ripe tomato and the zippy little crumbles of feta. The bottom of the bun was spread with velvety guacamole with a soft burning heat. I couldn't believe how perfectly the guac and cheese complimented each other. Who would have ever thought?

I waved down our girl for more wine. I was drinking their house red that was a ridiculous $3.50 a glass. Honestly, I wouldn't have ordered it if I'd known how cheap it was. I'd have been skeptical and screwed myself out of a tasty treat. It was just a red blend, but it was really well balanced. There were hints of berries with a soft oak and jammy finish. I could have easily taken down a bottle by myself.

I blame the cheap wine for what happened next. After we finished our dinner and wished Mark the best - the room was filling up fast, we wandered across the street to a little bar called the Sugar Room. Once the hockey goons cleared out I found myself happily tucked into a fantastic bar. The door advertised Charlie Parr playing that night - I've only seen him once before, but loved his music. Perfect music for a chilly December night. Unfortunately, he wasn't playing until like 9 o'clock and it was now about 6. Yeah. 6 pm and I'm working on my buzz.
Then again, it's never stopped me before. When I saw my favorite rum behind the bar I settled into to watch (such a dork) Wayne's World on their flat screen TV. Some people might have been upset that there was no hockey, football or competetive bocce paralympics on The Ocho playing overhead, but I was thrilled the lack of sports drove those people out.

Before I knew it, it was like 9 or something. Yeah, really late. We went back to the bar, fixed ourselves some more cocktails and settled into the hot tub for a good, long soak. Things get blurry after that.

I spent the next day praying for death or at least relief to one of the worst hangovers I've had in a while. That's what happens when I start before the happy hours even have a chance to kick in. We decided to cruise over to New Ulm, which is both cute and enough to kill me. The sun was shining extra bright and I had a new nasueous sensation I'd never experienced before. I was car sick. I tried to page through my high brow reading material, but that obviously didn't help.

We drove past the Schell's brewery. It's gorgeous. I'd have loved to take a tour, but of course being Minnesota we couldn't actually buy any beer and that wouldn't do me any good. Every hill we drove down made me want to vomit (uphill was okay, though.) Twisty roads were fine, but Herman the German's staircase made me positively green. We also passed what had to be about five Taco John's, all advertising Nachos Navidad and all making me alternately depraved with hunger and utterly disgusted. Plus, as a special torture, I got the radio commercial stuck in my head, which meant Matt was subjected to me singing a wavering "Feliz Navidad - and from Taco Joooohn's!" (There was also a rousing rendition of Melikalikimaka for good measure. Am eveeeiiill.)

Eventually, we could take it no longer and we had to drive through. I had all my hopes at redemption pinned on some softshells. The poor kid that served us had the most pathetic teenager attempt at a mustache and yellowed pointy teeth that I almost lost my cookies again. Then my tacos were there. Sweet, sweet grease and pulverized meat product. Come to mama!

After a few more hours of attempted recovery and another hour or two in the hot tub I was finally feeling human enough to venture out into the world.
We walked over to the Pub 500. For a small(ish) town they sure seem to have a good amount of upscale pubs. It's a beautiful, large and warm room with lots of oak and high top bar tables. We ordered some Schell's Dark and a plate of their peanut spicy wings.

The beer. It was the beer that saved me. The bubbles, the caramelly toasty foam and the ice cold pint glass. I downed it while waiting for our wings and ordered another. The wings were wonderful. The peanut sauce wasn't overly thick and had a serious ginger zing. It was almost better than my Thai peanut sauce I make at home. I could've eaten a dozen by myself, but tried to hold myself back. Had I learned nothing from the excesses of the night before?

Apparently not.