Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sea Salt

Spring is certainly here once the patio is open and bustling at Sea Salt by Minnehaha Falls. Sunday started unlike any other day I've had this year. This day was Mother's Day - and for once, I was on the right side of this flower driven holiday. After years of poking my fingers on limp necked roses, cobbling together pathetic homemade cards from old photo albums and crayon sketches (I was 24 - not 4 last time I tried that one) or desperately phoning my mom's house phone, cell phone and then my sister's number at 3 in the afternoon to say, "Seriously! I love you! I do! Thank you! You're awesome! Seriously!"

year, I slept in as late as I wanted without guilt or even a hangover. I smelled coffee already brewing for me and heard the chirps of my own little bird as his father struggled to remove the poo sodden diaper from his bum. This year I am a mother! And I deserve... STUFF. Oh hell yeah, I can get on board with this.

Of course, once up and caffeinated, I couldn't quite figure out what to do with myself. I was give carte blanche with my day and oddly, all I wanted to do was spend it with my son and husband. Weird. Usually, I'm crashing into Starbucks for a mocha, or rumaging through some store for shoe discounts. Spend the whole day with... boys? Boys that tend to accidentally yank down my shirt and tug on my hair? Boys that can occassionally smell? Weird. Grownups are weird.

After I opened and cherished my adorable cards, and coaxed my boy in the hopes that he'll say, "Foie Gras," as his first words (his constant babble of Da-DEE doesn't count), I decided we might as well leave the house.
There was much debate and an aborted trip to the Arboretum (duh - PACKED. Mother's love flowers. What was I thinking? And Chanhassen is FAR.)

We decided to chance a trip to Sea Salt. I haven't been since I was largely pregnant and had to sneak sips of Matt's beer under scornful eyes of passers by.
We astoundingly enough found a parking spot within walking distance of the falls.

We unloaded my dapper little fellow and headed over to the spot. Even more amazing - the line wasn't even out the door! Matt took his place in the queue and I strolled the kid around, swelling when I heard one woman remark, "Oh, look at
that one! He's so cute!" You bet your bippy, lady. Cutest baby here. I also chose not to look in her direction on the off chance she was instead examining a "caterpillar" she'd been talking about - really just an army worm. Those things were everywhere.

We seated ourselves out back and watch the people. It's great people watching with families of all shapes, sizes, nationalities and social circles. Gutter punks, little Hmong ladies, sparkly Mexican princesses, suede elbowed college professors and football tossing sk8ter boys all roving around the park. Everyone seemed to be with a mom and each one was beaming.

I was too, the minute Matt arrived followed by our food. We've tried out a lot of dishes at Sea Salt, but the absolute best thing has to be the crawfish po' boy.

Each succulent little sea (swamp?) creature in cornmeal batter fried to crispy perfection and jazzed back to life with a little Tabasco sauce. The cool lettuce and creamy mayo melt against the dark charred toasty bread - all coming together into one of those mythical creatures of the deep. The Nessy of Cheap Eats - the Perfect Sandwich. It's zippy, crunchy, crispy, creamy, smokey, bright, fresh and fried. It's all I could ever ask for and more.

And there was more! More in the way of a really good cup o' beer. They were serving Moms a free cup and I got a rich and carmelly Surly. God bless the good beers. He'd also ordered a couple of oysters on the half shell. They were so good - so fresh. The concrete feeling of the jagged shell on my lips as I sucked down the cool tasty mollusk, spiked with cocktail sauce and a dab of horseradish. It was like swallowing the cool mist of the Atlantic coast that I haven't felt against my cheek since I was a toddler. All in all, I could seriously get used to these kinds of days. I enjoy being on the other side of this holiday.

It was just about then that I realized I hadn't yet talked to my mom. I took another long pull off my Surly and knew she'd understand.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bin Wine Bar

When I first heard the concept for Bin Wine Bar on Mears Park in downtown St. Paul I knew they were singing my tune. The plan was put together by a woman who lived in one of the lofts in the Lowertown neighborhood. She wanted somewhere she and friends could walk to, enjoy some little bites, good wine in a comfortable chic atmosphere. This was exactly what I was looking for! She could be me.

(Except of course having money and living in a snazzy loft. In fact, when we were looking to move I tried to find somewhere in downtown. I imagined being the super hip type of urban couple that could luxuriate in a brick and lumber lined loft, gleaming stainless steel appliances and glittering granite counter tops smiling at me every day. In fact, I had found one place just like that listed on Craigslist. I eagerly requested a showing and received an email that said, "keys after you sends us a check for $100. We are good cristans diong the Lard's work in Nigera misson. We will sends you tehdesposits. We loev our home and want a good Jessus follwing family to care for our home. We when receives teh mones, we send you teh keys." Yeeeah, as much as I
do believe in the "Lard" I reported them as a fraudulent listing. The $800/mo price tag for the luxurious loft should probably have tipped me off, but I was feeling optimistic. Probably drunk or something.)

So, although I didn't live in the area, I wanted to visit and I wanted to try some wine (and maybe have a little commune with The Lard.) After a couple of failed attempts, I finally made my way over there last Saturday with two very good girlfriends. We arrived at exactly 3:01pm and they open at 3. Yes, I am always the lame-o at the party that shows up the exact second you tell me to be there. I am never cool enough to last to the end and I will always be that big of a dork.

"First ones in!" I exclaimed, my voice echoing off the empty bar fixtures. We sat ourselves near the front of the restaurant overlooking the park. I was lovely. Something about the place reminded me very much of a woman I used to know - P.W. Rich reds, brassy fixtures and opulent booths. I should call her.

We ordered a bottle of the Toasted Head "Untamed Red," a bottle I know I've seen at local wine shops, but had never tried. We also ordered a plate of the charcuterie.

A beautiful meat plate. The marinated olives were revelatory. The salty, fatty salami paired beautifully with the rosy pickled onions. There were little dots of salty almonds, tender, chubby little hunks of tar tar and spicy sopressata. Buttery, salty cashews, pickled spicy dilly beans and crisp fresh cucumber chips rounded out the plate. It was delightful to eat with plenty of little tastes and flavors to pair with the toasty wine. The bottle went quickly, although I wouldn't say it was a wonderful choice. It was completely drinkable, but nothing all that fantastic. It didn't taste like $30 worth of wine.

So, of course we ordered another bottle. This time, at the suggestion of our server, we ordered the Root: 1 Carmenere. I liked this one a bit more. The flavor was more supple. Soldiering ahead, we figured we should probably try some more food and ordered the cheese platter.

We were served a young Wisconsin Gouda, Northern Lights Blue and an English Gloucester cheese, more delicious olives, rye crisp crackers, craisins cocoa dusted almonds, incredible Marcona almonds and a little side of pickled beets. The almonds were a fantastic match for the cheese. The cheeses themselves were a nice pairing, all creamy, but varied in flavor from the meek Gouda, the soft, smooth blue and the snappy blue and cheddar combo. The rye crackers were very dry and chock full of nuts - hard to pair with the mild Gouda. They overpowered the taste. After asking for a side of bread, we got a basic if slightly stale baguette that was a better match.

We babbled, sipped, gossiped, giggled and occasionally snorted with laughter. The setting was instantly familiar and comfortable. A little more room on my credit card and we probably could have stayed there all day. If I lived in one of those loft apartments, this place would be a dangerous addition to the neighborhood. I could see myself cultivating a seriously addiction to the reasonably priced wine, fun little plates and outstanding company I'd settled in with.