Review: Bachelor Farmer

29 July 2016

I am honestly not enjoying my trip to the Twin Cities at this point. Massive hotel problems, alongside traffic hell, has made things less than pleasant. Food has been okay but some issues. Now for my final meal I’ve gone to the place that is nearly always on the top of the recommendations list for people in the area — the Bachelor Farmer.

I got there after a long walk from the other end of downtown, where I had to drop my rental car. Originally I was gonna go to the Twins game, but just didn’t feel like it. Since my beer consumption issues began, it’s really put me off going to baseball games…sadly, as both were such big parts of my life… Anyway, I was rather sweaty when I got to the Bachelor Farmer and needed a cocktail to cool off.

Ahhh…delivered well. I looked over the menu as I relaxed and made my decision. Looks interesting, some nice vegetables being used here. I chilled out and enjoyed the cocktail as my starter arrived.

1-turnip

Mmm. I love turnips, and this was a nice turnip dish. The vegetables really shine here, with excellent turnips and truly wonderful sprouts. Some duck confit round out the dish, but the veggies were the stars here. Excellent start! I switched to some wine and awaited my main course, the duck.

2-duck

Wow, this was fabulous. Cooked perfectly, the skin was crispy and the meat tasty. The Japanese eggplants were a wonderful added touch too. I now see why people like this place! Plus a side of rather tasty carrots, nice and clean flavours.

3 carrots

I really enjoyed this meal! I made the final decision to blow off the game now, and ordered a dessert.

4-coconut cake

This was an excellent coconut cake, lovely again. And I finished off with some brandy, which came with a chocolate surprise…

5-choco

An excellent end to this meal, but not to the evening! Now deciding to blow off the game, I moved over to the bar and had a few more cocktails before cabbing it out to my hotel to end this problematic trip on a high note.

I can see why people rave about the Bachelor Farmer, and this dinner really saved for me the reputation of the food in the Twin Cities. Fabulous food, excellent staff, what’s not to love? Now I know why it’s always so booked!

Next stop, North Dakota!

Bachelor Farmer
50 North 2nd Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Review: Piccolo

28 July 2016

I had a ridiculously tiring and long day that dragged me through both of the Twin Cities, not helped by the haphazard road closures that everyone is bitching about. Traffic hell. I had some nice BBQ for lunch, but dinner was to be something far more interesting.

I headed to Piccolo, another of the restaurants in south-west of downtown that is highly praised. Last night’s dinner at Heyday was pretty good (only marred by that bad pork), but I’m hoping for a bit more here. After fighting some bad traffic I got to Piccolo and was seated in the small dining room. It seems to be a beer/wine place only, so a day to take a break from cocktails.

I decided to go with the tasting menu and pairing, and chilled out anticipating the meal. It’s, like yesterday, a build-it-yourself tasting. After the bread comes, soon the first course — a burnt corn soup.

1-corn soup

Nice, the flavour was strong. The wee bit of burrata added an extra touch, but the corn spoke for itself. A very nice start, happy with my choice. I chilled out as the second dish arrived, their specialty — scrambled eggs.

2-eggs-trotter

Now this is not your ordinary scrambled eggs, it has a strong addition of pig trotter — which really brought out an excellent richness in the dish. A fabulous dish, I really wish it was a little more. I was starting to think, wait, am I getting “tasting menu portions” here?

In any case, that was good. It didn’t take long for the third dish to arrive. I had chosen 2 seafood dishes in lieu of one fish and one meat, and this was the first — the black cod.

3-black cod

It was strangely bitter…odd… I always call this fish the item that’s “impossible to screw up” but it had this very strong bitter aftertaste… It really dominated, and that’s not good. That lasted into the next dish actually, which was swordfish belly.

4-swordfish belly

Hmmm, this looks like a “tasting menu portion” certainly, and wasn’t even a good cut of the “belly” to be honest. Only a small part was tasty, and it was overcooked. And I still had that bitterness in my mouth…sigh…

I asked them about the portions and yes, they said they are cut down. But I did some quick math and if I ordered all 5 dishes as full a la carte items, it would cost $60. And my “tasting menu” was $59. So by paying a dollar less, they served noticeably smaller portions.

I’m sorry, that’s a bit of a rip off business practice.

They had a not-so-satisfactory answer saying the menu was value for money (huh?), and I lost interest in this place. This is actually a great way to serve people smaller portions for the same money. The portions worked for a 5-course tasting menu, I’m not disputing that, but the fact that full, larger portions for FIVE DISHES would cost on average 20 cents more each. Now come on… Even if I ordered the most expensive dishes, the savings would be 5-6 dollars max. Whatever…

5-skyr cheesecake

Anyway, the dessert was a wee cheesecake made with things including skyr, which I love. But I had lost interest and just wanted to get out of there. Honestly, I’ve lost interest in all these hyped places in town. I’m tired of mediocre experiences…

I understand why this place structured things like this and priced it as such, but it doesn’t take a PhD to figure out how this is annoying. The problem with tasting menus taken fully from the a la carte menu is that you can do this type of quick math, and it’s annoying when the numbers don’t make financial sense. Again, with the portions cut down with me wanting more of dishes like the trotter eggs, it leaves me a little sour — and literally bitter (from those 2 seafood dishes).

Again, whatever. One of those I’ll just forget about. Too bad, some good stuff here…

Piccolo
4300 Bryant Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Review: Heyday

27 July 2016

I got to Minneapolis on a stormy early afternoon, and things started screwy with major hotel problems. Summers are so often filled with these unpleasantries… In any case, I really needed a good dinner to get this headache out of my mind, and tonight’s target is the well-regarded Heyday.

Many of the raved about places in the Twin Cities are in this part of town outside of downtown, and I wonder if it’s a bit overhyped. But I got there and took a bar seat as it was spacey. I ordered a nice cocktail and looked over the menu, and went with the tasting option. But it was a choose-your-own type, so I made my choices and chilled out.

A nice quick amuse came and soon the first dish arrived, charred carrots.

1-carrots

Nice and simple, though it would have been nicer with some variety in the carrot types. But a clean and nice start. I nursed the cocktail a bit as for some reason I felt a bit odd at this point…was I allergic to something? In any case, we go on and the next item was a very nice cured duck.

2-cured duck

Beautiful flavours and texture, this is really nice. Rich and strong with tea flavouring, all aspects here worked very well in tandem. I’m enjoying the food so far though for some reason I still feel ropey… I started on a second cocktail but called that the last one for the night. The next, and main item, was the pork.

3-pork brisket

Hmmm…this was a brisket-y piece, but it was way dry. It was actually very hard to eat, getting stuck in my throat because it was so dry. Too bad, a good dinner fallen down at the end. Turned what could have been good into a mediocre night. Oh well…

4-pea sorbet

I had some coffee with my dessert, a very nice pea shell sorbet. Actually lovely flavours, with the pea just wonderful. So that ended rather nicely.

Not a bad dinner at all, too bad the pork was so bad I abandoned the last bits of it. But this place has a lot of promise and I can see why people like this place. It would have been excellent if it wasn’t for the rather poor pork dish…

Heyday
2700 Lyndale Avenue South
Minneapolis, Minnestory

Review: L’Etoile

26 July 2016

I had a quiet and relaxing finaly day in Madison, nursing a bit of a hangover from last night’s late bar session. I had a very nice lunch meeting up with the excellent fellow food blogger Sujhey of Five Senses Palate, so that was a fun surprise. I had a relaxing afternoon wandering around town, though I had paperwork to deal with back at the hotel before dinner.

Dinner tonight was highly anticipated. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this for years. Last time I was in Madison my schedule didn’t fit for a return to the wonderful L’Etoile, but this time it worked perfectly. I had a wonderful meal several years ago when I took a wonderful lady out for her birthday dinner. I’m hoping for a nice tasting menu tonight.

L’Etoile has always been known as one of the very best not just in Madison or Wisconsin, but the entire region. However, this is Madison’s “slow” season — the kids are gone, the politicians are gone. So it wasn’t too busy, and the service was a little odd and chaotic for a place that has always had wonderful service.

I enjoyed a cocktail after ordering the tasting menu with pairing, and chilled out. This should be good. After two lacklustre amuses the meal began. First up, a tomato tasting.

01-cherry tomatoes

Nice for summer certainly, the heirloom cherry tomatoes. The jelly was a bit confusing for me, as I would rather have had more chilled tomato water or some other base instead of a odd-temperature gelatin. However, a refreshing start on a hot summer day, very nice. We move onto course two, foie.

02-foie

Hmmm…more gelatin…now elderflower… In any case, the foie was pretty boring to be honest, that one odd tiny piece. The mousse was not good, and it looked so much like that oft-used emoji… I’m tiring of foie gras being done badly, when most of the work on the side is incongruent with it. The blueberries were the best part of this dish. Sigh… In any case, let’s move on…

03-swordfish belly

Dish three was swordfish, but frankly it was not a great cut. Problem with swordfish is that it is hugely impacted by the cut if you don’t use a more traditional slice, and this went through the whole gamut. Very uneven; part of it tasted mushy, part of it was way overcooked and rock hard. One example of a very beautifully plated dish but tasting mediocre…

I was starting to worry a little at this stage, as this was not going as well as anticipated, and I think the staff sensed it. The ended up comping me a free additional dish here, the cod — which was one of the day’s special.

04x-cod

A bit of a large serving, I saw it as a special entree earlier. Not bad, a bit over-seasoned, but pretty ordinary. Again, looks great, but taste boring… The peas were the most tasteful item on this plate, unfortunately… At this point I realised the summer curse has struck hard here, so I would just fight through this meal with far lowered expectations…

05-squab

Things improved with this next dish, the squab. Cooked well, and flavourful, this is what I remember this place managing! Finally, after a few very weak dishes. Nice reminder for me how good this place has been for me. I relaxed a bit and hoped the rest of the dinner closed out well. The last savoury dish was lamb.

06b-lamb

Well, you ever get a nicely-plated dish that was cooked to the right temperature and you just say “meh” to it? Yeah, this seems like it… Very bland, the lamb was utterly tasteless. I’m so tired of lamb that has been bred and fed to the point it has no lamb flavour anymore. So utterly boring… I suspect there was some seasoning issues, as the meat was very bland — though as you can see there were huge ol’ flake of salt on the slices…

Oh well, the savouries are over. The next to last item was the cheese course. It’s Wisconsin, they have to do it well. Right?

07-goat cheese

Well, it was bland again. Frankly the sausage slices was far more flavourful than the cheese. I really wish they worked with more intense flavours. Perhaps it’s a deliberate thing, to soften the flavours for the summer? I was last here a few summers ago and it was fantastic. Who knows…

08-honey torrijas

We close with the torrija — soaked, under the gelato. You are right if you think the gelato has melted a bit too much for a half-empty restaurant. The service had gone downhill the second half of the meal, and my server would disappear for lengthy periods. And this coming out partly melted is, well, not good. Sigh…

I left rather unhappy, mostly because I’ve had such wonderful experiences here before. What happened I’m not sure, perhaps the summer curse. But I didn’t want to ponder that, I was just disappointed walking back to the hotel. I had about 20 minutes to think about it, and by the time I got back I needed a drink. Sigh…

L’Etoile
1 South Pinckney Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Review #2: Forequarter

25 July 2016

Almost a year to the day I return to Forequarter in Madison for dinner. I had 3 nights in Madison, a town that I have a quirly like for, and I decided to do 1 new (the poor dinner at Sujeo last night), 1 safe (revisiting the excellent L’Etoile tomorrow), and 1 from my previous trip. I had to choose between Pig and Forequarter, which wasn’t easy, but I went with Forequarter for their menu dynamics.

Last time I was at Forequarter I was horribly hungover but had a wonderful meal. So I was looking forward to a nice dinner with a clearer head this time. I had a nice cheap lunch of pelmeni at Paul’s Pel’meni near my hotel, so it kept me going until dinner. It was less humid today, so I was happy to stroll the long way back after dinner.

I got to Forequarter at an early hour as it wasn’t a busy night — it was a summer Monday early evening. It filled up a bit more as the night went along. I chilled out and enjoyed a cocktail and pondered the specials before placing my order. Pretty excited!

Last time I went with a charcuterie plate, but this time I ordered 2 different starters, which both quickly arrived. First was a tribute to the Central European heritage of the region with some fine kabanosy.

1-kabanosy

As someone who spends a lot of time in Poland, this was a nice touch. Mustard was heavily advertised on the menu, but I was happy with the sausage with or without. Nice. And then a plate of house-made Braunschweiger

2-braunschweiger

I have a confession. When I was a kid and everyone would yell at their parents to buy hot dogs in that deli aisle, I asked my father to buy Braunschweiger. It wasn’t until I grew up when I realised Braunschweiger in the US is basically liverwurst, not the traditional smoked sausage from Braunschweig (Brunswick for you insistent folks). These were lovely, though a bit cold. Should have let it warm up a bit to get the full rich flavours…

Anyway, a good start. Looking forward to the main course. Last time I had an amazingly good pork chop, and as much as I wanted a repeat I chose to go with something I usually don’t order — the poussin.

3-poussin

It was one of the day’s special, and it even surprised me to order it. Turned out to be a wise decision, as it was fabulous. Full of flavour and ridiculously tender inside, the outside had that roasted goodness about it. With a handful of baby heritage carrots, this was an excellent dish. The bird, not quite as fantastic as at Kokkeriet in Copenhagen (that was beyond awesome), but it was really, really good — would have been the best poussin dish of the year if it wasn’t for Denmark!

4-mushrooms

Tho I have to say the fried mushrooms side was a bit of a mess and miss…just badly done with bad texture and weak flavours, wish they were cooked differently…

This was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner, and this place is proving to be the to-go place in Madison for me. Great cocktails, excellent food, awesome people. I enjoyed it so much I ordered their special dessert…

5-dessert

This is kind of a combination of various things, from chocolate to caramel crunch. Sadly that big cookie was utterly inedible, almost drooping when you pick it up. The crazy humidity of Madison claimed another victim…

I had a few late drinks from their ample selection of booze, trying a few pear and apple brandies before I wandered out into the heat and meandered the half hour back to my hotel. Was so parched from the walk I went straight to the bar and got sloshed…oops…

Anyway, Forequarter has once again proven itself, and I know know that next time I am back in town this place will be the automatic, and I won’t need to ponder that decision. Awesome as usual.

Forequarter
708 1/4 East Johnson Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Review: Sujeo

24 July 2016

That was a very nice dinner at Cobble Hill in Cedar Rapids, but the drinking session in the biker-full bar afterwards was a bad idea. Fun night, but woke up with an unwanted hangover — plus my stomach was in a knot thanks to my newfound problem with consuming beer…ugh…

I headed south at first and made a few stops, one of them was to pay my respects to the most misunderstood Presidents of our country, someone I consider one of my heroes, Herbert Hoover. Then I made my way north through some country roads back towards Wisconsin and eventually back to Madison.

It was extremely steamy in town so I was happy I don’t have to return my rental car until tomorrow; I will be car-less in Madison for about 2 days, so will have to learn the bus system quickly. But since I skipped lunch I was hungry this Sunday evening, and needed a good meal. Tonight’s choice was a new one here, Sujeo.

I had read many mixed review about this Korean/pan-Asian/fusion eatery that is part of Chef Tory Miller’s empire here in Wisconsin’s capital city — the foundation of that empire being the excellent L’Etoile (which I will re-visit in 2 days). I was not sure what to expect, but it was half empty on a Sunday night…albeit this is middle of the summer, so Madison lacked both students and politicians…

In any case, I ordered a cocktail and some nuts to get me going, and that came quickly…and was the first worrying sign…

nuts

Now these spicy peanuts may have been good at one point, but they have been sitting out for way, WAY too long. They were beyond stale, and were just inedible. Come on, you know how BAD bar nuts have to be before you stop eating them, and this is THAT BAD. Ugh…

With that worrying sign, I only ordered 2 small plates instead of a full meal. Let’s see how it goes. The space reminds me of a non-descript chain restaurant, but I’m not here for the decal. Madison outdoor tables are usually all taken up in the summer, but NO ONE was outside today with the insane humidity…

After a little time I ordered another drink and my two items arrived. The first were a pair of chicken skin bao…

1-chicken skin bun

Hmmm… The chicken skin may have been nice at one point, and the bao made okay, but the sauce was beyond overwhelming. I did not taste the skin, I barely tasted the bao, it was just SAUCE. It just didn’t ruin the dish, it was a sticky mess… Absolutely no subtlety here… And the second, potstickers.

2-dumplings

Not sure how to ruin these, but they are done well. Filled with good stuff, this was at least something delicious. But I was not just underwhelmed, I didn’t expect anything else good here to be honest. I was still hungry, so I ended up ordering 1 last small dish. Now this was a fusion disaster…

3-cheese

Yeah…what was I (or they) thinking… fried Wisconsin cheese curds with a gochujang mayo for a dip? And a side of kimchee? Okay, each of these went down like an anvil first of all, and the did made little sense. Okay, I’ve had enough…

I headed out disappointed. This was first of all some poor items, conceived of rather odd ideas that did not gel. Secondly, the execution was a mess. Thirdly, sending out stale stuff. I suspect part of this is the “slow” season in Madison, when you have too much fill-in staff or normal staff on vacation. Plus it was Sunday. Oh well…

Sujeo
10 North Livinston Street
Madison, Wisconsin

Review: Cobble Hill

23 July 2016

After a few more days travelling through Michigan — including a few more lacklustre meals (such as at Chartreuse back in Detroit) I decided not to chronicle here — I made my way further west. Unfortunately, no thanks to a faulty plane and bad weather, we arrived in Madison quite late, and to be greeted by foul weather. I wasn’t staying in Madison this night, as I planned to head further west into Iowa.

Sadly the weather deteriorated further — the curse of summer and this part of the country sometimes. I drove through a very nasty storm en route to Dubuque — which reminded me of a few years back when I drove through the deadly derecho from Chicago up to Madison. After a few stops I made it to my destination, Cedar Rapids. I later learned I had missed a tornado by about 90 minutes en route…yikes…

I chilled out in this interesting town before I headed to dinner at a place I had wanted to try for awhile now, Cobble Hill. I always love finding good restaurants in places people don’t associate with excellent food, such as Parlor Market in Jackson, Mississippi; Dovetail in Macon, Georgia; Rx in Wilmington, North Carolina; and of course Stages at One Washington in Dover, New Hampshire. Will I be adding this place to that list?

It’s a charming little place with live music near the bar on this busy weekend evening. I chilled out with a cocktail, relaxing after the difficult and long drive in a really shitty rented Prius (whoever designed this car must have been on shrooms…). I ordered a series of items and relaxed.

After a little time the first item arrived, shishito peppers.

1-shishito

Not bad at all, blistered just right. There were no spicy ones here (bad luck?) but it was a good snack to start — and to accompany the now-drained cocktail. Next up, some crudo.

2-escolar crudo

It’s escolar. I know what you’re gonna say, and I even asked my server. They said the kitchen was very specific about portion size on this. If you’re wondering why, just do a search for “escolar oil” and you’ll see… But it was excellent. I love escolar, and it was just the right amount.

Happy with the meal so far, and I’ve stayed on cocktails but switched to wine for the main course — sturgeon.

3-sturgeon

Excellent! The fish, portions which were generous, was cooked perfectly. Full of flavour, the beets really added a nice touch to the overall taste. A really lovely dish! I am so enjoying this dinner I actually ordered dessert…

4-peach

A tasting of peach, from fresh local peaches to a peach gelato. Fabulous end! I closed with a nice after-dinner drink and coffee before I sadly took my leave. This is a really good restaurant with excellent cocktails and fabulous cooking. Not overbearing, but bringing out the best of the key ingredients — which is what kitchens should do. Solid execution and solid planning. I see why people rave about this place and drive distances to eat here!

I headed out in the sunshine — odd after the horrible storms. Greeting me at my car was a bunny…

Cedar Rapids bunny - 03

Oh, I really like this town…

Cobble Hill
219 2nd Street SE
Cecar Rapids, Iowa

* Don’t ask me why, but there’s a bar attached to my motel that is frequented by bikers, and I ended up drinking there all night…