Review: Lot 12 Public House

18 August 2016

I had left Roanoke and headed into West Virginia and had a long day in every sense of the word. The day began with an unfortunate speeding ticket — my first time pulled over since George HERBERT WALKER Bush was President. Then at the end of the day I got stuck in one of West Virginia’s legendary traffic jams, where I managed 5 miles in 2 hours… Hot dogs from Huntington was dinner…

And the next day turned out to be far more hellish, making the ticket and traffic jam seem like paradise. I drove out from Charleston and headed into rural mountains and got to Elkins, my first stop. But it was hilly and after turning into a dead-end, I backed up over the blind hill and into a v-curb — which for some reason had spikes on top. The damn spikes were supposedly there for people to see from the blind hill, but stupidly it was not high enough to be visible, just high enough to rip my exhaust line. DAMN IT.

So I limped the car to a service station and then a multi-hour saga ensued getting the car towed to a repair shop, which didn’t know how long it would take to do anything, and that parts needed to go through a “middleman” in this odd state…great… Thank goodness my excellent insurance company GEICO dealt with most of the logistics and got me a rental car, which I drove off. With what I heard, I doubt my car would be done today, so I headed on with my pre-planned itinerary though skipping some of it. What a fucked up day and it’s not even midday…

I eventually drove all the way to the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, having crossed the western panhandle of Maryland, and arrived at my destination of Berkeley Springs. Seems they have to tow my car to another place since the Elkins place couldn’t deal with it with any speed, so it was being towed to an Audi shop in Clarksburg an hour away. Shit…

I needed to escape all this hell for awhile and I was looking forward to my dinner at Lot 12 Public House — a place that is consistently rated as the best restaurant in West Virginia and is frequently nominated for food awards like James Beard and others. It’s a converted house in the middle of the small resort town and I decided to sit at the bar.

I spent much of the night chatting with the proprietress of the restaurant, Betsy Heath, who was a wonderful host. The chat went from my travails to politics to the restaurant business, all with some wonderful food and drink. I enjoyed some wine as I ordered and awaited the feast to remove me from all this drama.

1-corn smoked chicken chowder

The corn and smoked chicken chowder was very nice, strong but not overwhelming flavours. Nice start. A delicious sorbet then came acting as a palate cleanser before we proceeded into the main course — the duck.

2-duck

Mmm, this was fantastic! One of the best duck dishes of the year certainly, and I’ve had a lot of good duck this year. This was easily as good as at the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis a few weeks back. Lovely breast, and the leg was also fantastic. Excellent flavours, cooked perfectly. What a nice meal so far! And oh, how did I forget this side?

3-sprouts

I already love sprouts, and when they’re joined by some pancetta? Oh dear…I’m happy! In fact I’m so happy I went with a dessert along with a nitecap and coffee…

4-peach bread pudding

Mmm, a gorgeously rich bread pudding with peach. Lovely stuff, another excellent dessert! What a great end to a meal that was sorely needed after today’s hell!

I chatted a bit more with the proprietress before heading out, so thankful I had this good meal to round out a horrible day. Drove back to my hotel and just crashed out, wanting to forget most of this stupid, stupid day…

Lot 12 Public House
117 Warren Street
Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

PS: Well, took another week to rescue my car. Drove all the way back to West Virginia and got my car last Friday and drove home — just to fly straight out the next morning. It was close…

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Review: Local Roots

16 August 2016

I decided for some reason to head out on the road for a few days for a wee roadtrip, with the goal to drive around West Virginia. It was summer, I didn’t feel like flying anywhere, and it’s been awhile since I’ve been on a road trip in my own car (too often in rentals far away from the home base). So off I went.

The first day took me to the south-western part of Virginia, where I visited a few historic sites and cemeteries. I wanted to do some hiking when I was visiting the historic Red Hill Plantation estate of Patrick Henry (“give me liberty or give me death”) but it being horribly hot, sunny — and worse — humid, I just had a nice stroll through the grounds and visited his grave. After a few more stops, I made my way to the odd city of Roanoke.

Dinner was at a place I’ve read about called Local Roots. I headed there in the more charming parts of town and took a seat at the bar, as it wasn’t overly busy. I chilled with a cocktail made by a very friendly and knowlegeable bartender, and enjoyed my evening trying out different things he prepared. To start the night, I ordered some mussels.

1a-mussels

The mussels were excellent, helped on by a nice sprinkling of Benton’s bacon. Solid stuff, really enjoyed this. A bit big, but I was told my main isn’t so big so I went with it — the steak.

2-steak

This beef features Ancient White Park, a heritage breed of cattle. Not bad, but I wish the portion was a bit heartier. Nice flavours, though it’s not my favourite cut it was solid. Excellent prep. Enjoyed it. After a bit more banter with the friendly bartender I decided to go with a coffee and dessert…

3a-bread pudding

Nice bread pudding with a healthy amount of chocolate and caramel in various forms, now this is very nice. Rich and full of flavours here, I rarely praise desserts but this was excellent.

I headed out very happy with this dinner, not just the quality of the food but the excellent and friendly staff as well. What a great neighbourhood restaurant to have — if you lived nearby! But worth a trek out of town as you can’t find cooking this solid and staff this friendly in the DC area for sure…

Local Roots
1314 Grandin Road SW
Roanoke, Virginia

Review: 40 Steak + Seafood

1 August 2016

After overnight in Minot I headed east on a long day of driving that brought me to Grand Forks — famous for all the crazy weather reports — then down to Fargo — the town made by the film of the same name which I’ve never seen. In fact, I may be the only person in Fargo who has never seen it, so I don’t get the references people made to me on Twitter…

But it was a lacklustre stay, with just beer and sausages for dinner. Next day I headed on back to Bismarck and really enjoyed the windy day driving and seeing the state, curling off the interstate to look at little towns and endless hilly farmland. I kept thinking they could build a few amazing links courses out here with the natural hills…

I got back to Bismarck and went around the town. I had plenty of time tomorrow before I fly out to check out things like the Capitol so I didn’t do much after the long drive. Just thought about dinner.

State capitals are split when it comes to having excellent food to having bad food. Not sure if it’s also related to state government corruption or anything, but having visited (and dined) at about 40 of them, they are split. Some are just major metropoli like Boston and Atlanta and the fabulous Indianapolis. Some are smaller but excellent like Madison and Tallahassee — which are helped on by big student communities. Some are rife with corruption like Albany that creates the market for good restaurants, some are too close to bigger cities to boast a real food scene like Montpelier.

And I couldn’t find much for Bismarck really, so I ended up at a steakhouse called 40 Steak + Seafood. Supposedly it was good, as they specialise in aged steaks. I got there and already it was a shitshow service-wise. Seems calling it understaffed is an understatement, as my server was handling about 10 tables in 2 areas…and that was a huge problem.

Took ages to get my drink order taken, and they had run out of a lot of booze so stuff on the cocktail list could not be made. What a bad start. Then took another 15+ minutes to get the server to take my food order, and I just went with an aged steak. I waited for about half an hour before it came out…and never had my wine re-poured…

aged ribeye - 01

Yeah… I went with the very aged beef (260 days) and I like the funk sometimes on steak — especially boring corn-fed stuff. Well, this was not a great cut first of all, though the aging helped. Second, it was cooked badly, as the outside was close to well-done and the very inside was medium rare as I ordered. Aging a poor piece of beef is a great way to make it better, but this poor piece could not be helped…

I strugged and got about two-thirds of it eaten before I abandoned it. Took ages to get my check as well and I left pretty pissed off as this dinner was more expensive than pretty much every meal I had in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan. Ridiculous. I think we see what type of a restaurant scene we have in this state capital…

Home tomorrow, finally… A bad end to it all…

40 Steak + Seafood
1401 East Interchange Avenue
Bismarck, North Dakota

Review: 10 North Main

30 July 2016

I got myself to Bismarck, North Dakota after a nice night last night at the Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis. I landed in North Dakota’s capital, just to drive on north a bit to head to the city of Minot. It was a bit of a hike, and I had not realised how hilly North Dakota is. And the wind is just nuts…which is lovely on a hot day but it’s blowing my car all over the place!

I got to Minot and checked into my hotel. I had also not realised how expensive hotels are here, partly as Minot is the biggest city in the oil areas of the state, so… Anyway, I’m here. Cute little town with a prominent Scandinavian heritage, as I drove around to explore it before dinner. Dinner was in the tiny downtown area at a place named 10 North Main.

When I was doing research I found the menu interesting, especially considering central North Dakota — not finding much in Bismarck outside of meat-centric places. One drawback was that it was co-owned by a Hollywood actor (who comes from Minot, who I won’t mention because I have never seen one of his films nor do I like his superstar wife’s music)…

In any case, I got there while it was bright as hell outside, only to enter a very dark restaurant…this sucked when I left as it was blinding. Anyway, was seated (I had a reservation, which was probably not needed) and chilled with a cocktail looking over the menu. Many items looked good, so I ordered and chilled out.

In the meantime a nearby table with 2 very knackered looking parents were seated, and they obviously looked too tired to deal with their screeching young children…ugh, not what I needed tonight… In any case, the first item arrived, the soup.

1-duck cream soup

Mmm, an excellent creamy wild rice soup, full of flavour here. The smoked duck was a great addition to this thick soup, which I would have happily had more! A meal in itself! Excellent start!

At this point the screaming children were getting on my nerves, but that soup kept me going until the main course, which was one of the specialties — the smoked duck.

2-smoked duck

Well, wasn’t as good as I thought. The smoking was so light it really should have been advertised as plainly roasted. It was good, but not excellent. The “hoisin” like sauce they had was sickly sweet and sticky and best avoided. Sadly the duck itself was underseasoned. I ended up boxing this up for later…

With the screaming children I needed a harder drink, so I ordered one — alongside coffee and a dessert…

3-mash cheese cake

This is what they called “sour mash cheesecake” — just a cheesecake with a bourbon sauce. Not bad, huge portion. Went with my rye very well to end the evening.

I had enough of the children so I headed out and blinded myself in the North Dakota sun. Not a bad dinner, that soup was fabulous, but the duck was underwhelming. For this sparsely-populated area of the country, I’m satisfied. I headed back to my hotel after another tour of the town on wheels. Long, long day of driving tomorrow, so…

10 North Main
10 Main Street North
Minot, North Dakota

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