Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Nicollet Island Inn

Nicollet Island Inn

December 10, 2015

We first went to Nicollet Island Inn in 2004 and liked it so well we gave it a "5 Plate Licker" designation.  If this needs an explanation, we did not leave a bit of sauce or crumb on our plates.  By consensus, we rarely return to a restaurant, preferring to choose from the wide variety of wonderful eateries in the Twin Cities.  This is the only restaurant we have returned to a number of times.  In the summer, we sit outside; in the spring we have enjoyed brunch overlooking the river.

The restaurant was decorated beautifully for the holidays.  Immediately the scent of freshly-cut greens filled the air upon stepping through the doors.  Tiny, twinkling lights sparkled throughout the dining room.

After visiting several restaurants with high ceilings and poor acoustics, we appreciated Nicollet Island Inn and the calm atmosphere enabling us to enjoy a glass of wine while catching up with one another.

We chose two appetizers - the Beef Tartare and a Beet Salad.

Beet Salad - wonderful!  This included roasted and pickled beets with a variety of  spring greens .  The salad dressing drew many compliments.  The golden beets were pickled, the red beets roasted providing an odd contrast.  Beets are a favorite with most of us but we would have preferred either roasted or pickled, not both in the salad. 

Steak Tartare - this wasn't up to their normal high standards.  We found the beef to be a little chunky, similar to the texture of ground beef and agreed that it needed more seasoning.  The grilled bread served with it was wonderful with a black pepper twist.

We chose 3 main courses.

Mushroom Gnocchi - we wouldn't change a thing; it was very good.  This dish featured wild and cultivated mushrooms that tasted almost caramelized and potato gnocchi with taleggio cream, truffle oil and pecorino cheese.

Lamb Duo -  this was a Rack of Lamb and braised Lamb Shank combination.  The lamb was done perfectly, medium rare as ordered; the braised Lamb Shank was tender and seasoned with cumin.  The Rack of Lamb could have used more seasoning to compete with the cumin but was beautifully served and very tender.  The dish was served with root vegetables and was enjoyed by all.

Scallops - served with acorn squash risotto.  The scallops were pan-fried, perfectly cooked, the risotto creamy and rich.  Most of us loved this dish.

Dessert, typically the highlight of our meal, was disappointing.   We chose Salted Crème Brule and Gingerbread cake.  We all agreed both desserts were quite average.

Our waiter was very attentive and gracious about assisting us in making menu selections that are easily shared.

It may have been the atmosphere or because it was the Holiday Season but as we left, we decided to make this restaurant our annual December choice.





Thursday, October 22, 2015

Broder's Pasta Bar

It was nice to see this restaurant looks the same as it did several years ago.  A large u-shaped bar for seating along with small tables around the perimeter.  The colander light fixtures and sconces are still there.  The restaurant fills very shortly after opening time of 5 pm and stays crowded with a line of people waiting in the hallway by the entrance.  The noise level is quite high.  Get there early to get a parking space in the small lot.

Jeff, our waiter, was a familiar face who has been there for many years.  He is very knowledgeable and was happy to recommend dishes for us to try.
We started with olive ripiene - Sicilian green olives stuffed with fennel sausage, breaded and fried.  The consensus was that it was interesting and good, but maybe we wouldn’t order it again. 

Next was the conserve del collo de agnello - lamb neck rillettes which were pureed to a spreadable concentrate, served with pickled apricot, onions micro green and toasted garlic.

It came in a small jar with great bread.  Most of our group wasn’t fond of it.  Others really liked the roasted lamb flavor.

Mozzarella de bufala had a different twist with the mozzarella served over butternut squash puree, with oyster mushrooms, apples and balsamic.  There was not a lot of flavor  - a little bland.

Torta de formaggio was a savory gorgonzola cheescake served with fresh persimmon, spiced walnuts and apple balsamic that was served with toast for spreading.  This was the flavorful winner for the antipasti.

Pastas we sampled were very different and all delicious.

Fettuccine con cinghiale e fichi - Fresh spinach pasta with boar and fig ragu which incorporated

kale, tomatoes, mascarpone and pine nuts.  This was mild flavored.  We had an equal number of those who loved it and those who felt it was okay.

Guadrucci con pollo - Fresh pasta with fresh field greens, roasted chicken breast with prosciutto, sliced almonds and asparagus had a nice savory finish with balsamic and mascarpone.  This has been a top seller at the restaurant since it opened, and we were all
in agreement that it was very good. 

Fettuccine con maiale all’arrabbiata - fresh pasta with braised pork belly, tomatoes, garlic, chilies and arugula was our favorite.  This version of the dish had a nice spicy (but not too hot) sauce that we all loved.

The seasonal desert was Pumpkin Cheesecake which was nicely spiced and served with bourbon caramel, mascarpone and walnut brittle.

The tiramisu was well done and served with mascarpone,

Bestia nera is a flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and berries.

We liked all the deserts with the pumpkin cheesecake the winner.
Overall, the food was very well done and presented.    All the pasta is freshly made, along with the sauces.  There is a nice wine list of Italian wines and also some desert wines.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cov Restaurant Wayzata, MN

Eight of us made the trek out to Wayzata on the evening of July 28 with the idea of sitting on the patio watching the small waves from Lake Minnetonka lap at the shore as we enjoyed a leisurely dinner.  Well, we at least hoped to be near one of the floor-to-ceiling folding glass doors...

Cov, a very popular location, does not accept "traditional" reservations.  What that means to the traditional diner is that if you are not willing to spend a hefty minimum amount, you can cool your heels and wait.  And so we did, for 45 minutes before being seated at a high-top table in the bar with a view of other diners who scored the patio.  The sound level is overwhelming.  It was so loud we were unable to have a conversation at our table.  And about the food...

As you know from previous entries, we usually order through the menu, creating a tasting menu so that we can sample a number of offerings from each category.  On this particular evening the noise level was too high to even discuss choices so we opted to either share with the individual sitting next to us or go it alone. 

Some of our selections:  Watermelon and Feta Salad was served with mint and basil, cool and refreshing (and plenty for two); the Blue Cheese Wedge arrived with marinated tomatoes and red onion.  We ordered one each of three flatbreads:  Caprese, traditionally served with fresh mozzarella and basil, but with the surprise addition of heirloom tomatoes; Harvest with grilled vegetables including wild mushrooms; and Smoked Chicken with Nueske's bacon and more marinated tomatoes.  The Walleye Fish and Chips were crispy and perfectly cooked.  Nothing was so memorable, though, that you would say you wanted to return for that specific item.  We skipped dessert but did order wine by the glass along with a bottle of Vino Verde which is the perfect light white wine for summer.

Would we go again?  According to others this was a unique experience and as a rule Cov is much more welcoming than it was on this night.  Cov is not inexpensive though, and there are many really good restaurants offering great food that are much closer to Minneapolis/St. Paul than Wayzata.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


June 18th

During the summer months we like to eat on the patio of the restaurant we select if at all possible.  We have learned that at most restaurants, it is first come, first served and so it was at sparks, 230 Cedar Lake South, Minneapolis, our restaurant of choice for June.  sparks is busy, and has a causal, neighborhood feel about  it with an eclectic clientele, and so we felt fortunate to secure a table outside for the seven of us.

On this night since the menu listed small plates, pizzas and entrees we opted to order from each category so that the food arrived at the same time. 

From the small plates our favorite was Mango Shrimp Tacos · two large grilled shrimp per taco with a peppery Thai Salad and three pepper aioli.  There are two tacos per order and the sauce was piquant enough to get our attention but not overwhelming.  Less successful was the Lamb Merguez, ground lamb sausage in a very spicy sea of harissa which did get our attention.  Although it was tasty, the disappointment here was that there was not a strong flavor to the lamb. We ordered Tzatsiki to cool off these two dishes but found the cooling off unnecessary and so enjoyed it with excellent warm pita bread.

The twelve inch Pizza Vedura, roasted onion, roasted tomato, kalamati olives, parmesan cheese and arugula, (which proved to be a wonderful combination) appeared to be on a grilled crust as well and was appealing to the eye as well as the palate.

Our final choice, from the entrees, was Roasted Amish Chicken.  The half chicken, flavored with lemon juice and herbs, definitely thyme among them, appeared to be more grilled than roasted and was moist, flavorful and very tender.  We rated it right up there with the Mango Shrimp Tacos.
sparks dessert menu is limited so rather than ordering two selections, during this Minnesota rhubarb season, we opted to share two servings of Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp, warmed and paired with vanilla gelato and whipped cream.  What a glorious end to a meal…large chunks of tangy rhubarb tempered with sweet strawberries, all afloat in slightly melting vanilla gelato.  And the crisp was crisp.  The oatmeal, flour, sugar and butter combined to provide a light crunchy topping for the fruit below. There was not a morsel left.

We found the manager and wait staff very helpful and agreeable.  sparks prices are very reasonable.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spoon and Stable

April 30th

We visited this new restaurant with great expectations and we were not disappointed.  We liked the decor; lots of brick, skylights and windows.  Very light and airy.  The noise level was high and conversation was difficult at times.

We recommend the Day Boat Scallop Carpaccio with green apple, shiso, chilies, scallion vinaigrette as a starter

Our entrees included Grilled Heritage Pork with hoisin glaze, salsify, and wild mushrooms cassis.  The pork was tender and delicious.  This restaurant also serves the bone on the side, perfect for gnawing on.

Vidalia Onion Tortellini with lamb ragu, eggplant, feta cheese, pine nuts and mint.  This was beautifully presented.  The lamb ragu was succulent, the eggplant crisp and thinly sliced.

Poached Atlantic Halibut with fava beans, spring onions, preserved lemon and lobster emulsion. The halibut was properly cooked.  Very moist!  However; this dish needed more flavor.  The preserved lemon and lobster emulsion just was not enough to give this dish the zing it needed.

As a side we chose the Creamy Spinach with fried cheese curds.  Although we were concerned that the cheese curds would be State fair like, they were very tasty and crisp and the creamed spinach, what can one say, it was perfect.

Two deserts rounded out our meal.  Honey and Cream Cake with strawberries and sweetened condensed milk ice cream.  This dessert reminded us of Tres Leche Cake.  The cake was moist, not soggy.  The milk was pour over it at the table.  There could have been more strawberries and we would not have sliced them as thin.

The Chocolate and Coconut milk chocolate custard with cocoa sorbet was just ok, not terrific.  If we had not ordered the Honey and Cream Cake, this dessert would have fine.  But compared to the cake it tasted bland.

Chef Gavin Kaysen came to our table with the Black Truffle Arancini which is usually only served in the bar.  What a treat!  Our servers were attentive and knowledgeable.

We would recommend this restaurant.