Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Mini-Apple

We spent this past weekend in The Twin Cities. Now, growing up I was always told The Twin Cities were London and Paris; sadly we did not have a weekend jaunt across the pond (that is saved for August). However we did make it over to Minneapolis/St. Paul to send my Brother-in-Law and Sister-in-Law off to the mean streets of Connecticut, in style. The first (and only other time) The Husband and I were in The Twin Cities was December of 2010, to see the Bills play the Vikings and to cross country ski in about 18 inches of freshly fallen snow. It was beautiful and so peaceful, but we didn't really get to enjoy the cities, as they were drowned in snow.

So this trip we made sure that we hit all of the highlights, since we probably won’t be back. We got in late Friday and drove directly to The Nook for an infamous Juicy Lucy. Now, I had never heard of this burger before I watched Man vs. Food, but the idea of a burger stuffed with melted cheese sounded fantastic. So of course, I had to have one. There is a debate in The Twin Cities as to who has the best Juicy Lucy, from what I’ve gathered the battle rages on between The 5-8 Club, Matt’s Bar and The Nook. As The Brother-in-Law and The Sister-in-Law had tried several times to go to The Nook but failed due to insanely long lines, we decided to try (that and I read that Matt’s smells like a frat house). We walked in at 10:30 (the place closes at 11) and were told we had a 15 minute wait, which was more like 5 minutes. During that time The Husband and Brother-in-Law had enough time to poke their heads downstairs and find the old 1950s bowling alley with extra seating. We sat down and The Sister-in-Law ordered a Chocolate Malt, I ordered a beer and a Chocolate Malt as well. I mean, you can’t have a burger without a beer and when you’re offered a Chocolate Malt, you can’t say no to that either. The Malt was delicious. I’m not a fan of overly malty Malty….you know, the one’s that taste like someone crushed up Whoppers into vanilla ice cream? This had just enough Malt to make the chocolate pop. And it was thick, but not impossible to drink with a straw. To me, it was perfect. However I can see how people who enjoy real Malts or super thick shakes wouldn't be pleased.

We ordered our burgers and learned there were many types of Juicy Lucy’s all of which must be ordered medium. Normally in life I prefer all my meat, ground or not, medium-rare. I have found otherwise you lose the taste of the meat, which is why you’re eating the thing anyway. I have to say though; these burgers were still good medium (I’m sure having a block of cheese in the center helped keep the meat moist). The Brother-in-Law ordered The Original, which is stuffed with a brick of regular American Cheese (the only way American cheese can be made to taste good). The Husband ordered the Spanish Fly, a burger made with 50% ground beef and 50% Chorizo, filled with queso, wow, WOW! It was amazing. You could taste the chorizo in each bite, but it was mitigated by the ground beef (so it wasn’t like munching on a sausage in patty form). We were really impressed. I got the Paul Molitor, a burger stuffed with spicy pepper jack and covered in fried onion. I’m surprised that the Juicy Lucy phenomenon of Minneapolis hasn’t spread, they’re pretty fantastic.
The following morning we woke up and headed out on a tour of the area and found ourselves wandering through the Franconia Sculpture Park in Saint Croix. The place is filled with super cool large scale interactive sculptures, I posted one below. We walked around for a while, jumping on and playing around inside the art. From there we drove to a Park and did other out doorsy stuff, but let’s be honest, that isn’t why you’re here. So on our way back to the house, we stopped at The St. Croix Chocolate Shop. As we were walking in, The Brother-in-Law turned to me and said “Now, don’t lose your mind in here”. I scoffed at him and opened the door to the teeniest little chocolate shop. Yeah, I lost my mind. We ended up ordering two of everything they had. The picture below is of the plate of chocolates we devoured over two days. The combinations were delicious and interesting, like Lemon-Mint, Honey-Bourbon and Pear-Caramel and the good old standbys of Chocolate Salted Caramel and Raspberry Truffle. I would highly recommend a stop if you’re driving around the St. Croix area.

For dinner that night we had a 9:30 reservation at 112 eatery. The chef, Isaac Becker, won the James Beard for Best Chef in the Midwest and was nominated for four consecutive years. We walked into the long, narrow , dimly lit restaurant and were seated at a booth way in the back. We initially ordered a bottle of Cava, but sadly they were out, so instead ordered a bottle of Malbec. After everyone reading the menu and The Husband making slight moaning sounds after he read out loud nearly half of the menu, we decided to just start ordering. Our waitress was wonderful, we told her that we were just going to order a whole bunch of stuff, and then order a whole bunch more after that, and maybe more after that. Most of these were smallish plates, so it worked out really well.

Round one consisted of:
112 Steak Tartare :The Brother-in-Law loved it so much he declared it his favorite dish
Blue Praws with Rooster Sauce : Deep fried jumbo prawns, delicate and sweet with a mayo mixed with siracha…heaven)

Cauliflower Fritters : I think the quote was “If Caulifower was made like this, everyone would eat it”

Frog Legs with Wakame and Mustard Sauce: The Wakame (or seaweed salad) was the stand out on this plate. The frog legs were good, if you haven’t ever had them, they taste like..well…chicken.

Razor Clam and Marinated Hearts of Palm Salad: The saltiness of the clams balanced well with the light citrus dressing that was drizzled over. It was a perfect dish to break up the fattiness of the Banh Mi below.

Duck Pate Banh Mi: Basically a THICK hunk of pate, on a roll of crusty French bread with house made pickles. The Husband was drooling. If you are not a huge pate fan, this is not for you. It was very rich, but really delicious and small enough that you didn’t think you were going to explode... no foie pun intended

Veal Tongue with Cold Soba Noodles: The tongue came out looking like a huge hunk of fried tongue on the side of the plate. Initially, not super appetizing to look at, but what it lacked in look it make up for in taste. The tongue was cooked to perfection and the deep fried outside made it crispy and delicious. The soba noodles had an amazing peanut sauce on them that worked so well with the tongue. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

After finishing off round one, we moved onto round two and another bottle of red.

Duck and Radicchio Salad: When duck is prepared well, it is phenomenal and makes it look like it must be so easy to cook. It’s not, cooking duck well is rather difficult actually. This salad was a perfect example of how something done well, seems so simple. Cold duck breasts over Radicchio with a light citrus dressing that cut the fattiness of the duck and brought out the perfect about out bitter from the radicchio

Mussels in Guajillo Broth: The Brother-in-Law and The Sister-in-Law essentially sat back and let The Husband and I ordered and The Husband isn't always a huge fan of mussels “They taste the same everywhere”. I, on the other hand and good thing I did. These were amazing. The guajillo broth was a little spicy, a little sweet and very reminiscent of something you’d get at a Rick Bayless restaurant. They were totally different from everything else we had, but really perfect, to the point where even after we finished everything, we kept dunking bread into the broth to soak up its goodness.

Roasted Carrots with Honey and Pecorino: This was a request from The Sister-in-Law, and let me tell you, she rocked it out on this one. The carrots were tender and sweet and just salty enough. Again, if all carrots tasted like this, parents wouldn’t have problems getting their kids to eat them.

Stringozzi with Lamb Sugo: Oooh this was amazing. Thick hand-made pasta, covered in a slightly sweet, delectable tomato sauce that just so happened to be saturated with lamb. Basically it was like a Spaghetti Bolognese, but with shredded lamb instead of ground beef. I could have eaten bowl after bowl of this for the rest of my life and been a happy woman.

Tagliatelle with Foie Gras Meatballs: Any time you see Foie Gras and Meatball together on a menu, you have to order….okay, anytime you see Foie Gras on the menu, you have to order. And this wasn’t an exception to the rule. Thick home-made tagiatelle covered in a light cream sauce with quarter sized Foie meatballs in it. The meatballs were amazing, rich but still light. A really spectacular dish.

Chinese Fried Egg: This was a final add on, just as the waitress was walking away after our second round of ordering. The Husband can’t say no to fried eggs, so we did it. If you’re not a spice lover (like The Brother-in-Law), you can eat this, but watch out; his first bite involved a lot of jalapeno…he was not pleased. I love me some spice, so this was perfect. Spicy, sweet, a little salty with an egg cooked to perfection. A really awesome final bite.

Rather than finish the night with a dessert (we did have all of that chocolate still at home), we had a night cap of Vin Santo (for those of you who have no idea what that is, read my most: From the Saints Indeed).

The waitress informed us that we were her second table that night who had ordered most of the menu. I’m surprised more people don’t, there are a lot of really amazing looking dishes on the menu, why not try as many as you can? Of course, this also leads back to the title of my blog… J
Our chocolate feast from the St. Croix Chocolate Company

Break-Dancing Bones at the Franconia

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