Sunday, November 4, 2007

Market Bar-B-Que - Wayzata, MN - Review

Market Bar-B-Que
Minnetonka Location
15320 Wayzata Blvd
Wayzata, MN 55391


When I think of Market Bar-B-Que one word keeps popping into my head, atmosphere. The American Heritage Dictionary defines atmosphere as “An aesthetic quality or effect, especially a distinctive and pleasing one, associated with a particular place” and it is for this reason that I usually choose to keep going back to Market Bar-B-Que. The food is usually ok, service ok, drinks ok, but the atmosphere is warm, cozy, and inviting, somewhat reminiscent of the old supper clubs I used to go to as a boy growing up in Southeastern Wisconsin.

Peggy and I ventured out around 8pm on Saturday which is late by Minnesota standards. (in New York or L.A. they are still serving the senior specials at 8pm) Market Bar-B-Que is tucked in an obscure corner just off the frontage road on the north side of 394 and is surrounded by office complexes. The building has an interesting design in that it is half submerged underground. As you walk up the familiar glow of neon lights comes from the windows. They have one that looks like their pig mascot...very cute. The heavy wooden door in the entryway has an old metal knocker on it in the shape of a pigs head leading one to believe that pork is the dominant theme at this establishment.

As we ventured indoors, through the vestibule, we are immediately embraced by the atmosphere. Walking past the candy machines, free local magazines, and an old coin operated pig that the children can ride a smallish bar sits to our right. It never seems busy, but I can't help but think it used to be the “place to go” in days gone by. After all the Market Bar-B-Que has been a Twin Cites institution since 1946 when it took its name from the nearby Farmers Market in Minneapolis. Granted this suburban location didn't come into existence until years later, you can't help but take comfort in a restaurant chain that has been around for over 50 years.

We were greeted immediately by the hostess. She offered seating at a table or booth. We choose to sit at a booth which are set back in cozy little alcoves complete with checkered tablecloths, pig shaped coat hangers and vintage table top juke box. (the juke boxes were disconnected years ago, but they still add to the ambiance)

Seconds after being seated our server jetted over and brought us menus and asked if we wanted anything to drink. Peggy and I both ordered Skye vodka martinis on the rocks with olives.($7.95) A very short while later they arrived in a small tumbler filled to the rim. We both enjoyed them and were happy with how they were made, but we found the price to be too high for this caliber of restaurant.

The server then asked if we wanted an appetizer and we inquired about the Seasoned Chicken Wings.($8.95) She said they were fantastic so we proceeded to order. Not long after a plate of 5 whole chicken wings was brought to the table accompanied by a bowl of their homemade barbecue sauce. I honestly have to say, they were pure heaven. Smoked to perfection served crispy and piping hot with a great seasoning (think Lawry's) that didn't mask the smoked flavor of the meat. If you get a chance try these, we think you will be happy you did.

When asked what we wanted for our entrée I asked the server how the Broiled Walleye was and she wrinkled her nose and gave a not so enthusiastic moan. I don't know what got into me. Going to a barbecue restaurant and ordering fish. Thoughts of eating out as a child entered my mind. My Mom was notorious for ordering what wasn't the specialty of the restaurant. We would go to a seafood restaurant and she would order duck, we would go to a steak house and she would order fish. I remember how often she was disappointed by mediocre food. This should have taught me to never do the same, but for some reason I wanted fish. Happy for her honesty I immediately went to my second choice, a half rack of Baby Back Ribs.($16.95) Peggy opted for the Beef Brisket.($15.95)

My ribs arrived served on a fiberglass serving tray, a small version of the ones you would see at a cafeteria line. It actually is a nice idea since ribs would easily fill up a plate and not leave enough room for the sides. Speaking of sides, I had the french fries which are the default potato choice unless you want to pay $1.50 more for a baked potato. Also served with my meal was creamy coleslaw and Texas toast. My ribs were served dry (no sauce) and they were precut about ¾ of the way through between each bone. Although they were not as tender as I like, they tasted very good. The rub of seasonings used along with the smoky flavor made up for the lack of tenderness. The coleslaw was creamy yet crunchy and had a slight garlic and horseradish overtone. The french fries were not very hot, but they were crispy and I enjoyed dipping them into the barbecue sauces. I don't know how, but some restaurants manage to ruin simple toast. This was not the case Saturday night. The toast was buttered yet crispy and made for a great accompaniment for the meal.

Peggy's Beef Brisket arrived piled high on Texas toast with grilled onions and barbecue sauce slathered on top. The pink meat was lukewarm, but had a great smokehouse flavor and was very tender. Peggy opted for a baked potato instead of fries. The potato was baked perfect and seemed fresh. She also enjoyed the coleslaw as much as I did.

We were so stuffed by the end of our meal we opted out of dessert. If we wanted we could have chose from a variety of sweets such as Key Lime Pie, Mud Ice Cream Pie, and Sweet Potato Pie to name a few.

Service, as I mentioned earlier was extremely fast. The server was never far away and quick to fill our order. While I would giver her an A for efficiency, I would give her a C on personality. Very short abrupt answers to questions and not much feedback when we initiated conversation. I should also mention that we did need to ask for water with our meal and the glasses were never refilled even though they sat empty for quite some time.

The food and drinks were better than usual this time and the service was prompt. Yes, we both agree the prices are too high for this type of restaurant. Paying $1.50 extra for a baked potato or $2.50 extra for a dinner salad instead of coleslaw seems a bit silly especially when entrée prices range from the low teens to the upper twenties. But overall we had a pleasant experience and we will no doubt go back for more. As we were getting ready to leave, Peggy and I looked around the dining room and smiled. It was decorated with white and orange mini lights and pumpkins with a backdrop of red porcelain tiled walls, alcoves separated by glass dividers, and the red hue of the neon lights. Warm, comfy, and cozy was the reason we came and we weren't disappointed by the atmosphere.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Stormy Night Behind Us

A few years back Peggy and I were heading “Up North” to my parent’s cabin in Three Lakes, WI. We were getting hungry and decided to stop in at an truck stop somewhere in Wisconsin which name will remain anonymous to protect the innocent. I am not a truck stop aficionado, but I would say this place was decent by truck stop standards. When thinking of comparable restaurants Denny's, Perkins, and IHOP come to mind. Unfortunately, as we found that night, looks can often be deceiving.

As we entered the hostess seated us promptly. Looking around the dining room I would say it was a slow night with ¼ of the tables occupied at best. A short time later we were approached by our server, a young woman, 20ish in age, skinny yet with a pregnant belly, chewing and snapping gum as she asked “Can I get you something to drink”. Peggy ordered water, and I ordered a Coke. As she walked away Peggy and I smiled at each other as if we knew we were in for an interesting dining experience.

Our server returned, prefaced by several snaps of her gum, and brought us our beverages. As she haphazardly set my Coke on the table the liquid was sloshing back and forth over the edge of the glass. “Sorry I slopped on your table, can I take your order?” she said while coughing and wiping her runny nose with her finger. After placing our order we watched our server walk away…and she was never heard from again…at least at our table.

From that point on we waited…and waited…and then waited some more. We could see her, behind the counter in the back by the kitchen door talking to the cook and the dishwasher. Then a new group of people were seated in her section. She approached, gave them menus, took their drink orders and did not even look our way. At this point we were so amazed by the lack of service and incompetent treatment that we decided sit quietly and wait to see how bad it could get.

The server came back to the other table gave them their drinks and took their dinner order. Again, not even looking at us which was a feat in itself since we were right next to the table she was serving. Meanwhile, another table came in and same story, drinks were brought, order taken, etc. She brought food to the table that came in five minuets after us and then to the table that came in ten minuets after us. At this point, most people would have demanded to see the manager, but not us. We were determined to see how bad it could get. But to what extent? How long would we stay? Until the end of her shift? Overnight? No, we decided not to be that extreme, but we would wait until the table that came in after us had finished and left. That is exactly what happened. They finished their meals paid and were on their way. All this time the ne’er-do-well we formerly referred to as our server never even made eye contact with us.

After enduring the hell of being hungry and having no service at all we got up and went to the cashier to report our awful experience. When asked who our server was we told her the skinny brown haired pregnant girl. The cashier immediately rolled her eyes and said “Oh, that’s Stormy” giving us the impression that this has happened before. Unfortunately that did not seem to make a difference because the cashier did not even apologize for the service and proceeded to charge us for the coke that I had purchased 45 minutes earlier. I looked at Peggy in disbelief and suggested we pay thus putting the icing on the cake to the worst dining experience (or lack their of) ever!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Most ridiculous fortune ever!

Last night Peggy and I ate Chinese take out and my fortune read: "Just believe it. Water and oil cannot be mixed." That has to be the most silly fortune I have ever read. Wait, it is not even a fortune, it's a statement. Come to think of it over the last decade I have noticed the slow demise of the fortune cookie. It seams that they are no longer fortune cookies but "statement cookies." (and lame statements at that)

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Lone Spur Grill and Bar - Minnetonka, MN - Review

Lone Spur Grill and Bar
11032 Cedar Lake Road

Minnetonka, MN 55305



“Tex-Mex Cooking Served with Southwestern Hospitality” are words that occupy the menu cover at the next restaurant we are going to review. Lets see if they live up to their self proclaimed slogan.

Located in yet another suburban strip mall, the Lone Spur Grill and Bar is a popular spot in the Western metro. They draw a good crowd in both the Bar and Restaurant. The theme is what you might expect when you think Tex-Mex; painted murals on the walls, southwestern style pottery, ox skulls, tapestries, cactus, etc. Not a bad job of decorating for a strip mall.

After being seated, we were greeted by our friendly server. We both decided to try a drink special called the “Perfect Margarita” ($7.95). This margarita is made with upscale tequila served table side in its own shaker. You receive a small salt rimmed martini glass adorned with a lime and a full sized metal shaker with ice and margarita inside. I would say there is enough to pour about 3-½ - 4 drinks (keep in mind the small size of the martini glass). After the first couple of sips, I must admit I had a hard time stopping. It was so smooth and sweet. It reminded me of the way I drank Kool-aid or Tang when I was a kid. I didn’t want to just sip, I wanted to slam the whole glass. So beware and bring a designated driver.

The Lone Spur always seems to have good coupon deals consistently throughout the year. You will find these in the neighborhood circulars if you live in the area or you can find them online by CLICKING HERE. Since we were ordering two entrées and two drinks, we were able to take advantage of a free appetizer coupon (up to $7).

For our appetizer we chose the Moppo Wings ($7.99) which are whole battered chicken wings with Moppo seasoning. To use internet lingo OMG, these wings are out of this world! Six whole wings served crispy and piping hot seasoned to perfection. The seasoning is so good, like regular seasoned salt, but with cinnamon and nutmeg overtones. I once had a friend from out of town visit and he thought they were so good he took two orders to go and brought then back to Menomonie, WI with him.

When ordering our entrées I decided to go with the Bourbon Steak ($14.95) an 8 oz. top sirloin rolled in dry rub and topped with sautéed mushrooms and bourbon sauce served on a bed of crispy fried onions. The server took my order and later returned to let me know they had run out of that particular entrée. I asked if they had the Carne Asada ($10.95) an 8 oz. top sirloin marinated in chipotle sauce, pan fried with tomatoes and green onions, served on a sizzler with Mexican rice and refried beans. She had to check. The manager returned and informed me it was the 8 oz. sirloin that they were out of and that they would be willing to make either of those entrées substituting two 5 oz. sirloins instead. I declined and went with the Texas Size 12 oz. Smoked Beef Brisket ($15.95). The beef brisket is smoked for 14 hours, thinly sliced, and served fanned out on a plate with homemade barbecue sauce on top. I have to admit the brisket was cooked to perfection and I did not need a knife at all. It literally melted in my mouth and when paired with Lone Spurs amazing sweet/spicy barbecue sauce it sent culinary shivers down my spine. It is worth noting that all dinners include Texas toast, choice of coleslaw or cup of soup, and choice of seasoned steak fries, ranch house beans, cornbread or baked potato (after 4 PM). I had the coleslaw (creamy and crunchy and quite tasty) and the ranch house beans (smoky and spicy with barbecue flavor).

Peggy had the Chicken Fajitas ($12.95) served on a hot sizzler with red and green peppers and onion, accompanied with a builder platter of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, Mexican rice, refried beans, and hot tortillas. At risk of using an oxymoron Peggy describes them as extremely average. The meat and veggies were cooked through, but seemed a bit bland. Lets face it, fajitas are not a rare find anymore. Many restaurants serve them and there is a certain standard of quality that we have come to expect. Usually when fajitas are grilled they get that nice smoky taste and the meat and veggies are blackened by the grill. Well no smoky blackened goodness here. Since this is listed on the menu as their house specialty, we will give them the benefit of the doubt and say the chef was having a bad night. They must be better than this to be a specialty.

As we finished our meal we discussed our dining experience and overall felt satisfied. The atmosphere was decent, service was prompt and friendly, drinks were fantastic, and most of the food was very good. We both recommend checking out the Lone Spur if your travels take you to the Western Twin Cities suburbs. Should you make a special trip from across town to try this place out? It depends…if you like good drinks and smoke house barbecue then yes, if you want good Mexican food we suggest you look into other alternatives.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

To water or not to water? That is the question...

Is anyone old enough to remember the good old days of going to a restaurant and not having to ask for water with your meal? Think real hard…a server approaches your table for the first time, greets you, hands out menus, and finishes with “I’ll be right back with some waters.” Most restaurants even had the water glasses right on the tables ready to be filled without as much as a mention on your part. Call me nostalgic, but I miss my water.

Today this is not the prevalent practice. In fact at most restaurants if you don’t ask for water, you will not be served a glass, period. This practice scares me about what the future has in store for us. Maybe no menus unless you ask. How about no silverware? Maybe you eat with your hands. Napkins? Why bother? The diner might use their shirtsleeve.

I know there are several reasons why water is not a sure thing anymore:

*People like their bottled water and would never be caught drinking that scary tap water.
*Restaurants can make money by selling bottled or sparkling water.
*Some people don’t drink water and restaurants don’t want to dirty the glasses and wash them if they don’t need to.
*It helps save the environment. (no wasted water, dish soap, energy for the dishwasher, etc.)

OK, there are a lot of reasons why water is not served automatically. This still is not going to stop me from asking for it each time I go out to dine. Ahhhh, I can hear it pouring out of the pitcher right now…clink, clink, splash, splash… This post is making me thirsty…gotta go…

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Best of India - St. Louis Park, MN - Review

Best of India
8120 Minnetonka Boulevard
St. Louis Park, MN 55426


Have you been to your local run of the mill strip mall lately? Well almost every neighborhood in America has one…or two…or three…oh well, I think you get the point. Strip malls are everywhere! These malls are increasingly home to local restaurants. Some of them are even good restaurants and Best of India happens to be one of them.

We walked in and were greeted and seated immediately, which is unusual for 7:00 pm on a Friday night. The interior is average with minimal decorations. Some Indian tapestries, swords, and a captains wheel are hanging from the walls. The tables have white tablecloths under glass with candles adorning each one. Underneath the glass is the drink menu and an unexpected advertisement for a power drink similar to red bull.

The drink menu offers beer, wine, and an assortment of non alcoholic drinks such as the Lassi, a cold sweetened yogurt drink. Several domestic beers and wines are available as well as some Indian selections. We kept it simple with a glass of house merlot ($4.50) and bottle of Miller Light ($3.25).

The menu is strictly Indian and offers a wide range of appetizers, breads, Tandoori dishes, Biryani dishes, many curries, and desserts. If you want steak or a hamburger, this is not the place to go.

With so much to choose from, we thought it would be a good idea to try a dinner special for two. They describe them as starting with appetizers and finishing with desserts…is there any other way? There are two choices for the dinner special; one with meat and one vegetarian.

Since vegetarianism is wide spread in India within its Hindi and Jain communities, we decided to choose the Special Vegetarian Dinner For Two ($28.50). Items included are an appetizer plate, choice of two vegetarian curries, basmati rice, choice of bread, and dessert. If you break it down the savings over ordering ala carte is about $6.50.

The appetizer plate features Vegetable Samosa (flaky pastry filled with seasoned potatoes and peas), Vegetable Pakora (mixed vegetables chopped, made into balls, dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried), Paneer Pakora (homemade cheese, similar to mozzarella, dipped in chickpea batter and deep fried), and Pappadom (homemade lentil wafers served with green and red onion chutney). Our favorite is the Veggie Samosas. The crust is very flakey like good pie crust, and the vegetables inside have a consistency similar to vegetable pot pie without all the liquid. It is worth noting that the Pappadom is paper thin and crisp, more so then even a cracker. The chutneys that are provided are great for spreading on top of the Pappadom. Each is very flavorful and spicy, but the red onion chutney has a sweet overtone.

For our choice of vegetarian curries we picked the Baigan Bharta (freshly roasted eggplant with tomatoes, onions, and green peas) and the Nav Ratton Korma (delicately spiced vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce). The server will ask how spicy you would like your entrée. We choose medium spice, but I would warn you that medium is hot by Minnesota standards.

The Baigan Bharta is a mix of finely chopped vegetables served in a bowl. The texture was very soft and velvety. The only thing I can think of to describe this in terms of American food is that of a spread or a dip. It’s great over rice or on the bread provided with the meal. The spices used are so varied and in such large number it is impossible to describe one dominant flavor. If I were to attempt to give examples some might be chili pepper, cumin, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom to name a few.

The Nav Ratton Korma also has a wonderful mix of fascinating flavors but the vegetables in this dish are more coarsely cut. Easily distinguished veggies such as cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, with cashews and Paneer cheese in a thick creamy sauce. An interesting side note about the Paneer cheese it even though it tastes a lot like mozzarella, it doesn’t melt when heated. Because of this you may mistake it for a firm tofu.

Served with the meal is your choice of Tandoori Breads. These range from Naan, a traditional Indian white bread similar to pita bread, to more complex offerings such as the Alu Paratha which we choose to have with our meal. Alu Paratha is a whole wheat bread stuffed with seasoned potatoes and peas. Again, think pita, but stuffed and baked in a traditional clay oven. It is slightly crisp on the outside and very warm and soft on the inside. Trust me when I say it is worth trying this place just for the bread alone.

Also served with our meal was basmati rice. The rice is a long grain variety with a nutty flavor that is light, flakey, and smells similar to popcorn. It is very different than the sticky short grain variety you find in Chinese food.

Finishing off our meal we had the Kheer for desert. Served slightly warm it is a lightly sweet and runny rice pudding with raisins and pistachios. I guess the raisins and pistachios are just for flavor since there were none in our dessert. Regardless, it had a crisp clean taste and was perfect for cleansing our palates after a spicy meal.

Even though the atmosphere leaves a little to be desired, the food and good service makes up for it. Water glasses were kept full and we were frequently asked about our meal. If you love Indian cuisine and are looking for a new place to try, or if you have never had Indian before and want a good place to start, you can’t go wrong with Best of India.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Restaurant Portion Control

Andy and I just returned from a nice vacation in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Ever since our marriage there in the summer of 1999, Three Lakes has been a special place to us and we always have so much fun. This time was no exception…great weather, beautiful scenery and as always good food.

On this trip we tried out a few new restaurants and ate WAY too much. One thing I notice in the north woods is the portions are huge. Wouldn’t it be nice if restaurants offered a choice of portion size? The large portions served at most restaurants are usually the only option available. You may think to order off the kiddie menu, but that food is usually boring and not healthy at all (i.e fried chicken fingers, fried corn dogs, fried hamburger, macaroni and cheese, etc.) Some may think, just take the leftovers to go, but not everyone has that kind of self control, especially if the food is really good. Smaller portions, priced accordingly would be a great option. For example:

Pasta dishes - Some places serve as much as a pound of pasta per serving. Unless you are an athlete who needs to carbo load, that is way too much.

Specialty salads - Most are huge with as much as a whole head of lettuce in one serving. Can you imagine using that much at home when you are the cook?

Meat entrees - I notice that a lot of servings are two pieces of meat such as pork chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, etc. Sure a hungry hunter just in from the woods wants a big meal, but a 105 lb city girl could get about three meals out of those portion sizes.

I write this from the perspective of a person that goes out to eat a lot. There are many out there that do not get the chance to go out on a regular basis and probably think large portions are great. All I want is the option to order less. I know that it would be extra work for the restaurant owners and menus would need to be a bit more complex, but options are good for us as the consumer. Restaurateurs shouldn’t forget the key to a successful restaurant is happy and satisfied customers. Providing more options just might be the key to keeping them coming back again and again.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Axel's Bonfire - Eagan, MN - Review

Axel’s Bonfire - Wood Fire Cooking
1555 Cliff Road
Eagan, MN 55122

Rating: ****

If you are looking for a place where you can drink your Flirtini surrounded by cozy fireplaces, dim lighting, antique armoires, all under an avant-garde sculpture of a horse made with garage sale items…oh and did I mention that it blows steam out its snoot and has a spinning disco ball inside? Well, look no further than Axel’s Bonfire in Eagan, MN.

Located on the north side of Cliff Rd. halfway between Hwy 77 and Pilot Knob Rd. in Eagan, Axel’s Bonfire offers Southwest metro suburbanites a place to escape the rigors of everyday life. Diners are greeted with a real wood bonfire and gas flame lanterns as they approach the entrance. Once inside, the theme continues with dimly lit interior and fireplaces reminiscent of the bygone era of supper clubs.

Seating was prompt and we were quickly approached by our friendly server. A round of waters was offered and when they came we were happy to see a lemon wedge in each glass. The menu offered a wide range of items to choose from. Appetizers, salads, wood fired pizza, pasta, southwestern items, spit roasted meats & entrées, and a selection of sandwiches. We were impressed by the choice of sides offered with each entrée…vegetable and clilantro-lime rice or your choice of potatoes…buttermilk bacon smashed, loaded baked, marinated cheesy hash browns, or fries.

We asked the server for suggestions on a signature drink, he told us about Bonfire’s own Flirtini ($9.00), a martini made with Stoli Raspberry and champagne. We both decided to try it and we were happy we did. The Flirtini was shaken and served tableside into chilled martini glasses with frozen raspberries inside. The server leaves the shaker with you so you can take advantage of the generous portion. Andy was tempted to bite into a frozen raspberry and found it to be very sour, but it was a good contrast to the light, crisp, and sweet taste of this cocktail. Berry flavor seemed to pop out at us with every sip…think Cosmopolitan on steroids.

For an appetizer we shared the Bontons ($8.95), a crispy medley of buffalo chicken cream cheese wontons, served with homemade coleslaw and sweet yet spicy dipping sauce. The spiciness of the buffalo chicken cream cheese paired with the sweet and tangy sauce followed up with the light and crisp coleslaw was a match made in culinary heaven.

Peggy’s choice for entrée was Grilled BBQ Salmon ($19.95) served with buttermilk bacon smashed potatoes and a crunchy green bean and carrot medley. The wood fired salmon was moist and tender with a sweet and smoky barbeque sauce slathered on top. The potatoes were smooth and creamy with just the right amount of chopped bacon to set this side apart from the over present garlic mashed potatoes that are seen on so many menus these days. Crisp whole green beans with crunchy julienne carrots were a good fresh choice of vegetables to round out this dish.

Andy asked for the servers suggestion between the Baby Back Ribs and the BBQ Beef Brisket ($15.95). Brisket was suggested and this dish was also served with buttermilk bacon smashed potatoes and green bean and carrot medley. The BBQ Brisket consisted of piles of thinly sliced brisket smothered in sweet and tangy barbeque sauce. The brisket was very tender and had a wonderful smoky wood fired taste. Andy found himself forking a piece of brisket and some smashed potatoes then dipping it in the barbeque sauce for a good amalgamation of flavors.

It is worth noting we were happy to have our niece Elizabeth join us for dinner. She had the Buffalo Shrimp ($20.95) with the marinated cheesy hash browns and a glass of lemonade. Elizabeth really loved the hash browns and enjoyed her shrimp and lemonade as well. Good company always adds to the dining experience.

When we were waiting for our bill, we were looking at the horse sculpture hanging from the ceiling. Suddenly steam started hissing and shooting out of its snoot. We were all a bit surprised since we hadn’t noticed the steam during our meal. Then we saw our server across the dining room looking at us with a smile on his face. He had the controls for the steam over by him and made it come out when he saw us looking at the sculpture. It is those kind of little things that make a place unique and interesting and make us want to visit in the future.

We really enjoyed our visit to Axel’s Bonfire. The decor and surroundings were great, the employees were kind and attentive, and the food was fabulous. When in Eagan, stop by and give this friendly restaurant a try.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Istanbul Bistro - Minnetonka, MN - Review

Istanbul Bistro
15718 Wayzata Boulevard
Minnetonka, MN 55391

Rating: ****

If you are interested in Turkish Mediterranean cuisine look no further than the Istanbul Bistro located on the North frontage road of Hwy 12/394 between Hwy 101 and Carlson Parkway.

Istanbul Bistro looks very unassuming from the outside. It is in a small strip mall that you may drive by and not even notice. The interior is nicer than you might expect in a strip mall. A mixture of tables and booths make it a quaint but social setting. Lighting is subdued, with earth tones permeating the walls and floor. As you enter there is a counter with various ethnic items for sale such as Turkish coffee and accessories.

There are two menus to choose from; one fixed and one seasonal. The fixed menu offers the same dishes that many have come to expect from a traditional Turkish restaurant. Dishes such as Ezme, Humus, Pide Bread (just like pita bread), assorted kabobs, and traditional lamb dishes. The seasonal menu changes from time to time and offers a more contemporary spin on Turkish delights such as Lamb Clay Pot Stew, Salmon Wrapped In Grape Leaves, and Chicken Borek to name a few. There is also a wine feature and appetizer on the seasonal menu.

We started our dinner off with a bottle of Haywood Merlot. We find this wine to be smooth, rich and well balanced and since its considered one of Istanbul's house wines, it is offered at half price ($9.50) on Monday and Tuesday. We would suggest you try Istanbul on Monday or Tuesday so you can take advantage of this great deal. Another good reason to try Istanbul early in the week is because it is less crowded then on the weekends. Same great food but with quicker seating, more attentive service, and a much more relaxed atmosphere.

Next we tried the Calamari ($6.00) appetizer. We found it to be crisp fried yet tender on the inside. It was served with a red pepper aoli sauce. The sauce was creamy and smooth but also spicy with lots of garlic. An interesting note about this appetizer is that it is served garnished with lemons that were fried along with the calamari. This infused the dish with a slight lemon flavor.

Most entrees come with a choice of soup or salad. It is nice to see a restaurant that still serves this way in the ala carte world we live in. We both choose the salad which consisted of romaine lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, and homemade red wine vinaigrette served with warm pide bread. Very basic, but fresh and fantastic. The homemade vinaigrette is a favorite in our book.

Peggy's entree was the Ankara Tava - Lamb Clay Pot Stew ($14.00). The stew contained cubed lamb meat, potato, onion, carrot, chickpeas, tomato, green pepper, and kasari cheese all in a tasty sauce containing first press imported virgin olive oil and garlic. The lamb is so tender it melts in your mouth and the mix of vegetables is the perfect fit. It is served in a corning ware type dish that is baked in the oven and is piping hot as it arrives at your table. Peggy wished there was more sauce since it was a little dry. She has had this dish before and her favorite part is dipping her food in the sauce. Entrees are served with an odd choice of basmati rice or french fries. Peggy chose the rice and it was great. Nice long grains and nutty flavor, but not sticky at all. Even though the dish was a bit dry tonight Peggy gives it a big thumbs up.

Andy had the Pollo Ripieno ($13.50). This is a dish containing a split chicken breast stuffed with spinach, ricotta cheese and garlic. It was topped with a unique sauce containing finely chopped almonds. The chicken was moist and seasoned well, and the mixture inside had a strong spinach taste. Accompanying the chicken was Spanish potatoes. They were quarter wedge cut and served crispy with a light seasoning on them. Again, interestingly enough, this dish was served with a choice of french fries or basmati rice. Imagine french fries served with Spanish potatoes...neither could Andy so he had the rice. All in all, Andy was very happy with this entree and would suggest it to diners interested in chicken.

Service was good with friendly servers greeting and seating us quickly. Water glasses were kept full, and we were asked about our meal several times throughout the night.

When the bill came we were surprised that we had such a well rounded meal for less than $50. Just think, a bottle of wine, appetizer, salad, pide bread, and two delicious entrees for $46.00 and some change.

We highly recommend you try the Istanbul Bistro. The service, staff, great food and ambiance make for a great dining experience.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Jasmine Garden - Hopkins, MN - Delivery - Review

Jasmine Garden
1601 Main Street
Hopkins, MN 55343

Rating: ***1/2

Alright, we know this is a bit unorthodox, but our first review is going to be Chinese delivery. We promise to keep it real here and what's more real than home delivery?

We were quoted 30 minutes for delivery but our order arrived much quicker, about 15 minutes. The delivery person was very polite. Our order was neatly packed in a brown paper bag stapled nice and tight. Packaging materials consisted of those plastic containers with the resealable lids (much better than those awkward white paper containers that leak all over). I don't know if it's the containers or the fast delivery, but our food was piping hot.

Tonight we started with the "Home Made Chicken Wings" for an appetizer. At $3.55 it is an absolute steal! Six wings in a sweet and spicy sauce with a surprising accompaniment of onions, green peppers and carrots. Great sauce and tasty wings make for a finger licking good appetizer.

For entrees we started with "Chicken with Black Bean Sauce." ($7.45/quart) This dish had a sweet malty flavor. The sauce was very smooth and light and just the right amount. Vegetables consisted of green peppers, onions, carrots, pea pods, zucchini, celery, mushrooms, baby corn, black beans and water chestnuts. This is a good dish for those who don't like a lot of spice.

Our next entree was "Hunan Chicken." ($7.45/quart) This dish is listed on the menu with a red pepper next to it signifying that it is spicy hot. While it was temperature hot, I would disagree with the spicy hot designation on the menu. In fact I would say it was mild at best. The sauce was very light and subdued with not a lot of flavor. Vegetables consisted of broccoli, green peppers, onions, carrots, pea pods, zucchini, celery, mushrooms, baby corn, and water chestnuts.

All our food was temperature hot when we received it and consisted of HUGE portions. Jasmine Garden's food is all fresh cooked using vegetable oil only and contains no MSG.

All in all, we would suggest you give this place a try. The speed, friendliness, quality and quantity all make up for the Hunan Chicken being a bit bland.