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.