Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lakewinds Pasta Salad

Peggy and I have been a member of Lakewinds Natural Foods Co-Op for about six years and have shopped there many more than that. Lakewinds is a full service cooperative grocery store that specializes in organic, natural and locally produced products all with a high level of customer service. They have three locations serving the suburban Twin Cities area: Minnetonka, Anoka, and Chanhassen. We highly suggest you take some time out and visit the location nearest you.

One of our favorite items featured at Lakewinds is their illustrious "Lakewinds Pasta". This alone makes any shopping trip worth it. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus then Lakewinds Pasta is from Jupiter because the flavor is that immense. Curly al dente Cellentani (corkscrew) pasta adorned with accolades of garlic, olive oil, sun dried tomatoes, kalamata olives sinfully intermingled with Romano and Parmesan cheeses, pumpkin seeds, and balsamic vinegar. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. For those daring enough to try this recipe at home I have included it right here on Invisible Diner. Viva La Pasta! Enjoy.


By B. James
Serves 4


1 pound Cellentani (corkscrew) pasta
3/4 cup already rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds roasted
1 cup olives kalamata, halved
1 bunch of scallions thinly sliced
2 cups Romano cheese shredded
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese shredded
1/4 cup basil slivered and firmly packed

3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons salt


Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and cool. Soak sun-dried tomatoes in hot water for about 20 minutes to soften. Slice into thin strips. Slice olives in half, length-wise. Combine pasta, sun dried tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, olives, scallions, Romano and Parmesan cheeses and basil in a large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a blender; pure till combined. Add dresssing to salad and chill one hour before serving.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Start Cooking

Check out the Start Cooking channel on YouTube. It is a very quick and information packed cooking show that gets right to the point and presents the recipes with a very unique twist. They use stop motion time lapse and sound effects to make a cute yet cool recipe demonstration. "Remember to always use charcoal; gas is for wimps!" lol

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whole Foods Market - Minneapolis, MN - Salad Bar

Spontaneity and inspiration are two words I wish were more a part of my life. I sometimes feel they are roadside casualty's left stranded somewhere near College Graduation Avenue and First Date Boulevard. One thing I know for sure is they will never resurface if I don't let them so lend me your ear; or eye since you are reading my blog.

Alright, enough of the hyperbole. The reason for this blog entry is I am fired up by the Whole Foods Market salad bar. Stop laughing. Really, a salad bar. Whole Foods Market is the worlds retail leader in natural and organic foods with more than 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom. The store closest to me is located in Minneapolis at the corner of West Lake Street and Excelsior Boulevard near Lake Calhoun. CLICK HERE for details including address and store hours.

The Minneapolis location of Whole Foods was recently renovated and resulted in a fun and friendly eye candy of a store on par with the Lunds and Byerly's of the world minus all the guilt and harmful chemicals. Not surprisingly the salad bar fits with the theme of natural and organic. As you walk through the store entrance the salad bar is located at the far left side (no pun intended). There are three islands that allow you to serve yourself on either side. One is hot foods such as lasagna, chicken, soups, as well as potatoes and vegetables. Another is cold prepared salads which often contain spicy tofu, noodle/pesto, various potato, couscous, to name a few. But my favorite is the delectable salad bar which I will describe next.

Let us start with Lettuce shall we? Actually you can choose from romaine, mixed greens, spinach, etc. Tasty homemade croutons with lots of crunch and garlic. Speaking of garlic, try whole roasted cloves in all their anti social melt in your mouth glory. Huge beet wedges that sometimes require a knife and fork to eat. Popcorn sized blue cheese chunks that are creamy albeit pungent in flavor. You want beans? Try edamame, chickpea, kidney, etc. Cherry tomatoes that pop in your mouth when you bite them. They even have real bacon for you cruelty free meat lovers. (Is that an oxymoron?) Several salad dressings are provided (balsamic vinegar and olive oil is my favorite combo) along with liquid amino acids for our vegan friends. Of course there are many other fresh and amazing ingredients to choose from and the selection varies by what is in season.

We suggest you stop by Whole Foods if you are in the neighborhood. Actually you should make it a destination even if you are not nearby. There are lots of stores and restaurants within walking distance and the beaches and trails of Lake Calhoun are just across the street. Whole Foods is even a stop on the Three Rivers Park District bike trail. Check it out, you just might have a good time and a great salad to boot!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jack Yee's Restaurant - Hopkins, MN - Review

Jack Yee's Restaurant
1016 Mainstreet
Hopkins, MN 55343

Rating - 6 out of 10

Located in a old fashioned storefront building on Main Street USA, or Hopkins, MN in this case is Jack Yee's Restaurant. A local institution that has stood the test of time. I was surfing eBay one day and saw a Jack Yee's place mat for sale that was from the 1960's. From what we understand, back in the day it was quite a place, however in recent years business has slowed a bit and wear and tear have taken their toll. Surprisingly enough, the quality of food and service don't seem to be effected.

Jack Yee's is not the restaurant to visit if ambiance is what you are looking for. We have been there twice and both times it had a smell of what I would describe as musty with fryer grease overtones. The lighting is dingy and the decorations are dated. The tables and silverware were clean enough, however, we could not help but wonder considering the surroundings. The dining room is completely silent with the exception of television noise from the back room and a distant radio mysteriously playing classical music.
-1 points

We were promptly greeted which was no surprise since we were the only patrons during our entire visit. The server approached quickly and brought menus and waters. He checked back often to see if we were ready or if we had any questions. Our sever was very knowledgeable about the beer and wine selections and brought the items we ordered in a timely manner. He was very appreciative for our business and had a polite conversation with us at the end of our meal. A side note is we think the night of our visit it was a one man show. Our waiter also cooked the food and took our payment at the host stand. Kudos for a job well done.
2 points

The food itself was beautiful but presentation was not a major factor. Simple plates and bowls with the various food items and no garnish or creative arranging.
1 point

Wonderful is one word that comes to mind when thinking about our meal. The egg drop soup was bright yellow, piping hot, and had lots of egg suspended in the fantastic broth. Peggy had the Triple Crown Delight with shrimp, scallops, and chicken all with mixed vegetables and a spicy brown sauce. Andy had the House Shrimp which was packed full of butterflied shrimp and crunchy broccoli all in a light and flavorful sauce. It was supposed to be spicy, but was very mild and I did not care one bit because of how great it tasted. Fantastic flavor kept me from bringing any home. I tried really hard and could not stop eating until it was all gone. Complements to the chef/waiter/host.
2 points

Soup, two entrees, two Chinese beers, one glass of Merlot and the bill came to just over $37. We had a coupon worth $5 off the price so it was an even better bargain. Peggy and I were very happy with the meal and even more happy when the check arrived.
2 points

In closing we would like to recommend you try Jack Yee's Restaurant if you are looking for great old fashioned Chinese food. Adventurous types might even find a little charm in the musty dining room reminiscent of what you might find down a dark alley in Chinatown. If you have a tendency to be a neat freak or are very particular about your surrounding decor; then please heed our words and DO NOT visit the dining room, order take out or delivery instead.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

White Stag Inn - Rhinelander / Sugar Camp, WI - Review

White Stag Inn
7141 State Highway 17 N
Rhinelander, WI 54501

Rating - 3 out of 10

If you ever travel to Northeastern Wisconsin and are looking for a great steakhouse one place that comes to mind is the White Stag Inn located in Sugar Camp, just north of Rhinelander on Hwy 17. My parents have been there several times and thought it would be right up our culinary alley. Peggy and I had heard of this place for years and alas the time came for us to try the famed "north woods" icon.

If you are looking for "Up North" charm then this is the place to visit. Located in a beautiful setting of forest and fresh air the rustic exterior features a chimney billowing the aroma of grilled goodness. As you enter there is a large bar just past the host stand and several dining rooms branching off. The mood is created with subdued amber lighting and dark wood tones. Old pictures and trinkets adorn the walls and bring to mind being in a cabin at "the lake". To complete the cabin feel, there is an open fire grill located in one of the dining rooms so patrons can watch food being prepared by the chef.
2 points

We all have choices of what to eat and where to eat it. Should we stay at home or go out? If the choice is going out then one thing that should hold true is great service. Why would you want to visit a place that has the opposite? With that being said, our dinner party had some of the worst service I have seen in a while. And believe me when I say this because Peggy and I eat out a lot. Our main server was average at best. Fairly friendly when present, but not present very often. And not very apologetic about the long waits between visits. In fact we waited roughly 15-20 minutes for our beverages to be delivered and then when they finally arrived late and with melted ice we had the extra special treat of them being delivered by a cross between Rosanne Barr and Rosie O'Donnell with peroxide blond hair to boot. She could dish out the insults quicker than the drinks. To this day when I think back to the nasty "stink eye" she laid on us I still get shivers down my spine. Word to the owners, do not employ people who are rude and crude, nobody wants to pay for getting insulted and being made unhappy and uncomfortable. Most people can get that for free at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
-2 points (Keep in mind that if the service was not as bad as it was this restaurant would have been rated above average.)

Nothing special here. A slab of meat or fish on a plate, nothing else. Salad is basically a head of iceberg lettuce cut into quarters and dropped in a bowl. Rolls are served in a napkin lined bowl. No frills presentation at this joint.
1 point

Peggy had the Swordfish ($20) a large steak grilled to order. She thought it was juicy and had a good grilled flavor. Mom tried the Haddok ($18) and thought it was some of the best fish she has had in a long time. Grilled white fish tender and flaky. Dad had the 10 oz. Beef Tenderloin Fillet ($27) which he said was excellent. A perfect medium rare bursting with juice. I had the 12 oz. Rib Eye ($22). While it was a perfect medium rare, at least two of the oz. were fat and gristle which I have come to expect when ordering the rib eye cut of beef. The steak was flavorful and filled with char grilled juicy goodness.

Accompanying the meal was a wedge iceberg lettuce salad that was just that, nothing special. Three homemade dressings (Creamy Russian, Garlic Caesar, and oil & vinegar with minced onions, garlic, and peppers) are served lazy Suzanne style. I asked the server what was the best and she suggested a scoop of each. I enjoyed each of them equally and like the idea of mixing. The only potato choice is baked with a cottage cheese and chive mixture in place of sour cream. Peggy and I loved the cottage cheese mixture since we serve almost the same at home. A bowl of warm rolls was enjoyed by all.
2 points

Considering the what you see is what you get style of menu offerings we felt the White Stag Inn was a bit pricey. A 10 oz. beef tenderloin for just under $30 just does not cut it even when you throw in the 1/4 wedge of iceberg lettuce, a hot roll, and a baked potato. I have seen many of the same offered at similar restaurants in the area for as much as $10 less. $22 for a rib eye is not a lot but when you take into account the gristly nature of the meat $15 would be a little more appropriate.
0 points

I do realize that there are a lot of big time fans out there that have been frequenting the White Stag Inn for many years/decades. I understand that there is a big reputation at hand and I should not offend an institution that has stood the test of time. However in this day and age where the dollar is being stretched and competition is at a all time high, a restaruant cannot afford to fall off its game. Sure another day brings another dollar but this diner just might decide to spend their dollar at another place. Some day we may decide the give the White Stag Inn another chance, but as Tony Robbins says, "The road to some day leads to nowhere".

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tea House - Plymouth, MN - Review

Tea House
88 Nathan Lane
Plymouth, MN 55441

Rating - 7 out of 10

Two criteria one can look at in determining a successful restaurant are how long it has been in business and how crowded is it on a typically slow night. The Tea House has been under the current ownership for 10 years which is a long time in "restaurant years" (think dog years) so it has the first criterion covered. Second we chose to try it out on Easter Sunday evening, a time when most places are closed and if they are open they have no customers. Not the Tea House. The parking lot was full and their were many patrons dining inside and several people waiting for takeout. So there you have the review; it must be good since it has been around for a while and there are lots of people on Easter Sunday evening. Sorry folks, I just cannot get myself to be that brief so here we go...

The restaurant is located in a strip mall just north west of the 394/169 interchange. Upon entering we were greeted quickly by a young man who proceeded to seat us in a window seat that overlooked the parking lot and the Willow Creek 12 Theater. The interior was neat and clean with red walls and Chinese light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Our server approached with waters in hand and two menus to choose from. The "Regular Menu" consisted of a more domestic version of Chinese fare. The "Authentic Menu" was more what you would expect if traveling to mainland China.

Peggy and I decided to order off the "regular" menu. We started out with the House Specialty Soup For 2 ($6.95). A large bowl filled with soup and two smaller bowls for each person to eat out of. The soup had a chicken broth base that was slightly sweet and very salty. Pork, chicken, shrimp, pork won tons, carrots, water chestnuts, pea pods, and bok choy were other ingredients. The salty broth combined with the somewhat bland taste of the other ingredients made for an average yet satisfying bowl of soup. (just make sure you bring your high blood pressure meds if you have them)

For entrees I had the Chung King Spicy Chicken ($11.95) which is described on the menu as having lightly fried chunks of chicken stir-fried with onion, green pepper, and dried chili pepper in a special Szechuan sauce. The chicken is described as being fried so I was surprised to find the meat tender with a grilled flavor and texture absent the batter found on most fried chicken. I was thinking fried as in "deep fried" not "stir fried" bad. The sauce was somewhat spicy, dark in color and oily with a smokey flavor. This dish had a very deep intense flavor that came together well combining the spice of red chilies, with roasted garlic, and smokey sauce, making a pleasurable meal.

Peggy had the Sizzling Chicken ($9.95) described as slices of white chicken, water chestnuts, mushrooms, peas, carrots, broccoli, and napa in light sauce served sizzling hot at your table. The server brought a hot metal serving plate table side and poured the food mixture on it resulting in a sizzling sound with a large cloud of steam rising upward. The chicken was very tender and light which seemed to be the theme of this dish. The sauce was light yet flavorful and covered the chicken and vegetables like a warm cozy blanket of comforting goodness.

For desert we shared a bowl of Green Tea Ice Cream ($2.95). Two nice sized scoops served on an oval dish. It was green in color, creamy in texture, with a pleasant green tea flavor that was the perfect ending to a good meal.

Over ten years ago when Peggy and I were dating, we went to the Tea House and enjoyed it. Since then many things have changed including the ownership and menu. One thing that has not changed is that Peggy and I still enjoyed it very much. So the moral of the story is that all good things do not always come to an least not in 10 years.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Rating Scale

After much discussion Peggy and I have decided to change the rating scale on Invisible Diner. In the past we used a 5 star rating scale 1 being worse and 5 being best. While it is simple and easy to understand, we felt it does not give a wide enough range to accurately represent the differences between restaurants. There are so many restaurant choices out there with so many varying degrees of style and offerings, we felt it did not do them justice to only offer up to 5 stars.

What we have come up with is a bit more complicated, but it should offer a more representative rating based more on predetermined criteria rather then personal opinions and feelings. It is an effort to make the reviews less about emotion and more about objectivity. Of course only time will tell if this is the best way to go so please feel free to give feedback.

The new scale is 1-10 with 1 being worse and 10 being best. Reviews will take into consideration 5 factors with each factor being worth two points. For extreme instances we reserve the right to go up to 2 points negative. The factors we will consider are as follows:

-Overall Value

We will not change the scale on reviews posted prior to today; however reviews from this day forward will be based on the new scale. As always, thank you for visiting Invisible Diner.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Steak & Ale - Bloomington, MN - Review


Steak & Ale
Minneapolis – Bloomington, MN
2801 Southtown Drive
Bloomington, MN 55431


It was very cold and dark, the roads were icy, and there were not many people out that night. Maybe it's because it was the last Saturday of the year and people were still recuperating from their Christmas celebrations and preparing for New Years Eve. At any rate, it was a great night to go out if you like avoiding the crowds and getting more personalized service.

Steak and Ale has been a fixture in the Bloomington community for many years. I have a brother that lived in Minneapolis in the 70's and he remembers eating there back then. The company was actually founded in 1966 to “Provide an upscale dining experience at a casual price.” Let's see if they still live up to their 40 year old directive.

Peggy and I walked in and were immediately greeted with a smile by the hostess who proceeded to seat us promptly. As we were escorted to the table, we admired the old English type setting of plaster and dark wood, old worldly chandeliers, dark carpet, fire places and candlelight. They have a main hall which leads way to several dining rooms, some large and some small, and a good sized bar and lounge as well. We were seated by a fireplace at a cozy table for two that featured two large high backed chairs

Our server showed up quickly with a great attitude and took our drink orders. This night we kept it simple with a glass of house Merlot for Peggy and a vodka martini with olives for me. It's worth noting that the martini came with three olives, which is nice for sharing with your dinner partner.

When ordering appetizers we chose to go with the Pan-Seared Crab Cakes. Surprisingly our server told us that she thought they were the worst appetizer on the menu and that most people don't like them. We appreciated her honest opinion and went with the Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, which ended up being a great choice. It was served with six shrimp (three shrimp to a skewer) alongside a decadent herb hollandaise sauce. We both liked this appetizer.

For our main course Peggy chose the Filet Medallions and I chose the Braised Pork Osso Bucco. Each entrée is served with warm bread and honey butter, choice of salad bar, Caesar salad or a bleu cheese wedge. We both went with the bleu cheese wedge since this is the only place we know of where this is available. A quarter wedge of iceberg lettuce is served on a plate with tomatoes and chunky bleu cheese dressing on top. Although it could have used more dressing, it was a fun and tasty alternative to a traditional salad.

Peggy's Filet Medallions came two to the plate served with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. The filets were cooked to medium rare perfection (think “Melt in your mouth”) with a fabulous Merlot demi-glaze The garlic mashed potatoes were good and tasty but the asparagus was limp and woody. How they managed that one, I don't know. The tops were woody and tough and the bottoms were limp and lifeless. If I were the chef there is no way I would have ruined a great dish like that . Those asparagus should have never met the plate.

My Braised Pork Osso Bucco was very good. It was served falling off the bone on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes all drizzled in a portabella mushroom sauce. The flavors of this succulent dish all melded together very well. I was very happy, although if Richard Simmons would have been served this he probably would have ran out of the room screaming.

Looking back we liked many things about our visit, such as the great service, cozy atmosphere and some very delicious items. However, in this day and age there are just too many restaurant choices out there to allow mediocrity to distract from the experience. If you have a sub par appetizer like the crab cakes...simply make it better or take it off the menu. If you have limp veggies...don't serve them to your guests and offer them a better alternative. Once Steak and Ale gets the small details worked out, we will be happy to give them another try and maybe a better score.


Have a Merry Merry and a Happy Happy...Belated of course

Hello all. As is implied by the title of this post we hope all who celebrate the same holidays we do had a Very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year! To all others, we wish you the best of whatever you choose to celebrate.

We have taken a long hiatus from posting on Invisible Diner. As unintentional as it was, the reasons are many and range from vacations out west, the holidays, and personal health scares. Now that they are all behind us (hopefully) we look forward to a great 2008.

Thank you very much for visiting and your continued support.

Andy & Peggy