Monday, 11 June 2007

Tolls, Feast, and Central Street

This past weekend was the second scheduled Chicago trip for this summer. Like previous trips, all my frustrations and annoyances with the city back. Immediately. As we sat for 20-minute in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam behind the 85 cent toll booth at O’Hare.

What a horrible way to introduce visitors to the city. I strongly encourage the State of Illinois Dept of Tourism to sell $20 weekend Illinois Tollway I-Passes on the border. Hell, I strongly encourage the State of Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, and Iowa Depts. of Tourism to sell them. Illinois is damaging their tourist reputation by not making the program visitor-friendly ($50 & “Allow 7 to 10 days for processing and delivery” = not helping).

Sunday, we grabbed a pretty good brunch at Feast with Jon, Carolyn, Tesia, and Erin. As expected, the conversation, Feast’s outside seating, and the breakfast potatoes were delightful. While both the garbage omelet and service showed promise, they were awkwardly hesitant.

On the way out of town, we stopped by our old neighborhood on Evanston’s Central street. All our frustration melted away as we walked the sidewalk in and out of the storefronts. In front of the new independent coffee shop, we bumped in to Larry Maday, manager at the Video Adventure. One of the reason I’m disappointed on Netflix and Amazon recommendations is because of Larry’s ability to know exactly what we’re in the mood for. We chatted a little. Just like we did when we lived 2 block down.

Like we never left.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Mussels in Brussels: Friture René

Visiting Belgium and not enjoying a big pot of mussels just isn’t worth the jet lag. So, last night, Jen and I walked down the street from our hosts’ house for dinner at Friture René a small, traditional, steak, mussels, and fries place.

Yes, that’s all they serve: steak and mussels. Maybe 5 or 6 variations of each. Both come with fries and a side of mayo.

Each of the tables in the 3 main dining areas were draped with comfortable, white & red checked table clothes. We shared the back room with a wonderful, elderly French couple still enjoying their time together.

Our order was easy; 2 pots of mussels in white wine, 2 Duvals (in hindsight, 1 pot would have been enough).

A few moments later the shellfish arrived covered in onion, thyme and garlic, too hot to touch. Smelling and tasting fantastic – if just a hint fishy.

If you go, I highly recommend brushing up on the ways to signal you’d like to pay. Sitting quietly at an empty table and making eye contact with the wait staff doesn’t work.

I finally approached our server and asked in English how I should pay. She lifted her hand and rubbed her thumb against her index and middle fingers and said, “Receipt”.

The old French couple giggled all the way through this exchange.

Friture René
Place de la Résistance 14
1070 Brussels (Anderlecht)

Cash only – no credit cards. Says right on the door.

Thursday, 30 November 2006

Old World Smells

The first breath of air as I stepped off the plane brought a big smile to my face. The air here is a little mustier. A little earthier. A little more natural. The increased intensity of the smell are one of my favorite things about Belgium (and the Netherlands and Germany). The onions chopped for dinner – smell even more delicious.

We went for a long walk around Brussels’ city center last night on the way to dinner. A walk I’ve made a few times before. The first being a decade ago. Of course, the architecture that’s stood for hundreds of years is still here, but so is “Pita Street” – a small side street off the main plaza lined with gyro and falafel shops. Pita to pita. The smell of greasy lamb kabob followed us a couple more streets further to Babeko on Sint Katelijnplein. A tiny, African/French fusion restaurant where I discovered Ostrich steak with plantin banana in a cranberry and sweet onion sauce. Wow. Red, like a beef steak, with lighter, subtler flavors.

The service was impeccably French – with the expected Belgian lack of pretense .

Friday, 12 May 2006

Udupi Cafe – You Can Taste the Apathy

I want to be able to recommend the Udupi Cafe – but I can’t.

The first time we ate there, I was coming down with some sort of headcold so, that one’s my fault. The second time was with a whole bunch of people who loved it. Everyone else raved about their dishes and I got the distinct feeling I ordered poorly. So, maybe I’ll take that one as well.

But tonight – it’s all on them.

We got there early – 6:30-ish and were immediately seated. Maybe 3 or 4 other parties throughout the restaurant. After our water glasses were filled, we waited. And waited. And waited. No acknowledgment from the staff we were even there. Let alone ready to order. Plenty of staff standing about talking to each other.

As we debated whether or not to leave, I caught the eye of the Water Glass Filler and asked – more frustrated than I should have let on:

“Do we have a waiter?”

He didn’t hear me.

“Can some one take our order?”

Five minutes later, the person who seated us and handed us our menus was there with a notebook in hand. He was also quite unfamiliar with the menu – at points giving us the “I don’t think we have that” look.

While we were pondering if in fact our food would return, we timed the attentiveness of the staff to the other patrons. Another young couple was seated behind us and Jen started the timer.

10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes without anyone acknowledging they were there – ready to order or otherwise.

I again caught they eye of Water Glass Filler and asked him if it’s normal to wait this long for service.

He didn’t understand the question, so I told him the table behind us had waited more than 20 minutes for service.

“It’s really busy tonight.”

Yes, the couple left shortly there after. Unserved.

A quick search shows I’m not the only one, back in February, Shree declared:

“Tasteless Food, Pathetic Attitude , Dirty rest room”

The food tasted fresh and I didn’t checkout the rest room, but tonight the apathy was palpable.

I suspect the lack of service has something to do the federal indictment of the owner on aiding, abetting, and harboring illegal immigrants earlier this year (Google cache).

Amazing that 90 days after reopening, they’re acting like they’d rather not be.

Monday, 27 March 2006

Cameras Cameras Everywhere

I grabbed a Gyro and a Lamb Kabob from Holy Land Deli this evening and notice this advertisement for a local surveillance company.

The first blob of red text says that the City of Minneapolis requires any grocery, tobacco, or liquor store to have a functioning surveillance system up and running as of January 2006.

I’m not sure where their cameras were (I suspect back by the meats and cheeses). I just knew there was one in my pocket and probably in the pockets of 75% of the other customers.

What’s the point of capturing the images if no one else sees them?

Sunday, 26 February 2006

Cabina Italian Kitchen – Culver’s With Gnocchi

While the house was being shown tonight, Jen and I tried out Cabina’s Italian Kitchen in the ever maturing Silver Lake Village.

I’m not sure why, I always assume Italian places are going to be Maggiano’s and pricier. Tonight, I was more in the mood for Chipotle than than sit-down Italian.

Cabina’s is closer to Culver’s than Maggiano’s. Both in proximity and in concept – there’s a Culver’s 2 blocks away. Like Culver’s, you order and pay up-front and they bring the food to your table. Like Maggiano’s they have fresh-tasting gnocchi (not in Vodka sauce – blah). The baked penne was bland. As was the cheese bread appetizer. The staff was friendly and anxious to help.

Unfortunately, their helpfulness made their role unclear; they bring food, they clear dishes, do I also order from them?

Thursday, 23 February 2006

When I’d Pay For WiFi

There’s a showing at the house this morning.

Between waking up, tidying up, responding to the morning email, I wasn’t able to grab a decent breakfast (or brunch as I prefer). I already had a cup of coffee, just needed a network, someplace reasonably quiet, and some food.

Too many places with free wifi don’t have decent food, are loud, and generally don’t fit the bill. Driving around looking for a destination, I thought, “here’s an opportunity to sell me wifi and a quite room.”

I’ll bring my own coffee and pick up a sandwich someplace along the way, and I’ll give you $10/hr for a quiet room and a fast network.

Oh, I ended up at the Wilde Roast Cafe and had their bean quesadilla. Pretty tasty.

Sunday, 19 February 2006

Tasteless Art Affecting the Tastebuds at Holy Land Deli

I was introduced to the Doner (Gyro or Kabob) during my time in Germany. The Turkish immigrants brought it with them. Aside from the thinly-sliced lamb, the rest of the ingredients were German; cabbage inside stuffed in a quarter of the circular flatenbrot.

In Minneapolis, there’s only one place to get a good gyro – Holy Land Deli over at 2513 Central Avenue NE. They stuff the pitas to their breaking point as they should. My personal favorite is their lamb kabob with hummus. While you wait, admire their grocery – great selection of olives, teas, and meats you won’t find at Cub or Rainbow.

Via this week’s Sunday Strib, I read Holy Land’s owner Majdi Wadi has banned all products made in Denmark until the Danish government apologizes for something tasteless the Danish free press published months ago.

I’ve seen the cartoons. If you haven’t, just ask some angst-ridden teenager to draw some up for you. Cliché-ridden, cheap, and heavy-handed.

From what I glean from On the Media, the newspapers in the Middle East are controlled by their respective governments. In that environment, putting the blame on a national government makes complete sense. I’m not sure what editorial control the Danish government exerts over the press, but I suspect it’s nil. It’d be convenient if the US Government could simply apologize for Fox News or insipid letters to the editor. But that’s not how things work here in the US or in northern Europe.

I’m not sure what Danish-made products the Holy Land sold, I haven’t purchased anything other than lunch and olive oil from them, and the Strib article didn’t list them by name.

Is that list offensive?

Wadi’s decision to ban Danish-made products would seem better directed if the Danish manufacturers had advertising or in some other way financed the newspaper in question.

Since that’s most likely not the case, the Strib article – just like this post – is an advertisement for the Holy Land Deli (mmmm tasty gyros). Would you like a Carlsberg to wash it down?

Friday, 10 February 2006

Bruce Schneier on Local Dining and Global Security

I was introduced to Bruce Schneier via his excellent Sunday, 4 December 2005

Gardens of Salonica – Comfortable Greek

Last night, Jen and I went out to dinner in celebration of our anniversary at NE Minneapolis’ Gardens of Salonica (19 5th Street NE, Minneapolis). Gardens is half a step outside of the hustle and bustle of the St. Anthony Main and that’s why I like it. This 2-room restaurant so comfortable and personable, I feel like everyone that walks in is family. Thankfully, ours was home keeping an eye on Cooper.

Then there’s the food.

The pureed caviar appetizer is amazing. Just remarkable. I don’t know why they have any other appetizers. The tangy saltiness sets the meal off right every time. On the other hand, as much as we like calamari, we never have much luck with their octopodi.

Jen went with the tried and true Psito – which I believe is Greek for “best lamb you’ve ever had”. Yes. So good. I had the goat shank and spinach special, fall off the bone tender, nice hint of lemon, still not as good as the lamb. Plus, both were sensible, reasonable portion sizes. Refreshing in itself.

Normally, we’d go for their figs-in-port desert – but tonight Jen wanted chocolate and nothing on Gardens’ menu fit the bill. Instead, we walked 2 blocks to the Wilde Roast Cafe and sampled their molten lava chocolate baby cake.