The important wine study, here.
The important wine study, here.
Well, that was fun, wasn't it? Yeah, the ol' McCain and RNC keywords in the last post sure caused a spike on the hit meter for this here site. But no one left a comment. Well, I hope that just means everyone got a laugh out of it, from both sides of the political aisle. One thing that's definitely happened in politics is a complete absence of humor.
Here's a few photos from an afternoon spent in downtown St. Paul during the RNC for the day job. Asked the restaurateurs how they were doing, and, by and large, they said "Shitty." In addition to a large area being baracaded from automobile traffic, the powers-that-be erected a 10 foot fence in a wide perimeter around the Xcel Energy Center. It made it difficult to get around, that's for damn sure. I recall reading in the paper in the week running up that all areas would be open to foot traffic. Er, no. And if you wanted to get from the west side of the Xcel to the east, and you didn't have security clearance, your option was a mile-out-of-your-way walk down by the river on the south, or John Ireland boulevard on the north. Nice. Anyhoo, enjoy. And we'll be back with regular commentary later this week. BBHQ just invested in some new equipment.
The button folks. They have a company, design and sell 'em. They were out in Denver, too, for the DNC. When I find their names I wrote down, I'll post 'em. Nice folks.
Ah, good ol' Harold. You remember Harold, right? Sure you do. He's still out there, doing what he does best: chasing skirt and consuming alcohol faster than an ethanol-converted Hummer. But he's nothing if not timely. Into the RNC Headquarters he stumbles, rifles through a desk or two and comes out with an early draft of Sen. John McCain's (the fella under Dubya's arm there) acceptance speech, or part of it anyway. You saw it here first, folks. Enjoy that convention. Or, at least all the pandering during a potential Gustav-caused tragedy that might be go down in New Orleans in its stead. —Lewis
An early draft of Sen. John McCain's convention acceptance speech:
My friends, for too long our nation has been held hostage by hostile, oil rich nations preying on our insatiable thirst for that viscous black gold that powers not only our automobiles, but the very engine of our economy. As a nation, we’ve painted ourselves into a proverbial energy corner through decades of inaction, and now the Chavezes and Ahmadinejads of the world have us by the shorthairs. Our once great country has been reduced to begging these dictators for more and more oil, like a heroin junkie pleading with his dealer for one more fix.
My friends, an America beholden to the whims of oil-hoarding towelheads is not the America I fought for, and it’s certainly not the America my fallen comrades gave their lives for. This nation was built on the hard work, ingenuity and independence of generations of freedom-loving people. We must again tap those most American of qualities—qualities that reside in each of us—and make this country the great beacon of hope and advancement it was always meant to be.
To that end, I am here today to unveil my plan for finally attaining the energy independence this country needs. While my opponent offers little more than half-baked ideas on the subject, I have a concrete plan that will have us sucking the teat of the OPEC countries no more. If—like some spliff-smoking Dutchman—you want to depend on windmills to end our oil addiction, than vote for my opponent. But if instead you want a real energy solution, I have your answer.
My friends, my plan is as simple as it is elegant. I propose we harness the most ubiquitous, renewable force known to nature. The same force that brought that apple down on Newton’s head is the very force that can lift us up to an energy independent future. My friends, that force is gravity.
Imagine a world where everything is downhill of everything else, a world where gravity—clean, dependable, renewable gravity—accomplishes what only oil can now. Going to work? Simply get in your car and coast there. Running the kids to soccer practice? Coast there. Christmas at the in-laws? Head downhill and coast there. Friends, our flat infrastructure has made us slaves to oil, and my downhill plan will set us free.
Now, my opponent speaks of downhill, but in an entirely different vein. He’s quick to remind us our economy is going “downhill”. The incumbent party’s approval rating, he assures us, is rapidly going “downhill”. A vote for me, he insists, will merely continue the nation’s “downhill” trajectory. Friends, at this critical juncture in our country’s history, do we really want a Debbie Downer in the highest office of the land? I say downhill can be our path upward.
Imagine never needing to put anything in your car besides air in your tires. Own an SUV? Friends, my opponent would have you trade it in for a go-cart. With my plan, that four ton vehicle assures you’ll get to your destination in half the time. My opponent envisions an America that has us commuting with Big Wheels; I envision an America coasting in domestically produced Hummers. And with my plan, energy independence only begins with transportation.
Friends, what is the single biggest source of untapped energy available to us? My opponent would have you believe it lies with the sun or wind, or as I like to call them, “hot air and bluster.” Imagine, instead, the energy we could sequester from a fleet of some 200 million cars feverishly braking as they reach their downhill destinations. That technology exists today, friends, and the potential for energy production boggles the mind.
In this new America, energy will be as plentiful as the clean air we’ll breathe. We’ll be able to heat and cool our homes, power our computers and televisions, and operate our factories all without releasing a single greenhouse gas or sending a single greenback to freedom-hating, oil-peddling nations. At long last energy independence, this great nation’s birthright, will be a reality.
And friends, my plan will create millions of new jobs for hard-working Americans. Imagine golf courses lit up 24 hours a day, requiring second and third shifts at pro shops across this great country, creating good white-collar jobs as a result. Energy rationing will be a thing of the past. No longer will children suffer their father’s ire for keeping the refrigerator door open too long. Granny-killing blackouts on hot summer days will be little more than historical footnotes of a more barbaric time.
Friends, change of this magnitude does not happen without roiling the Washington status quo. The lobbyists that have so heavily padded my opponent’s campaign war chest will not simply acquiesce to the new energy paradigm. Already my opponent is attacking my plan, complaining that “only an idiot would suggest that everything can be downhill of everything else.”
But friends, my opponent fails to appreciate what I have always admired about this great land: that even an idiot can rise to the top and see his plan through to fruition, no matter the facts or laws of nature. My opponent talks of hope and change, but he offers no more than hollow words. My campaign brings a new, downhill topography to Washington. Friends, join me as we coast to an energy-independent tomorrow.
Thank you and God bless.
Well, nothing like some bonafide barbecue to snap a fella out of the doldrums. That barbecue being Big Daddy's, on University and Dale in good ol' St. Paul, right next to the vacant lot that not three months ago stood the local cop shop.
Been driving by the place for a while, smelling the goodness coming from the smoking hardware in the back lot. Trouble is, Big Daddy's is a catering company. But they had the kindness to open to the public on Saturdays, then added Fridays, too. The last Thursday at a speaking engagement at the Minnesota State Fair (yeah, for the day job) the host of the show mentioned this place and was stumped on the name. I knew, of course, and resolved to try some on the weekend.
So look at this:
True 'cued beef ribs, The Flintstone ribs, they call them. And that was just a half slab. A parcel of three huge rubs, which they remove and slice all nice for you. That's about four pounds of meat right there. And after one-and-a-half sandwich's worth was removed. The verdict: Tender and tasty. Although a little fatty in parts, too. But that's all the better on the reheat, to keep it all tender and tasty.
Big Daddy's also offers up chicken by the half or the whole, pork ribs, whole and half slabs, nice, fresh coleslaw, potato salad and desserts.
Damn tasty. But I wish they'd do a sandwich of some kind, so a guy could grab-n-go without having to bring along a cooler for the leftovers.
So, with that Bloated Belly HQ is back up and running. Still a few quirks to work out in the new digs. Yep. New digs. Since I last posted, we made some serious moves and got rid of a huge headache. No need to go into the deets at this time, but, lemme just say, if any of you are looking to purchase a condo, you better talk to me first. I know every question you need to ask and get answered.
The grill is in the yard, the relatively new Jenn-Air in the kitchen (with a real VENTED HOOD! Yay!) and the motivation trickling back into the veins. I'm flat broke, but I'm back at the stove and keyboard. Thanks to y'all who have kept checking in during the hiatus.
609 University Ave.
St. Paul, MN
Open for walk-ins Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Yes, The Bloated Belly soldiers on. Through great floods of alcohol and avalanches of food, the remaining crew at HQ do remember that there is a blog floating out there, and, when inspired, muster the energy once in a while to drop in a review.
And, inspired we were one recent Friday, escaping the office doldrums for a meal.
Eh. Maybe. But you definitely should. Inside is some of the best Thai food you will ever—and that’s EVER—eat, short of visiting Thailand. Crazy claim? Perhaps. I’m still taken aback by the sausages I ate.
Them things that look like sausages are the sausages. The rest of it is “pad prig,” green beans, onions and garlic sautéed in a black bean sauce. That was also outstanding, but not all that I and Harold—yes, you remember Harold, a contributor (although I’m not sure that term can be used anymore, the lazy drunk) to this here Bloated Belly blog.
Harold is a huge fan of this place, and had suggested it as our Friday lunch destination in the past, but time or cravings never quite allowed for it. Glad we finally went. I am now a huge fan of this place, which distresses me somewhat, since I’ve been a fierce loyalist to Pad Thai Grand Café in St. Paul. I suppose that won’t change, since that joint is close to my house.
But everything we tried at Lemon Grass was so…bright, for lack of a better term. Can something be both intricate and simple? Flavors were fresh and balanced, the meals substantive without heaviness.
We started with the “crazy duck” salad, boneless, minced barbecued duck spiced with cilantro, red onions, scallion, chili powder and fresh mint. That’s what the menu said. But there was also hunks of strawberry in there. It was absolutely one of the most memorable dishes I’ve tried this year, spicy and sweet, and again, the lightness of everything. Wow.
And then those sausages. From the appetizer list, called “nuea sawan,” the sausages are made in-house, made simply with dried beef seasoned with garlic and ginger and other spices. I will be returning just to purchase a pile of those.
Those two items would have been enough for lunch, and our friendly server even suggested she could bring out a bowl of sticky rice and make a meal of it. How’s that for service? She wasn’t trying to run up the bill.
Nah, Harold wanted leftovers, and after those that first round, I did, too. I wanted to try that pad prig, and stack it up against Pad Thai Grand Café’s version.
Where Pad Thai’s is more of a minced-type “sauce,” it’s also heavier on the garlic. Lemon Grass is lighter, more liquid, but equally flavorful—just different. And excellent.
I recall Harold opted for the drunken noodles with chicken—stir fried noodles with basil, tomato, chilli and eggs. Harold devoured half of it like a champ, before settling into his chair and moaning. He had his leftovers. We both did.
Outstanding, and worth the drive.
Lemon Grass Thai Cuisine
8600 Edinburgh Centre Drive
Now that the Holiday daze has subsided, it has occurred to Lewis to pick himself off the floor and sling his liver over his shoulder to relay a few dining experiences had in recent weeks. From the dim crag of memory, he recalls a surprisingly pleasant experience at a joint called Buster's on 28th in Minneapolis. Buster’s? That’s not a name that sticks. Kinda like James "Buster" Douglas. Remember him? Huh? Huh? You do now. But you'll forget again.
Anyway, t’was the first Christmas party of the year, the first Friday in December, but not for Lewis. No, t’was for his lady friend and her co-workers.
Lewis is a character who often doesn’t perform well in large groups, particularly among people who have extroverted personalities. He sometimes gets surly, and, with alcohol, the filter between brain and mouth—already smaller than regulation—shrinks further. Does Lewis get loud? No, he does not. But he tends to speak his mind to those that deserve it the most.
Your narrator will only speak in generalities here, to protect identities. But your narrator is not a tease. Did Lewis cause an argument? No. Did Lewis otherwise cause any kind of ruckus that evening? No, he did not. Lewis, after being engaged in a lengthy conversation he can no longer recall, tucked safely in the back corner of a long table, a Surly Furious (appropriate, no?) in his hand, followed by a second, and, eventually, a bison burger with chipotle cream cheese and a pile of tasty fries.
Most at the long table ordered burgers, but Lewis was engaged with reality enough to study the menu, and noticed, besides burgers and sandwiches with gourmet twists there were also a few entrees that could be considered eclectic for the environment, such as a pan-fried half chicken with “smashed” potatoes, a butternut squash risotto, and balsamic glazed beef shortribs with “smashed” (Lewis has had enough of that term on menus, by the way) sweet potatoes and spicy carrots. Not bad. Given the perfection to which his bison burger was cooked, Lewis decided he would give one of those entrees a shot next time.
And beers? Oh, heavens yes. A list of 27 taps, heavy on the Belgian varieties, and, he estimated, about 80 bottled beers. And there is a palatable wine list, for those who don’t like the suds.
The evening ended without Lewis offending anybody, which pleased the lady friend. He even behaved in as a Midwestern gentleman should once in a while—he cut himself off from the booze so the lady friend could tip back a couple more with her co-workers and later settle comfortably in the passenger seat for the ride home.
First, let me state that I like Zander Café in St. Paul. Always have. I live just around the corner, you know. I liked the varnished plywood floor, the homey-yet-elegant feel, the great food at absurdly reasonable prices. I put up with the periodic, unexplained “Sorry, we’re closed” signs, because, hey, it’s a neighborhood joint and sometimes people have things to do. As I said a sentence ago, Alexander Dixon’s food has always been top-notch, inventive yet familiar, and priced to not bust your bank account.
So, when he began yet another remodeling of the joint earlier this year, I would plunk my face against the window, shield my eyes from the glare and try to figure out what he was doing. I saw carpeting going in. Carpeting?! Over that nifty plywood? Damn!
Then the lady friend and I ran into him one day as we were peering in, and he explained his project. The bar was moved to the west room, the main dining room remained in the middle, and the east side, where the bar, live music stage and the funky booths were, would be turned into a banquet-type facility. The carpeting was to cut down on the noise. All right, I could understand that.
So, about a week after he reopened, we wandered in with pops for dinner to see it was a now a white tablecloth joint. Wha?
We took our seats and saw that the inventive menu and reasonable prices remain, however. Now, this shortly-after-opening meal was back in April, So the memory is a tad hazy on details. I do remember pops had salmon en papillote (salmon and veggies cooked in a parchment bag), which he said was very good, the lady friend had a short rib special, which I recall was outstanding, and I ordered the beef tenderloin special, an eight ounce filet poached in red wine. The mat was damn near fork tender, perfectly cooked. But the flavor? I don’t know what I was thinking. It was tenderloin. Poached. It didn’t have much flavor at all. Tenderloing doesn’t have much flavor. That’s why you sear it, and often with black pepper.
Now, I only register that detail for background on our most recent meal there about a month ago. Again, t’was damn good, although the service was odd, a bit inconsistent, and the guy was just…I dunno. I really felt like punching him at the end of the meal. But hey. This review is a month late, I’ll focus on the food. I started with the three soup mosaic (roasted red pepper, cream of parsnip and sherried black bean arranged in a kind of three color zen sign) which was rich, textured and outstanding. Followed that with a roasted beet and cucumber salad—also outstanding. Entrees went like this: pops had the fish special (memory fails here, other than it was very good) I had pork tenderloin special, which came with a whimsical hash that made the entire meal a joy to eat. Good spice, cooked perfectly—I normally don’t order pork tenderloin at restaurants, because I can cook a pretty good one myself. But this sounded great, and it delivered.
It was the lady friend this time who went for the beef. The steak Dianne from the menu. An eight-ounce New York strip with a maderia wine herbed mushroom sauce, and served with herb and parmesan roasted potatoes.
It was only OK. Again, not that it was bad. It certainly wasn’t. But, I guess I’m to the point where, if I can pull it off at home, I’m not all that impressed. Is this a complaint? No. And the lady friend wasn’t, either. I mean, it was only 25 bucks. Considering the price of a nice 8 ounce hunk of black angus, plus the labor in cooking it and the sides from a damn good chef, it’s a bargain. But I gotta say, two times around, and the beef meals haven’t ben on the same par as the other dishes we ordered.
Hardly a negative review here, folks. My opinion is, Eat At Zander. But, maybe it’s the white tablecloth that throws me. Expectations are raised. I shouldn’t want to punch my server. We should have a steak that sings like everything else on the menu. Nice to see that the tablecloths are not present during the lunch hours.
Again, this ain’t a negative review. I’m damn lucky to have a joint like Zander within walking distance, and I think it definitely ranks as a “destination restaurant,” also.
525 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102
Suburban dining. Yeah. Doesn’t sound so hot. Applebee’s, Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. Not my cup o’ tea, to be sure. But there’s a surprise out there in Wayzata. Well, actually another surprise in that general area to join Istanbul Bistro.
This second surprise? the Wayzata Eatery. Yes, I can wholeheartedly recommend this joint, located south of 394 (if you’re traveling west, take the south 101 exit and turn left), sharing a free-standing building with a Brueger’s Bagel’s in the middle of a parking lot, surrounded by the ubiquitous suburban strip mall. But walk into the joint and you forget about said parking lot. It’s a cozy bistro setting with dark wood, local art on the walls, a counter looking into the open kitchen (if you don’t want to sit in the dining room) and wine racks lining the west wall.
Pops and his wife live about a mile away from the place, and had already been there twice, shortly after it opened. They asked me and the lady friend to join them for a meal about a month ago (yeah, shock, this is late). In a word, outstanding. I went with the beef tenderloin of the day (which was served with a bourbon cream sauce and vegetables) and the lady friend the chicken saltimbocca, pressed with serrano and fresh rosemary, with spansh roasted potatoes and romesco sauce. Tricky dishes? Not when you compare it to what fancy pants Tim McKee is doing at La Belle Vie, of course. But they’re still dishes that require prefect execution to make them memorable, and not just OK. The chicken was tender and juicy, as was my steak (cooked to a perfect medium rare) and the surrounding flavors complemented perfectly—nothing over- or underwhelmed.
Apetizers were equally fine, which included lamb chop lolly pops with chimmichurri and a wheat berry timbale (“timbale” is French for a lump of stuff molded into a round or drum shape).
Service was attentive and knowledgeable—the wine recommendation was spot-on, too. So, how does a restaurant open its doors with near flawless execution? Well, the story behind it is, it’s owned by Taher Inc., a higher-end foodservice company. You’ve seen their trucks cruising around, I’m sure. They’re based in St. Louis Park, and operate hundreds of kitchens in offices, hospitals, private schools and other places in several states. But, they’re jumping into the restaurant game, and will soon open another joint in the old Shelly’s Woodroast, to be called, according to the banner stretched across the old sign, The Alaska Eatery. Taher Inc. is an interesting company, absorbing menus and dishes from across the globe, and those influences are subtly (and not so subtly) on display at the Wayzata Eatery.
Fresh, ripe, juicy tomatoes and hickory smoked maple bacon from the St. Paul Farmers' Market. MmmmmMMmmmmmm.
Yep. It's prime BLT sandwich season, folks. Toasted wheat bread (or whatever bread you like), the gentlest swipe of mayo, a little bit of ground pepper and this is one of the best meals of your life.
Busy month folks. Y'all loyal readers keep checking in and even leaving comments. Nice to even see one from Doc Biggles, a man who knows cookin' meat better than many working restaurant chefs. Nice that folks like that check in on this here inconsistent bloggity blog.
So, dang if I didn't start looking around for some side writin' to pad the pocketbook and actually landed a few gigs. Because of that, I think I've got more half-started blog posts than anyone on the planet. One thing I'm pondering reporting on here is how I'm building this little side bid'ness, perhaps working this ol' blog into it.
Just thinking out loud.
Have I been cookin'? Oh yes. There's this "Ode to Pig" meal I put together that I just gotta get on this thing. Secret ingredient? Figs.
Once the day job deadline is wrapped next week, The Belly gets some lovin'.
Thanks for checking in, folks.