Monday, January 03, 2011

Best of 2010: Restaurants

Decided to do something different with my best restaurants list this year. Simply put, these are my best meals of 2010, in very particular order. Congrats, Saffron, you are my restaurant of the year.


Everyone read this, and then check these places out in 2011


Saffron


When, I arrived, the host immediately wished me a happy birthday, and “Happy Birthday Kevin” was printed on my menu. Cheesy? Birthdays are cheesy.


More important was the food. Lamb brains and steak for me. Beet salad and chicken with eggplant lavosh for the wife. All four were simply outstanding. Chef Wadi has such an extraordinary command of such broad range of flavors that you find yourself fishing for analogies far cheesier than the “happy birthday” bit.


This was my third meal of the year at Saffron, and all have been amazing. This restaurant is running on all cylinders right now, and it’s the one restaurant I can confidently say would actually benefit from a move to a bigger food market. Don’t let that happen. Go.


Cave Vin


I think the words criminally underrated are in order. We popped by during restaurant week at my wife’s discretion. We were both thrilled with the result.


I had escargot, mussels and braised short rib. If you are going to ingest 8,000 calories in a meal (not an exaggeration), this is the way to do it. Nothing revolutionary, just fantastic technique on display in a subtly romantic room. I will remember that balsamic reduction for, well, until I eat their short rib again.


The Strip Club


I’m not a steak joint kind of guy. In Minnesota, we have access to great cuts of meat, and I know how to prepare them. Throwing down $60 for 26 oz. of meat and hash browns isn’t my idea of a good night.

Enter The Strip Club. First of all, they use grass fed cuts of meat, which feature a higher degree of difficulty. Second, my rib eye clocked in under $30.


Third, instead of 8 lbs. of cheesy potatoes on the side, TSC offers a remarkable array of small plates. The Devils eggs earn every accolade they have received, and the poutine is decadent fun.


Throw in great service, and one of the coolest spaces in the cities, and this is a steakhouse I can get behind.


Victory 44


Yes, it’s my neighborhood place. I’ve been there 44 times. I’m their mayor on Foursquare. I’ve been with it through it’s various iterations, including their time with the now Travail chefs at the helm.

What has impressed me is the consistency. Regardless of format, or chefs at the helm, the food has always been interesting and affordable.


Of late, the place has caught fire, culminating in a New Years Eve tasting menu presented by chef Erick Harcey. He is nothing if not ambitious, and his cuisine has the occasional rough spots, but when it hits, it really shines.


Highlights: Pork belly with pops of jalapeno balancing ribbons of apricot gel. A dessert made with foie gras, and black cod fused with prosciutto.


Black Sheep


Tradition holds that restaurants do their worst work during Valentines Day and New Years. And yet, one entry on this list was our NYE meal, and the other is Black Sheep, where I spent V-day with my lovely bride.


Black Sheep eschews the traditions prix fixe menus and crowded romances, and simply does its regular shtick. Get there early enough, and you get a seat. We picked up a place at the lovely bar. The room, sequestered in the basement of a warehouse loft complex in the North Loop, is redolent of charm and garlic.


A crock of olives and such was needlessly hot, but tasty, but that is some pizza to get hot over. Black Sheep nails everything, from crust, to ingredients, to reheating instructions. At the same time, it’s an exercise in elegant simplicity. Just like love.


La Sirena Gorda


The kid in candy store metaphor is overused, but it rings pretty true when I enter Midtown Global Market. That said, I find myself going back to La Sirena Gorda, in spite of the wonders around me.


The calamari tacos are simply one of the best plates you can find in the cities. That they clock in under $10 is every reason for you to go get them, and a testament to a chef who can make great food out of affordable ingredients.


Corner Table


The backlash against the localvore movement has commenced, but that doesn’t make Scott Pampuch any less a great chef. Handpicked for our anniversary dinner, Corner Table delivered on every score.


The nosh plate was lovely and innovative, and I say that as someone who hates the word “nosh” (it’s the first syllable of the word ‘nauseous’, and pretentious besides). But, having taken half a dozen stabs at gazpacho myself, I am extra-appreciative of how hard that is too pull off.


I’ll also note that this place has made me a fan of the “eggs for dinner” movement. Poached and perched perfectly on poultry. That’s the way to do it.


Sole Café


The ultimate underdog. Simply two great chefs making the best Korean food in the cities. The spicy pork stir-fry is lovingly prepared (and the chef will come out to make sure you love it), but it’s the Korean accoutrements that got to me.


To be honest, I have never understood why Korean restaurants feel compelled to serve patrons a salad bar of goodies. Thanks to Sole Café, I’ve gotten religion in that regard. All I can say is, go try.


Piccolo


Unapologetically fussy. Not as perfect as it needs to be. Still, it was a lot of fun to dine here. The service was near flawless, the wines represent a remarkable value, and the food…


About that. Piccolo has been a bit controversial for serving what, for this market, constitute remarkably small portions. The idea is that you can order a sequence of dishes to sate your demonstrated appetite. However, when going for a light bite, we were brought two baskets of bread.


Further, a couple of the courses needed work. But the hits were electric. The octopus was the best thing I’ve ate this year, and our cheesecake dessert was astonishing as well.


At present, this place is a bit overrated. But it’s hard to fault the critics for being excited about the potential. Just be prepared for the price point, and the portion size. It’s a different philosophy, and one that Americans would do well to embrace.


I Nonni


On the opposite end of the philosophy, I Nonni offers a three-course all-you-can-eat menu on Tuesdays. The three courses were delicious, the all-you-can-eat redundant. Three courses are plenty.


This is the best Italian in Lilydale, naturally, but also the Twin Cities. You cannot leave without eating the Veal Osso Buco. I’ll put it this way: there is more the Italian than pasta.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Renee said...

Sameh Wadi is 26. Crazy.

5:11 PM  

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