First off, thanks to everyone who offered up suggestions for the Saturday night dinner on our recent weekend in Minneapolis. Not everything went as planned, but we had a great time anyway.
We got into town around 3:00 Friday afternoon, checked in to Towne Place Suites, and immediately headed uptown to our favourite bookstore, Uncle Victor’s/Uncle Edgar’s. We dropped a few dollars there and then walked across the street to the Global Market. This place is wonderful, and requires much more attention than the half hour or so that we had to walk through. We grabbed some pastries from a Mexican bakery for our breakfast the next morning, and a couple of sandwiches from Andy’s to tide us over until dinner which would not be until late. There was no rocket science involved in either my wife’s BLT or my Buffalo chicken sandwich, but they were tasty and perfect for the moment. A return visit is in the planning.
(Off the food topic, we saw a play at the Mound Theater in St Paul Friday night. If you haven’t been, this is a delightful little art deco movie house currently being used for plays, concerts, and film festivals, and is worthy of support. Sort of back on the food topic, the popcorn was really good even though no butter was available. [Yes, they had popcorn available for a play!])
After the “thi-tuh”, four of us went to Solera, getting there just in time for the late-night happy hour. I confess that I don’t really know the difference between a good sangria and a great sangria. And I know that in the world of wine, sangria rates just below rose and just above Boone’s Farm on the list of wines that wine lovers barely consider to be wines at all. But the $2.00 sangria they served was fruity and refreshing and delicious. We tried many different items, and were especially fond of the Chorizo Bocadillos, the Pequillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, the grilled asparagus, and an eggplant item that I cannot recall the name of. We left feeling very well fed and satisfied. Incidentally, people watching from a window table was a lot of fun too, considering Macy’s Glamourama was next door.
The pastries we purchased at the global market were excellent the next morning, and went well with the coffee that the hotel supplied in the rooms. The brand escapes me, but it was MUCH superior to the usual institutional stuff that even really great hotels often supply. We were then off to exotic Fairhaven for my wife’s family reunion. I had been told that it was being catered by a local butcher who was once patronized by Johnny Cash & June Carter. Unless Johnny & June were big fans of overcooked roast beef sitting for several hours in watery ‘au jus’ on just barely thawed Wonder Bread knock-off buns, I doubt that they had what we had. The potato salad was pretty good though. But then, food is not the focus at most family reunion, especially this one.
We had received conflicting information as to whether or not a reservation would be needed for a table for two at Barbette for Saturday evening. I called several times throughout the day and kept getting voice mail, so I left a message (per their instructions) twice, and never got a response, which I found somewhat disconcerting. Someone on the staff at the hotel thought that they didn’t take reservations for Saturday night—I still don’t know if this is true or not—so we decided to take our chances and go. It turned out that the previous night’s storm that had knocked out power to parts of the city had knocked out theirs. I’m sure they had many things to worry about more urgent than checking their voicemail. So if anyone from Barbette is reading this, all is forgiven for not calling back; we’ll try again on our next visit.
A lady working at the hotel who had overheard my inquiries about Barbette suggested Campiello if we couldn’t get into Barbette and if Italian was an acceptable substitute. I knew it was nearby because we had driven by it the day before, so we decided to give it a try. It was close, and it was going to rain again very soon.
I have since done a Chowhound search for this place and have discovered that Campiello is owned by a concern that owns several other restaurants in town, two others called Campiello, has designs on expansion into other states besides Minnesota and Florida, and that this concern is not well thought of in some circles.
Not knowing about any of that beforehand, not knowing if any of it is true, and not certain of how much difference it makes, here are my impressions.
We were able to walk in at 7:30 on a Saturday night without a reservation and be seated immediately even though they were quite busy. The staff was efficient without hovering, very knowledgeable of the menu, and had many helpful suggestions. Not being really conscious of wine lore beyond what I like and dislike, and not being familiar with most of the labels on their wine list, I thought that it seemed fairly pricy, but far from the priciest we have encountered. Since there were only two of us, we opted for a half bottle of the 2003 Carpineto Chiante Classico, and it turned out to be a perfect compliment to everything we ordered.
For appetizers, I ordered the spicy fried calamari with lemon/parsley aioli. My wife had the bruschetta with tomatoes and olive oil. As it happened, they had just gotten in several kinds of heirloom tomatoes, and this dish turned out to be spectacular, even to one who has limited use for tomatoes generally, as I do. It was also visually stunning. The calamari was no slouch either; the order was huge, and the breading was very light, almost as if rice flour had been used, just spicy enough to tingle without being overpowering.
My wife ordered the spit-roasted chicken which came with spinach & mushroom risotto, while I had the grilled hanger steak with spinach, pine nuts, and golden raisins. We were as delighted with the sides as we were with the main dishes. Everything was prepared precisely as requested, and the presentations were perfect.
Desserts were vanillas crème brulee and the warm bittersweet chocolate soufflé cake. The crème brulee was superb, but the soufflé was transcendent. It seems to be quite well thought of by Chowhounders who have had it, and for good reason. An exquisite ending to an excellent meal.
Sunday morning had us attempting to go to Hell’s Kitchen before hitting the highway. But we got started a bit later than expected, and by the time we got there, there was an hour & a half’s wait for a table. So we wandered up the block to The Local, and Irish place with a good looking brunch menu and plenty of seating, indoor and out. [Note: Ever try to do a search on ANY of the boards for a place called “The Local”? Forgetaboutit!] Since the weather was exceptionally pleasant, we took an outside table. My wife had pancakes, light, fluffy, and enormous. I had the corned beef hash with eggs. The hash was a delicious mélange of corned beef, potatoes, and onion; only the addition of some chopped green pepper would have improved it. The coffee was really good too.
So other than Solera, nothing went as planned, but nothing went wrong either. Once again, serendipity rules!