We arrived in town earlier than expected and headed over to Cafe Brenda for lunch.
I had the Southwestern Mock Duck Taco and my wife had the Ginger Glazed Mock Duck Salad. Her salad had five small slice of the mock duck, and my taco (open faced, more of a tostada than a taco really) had very little of the duck and was really more cheese based. The taco came with a salad which was excellent and rice which I typically just poke at but enjoyed. Service was fine. Honestly, we both felt underwhelmed, but I’d go back perhaps for dinner.
We visited the Mall of America, which no shock, wasn’t much to write home about. The only "dining" we did was a stop at PB Loco and had a curry peanut butter, pineapple, and cucumber sandwich. It was actually quite good, so poivre–-thanks for the suggestion.
Dinner was at La Belle Vie. Service was excellent, everyone was very polite and friendly. Our dinner was basically the same as The Chowish Lurker’s....see her review in the thread "Minneapolis itinerary--suggestions?"
Stating with the Gruyere pastry.
Then there was a salad with beets, a walnut dressing, and a green–arugula like, but not argula.
The third dish was the same...a creamy/cheese sauce with a roasted cherry tomato and roasted asparagus.
The caraway croquette dish came with a pepper puree with almonds, so it was chunky...they told us the type, but I don’t recall....it was flavorful but not spicy...so some type of sweeter pepper. This came with mushrooms, but I don’t recall what type.
I must mention the bread at this point....three types--rosemary/garlic, pumpernickel, and a baguette. I tried all three and all were excellent, the rosemary/garlic was phenomenal.
Next was roasted cauliflower on a similar pepper puree as the caraway.
That was it for the main courses, we were told the vegetarian tasting menu was five courses and didn’t argue.
Dessert was a Quince Trio: Quince Sorbet, Quince Blintz, and Quince Bread Pudding. I don’t think I’ve ever had quince before, but it’s apparently somewhat like a pear. All three desserts were excellent, and we all liked the bread pudding the most.
All in all, an excellent time. After rereading The Lurker’s review I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more courses–we left wanting a bit more–but really, I have no complaints.
The next day we wound up meeting with friends that I didn’t think would happen...so we had a quick breakfast of pastries from the Sofitel (near the airport)....fantastic stuff.
We then headed over to the Triple Rock Social Club, which was crowded–every booth was full and only one table seemed to be eating, everyone else was browsing the menu or had recently ordered. Our friend suggested the Hard Times Café instead.
The food wasn’t bad, in fact it was quite good, but–as much as I like a dive–it was a bit too much of for me to recommend. Mind you, if you know Chicago, I’ll tell you straight out–Soul Vegetarian and Heartland Café are worth checking out, but this place was a whole new level. The guy working the register was complaining about some guy who came in earlier and ordered 10 cups of coffee–we’ll just say he was angry and vocal about it. One of our friends said she’d never go back after grabbing fork #3 with caked on egg.
It’s an experience and I’ll give it that....if you don’t mind dives and you’re vegetarian, it’s certainly recommended. I had a vegetarian gyros which was pretty good--the "meat" was a bit tougher than I'm used to, but the sauce was excellent, and portion size was good. My wife had biscuits, sausage, and gravy along with potatoes (swimming in grease) and eggs. It was a lot of food (for $6 I think) and everything was pretty good.
Hanging out with friends lasted longer than we realized, and finding the hotel–actually navigating the city in general–was a lot more difficult than we expected, so by the time we got checked in and situated, we decided to just walked to Orchestra Hall and see what we find. The check in person at our hotel assured us we’d find something in the area.
We were walking down the street and were surrounded by a bunch of people giving away “Free Hugs.” This completely threw us off and despite trying to avoid it, it wasn’t possible–there were a good 50 people doing this, on both sides of the street, walking around. Not being interested in drinking the Kool-Aid, I do admit we ducked into the first restaurant that seemed appealing rather than truly scope out the area. That restaurant was Masa.
We strolled in and mentioned to the waitress we were vegetarian, she told us that there was a vegetarian enchilada...this seems to be something a lot of places do–they clearly have an option which they must serve somewhat frequently ordered as she described it off the top of her head. I don’t quite get why it’s not on the menu...if time permitted and I had done research and found their menu, with no veg entrees, we wouldn’t have gone there.
Anyway, the salsa with the chips was okay, but nothing exciting. Our appetizer was fried panela cheese with raw tomatillo salsa...it was good, but the salsa added nothing to the dish. We both had the vegetarian enchilada which was excellent...the filling was sauteed mushrooms and cheese and came with beans (meh), and fried plantains (some of the best I’ve had).
Skipped dessert and coffee as time was running out. The service was good, but I have to say she seemed nervous.
If Masa was near our apartment, we’d go back. I found the meal enjoyable. I see a bunch of lukewarm reviews on here....it’s no Frontera Grill/Topolobampo–but what is? We enjoyed our entree, and the only truly negative thing was the wimpy salsas...I’d go back.
For breakfast, we went to Spoon River. I had the Tofu Scramble and my company had a pesto farmer’s market omelette. She liked her omelette a lot, but I didn’t care for my scramble—I found it bland, it seemed like there was turmeric for color and nothing else. The vegetables in the scramble were very good–fresh and perfectly cooked. I had a side of vegetarian sausage which was a highlight.
Overall, we had an interesting time....some things were underwhelming, but nothing was bad. Next time we visit–probably next summer–we’ll be checking out other recommendations from this board. Thanks to everyone who gave us ideas and suggestions.