7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about strange foods you may (or may not) encounter.  I mentioned how I tend to be adventurous and it’s pretty rare that I find something I don’t like.  Well, I found one.

There’s a great Chinese seafood restaurant in St. Paul off Snelling and University called Peking Garden.  It’s one of those places you know is good because all you see are large, Asian families eating there (this is a sign….if you go to a restaurant that specializes in foreign foods and you see large groups of that ethnicity eating there, you are golden!).  We went there this past Tuesday night.  Anne’s Dad was celebrating his birthday and this is one of their favorite spots.

Almost everything there is fabulous.  Love the roast duck, the steamed oysters (they’re HUGE and covered in ginger and scallion and they’re very yummy), the baby Bok Choy….everything.  Then there’s dessert.

Not Everyone Likes it, But the Roast Duck is Yummy!

peking garden roast duck 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

Ever heard of Chinese Sweet Red Bean Soup?  Me either.  It’s a warm, soupy dessert (using a word VERY loosely here) with red beans and tapioca in it.  I guess it’s very traditional in Chinese food culture.  Good for them (Curious?  Here’s a recipe and good luck to you).

Sweet Red Bean Soup.  For Dessert.

bean dessert 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

I’ve had it probably 3-4 times now and every time, I dread it, choke down about half and declare myself full.  I don’t get it.  It’s semi-sweet.  Just enough to make you think it could be a dessert.  But then your mind starts wondering, why is this lukewarm?  And aren’t we supposed to eat red beans with rice?  And what ever happened to ice cream?  Are you telling me that with one of the world’s ancient civilizations with thousands of years of culture, all they can come up with for dessert is red beans and tapioca?  They’ve had about 400,000 years to get it right.  How do you cook the perfect duck but screw up dessert?

Let’s just move on.

Speaking of birthdays, next week is Anne’s.  She wants to gather a bunch of her friends at Subo (Filipino food I wrote about a while back….there are still a ton of coupons on the WCCO Half Off page.  $25 certificate for $7?  You can’t beat that).  But I think I need to treat honey to a special dinner the night before (Surprise!!!   Not anymore).

I’m torn between two places.  And she’ll probably read this and make the decision for me.  There are three restaurants in downtown Minneapolis right now that I think are head and shoulders the best going.  Bar La Grassa, 112 Eatery and Sea Change.  I’m eliminating Bar La Grassa only because we have been there probably 3 times already this summer (yes, it’s that good).  So, the other two are in play.

112 Eatery is probably the most unique place I’ve eaten at.  It’s one of those places where you aren’t really 100% sure what you’re ordering but you are totally sure that it’s going to be good (if not great).  Cauliflower Fritters?  Yep.  And they’re awesome.  They have the 112 Burger….looks simple but tastes amazing.  And the dessert there!  Oh my.  The Tres Leches Cake almost made me pass out.  Give me that before the Sweet Red Bean Soup!

Cauliflower Fritters

food08cauliflower 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

112 Burger

food09burger 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

Then there is Sea Change, a seafood restaurant in the Guthrie that specializes in sustainable foods which is becoming a very big deal (more on that here….one more thing to worry about).

I’ve read a few comment threads and reviews (here’s an example) saying it’s good but not great, didn’t like the service, food was just OK, etc.  But most of them said there are hints of brilliance and it COULD be a great restaurant.  Most of what I read was from a year or so ago.  And let’s be honest, most anything about any topic you will read online is somebody complaining.  There are so many comment threads and forums out there that turn into a negative (and anonymous) complaint section; you’d think most people hate everything!

I’ve been there once, early this summer, had high expectations and it exceeded them.  I think this place is a bit overlooked.  It’s reasonably priced when you consider the cost of seafood in the Midwest and the setting/décor is awesome.  They get big crowds before a show at the Guthrie but outside of that, you’ll have no problem getting a table.

The Wide-Open Kitchen at Sea Change

sea change raw bar 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

Then there’s the food.  This is one of Tim McKee’s restaurants and anyone who pays attention to local chefs/restaurant news/etc. knows all about him.  He’s been extremely successful with La Belle Vie, Solera and Barrio.  Sea Change is no exception.  I realize there’s been some news involving him, his financial partners and money improprieties…I’m not interested in that here.  We’ll leave that to the newsroom and lawyers.  They still make good food.

It’s a simple menu.  It’s short but with enough choices to satisfy anyone.  They have a great raw bar (get the langoustines with hot olive oil, chili and rosemary….they’re heaven).  I had Halibut with grilled rice and razor clams.  The clams were almost better than the Halibut.  You’d have to go a long way to find seafood that is better than this.  Fresh, sustainable and done the right way….it’s a concept worth supporting.  One more thing; if you’re really into good wine lists and people who know how to pair wines, this is the place for you.

The Scallops at Sea Change

sea change scallop 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

One more quick note.  We have a new hire here at WCCO Radio.  Our News Director Adam Thomas just started this week.  He comes to us from Salt Lake City and is originally from Charlotte, NC.  So, he’s heard all about the famous Minnesota Jucy Lucy (or Juicy Lucy depending on where you are).  Our Program Director Wendy Paulson took the three of us for a lunch outing to Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis for Adam’s first Jucy Lucy.

There are a thousand places that make them but there are two that claim fame to being the first…Matt’s and the 5-8 Club.  It’s personal preference really.  I’m a fan of Matt’s but have had both numerous times and you can’t go wrong with either.  And Adam was not disappointed (the fries are great too).  He also experienced his first torturous wait for the darn thing to cool down.  It’s molten lava after it comes off the griddle.

Be careful!

matts jucy lucy 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

And I’ll add one more note.  Have you ever tried to make one at home?  A few friends came over last week and we did our own.  A friend of mine (ironically named Matt) made one that was massive!  Just had to share.

No, He Didn’t Quite Finish It…the Burger, Not the High Life

matt jucy lucy 7/30/10 Twin Cities’ Eats

I love the neighborhood gems that you never hear about unless you live in the area (El Meson, Broders, Al Vento, Peking Garden, El Mariachi, etc) but the other side of that coin is the places that you hear a lot about.  You can read the Star Tribune, Mpls-St. Paul Magazine, MN Monthly and they’ll rave about the “haute cuisine” at 112 or La Belle Vie or La Grassa.  It all sounds a bit uppity for most of us.

But there is a reason those restaurant critics shower those places with love.  They’re really good.  The best ingredients being used by some of the most talented of chefs can make for a great experience.  Use a special occasion to stretch your food legs and order something you won’t find on the menu at Denny’s.

Unless you order the Sweet Red Bean Soup and then you’re on your own.

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