Monday, May 30, 2011

Dinner at Hell's Kitchen

When my sister and her fiancee - and my little niece - came for a quick visit, they wanted to grab dinner somewhere fun and interesting. So off to Hell's Kitchen we went. I hadn't been since the restaurant moved to its new location on 9th street in downtown Minneapolis, and it was my first visit outside of the breakfast menu.
The new space is located underground - very apropos. With brick walls and the prominent use of red and black, the inferno can't help but be a fun place.
Even on a weeknight, the place was bustling with activity, which is nice considering parking can be a bit of a challenge (we picked an unfortunate parking ramp, and I ended up paying $13 for less than two hours of parking).
We started with the BBQ Pork Nachos to share - pulled pork BBQ with pickles and coleslaw. They were awesome. The pork was fantastic and there was a bit of a spicy bite. I think they could have used a bit more topping spread among the chips, but they were still great.
I then had the Clubhouse sandwich with fries: two slices of sourdough bread stuffed with bacon, shaved turkey breast, butter lettuce, vine-ripened tomatoes and mayonnaise. It was very good, albeit slightly greasy. And also very filling. I found the fries most enjoyable with their crispy crunchiness.

Overall, Hell's Kitchen was a great choice for my visiting guests. I think they were impressed by the interesting decor and fun ambiance. I look forward to going back and trying the weekend brunch.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quick Trips to NYC

I've been to New York City for work twice so far this year (so exciting because I love taking in the sights of this amazing city). Both trips were just quick blips, but I still managed to try out a neat restaurant and take in a few sights...
I grabbed lunch one day at Lily's, a restaurant located in The Roger Smith Boutique Hotel in Midtown. I first spotted the restaurant on my walk to a meeting in the morning and liked its unique, attention-grabbing exterior.
The interior was also aesthetically pleasing. Painted in a rich, deep red, the walls were covered with great art like that in the photo above. The layout was also nice as there were multiple rooms off the main entrance, so it wouldn't seem overly crowded. Interestingly, though, there were very few people there during the lunch hour. Not more than a couple of tables in each room. I'm not too familiar with how NYC professionals lunch, so maybe that's normal, or I just ended up there on a slow day.
I ordered the Roger Smith Burger and added bacon (yep, still loving bacon and ordering it on nearly every cheeseburger I get). It came topped with white cheddar, beefsteak tomatoes, bibb lettuce and red onions and was accompanied by fries and a pickle spear.

The burger was delicious. Well-cooked and fulfilling. The cheese was a great fit and the bun and bacon were icing on the burger cake. I also loved the pickle - it tasted more like it was somewhere between cucumber and pickle, making it extra tasty and refreshing. 

I'm glad I stopped at Lily's. It was the perfect little dining adventure in the big city. As for the sights...
I took in Times Square for the first time at night. It's breathtaking. And, I'm not afraid to admit that I loved every touristy minute of it.
We walked around a lot of Midtown and came across many of the iconic spots. One of our last stops was at Rockefeller Center Plaza, which is beautiful at night and just lovely in the springtime.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Art in Bloom 2011

Art in Bloom at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is quickly becoming one of my favorite spring traditions (at one of my already favorite destinations in the city).

This year, and for the first time in my adult life...I went to the museum all by myself. And, I've gotta say, it was actually kind of magical. I purchased one of the Art in Bloom guidebooks, put my headphones on and just began to wander from room to room, taking in every bit while lost in my own little world (though I will admit that I missed my friend who went with me last year...I even texted her midway through to tell her she was missing out).

Similar to last year, I was surprised by how most of my favorite Art in Bloom pieces are interpretations of artwork I usually don't pay much attention to during regular visits to the MIA, like this year's overall favorite:

This Rembrant painting is usually one I just gloss over as I take in all of the period art, but when I saw the floral depiction, I paused to really take in the meaning and significance of the painting and of the woman's pain as she begins to experience death. I thought the florist did an amazing job bringing this piece to life.

My other most striking favorite was of the Armor, where the florist brought the human aspect to life, juxtaposing the "exposed human next to his high-tech shell."

And then there's one painting that I do love that had a fantastic floral interpretation: Tornado over St. Paul:
Followed by my remaining Art in Bloom favorites:

(I LOVE Kandinsky, and this is the first time I've ever noticed any of his paintings at the MIA)

If you missed this year's Art in Bloom (or have never been), be sure to watch for updates early next spring - just when you're reaching the point where you think the weather in Minnesota couldn't possibly get any worse.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

I Put Some New Shoes On, and Suddenly Everything's Right

I think I mentioned a while back that I have a bit of a shoe obsession. Sandals. Heels. Sneakers. Flats. I don't discriminate. I love 'em all. And for the last several months, I've been putting a lot of thought into my next pair of running shoes. Mind you, I'm not a hardcore runner (I like treadmills, I don't dream of my next 10-miler, and I actually have a 5K training app on my, not a marathon, a 5K). Even so, I decided it was time to trade up my perfectly lovely yet very worn New Balance tennies for something that packs a little more punch.

And after a few months of non-commital browsing, I accidentally landed at the Nike store in the Mall of America one evening and decided right then and there, I would be making a purchase. Thanks to the very helpful and friendly sales staff (and even more helpful work friends), I found the perfect pair in almost no time.

Friends, please meet the newest addition to my shoe family: the LunarGlide 2 (of the Lunar series).

I think they might just be the cutest pair of tennis shoes I've ever had. And, to be honest, I was actually a little afraid to test them out and break them in, for fear of ruining them right away. But I got over that, and have worn them to the gym three times now (not sure that we'll be making it outdoors any time soon though).

And I've already moved on to daydreaming about new shoes, like:
Eclipse II for $65 (

Lacie for $39.95 (

Greta for $198 (

Kenneth Cole Reaction Lady Slip Flats on sale for $51.75 (

Born Shoes, Smooch Flat Sandals for $85 (
I think the J Crew pair might be a bit out of my price range, but the others might be realistic options. Recommendations? :)

And I'll leave you with these final thoughts for the day...

 I keep filling my apartment with flowers in hopes that spring will finally arrive in Minnesota...

Dinner at Heartland

As promised, I'm taking some time to catch up on the new restaurants I've tried this year. Today's post is about Heartland in Saint Paul's beautiful Lowertown (a new location they moved to in the last year, after several years in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood). My dear friend, and much more timely fellow blogger, Ryan shared a fantastic post, detailing our experience, which you can check out here.
Heartland's space is absolutely beautiful. It's big and open and lofty with high ceilings and modern touches. My friends and I loved the ambiance, most notably because we could actually hear each other. Even though every table was full in the dining room, the acoustics were phenomenal - with no music - and we only heard each other. Add to that a fantastic server, and we were well on our way to a great dining experience.
We shared a bottle of red wine to start. I'm not a big red wine drinker, but I know it was a Spanish wine and it was pretty good :)

Featuring "North American Midwest Regional Cuisine," Heartland changes its menu daily and relies on family farmers, and locally grown and sustainably raised ingredients. They offer two fixed price menus nightly. I went with the three course "Flora," for $30.
First out, for the whole table, an amuse-bouche. For those who, like me, didn't know what an amuse-bouche was, it's a bite-sized hors d'oeuvre, selected by the chef and meant to prepare the taste buds for the excitement ahead. This was a whitefish pate of sorts. It had a fishy taste to it, which I don't love, but it was good enough to try.
My first course was a chilled celeriac custard, which came with a smoked tomato cream sauce and a breadstick. I remember thinking before it came that I didn't need a second dinner roll (which was delicious) because I would have a plentiful breadstick coming with my meal...he he. Even though the breadstick wasn't quite as I had imagined, it was a perfect crunchy compliment to the custard. Overall, I was quite fond of this dish. The celery and tomato combined for a rich and creamy flavor.
The second course was chestnut ravioli with black trumpet mushrooms, beurre noisette (hazelnut butter), sage and parmesan cheese. This dish was truly phenomenal. It was so rich in flavor and wonderfully indulgent. And despite being a seemingly small portion size, it was quite filling (though that didn't stop me from wishing for more).
And, finally, for dessert: a smoked chocolate terrine with honey marscapone, currant coulis, Sambuca sabayon and chocolate bark. This is another example of Heartland's rich flavor combinations. The currant sauce was a little strong for my liking, but the terrine was delicious when paired with the marscapone. 

All in all, Heartland was like a flavor explosion, opening my mind to many new pairings and ingredients. I want to go back. To shop at their adjoining Farm Direct Market. To sit in their great space again. To enjoy another glass of good wine. And to eat more ravioli. Mmm.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

3 of 26: The Jihad Next Door

I'm like a turtle, slowly crawling along on my '26 books in 2011' journey. Slow and steady wins the race...right?

My third book was The Jihad Next Door: The Lackawanna Six and Rough Justice in the Age of Terror by Dina Temple-Raston. As ye faithful readers will remember, I saw Dina Temple-Raston speak at the University of St. Thomas last year, subsequently purchased her book and finally finished reading it a little over a week ago (even more timely given the May 1 Osama bin Laden announcement).

The Details
NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple Raston provides an inside look at the case of the "Lackawanna Six" - six Muslim American kids who grew up in the town of Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo and traveled to Afghanistan in the spring of 2001 to attend a jihadi camp. The six young men were arrested on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, considered to be a sleeper cell of homegrown terrorists plotting the next attack.

Temple Raston traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Lackawanna in an effort to share this story, offering perspectives from the families of the young men, the FBI agents involved in the case and others with connections to the case. Throughout, she focuses on this idea of 'rough justice' following the Sept. 11 attacks and how that day forever altered the American justice system.

My Take

The Jihad Next Door serves a valuable purpose: it makes you think. Were the boys would-be terrorists? Would they have committed the next terrorist attack on American soil? Did they merely think they were strengthening their Muslim faith in a time before most Americans even knew what jihad was or who Bin Laden was? Was the American justice system - and the media for that matter - guilty of exploiting this case to make it look like a counterterrorism victory?

No matter what side you ultimately fall on, Temple Raston presents facts and details that expand your critical thinking set, opening your mind to different perspectives.

What I Liked

I liked that Temple Raston truly told a story. One of the hallmarks of a good reporter (from my perspective) is the story-telling ability. To bring the people, the facts and the events to life. From the very first pages of the prologue, "Mukhtar's Big Wedding," readers find themselves in a hotel room in Yemen, where the first of the six men was arrested.

She also does a great job of setting up the key players - Lackawanna and its roots, a look at the local Yemeni community, an understanding of life in Yemen, brief histories of key law enforcement officials and the attorneys of the accused.

What I Thought Could Have Been Better

The only thing I can think of that would have made the book easier to follow is a timeline of key events. There were a few instances where I got confused about when things took place and would've appreciated an easy reference point.

My Takeaways
As was the case with the first book I read, I read The Jihad Next Door with a slight feeling of regret that I hadn't really been paying attention when the Lackawanna case first came to light. I don't really remember watching the news and hearing about the details in real-time. Instead, here I am in 2011, getting an in-depth look at something that happened nearly 10 years ago now. It's like I'm in my own mini history class, learning about the events from the first part of this century. At least, it's an interesting journey.