Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lunch at Wise Acre Eatery

I'm not sure whether I should be excited about this or worried, but I've been eating at a lot of good restaurants lately. Apparently so much so that I'm backed up in posting about them. (And maybe just a tad bit worried that I'll forget about eating at home altogether.)

One of the best recent examples is Wise Acre Eatery on Nicollet in south Minneapolis. This is probably our finest local example of farm-to-table (as you can read in this City Pages review from last summer). Even just spending two seconds on the restaurant's website will prove it with the colorful farm-meets-food photos and the Gone Farmin' rationalization for being closed on Mondays.

Located in a former oil station - and still featuring the garage door that opens onto an outdoor patio - the space is adorable.

It's quaint and small and lovely. At the counter you can purchase items ranging from pastries to eggs, and the bar at the back makes everything from sustainable coffee to homemade sodas.

Greenery is strategically placed around the space, making it feel even more natural and homegrown. It's also incredibly complimentary to the overall ambiance.

I'd heard good things about their housemade sparkling sodas, so I tried a lemon verbena version. While it was quite refreshing, I think the combination of its sugary sweetness and it taking a little while to get to me (it seemed our server forgot about it) made me wish I would've just stuck with water.

For my rural dinner/urban lunch selection, I ordered a full meal of beef roast, cranberry macaroni and cheese and brussels sprouts. Ooh la la :)

Oh, you know I totally ate all of this! Because I'm a brussels sprouts fanatic. Because I love grass-fed, tender beef roast. And because there probably is no better pairing than creamy mac n cheese with cranberries. 

What a delightfully satisfying lunch. And with so many seasonally-changing menu items, I'm excited to go back for breakfast or "urban dinner." :)

Monday, January 16, 2012

NYE Dinner at Rinata and Crashed Ice Event

This post is going to bring together two very different events - one that I should have posted about already (New Year's Eve dinner at Rinata) and one that took place this weekend (Red Bull Crashed Ice in Saint Paul).

Let's start with Rinata. I've always heard good things about its Italian fare and had it on a list of spots to visit but just never seemed to find the time. Then, when planning for New Year's Eve dinner at the last minute, I remembered reading this great post from The Heavy Table about five good restaurants people are overlooking. I figured it was a sign I should try to score NYE reservations. And, I did! For six!

Rinata, with its lovely Christmas decorations still hanging, had a lovely, intimate ambiance. With just a few tables in each of three rooms, every nook and cranny was packed when we arrived (I took the shot below on the right just as we were the last to leave so as not to interrupt other diners). The whole space felt warm and cozy on the snowy evening.

As we placed our wine order, our server brought out some fantastic bread with olive oil and tapenade. We were already off to a good start.

We then ordered two appetizers for the group to share; my selection was the bruschetta with cannellini beans, pancetta and roasted brussels sprouts. I give it solid marks for presentation and an interesting combination of ingredients. Overall, though, I thought the beans were just a little too much and ended up drying the app out a bit (of course, this could partially be attributed to my non-love of these white beans, though I keep trying to convince myself otherwise). One friend suggested that it might have been better had the beans been pureed...that might not be a bad idea :)

The second starter was the crostini with roasted mushrooms, caramelized onion and bleu cheese. As a lover of all things mushroom and bleu cheese, I thought this one was very enjoyable.

And then - the main event. I ordered the gnocchi with balsamic braised short ribs and roasted mushroom pan sauce for my entree. OMG. This was outstanding. The short ribs were so tender and flavorful, and the gnocchi perfectly prepared. I was really blown away by this dish and ate every. last. bite.

I was really impressed by how reasonably priced everything on the menu was given the caliber of food. It was all well-prepared and quite generously portioned. And another thing I really enjoyed about our Rinata experience was the staff. We had a fantastic server who was absolutely delightful. Plus, the restaurant was very accommodating when I called to adjust my reservation (even on NYE!).

So, if you haven't yet tried Rinata in Uptown, consider this a little nudge.


On to the Crashed Ice event. This weekend, the steps of the Cathedral in Saint Paul became home to a steep, icy and winding track for the Red Bull Crashed Ice World Championship, where nearly 200 skaters from around the world came to compete. It's estimated that more than 80,000 people swarmed the streets of Saint Paul to take in the action. I joined the mad house for a bit Saturday evening. Here are just a couple of photo highlights from the event :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Christmas Treats Perfect for Holiday Parties

I meant to post this before traveling for work all last week. Oops...you'll have to appreciate seeing it now even though you're probably so over Christmas :)

If you remember my Thanksgiving pumpkin gingersnap cheesecake post, you remember that I practically had to bribe the family to eat it. So, I decided to go a different route for Christmas - one that didn't require as much time and energy. My parents hosted Christmas dinner, and I opted to provide the pre-meal fare.

It started with peppermint-flavored puppy chow (recipe found on the back of a Crispix box). What a fun, holiday twist on one of the world's greatest guilty pleasures! To make it, you start by melting a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips with a stick of butter. Once melted, add a 1/2 or full teaspoon of peppermint extract (I went with the full teaspoon). Next, mix the cereal and chocolate together.

Place the chocolate-y cereal mixture into a large baggie of powdered sugar. Zip it up and shake to coat the cereal.

Let it cool, and you're ready to put it in a container of your liking and serve to your loved ones. This is my 'cookie jar' that I bought at Sur La Table a couple of years ago. I just love the look of it and that it's easily transportable (in fact, I made this peppermint recipe for two holiday gatherings this year).

I paired the sweet treat with a delightful holiday-themed cheese tray. I saw a friend post this to Facebook in early December and was totally sold. Then it started popping up all over Pinterest as a perfect option for holiday entertaining, and I knew I had to make it.

I used cubes of cheddar, colby-jack and pepper-jack cheeses, along with grape tomatoes and baby dill pickles to make the little tree. Days before Christmas, I picked up the perfect serving tray at CB2, my favorite new home store that just opened in Uptown.

And, what a relief. Family happily devoured these Christmas treats. Maybe I'm on to something... :)