Having been home for a week or two means that I have had a chance to get some sleep, eat a few home-cooked meals, and spend time with the family. It also means that I get a chance to reacquaint myself with a few local haunts and check out more of the local food scene than I can when I am 5,000 miles away.
A couple of quick notes…
Lurcat is awesome. Many restaurants fail to slide into their next act as gracefully and as stylishly as this Loring Park stunner. We ate there last week and were also there at a party the month before (Amazingly, the tuna with preserved lemon is better as an appetizer at a catered event in the private rooms than it is as a dinner entrée in the restaurant.). The food was superb (Adam King puts out a truly tasty, consistent product), Molly is a great server, and the view from the dining room is one of the nicest in town.
Rudy Maxa’s new TV show, Rudy Maxa's World, is superb. Check it out on Saturdays at 2 p.m. on PBS. We stopped by his premiere party last week, and I have to say that Nick and Eddie’s major-domo, Doug Anderson, made my night by fetching me a toasted bialy from the kitchen and schmeering it with the best whitefish salad in town. Rudy was in fine fettle that night, and the crowd was packed to the rafters checking out the clips on the big screen and catching up with each other. When I was pulling fourteen-hour days in kitchens a few lifetimes ago, I wanted to be Rudy Maxa when I grew up. He’s a great journalist, an impressive companion under any circumstances, a sensational human being, and with another hit on his hands, he continues to inspire me. Rudy Maxa’s World is also shot in HD and looks great on the big TV in your rumpus room.
I had dinner with my wife at Morton’s, and the food is as good as ever, including those sensational crab cakes. Que Nha on University Ave in St. Paul was the site of a long-anticipated catch-up dinner with my best friend Aaron who had never eaten there. We stuffed ourselves silly on grilled shrimp and beef rolls, spicy chicken with onion, and combination rice hot pot casserole, which might be one of the top five best Asian menu items in the Twin Cities. On our way out the door, we grabbed a pair of avocado milk shakes, which are hard to finish after a big meal, but a few pulls off the straw were a tasty way to end the day.
And yes, I am also as stunned as you are that I have still not dined at the Strip Club or Heidi’s, two restaurants that I am eager to check out. But when I come home, I only get a few nights free, and it just didn’t work out this time. BTW.
Speaking of stunned, am I the only one in town who didn’t know that The Rake went under? And why do they think the online version can stay in business if the magazine couldn’t? Seems as if they are carrying a mighty large payroll for a website based on the byline count. How long do you give it? Does anyone read the online mag, and why? I am interested in hearing from anyone who regularly does. Speaking of web reads, I am now officially addicted to Brian Lambert’s blog on this site; his piece last week about the Stribune predicament was informative and laugh-out-loud funny.
I attended the third annual Cuisinart conclave at the Walker Art Center. It was awesome, a big sellout, and the food was superb. Huge shout out to Becky Pohlad and her committee, Wolfgang Puck and his team, and Scott Winter, the WAC genius of many hats. Some cool stuff went down. Scott Pampuch and his crew of attendees won the aluminum chef competition. In forty-five minutes, they made a bevy of compelling dishes featuring eggs and beef (the secret ingredients), and Rick Kimmes of Oceanaire guided his crew of partiers to an impressive second place finish on my scorecard.
Pampuch scored big points with the judges (Wolfgang and I) with his Meyer lemon hollandaise sauce and his house-cured pancetta that he smuggled in to the event and crisped, serving it on a poached egg. All his food was perfectly seasoned, and his restaurant, Corner Table, should be on everyone’s must-go list if it isn’t already. Wolf and I cooked together last week in Los Angeles, and I have gotten to hang out with him on my last few visits to LA this year. This guy is a rock star in every sense. He is unflappable in the dining room, hysterical to share a meal with, a doting dad, a cook of tremendous skill (often overlooked, BTW), and a global presence who would rather hang in the trenches with his troops, as he did most of the night on Friday, than schmooze it up with strangers despite his appetite for showmanship. The highlight of the evening for me, as it always is, was the awesome display of pyrotechnical wizardry that Sherry Yard and her staff put on: marshmallows in three flavors, marshmallow guns, squirt guns filled with sauces for spraying on sundaes, individual bite-size molten chocolate cakes (all hot!), and lollipop-sized banana ice cream baked Alaskas torched-to-order by the newly married Yard, who flew in to MSP from her honeymoon . . . amazing.
Two years ago, right before I left FOX News, I did a story about the new eateries at the airport. I had written about it in our magazine the month before as well, and I really thought that the new restaurants had figured out a compelling way to motivate and train their host employees and seemingly had figured out a way to mobilize employees from their other Minneapolis-based sites (Ikes and French Meadow) in large enough numbers to offer competent service and food quality in their airport-based satellites. I was wrong.
I have eaten at Ike’s three times in the last two months and at French Meadow five times. What can I say? I am at the airport a lot with my wife and a three-year-old, and I am also a glutton for punishment. I can safely say that not only is the food TERRIBLE now at both locations (they were both serving pretty tasty grub the first four to six months they were open), but the service at both is beyond bad; it has morphed into painfully frustrating compounded by the fact that no one really seems to care based on my recent experiences in trying to rectify bad situations gone worse. For example, at FM, my wife and I waited for ten minutes on a line that shouldn’t have been there but only existed because of the inability of the seven counter workers and cooks to push some sandwiches up and out of the kiosk. Customers before and after us, some of whom vocally protested that that they had waited thirty minutes, all watched aghast as counter attendants and cooks alike simply shrugged and giggled, brazenly flaunting their I-don’t-give-a-sh*t attitude. Even the corporate managers from the food service group that is in charge of the place did NOTHING. Similar situations around the airport (along with a MOUNTAIN of personal experiences in other airports where nothing approaches this level of frustration and incompetence) tells me that the system is irreparably broken and that until restaurant owners can staff their own eateries, we will continue to get more of the same.
That being said, I know the owners of these places, and they know how important good service is, even in a quick-serve environment with a transient customer base. I am shocked that they allow this to continue and get worse. Their airport staff are the custodians of their brand, and right now, the barbarians are not only at the gate, they are in the La-Z-Boy, feet up, shoving meatball hoagies down their throats, and watching Oprah reruns.