With all the love thrown its way I knew it was too good to be true. I finally ate some chow from Szechuan Spice, the restaurant in the space across the street from the old Lava Lounge, and had a good experience. The food was sometimes tasty. Particularly the family-style tofu had great “fish flavor” (a Sichuan must!) for that dish and a decent Scandinavian inspired version of kung pao chicken. The best dish was the twice-cooked pork with shaved pork belly and loads of leek tops and whole chiles (even though jalapeno was an odd choice). The dan-dan noodles and cold noodles were fair; they needed seasoning to bring out the nuances in the chile oils. The Sichuan dumplings were inedibly bland and oddly the chile glossed bamboo shoots needed more salt and the whisper of chile garlic paste that dish requires for resonance. Grand Szechuan and Teahouse are both better choices, but I look forward to seeing what Szechuan Spice evolves into over time. It’s got a nice start. And to the dolts out there who have been arguing for weeks online about the nature of restaurant writing and who think Yelp is helpful when parsing these matters I think you need to know what makes for great Sichuan cooking before you start critiquing it.
Am I the only one who missed this last month? I seriously haven’t laughed this hard in a year. Anyone who has watched any food-centric TV or who has ever ogled any food porn needs to stop what they are doing and watch this right now.
Am I the only one who missed this last week? And am I the only one who thinks there is a lot more to come on this story? From what I am hearing the answer is a resounding yes.
At the end of the day, who owns a recipe? No one, unless it’s proprietary (think Twinkie) and a commercial juggernaut. Apparently the Pham lawsuit does more than just ask who owns the wonton recipe? And one of the suits was already thrown out. Anyway, feel free to log onto the city website ci.minneapolis.mn.us or check out mncourts.gov and search away. Or wait for the Strib story that has to be coming at some point soon.
How I came to be sitting at BLVD in Minnetonka on Friday night is a long story. Big snow, long standing dinner date with my wife’s aunt and uncle, blah blah blah . . . but there I was.
The hostesses and managers work tirelessly, and despite the fact that someone should give the whole building’s roster a lesson in manners, I got to my table without incident. Our young server was earnest and efficient, but even his great attitude and willingness to make everything right couldn’t mask the fact that is a restaurant built on selling a canard. They market the vision of good cooking, the idea of wholesome food; they traffic the notion that if you have a flatbread on the menu and get it to the table hot, it tastes good. That if scallops are nicely cooked and make it on a plate, it’s a good dish. Wrong on all counts. For those looking for convenience and for food that is an edible representation of The Emperor Has No Clothes , or for those that really “don’t care” and want a drink and a burger in nice surroundings, then BLVD is for you.
Best part of the experience was the ridiculous pandering that the staff lobs towards other restaurants created by the same company. Our waiter couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when he told us that the meats at BLVD are the same ones they offer at Redstone. Ooooohhhhh, no way! Way. Or when asked about the chocolate layer cake (tastes worse than one made from a box), he told us with unabashed pride, “It’s the same one we serve at Champps!” Was that supposed to get me to buy it or to warn me away from it?
Anyway, the mussels were way to winey and overcooked, and the salads and apps all arrived at haphazard times. We ordered one salad split and it came whole, and when asked again to split it a food runner said, “I better do that for you” and performed the operation out of sight of the kitchen. Scallops looked gorgeous, I mean stunning, but they were loaded with tri-polyphosphate and too rubbery to eat even cooked medium rare, the mustard sauce was inedible and didn’t work with the dish, and everything we ate seemed to have too much garlic in it. The worst offender was the 13-buck lobster mac ‘n’ cheese (sold hard by every server as if no other eatery in the world has ever offered this comfort food standard), which I couldn’t resist ordering just to see if they pulled it off. Not even close. Tons of garlic, no lobster flavor and the generous chunks of lobster meat in the dish were spongy and flavorless. Hello frozen food service lobster! A steak was spongy and shockingly un-beefy and several desserts were inedible. However, the salted caramel sundae was awesome thanks to Sebastian Joe’s.
Other pet peeves that I universally abhor and came into play on Friday evening include, but were not limited to:
- Refusing to seat our party until we were all there. This should never happen, ever.
- Constant interruption of a conversation. If we are talking and having a good time, simply perform the task you came to do or return in a minute, your choice. Don’t interrupt a table.
- Injecting personal favorites when explaining the specials. No one cares. Truly.
- Taking an empty plate from one guest while others are still eating the same course. Clear all at once unless asked to do otherwise.
- Auctioning food items when they came from kitchen. What a mess.
- Audibly cheerleading by saying, “Good choice,” implying that other choices we made are bad.
- Offering up what our server’s favorite dessert is. It’s irrelevant. Again, I don’t care.
- Constantly asking if someone is finished while others were still eating same course.
- Constantly asking if we were finished every time one of us appeared to be finished. How about letting someone sit still and relax at the table with their dining mates for a second?
- My least favorite phrase used all night long by several staffers: “Are you still working on that?”
Looking for a Christmas gift for a food lover? Try one of these books, in no particular order:
- Rene Redzepi’s Noma Cookbook
- David Lebovitz’s Ready for Dessert
- David Thompson’s Thai Street Food
- Amanda Hesser’s Essential NYT Cookbook
- Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking
- Harold McGee’s Key’s to Good Cooking
- James Peterson’s Meat
- Melissa Guggiano’s Primal Cuts
- Grace Young’s Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge
- Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table