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Riverview Wine Bar

12 Feb

Riverview Wine Bar
Visited Friday, February 4th, 2011

Ryan
Lauren and I ended up at Riverview Wine Bar with friends Walsh and Sarah Friday night because I maaaaay have dropped the ball on my beautiful lovely wife’s birthday dinner. I had agreed to take Lauren anywhere she wanted for her birthday dinner, and she chose a small popular local restaurant called Alma for Friday night after work. Thursday night, I attempted to make a reservation and was dismayed to see they were totally booked. All of Lauren’s other choices also were all booked—I couldn’t believe my eyes! Needless to say, Lauren was very disappointed that I hadn’t acted sooner. After a few hours of contemplation, she announced to me that “I’ll allow you to take me to Riverview Wine Bar instead.” I knew it wasn’t quite what she had in mind, but I was quick to agree and out we headed to pick up friends Walsh and Sarah for a night at a cozy venue in south Minneapolis.

We were seated at the lone remaining table, situated right in front of the drafty entry way. This was unfortunate but couldn’t be avoided; the place is quite small to begin with and I imagine all tables felt a little rush of cold when the door opened on this frosty winter’s night. I’m warm-bodied; I got over it. The waitress took our drink orders, and all four of us tried different flights. I opted for the Espana flight, featuring four 2 oz. glasses of premium wines from the Spain region. I had one white called Las Brisas (my favorite) and three reds–Massroig, Conde Valdemur, and Mas Donis. I nursed these glasses for over an hour, attempting to get the most for my $12. I enjoyed their wine flight options… a tad spendy, but a fun treat!

The dinner menu was totally what I expected–mostly things like cheese plates and salads. But they also featured a short list of original pizzas. I scoped out the menu and deducted that the Corleone was the one for me, featuring locally produced spicy sausage, mushrooms, and olives. I hate all olives, so I picked those off and handed them to Lauren, a lover of olives. And likewise, I enjoy mushrooms, while Lauren is still a little cool on them. What a team we make! The pizza was just enough for one person, even me! It tasted good to me, but I’m not a pizza critic and won’t even begin to explain flavors to you. It was just good. Eventually the bread we ordered showed up and I gobbled about half the loaf down using their great seasoned butter. Later I had a pint of Old Speckled Hen, a delicious European beer.

I liked the ambiance of this place a lot. It was cozy, dark, and featured some vibrant yet bold colors and tasteful lighting. I commented to Lauren that I envisioned a room in our future house looking like this. The restaurant is attached to a coffee bar, which on this night featured a small jazz ensemble that we could hear through the glass doors. It had seating for maybe 30 people, tops. Our final bill was about $65, a bit spendy for a meal but considering the wine was a big part of it, I was hardly surprised.

Riverview is a place I would return to on a balmy summer night for a glass of wine, but is probably not the kind of place I would make a point to eat a full meal in the near future even though I was perfectly satisfied by the experience as a whole. I think it’s more of a girls’ place to go.

And oh, how did I possibly forget the service. If ever a centimeter of water was missing from my glass, a waitress was over immediately to fill it up. They don’t mess around with their water service there!

Lauren

Yup, my dear old husband sure dropped the stinkin’ ball on my birthday. He somehow didn’t think that any of the six, six! popular, special occasion restaurants on my birthday list would require more than 24 hours notice for a reservation.

Ahem.

I decided that he could take a step towards making it up to me by taking me out to a girly wine bar with cheese plates and appetizers that I would love but he would surely hate.

Ryan has already described our table, which was freezing cold whenever anyone walked in. Unfortunately nothing could be done about that and I’m sure that most of the cafe got some of the draft.

Riverview has a cute, almost kitschy list of wine flights like “Sauerkraut” (German wines) and “No Trees Killed” (Un-Oaked Whites). I went for the cheesy “K-Syrah, Syrah” which was four of my favorite (for now) varietal of wine. I don’t remember much of the wine, other than I liked them all… 🙂

I also ordered a pizza, which I didn’t know the name of at the time and I don’t know now. I ordered by telling the waitress “the last pizza on the list, please”. Scarpino maybe? It had bacon, prosciutto, blue cheese and three other kinds of cheeses. It was sooo salty and delicious and totally hit the spot.

The pizzas at Riverview are small and cracker-crusty, which is my favorite, but I don’t think that the crusts are house-made. For some reason I looked on the bottom of one of my slices and it had these little dimples which reminded me of commercial pizza crusts. Oh well.

After my Syrah wine flight I ordered a class of “Acrobat” Pinot Noir from Oregon which I found very nice, a little bit of spice and lots of flavors. It’s a wine I’m going to be on the lookout for in the future!

One thing that I did think was ridiculous – we ordered a side of baguette, which was $6 for ten or so slices of bread with herbed butter. Both things were very good but it seemed incredibly expensive for something that is usually free at restaurants. I don’t mind paying for bread but $6 seems pretty stiff, all things considered.

Riverview is a place I would like to return to for a glass of wine and a dessert or a bowl of olives, but I doubt it will be somewhere we go to for dinner again.

Ambiance – Very cute. They have done an outstanding job with the decor, it is very cozy. There are a couple couches around a fireplace that look like a really nice place to lounge and have a glass of wine…too bad though, that we were by the door where it was very cold.
Service – They were OUTSTANDING with the water! I loved it! I was in heaven!
Food – My pizza was delicious, very salty and savory. The bread was good but overpriced.
Overall experience – Very nice. I would return. I would like to go back in the summer to sit out on the patio.

The Necessities
Riverview Wine Bar
3745 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis, MN
612.729.4200

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Birchwood Cafe

29 Aug

Visited Saturday, August 14th with Sarah and CM

Ryan
On a recent Sunday morning, Lauren and I met up with friends Walsh and Sarah to take in the Birchwood Cafe. This really hit home for Sarah as her sister Rachel is a waitress there!

My first impression—it reminded me a lot of French Meadow in Uptown, a trendy natural/organic restaurant that would likely serve healthy but overpriced, under-portioned local items… not my cup of tea. In fact I feel downright out of place and uncomfortable in a restaurant like that. The fact that a restaurant serves local items just doesn’t do anything for me. But I didn’t want to judge too quickly!

At Birchwood, just like French Meadow, you walk in and order from the counter, then go sit down and wait for your food. The four of us must have stood there for five minutes studying the menu before ordering. The breakfast menu consisted of about ten options, plus the lunch menu was about to begin. I eventually opted for the $9 savory waffle special which came highly recommended by Rachel, and also ordered some of their homemade lemonade.

We found a booth and sat down moments before the big rush. Good timing! Things like condiments, silverware, napkins, water, etc. were not to be found at each individual table, but were available near the counter. Our food was relatively quick to arrive, and I was very surprised at what was set before me.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

The wildly imaginative waffle I ordered.

This waffle was unlike any I’ve ever ordered or seen before. When I think waffle, I think a plain circle waffle with butter and syrup. This concoction basically used the waffle as a plate for more traditional breakfast items. In one quarter there was an over-easy egg. On top of that were pieces of bacon. On another quarter was some sort of mango-based salsa Lauren note: Ryan’s fruit salsa was muskmelon based — very exotic! — not mango. Another quarter featured tomato-basil butter and walnuts. And lastly there was a cup of natural maple syrup. I was pretty intrigued!

The waffle itself was one of the best waffles I’ve ever had—way fluffier and delicate than most tough waffles. I enjoyed sampling each bite with a different combination of toppings. The thick-cut free range bacon was really tasty. Lauren and I shared an order of wild rice pork sausage as well. Astoundingly, between the single waffle shown above and that one sausage patty, I was nearly full! I had held out almost zero hope that this breakfast/brunch would leave me fulfilled, and maybe it was just a one-time fluky thing, but it left me only slightly hungry after consumption.

Birchwood's house-made Pork Wild Rice Sausage

Obviously our waitress was very attentive and helpful. Despite all the rave reviews I’ve heard of this place, there was amazingly no line to get in on a weekend at 11am. Between the $9 waffle, the $3 lemonade, and the $2 for my portion of the sausage, I thought perhaps things were a little overpriced, but one must know what they’re getting themselves into when they go into a place that serves local natural ingredients. Not a bad experience at all, but I must say I’m still not sold on paying extra for local/natural items. I’ll go back with Lauren if she wants to.

Food: 8
Portions: 5
Value: 6
Atmosphere: 8
Staff: 10
Experience: 7

Lauren:
I always draw a blank on breakfast places. On a recent Saturday morning, I even pulled up this blog on the computer, scoured it and told Sarah, who was on the phone, “Uh, I don’t think we have any breakfast places on the list. Where do you wanna go? French Meadow?” Duh! Birchwood Cafe has been on our list since the very beginning! Luckily Sarah’s older sister works there, so she thought that it would be fun to visit her, and I agreed (plus, Ryan and CM both hate French Meadow and most of the other Uptown-y breakfast joints).

We met up with Sarah and CM and attempted to decipher the menu. I was a little bit overwhelmed by all of the choices, as it was getting towards lunch time, maybe I would like to have a nice turkey sandwich? Instead I went for the “Saturday Scramble” which had eggs, cheese, onions, and fennel (and maybe some other bits and bobs that I can’t quite recall; their menu changes very frequently). Sarah ordered a side of the pork-wild rice sausage and that sounded delish and came recommended by Rachel, so Ryan and I ordered a side of that as well. I got a tasty cold press coffee to sip on.

The "Saturday Scramble"

My dish came with a side of whole grain toast (very tasty) and rosemary roasted potatoes (sounded good, execution not so great) and a bit of fruit.

The scramble was quite tasty, I very much enjoyed the fennel and caramelized onions but as I told Rachel, I found it far too salty, but that perhaps it was just too much cheese? She said this was a frequent comment and that she agreed that a lot of their savory dishes came out salted with a heavy hand. (why hasn’t the kitchen staff been told to chill out with the sodium then?! I am perfectly able to add salt at the table if I feel it’s necessary, but I am not able to remove it.)

All in all, I thought Birchwood was good but not great. I give it points for local sourcing, fair trade et cetera but I cannot forgive a kitchen staff that abuses the salt for no good reason. It’s worth another try, perhaps to pick up a pastry or two (we did grab a German chocolate brownie for the road, more for Ryan than for myself although I did try a nibble and it was pleasingly fudgy).

Ambience – 4/5. It wasn’t too busy when we were there, so we were not crowded, but I could see it getting cramped on a busy weekend morning.
Service – 5/5. Thanks Rachel D! Although, I have to say that I am confused by restaurants that have “self serve” water and condiments as they never seem to have enough little dishes for jam or what-not. Should I just bring my whole plate over? Just my toast? Or try to manoeuvre a knife-full of jam back to the table? But really, I think that’s just my personal issue to work through… 🙂
Food – 3/5. My eggs were intensely salty. Loved the bread and the house-made sausage patties; rosemary potatoes were OK. Ryan was pleasantly surprised by his savoury waffle.
Overall experience – 3.5/5. Good! I would try other breakfast places before returning to Birchwood (that is, if I can remember them in a pre-coffee haze of decision making) but it would be a place I’d like to visit again.