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Hot Plate Diner

16 Feb

Hot Plate Diner
Visited Saturday, February 12th, 2011

hot plate exterior

Ryan
Saturday morning, I was given three choices by Lauren for places to have brunch before a fun-filled day of wine-tasting and celebrating Chinese New Year. I selected Hot Plate Diner by default after eliminating the other two choices for various reasons. After picking up our trusty friends Walsh and Sarah, we arrived at the inconspicuous location on Bloomington and 52nd in south Minneapolis. When I walked inside, I about crapped myself. The inside of this place was crazy! I’ve seen many restaurants that litter the walls with random memorabilia and signs and stuff, but Hot Plate Diner was jam-packed wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with everything from paintings of cats to hanging art to 70s handheld video games. It was quite the interesting place to look at.

the dude

We arrived around 10:30 on a Saturday; a wait was inevitable. We were directed to the coffee cups and took our seats in the waiting area, and after fifteen minutes were seated at a booth in the corner. The waitress greeted us and asked if there was anything we wanted to get started. My first instinct was “no,” but then she announced “Maybe a caramel roll? They’re hot out of the oven!” It took all of about 0.5 seconds for both me and Sarah to say “okay!” The caramel rolls were out quickly and we dug in. They were big and gooey and fresh out of the oven, and featured an excess of caramel on the plate for dipping. I felt this was an excellent start to the meal.

now that is a caramel roll
caramel roll clean plate club

When it was time to place our orders, I scanned the very brief menu and chose the Eggs Benedict, mostly because it was one of the few cheese-less items and I wasn’t feeling up to making special requests. It wasn’t a long wait before our food arrived, and my heart sank just a little when I saw that the serving portion of my meal was only about 1/2 that of Lauren’s scramble. Granted, I had just had a gigantic calorie-riddled caramel roll, but I was hoping for an equally ginormous portion of Benedict and potatoes. Nevertheless, I was satisfied with my breakfast. The American fries were cooked just right and really came to life with some hot sauce. The Eggs Benedict, although good, was nothing at all out of the ordinary compared to other Eggs Benedict meals that I’ve ordered in the past. When it comes to the Benedict meals, all else is judged against Hell’s Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis, the best I’ve had, and Hot Plate’s version fell short. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did.

eggs benny

Overall, my experience was positive at Hot Plate Diner. I thoroughly enjoyed the kitschy decor, the short wait time, and the caramel roll. Prices were pretty standard, maybe just a tiny hair on the spendy side. If I were to go back, which I could certainly see ourselves doing, I would get one of those scrambles that looked like a lot more food for one’s money.

snowflakes

Lauren

There was a funny moment as we were pulling up to Hot Plate where Sarah, sitting in the backseat, told Chris, “This looks like your kind of place…” Meaning, a greasy spoon, small-town diner. We were all surprised when we walked in and saw a cute, down-to-earth little restaurant jam-packed with young families and twenty-somethings.

lamp

There was a little bit of a wait for a table (see: aforementioned twenty-somethings and young families. Damn our demographical love of brunch!) but I loved that they had a couple of airpots of coffee to make the wait a little bit sweeter and more caffeinated. I only had a bit of trouble balancing my cup of coffee on the arm of a chair at the same time as I was trying to take photos with my beautiful new Canon T1i! So if you’ve noticed a big step up in the photo qualities on the blog, you’re right!

beagles paint by numbers

Hot Plate’s menu is short and sweet, with the wildest item on their menu probably the “Grand Marais Scramble” with cream cheese, smoked trout and asparagus on home fries with toast, and that is exactly what I got. It was a very nice and unusual twist on a traditional scramble. The home fries were delicious and perfect – not greasy, not mushy, just perfect little pillows of potato. My only complaint would be that I would have liked it better if there had been more asparagus, and if it had been chopped up and mixed in the scramble as opposed to just sitting on top. This girl likes her veggies mixed in with her eggs!

big marsh scramble

I definitely disagree with Ryan’s assessment of the portions, as I could only finish about half of my scramble (I did have a bite or two of his caramel roll, though). My leftovers made a delicious breakfast the next day. Surprisingly, when Ryan finished his meal he did not attack what I had yet to eat! This was only the third time in our relationship that I was able to bring leftovers home from a cheese or olive-free dish.

sunshine

Ambiance – Busy, but we were there on a Saturday morning. The decor is cute and very fun, and not annoyingly busy in an Applebees kind of way.
Service – Our waitress was great. I actually didn’t drink very much water so I can’t comment on her water refilling chops. She definitely hit the nail on the head when she dropped that line about caramel rolls straight from the oven!
Food – Really good, I loved my Grand Marais scramble. It was just a little different, enough to pique my interest. I would love to go back and try their buckwheat pumpkin waffles, which I hear are in the running for best pumpkin waffle in the city!
Overall experience – Mmm, very good! Great breakfast spot. With all of the awesome spots for brunch in the cities I don’t know when we’ll get back there, but it has my vote for a repeat.

The Necessities
Hot Plate Diner
5204 Bloomington Ave S, Minneapolis MN
612.824.4794

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Café Levain

18 Jan

image

Café Levain
Visited Friday, January 7th, 2011

Ryan
For my Christmas present, Lauren planned to take me out for a fancy French dinner on New Years Eve! Unfortunately, Lauren got violently ill that night and we were forced to put off our dinner until January 7. Lauren presented me with a list of French restaurants in the Twin Cities and told me to take my pick. Not wanting her to break the bank, I chose the one that seemed the most reasonably priced, Café Levain in south Minneapolis.

The restaurant was very inconspicuously located on a side street. The seating area was very unlike a typical restaurant; it just seemed very open, bright, quiet, and airy. Lauren made reservations, but they clearly were not needed; I would say the place was 40% full at best. Our waiter promptly greeted us and poured water and dropped off the menus. We opted for the Les Launes Croze-Hermitage Syrah (France, 2006) which was a chef’s recommendation. I believe it cost around $37, one of the lower-priced bottles on the menu.

I also chose the Cauliflower Leek Beignets as an appetizer. I did not know, and still don’t really know, what exactly that is. The menu describes it as “Piquillo Pepper Rouille, Frisée.” Whatever… they were good. I would go so far as to say the appetizer was the highlight of my meal. They were these decent-sized, breaded, fried balls that were served with some greens and a dipping sauce. At first taste they seemed relatively flavorless, but soon I was surprised by a little heat! The dish was probably meant for two people, but I ate it all and it was filling.

Cauliflower Leek Beignets

Cauliflower Leek Beignets... very tasty!

The dinner menu was succinct with basically five options: chicken, beef, steak, salmon, and vegetable dishes. There was also a special, the pork tenderloin. I am always a sucker for specials and chose the pork. It was a moderate wait for our food, which we could see being prepared in the open kitchen.

My meal arrived and I questioned if we had indeed come to a French restaurant, or rather a German restaurant! The plate consisted of two slabs of pork tenderloin, very soft mashed potatoes, red cabbage, and what I believe was some sort of tomato jam sauce. The giant bowl/plate made my portion seem deceivingly small, but in reality it was quite a lot of food. To be perfectly honest, my meal visually didn’t look very enticing. But I let my taste buds be the judge! I had never before eaten pork that was still pink in the middle and wondered if it was a mistake or not, but gave the chef the benefit of the doubt and ate it all up… and I’m here to tell about it, so it must have been alright to eat. The potatoes were tasty—nice and buttery. The cabbage was a very German addition to the meal. The tomato jam was really unusual—I may have done without it.

Cafe Levain, pork tenderloin special

The pork tenderloin special

All in all, I was happy with our meal. If we were to do it again, I would order the same appetizer but get a different entrée. Lauren’s beef was better than my pork, in my opinion. Nevertheless, for a Friday night moderately-priced ($20-range entrées) meal, I would recommend giving it a try. A very nice Christmas gift from Mrs. Wife!

Lauren
I was absolutely heartbroken when my vicious cold hit its peak on New Year’s Eve. Instead getting gussied up and heading to St Paul for a romantic dinner at Meritage’s “Celebration” 10pm seating, Ryan ran out to buy a $10 bottle of sparkling wine and we watched the Dick Clark NYE TV special, complete with a performance by NKOTBSB, in our sweatpants.

When I was feeling better I researched French-influenced restaurants in Minneapolis and sent him a list. I was happy when he chose Levain as it seemed like a nice place with good value. I made a reservation on OpenTable, which later proved to be totally unnecessary.

When we arrived, I actually thought the place was more like 25% full – honestly, as I later remarked to Ryan, Levain has way too many tables…if it had been full, it would have been insanely loud and I sincerely doubt the waiters would have been able to squeeze between tables with plates of food. But it was a really nice space with an open kitchen – I think it would be fun to go back and sit at the “bar” facing the kitchen to watch the cooks work.

Maybe it was because I was so hungry when we arrived, but the bread and butter they served when we sat down was shockingly good. They don’t advertise if they use Hope Creamery butter, but the butter we were served was so good that I would be surprised if it was from anywhere else.

Unlike Ryan, I knew exactly what I was getting for my first course – onion soup! I love onion soup and this was a faithful rendition of the old classic…not breaking any culinary barriers, but a very tasty and warming standby for a frigid January night.

imageI had a bit more trouble picking out my main course. I had talked Ryan into ordering a red wine, as I think it’s the best defense against the bitter cold that we endure during winters in Minnesota. I had been tossing around the idea of the chicken or salmon but my desire for red wine somewhat ruled those out. Enter another bistro classic, beef bourgogne (although I’ve always known it as beef burgundy). Red wine, potatoes, onions, carrots, more red wine… absolute perfection for a January night, and Levain’s interpretation did not disappoint. My only complaint, is that the cook had a heavier hand than necessary with vinegar in the jus, as the dish had too much sourness. When the liquid was mixed more with the potato puree, though, the sourness was better balanced.

imageWhen all was said and done Ryan and I were far too full to even consider dessert. Although it wasn’t the plan we had in mind, we had a lovely meal and we left, warm and content, suitably fortified to face the Minnesota winter once again.

Ambiance – Very nice modern space, light with very high ceilings. If it had been very busy I think it would be terribly loud.
Service – Our server was prompt and fairy attentive. He didn’t fill my water glass as often as I would have liked. He was also serving a party of ten a few tables over so I think they commanded more of his attention, and we were more of an afterthought.
Food – I loved mine. The soup wasn’t as salty as some I’ve had, which is a very good thing (and somewhat difficult to accomplish, it seems). My beef was on the sour side but still delicious.
Overall experience I had a really lovely meal, and an even more lovely time. It was more expensive than a typical night out for us, but it was a special occasion so we ordered a bottle of wine. The prices are not outrageous and the food, well executed.

The Necessities
Café Levain
4762 Chicago Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55407
612.823.7111

Sea Salt Eatery

23 Oct


Sea Salt Eatery

visited Friday, September 24th, 2010

Sea Salt exterior

Sea Salt Eatery in Minnehaha Park

Ryan
On a recent Friday night, Lauren and our friend Sarah decided we best take in the Sea Salt Eatery before it closes for the season. Walsh and I were more or less along for the ride, but once I saw the menu I was very excited to try a few of the seafood offerings. The menu seemed very reasonably priced, but then again that only made me feel like I could order more things. Aside from Lauren and I splitting a bottle of white wine ($22) and the peel-and-eat shrimp appetizer ($8.95), I chose the scallop tacos and marlin tacos ($6.95 each). For a Friday night dinner on payday, it seemed like a good opportunity to splurge just a little!

The shrimp app was really good! I don’t know how one can make plain cold shrimp taste any different than the next guy, but these big shrimp were a pretty solid deal for the price. Paired with a spicy cocktail sauce, it was the perfect way to get my taste buds juiced up for the main course.

A few minutes later my two kinds of tacos arrived. The marlin tacos came two to an order and were served in doubled-up tortillas with salsa, pico de gallo, and greens. I had never tried marlin and must admit I ordered it only because I was thinking of the Florida Marlins, but it was a delicious, savory piece of fish and the tacos were excellent. The scallop tacos featured lots of breaded, fried scallops and were topped with a tangy chipotle sauce instead of salsa. These were much more flavorful and filling than the marlin. A little difficult to hold and eat, but worth the mess.

Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis, scallop taco

My scallop tacos were the highlight of the night.

Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis, marlin taco

The marlin taco was good too, just not as good as the scallop.

The Sea Salt Eatery had more of a cafeteria feel to it than a sit-down restaurant. Plastic chairs were slid up to small, circle tables barely large enough for all our food. The first thing we did when we entered the building was went through the order line, then found a place to sit. They call out the names and deliver the food, but the service was hardly tip-worthy. That said, I enjoyed my unusual experience there. It was a lot less formal than I had expected, and I’d like to try some other items from the menu next summer.

Lauren

I had been wanting to visit Sea Salt for ages and ages. It felt like I was the last person in the greater metro area to eat there. So suffice it to say, my expectations were perhaps a bit high. After talking all summer about how I desperately wanted, nay, needed to get to Sea Salt before their season ended, I made it happen at the end of September.

While the boys were figuring out the park’s parking system, Sarah and I ran ahead in case we had to fight for a table. The restaurant was just picking up at about 6:30 pm, so we had our choice of tables. We might have sat outside except that I don’t think Sarah or Chris (or Ryan) were expecting the kind of atmosphere that we encountered and hadn’t dressed for the great outdoors. Once the boys joined us we started to scour the menu. I was a little overwhelmed by the number of choices, and the ordering system gave me a little bit of stress as I was not ready to order when we got to the front of the line. I was bound and determined to order something a little unusual. We went with a relatively safe choice, cold shrimp cocktail, for our appetizer and after panicking and asking the cashier what sandwich was the best, I ordered the crawfish po’ boy.

Once we located a table and set our drinks down, the appetizers were out – guess it doesn’t take too much time to put cold shrimp on a plate! Like Ryan said, the shrimp were mighty tasty and the horseradish-y cocktail sauce was perfect. Sarah and Chris ordered both the shrimp cocktail and the calamari, which I stole a piece of. It was probably the best calamari I’ve ever tasted, and I would have stolen another piece if Sarah hadn’t threatened me.

Crawfish Po' Boy

Before we had a chance to finish our first course, our main dishes came out. I was shocked at how big the po’ boy was! I made a venture over to the famous, impressive display of hot sauces and took a few back to the table. My favorite, which nearly burned a hole in my throat?

Hot hot hot sauce

Really, the sandwich was huge and oh, so tasty. I’m not typically a fan of mayonnaise, but I had put so much of that hot sauce on there that it was necessary. My only complaint about the whole experience is that the tiny little fried crawdaddies would not stay put in the sandwich! I ended up eating a lot of them straight from the basket.

Dinner for 4 at Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis

Dinner for 4 at Sea Salt Eatery, Minneapolis

By the time we had all either finished our food or given up hope on it, it was nearing 8pm, the restaurant’s closing time. I was surprised to see many people still waiting in line, but I guess this must be more of a place where closing time means the kitchen is closed, but not yet time to kick everyone out. Good to know for the future!

lots of trays

The carnage

Ambience – 3.5/5. The cafeteria style ordering and paper/plastic utensils are a bit surprising, but you have to remember that you’re in a city park. It would have been nicer if we could have sat outside, but we had a good view of the action in the kitchen and lots of people-watching around us. Everyone was really mellow and just enjoying their food.
Service – 3/5. I almost feel like it should be “n/a”, since the only time you are in contact with a server is when your food is brought out. The cashier was great, giving us samples of wines that we were considering buying and advising me to order the crawfish po’ boy.
Food – 4.5/5. Everything was outstanding – I don’t think anyone at our table had any complaints with the food, other than perhaps having too much of it. It’s a little spendy when you order alcohol, though $22 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant is not outrageous – it just all adds up fast. We LOVED the huge selection of hot sauces.
Overall experience – 4.5/5. I loved it! Sea Salt closes for the season in just over a week and I am trying to convince Ryan to go back there before it closes.

The Necessities
Sea Salt Eatery
4801 Minnehaha Avenue S, Minneapolis, MN
(612) 721-8990
Hours: Varying, seasonal