Restaurant Review

The Restaurant Review – Ward 6

It’s birthday dinner night for my amazing wife, Jenni. So, I gave her a list of restaurants we haven’t been to yet and she chose one.

That choice was Ward 6 on Payne Avenue on the east side of St. Paul.

I’ve read reviews that have spoken highly of the place. And what’s so great about places like this in this town is the fact that neighborhood restaurants can put forth truly great food. In a lot of cities, a restaurant like this would just fall through the cracks. But luckily, the foodies in this town will go all the way across town to support something great.

Ward 6 is great. And that’s kind of funny: if you’re driving by and just pass the place, I don’t know that you’d necessarily stop in at the bar for a burger. There’s nothing distinguishing about it except that the building has obviously been recently renovated and only stands out in its neighborhood because it’s a newer looking building in a part of the city that is making its way back from years of ruin. But because I’ve heard of it in the reviews, we went specifically to go eat there. Either way, you absolutely could not be disappointed.

The food is basic pub food, but done so well in its tiny kitchen that it stands out. There are only a couple of burgers on the menu, but Jenni and Patrick said they were about the best tasting burgers they’ve ever had. Zoe had a sourdough grilled cheese sandwich what she actually finished, which says a lot when she normally actually doesn’t finish the whole thing because it’s either too big or just okay.

Hannah gets the fish and chips if it’s on the menu at any restaurant, and this, she said, was the best she’s ever had. Now we haven’t been to Anchor Fish & Chips yet, but I figure this must be some huge endorsement.

I had the reuben, which unlike most restaurant reuben sandwiches, actually looked and tasted like someone cared about making it instead of throwing ingredients together on bread and toasting it. The thousand island dressing was clearly homemade. The sauerkraut and corned beef was in perfect ratio, and the swiss was actually tasty and not rubbery. So high marks.

We also shared the poutine and deep fried cheese curds beforehand, and both were excellent–the poutine with an excellent beef gravy with just the right amount of pepper and little bits of bacon. The curds were lightly coated in a tempura batter, which made them light and crispy and not greasy.

The service was attentive (and fun!), which in places as small as this sometimes is either overbearing or non-existant.

Let me just say it again to close this out: Ward 6 does what so many restaurants don’t do. They have worked hard to perfect their pub fare and make it the best it can be while still being a great neighborhood restaurant. They’re well worth the drive from wherever you’re coming from.

Restaurant Review

The Occasional Restaurant Review – The Lowry

Jenni and I like to try to go to new restaurants–or at least restaurants we haven’t been to yet. Instead of going back to some of the same old places, it gets us into places that maybe I’ve heard of, or we’ve driven by or something.

I took the day off yesterday, and we had plans to make a family trip to the Walker Art Center (bad idea on the day before the Rock the Garden festival, by the way…), and I figured we’d grab lunch on the way since we’d be near Uptown. I looked at our options in the area, and after discovering that The Leaning Tower of Pizza (our first choice) was not open for lunches, we headed to The Lowry (the second choice).

I didn’t go in with much in the way of expectations: I wasn’t looking for a white-linen kind of experience, but I wasn’t looking for greasy diner food, either. I wanted a good place that could feed the whole family with something each of them liked. So it’s kind of good news that I can’t say it was amazing, or that it was awful, either. It is what I think it aims to be: a slightly upscale or more pretentious local bar and cafe, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner; raw oysters and burgers, mac and cheese and fish and chips. And being Uptown, it works hard to fit into its environment, and it certainly achieves that.

Jenni and I both settled on the turkey BLT, which was good, though my biggest complaints were that there wasn’t enough mayo on it, and the sourdough bread didn’t have any of that sourdough charm that I expect–none of that rich and tangy taste, and only some of the crispy, dense texture. But the turkey was tasty and not dry or tasteless, the veggies were crispy and tasty, and the bacon was, well, just bacon. Otherwise, it was a fine, if slightly overpriced sandwich.

Hannah had the fish and chips, since that’s her go-to restaurant fare. I thought the batter was really good, though too spicy for her–it had a noticeable, but not overwhelming kick. It was light and crispy and well cooked, and she said that the fish was tasty, too. It came with a spicy dipping sauce that, since Hannah doesn’t put anything on her fish, tasted good on my fries.

Patrick did the burger thing and said that it was good, but that he really liked their fries, though for how they were done there, I’d like them a little crispier. But Patrick goes out of his way to tell us when he’s having a top-notch burger, and this, apparently, was not one of those. But he didn’t dislike it, either, which scores points for being another restaurant where he’s comfortable eating.

The Lowry is a fine place to eat, and I didn’t expect it to be perfect or truly amazing. I was looking for a decent sit-down restaurant where my whole family would be happy with at least one thing from the menu (which is a BIG requirement when we all go out). Would I go out of my way to go back there? No. But if I’m in the area and I want something like that, I’d probably go again.

Restaurant Review

The Occasional Restaurant Review – Spoon and Stable

spoonandstable-logo1One nice thing about having older kids is that we parents can finally start going out to “adult” restaurants. And, around the Twin Cities, “adult” restaurants generally mean the new and trendy ones.

Spoon and Stable is new. Like less than a year old new. And trendy. So much so that reservations are extremely hard to come by. And the last time we were at a restaurant this hot and trendy was…um…probably never. Or at the very least, long before children.

You can google the place and read reviews and discussions about the story of this place–particularly about the chef who left his home town of Bloomington 16 years ago and has returned to his home to make this amazing restaurant. And you can read about the James Beard award it’s up for. And the design award the architects are up for.

So my expectations were high. Because this is a foodie town, some places are simply trendy and not focused on the quality and breadth of their food. But when it comes right down to it, if I’m going to fork over my hard earned cash on a meal that I have had my expectations raised for, I’d better be impressed with just about everything.

And we were.

The room itself is loud, particularly so in the front-of-house, where the bar and host station is. And Jenni and I could barely hear ourselves talking over the noise. But our table, in the back of the room in front of the open kitchen, was surprisingly quiet enough to have a conversation. A louder than normal conversation, but a conversation, anyway.

Our table afforded me the opportunity to watch the kitchen in action, and it was nice to see a high-quality kitchen, working in such an efficient manner: six people in the main part of it, with two others working salads and desserts off to the side. Everything, and I mean every single dish, passed through either the owner/head chef or the chef de cuisine for final seasoning and plating. And there wasn’t a flavor that missed the mark.

Between us, we had the English pea soup, vidalia onion tortellini (which is already off of the seasonally adjusted menu), limousin beef ribeye, scallops a la plancha, and crispy potatoes.

The soup, served hot, was bright green in the deep white bowl, and offered a garnish of cubed ham, baby shrimp and a cheddar biscuit all carefully placed in the corner. It was as brightly flavored as its color, not the dull color and taste of a traditional split pea soup.

The tortellini was delightfully light and creamy and sweet and salty and not anything like what either of us expected. Jenni didn’t think she’d like it, but ended up eating more after she tried one.

The scallops (pictured above) were simply amazing. Seared properly while not being overcooked in the slightest. Three of them rested precisely on top of what actually could have been the star of the dish: two pillowy oxtail ravioli. Across the top were some split and roasted baby leeks, a couple of mushrooms, and an asparagus spear, all served with a wonderfully rich red wine reduction. But those ravioli–really focusing on the wonderful richness and sweetness of the oxtail–were light, not fatty, and an otherwise unthinkable counterpoint to the scallops. I don’t know if I’d get anything else when I go back.

The only disappointment, if it really was disappointing, was the ribeye, which was basically just another steak. It wasn’t distinguished from anything else you could get in town from any other high-end steak house. Which meant it was very good, but just could not rise to the level of the scallops.

We ended the evening with the honey and cream cake which is almost a mockery of its name: the honey was not overbearing, and the condensed milk poured over the top at the table just helped moisten an already moist cake. It was lightly sweet, and almost delicate tasting.

I’m hesitant to call any restaurant “amazing” or “wonderful,” but Spoon and Stable really was. It’s not the kind of place I’ll ever bring my kids. But that’s fine, because that means more of everything for just Jenni and I.