Monday, May 26, 2008


Visited on Wednesday, May 21st with Erin's mom, dad, and sister

Outside of Erte

Erin's Review
I was very happy that my sister Liz told me that I could give her three choices of places to have her graduation dinner from our list. I gave her the options of Brasa, Erte, and Meritage. She chose Erte, so off we went. Ben and I had been to the adjoining Peacock Lounge with Kyle and Kate a few times because they lived a few blocks away, and I always thought Erte looked like such a nice place so I was excited to try it.

I think Erte is a beautiful restaurant. I love the decor in the Peacock Lounge as well. I think this place looks better when it is dark outside, and we were there when it was still light outside, but it still looked lovely. It is very close to a number of dive bars (Knight Cap, Mayslacks, Shaw's, probably more) so it was kind of surprising to me how nice of a place Erte is the first time we saw it.

Inside of erte

Olives, artichokes
(Bread and olives that come out right away)

I like to follow my dad's advice (on this at least...) and stick with what a place is known for when ordering so I got the only type of steak I really enjoy, the Filet Mignon. I ordered it medium and it was cooked perfectly. The sauce it came with was delicious. Ben and I also got a side of "le smush" mashed potatoes to share. What is with restaurants giving potatoes cutesy names? I think this trend is le lame. The filet was amazing, one of the best I've had. Granted, I don't really order steak that often, but this tasted delicious to me. The potatoes were also good. They would have been made even better with the addition of garlic, but I think most things in life could benefit from garlic. I also got a salad to start which was awesome - I loved the bleu cheese dressing.

Starter Salad

cooked perfectly medium

I had a glass of pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon over the course of the evening. Both were pleasant. My sister got a lemon drop martini that looked great, and my mom got a lemon daquiri to remind her of our trip to Zihuatanejo last January - she said that it was very good.

Lemon Drop Martini Lemon Daquiri

The turtle fudge brownie sundae was delicious, and my sister had a key lime pie that was pretty good, although slightly too tart for my tastes.

Key Lime Pie

We all really enjoyed this restaurant! It is quite romantical, but is also a good place for a celebration dinner such as the one we were having with a small group of people.

Ben's Review
Erin's sister Liz graduated from college this month and she picked Erte from our list of restaurants for her celebratory dinner. Erin's mom got us reservations for 7pm last Wednesday.

As it turns out, you don't really need reservations on a Wednesday night, as there were only three or four tables in use, out of approximately twenty-five tables. Erin and I got there first and I checked out the drink list while we waited for Erin's parents and Liz to arrive. Erte has a decent domestic beer list and an equally sized European beer list. Most of the beers are bottles, although they do have a couple taps. What I also liked about the beers is that they have a range of prices; you can get a can of PBR or a bottle of Golden Monkey.

After everyone else sat down, Erin's dad ordered a scotch so I followed suit and got an Oban on the rocks. I wasn't really feeling like a beer anyways.

The menu at Erte is great, I had a hard time deciding what to get. They have several steaks including an 18 oz. porterhouse, a 16 oz. rib eye, an 8 oz. filet , and a 10 oz. sirloin. There were also several chicken and fish dishes I was considering. Erin had decided that she was getting the filet and offered me half the steak knowing that she wouldn't be able to eat it all. I was leaning towards the walleye but Erin's dad says that when you're at a steak place, get a steak, so I did. I ordered the house special, the 10 oz. sirloin that came with a mixed green salad. Erin and I also got a side of mashed potatoes to share.

The House

The salad came with a perfect amount of dressing and tasted delicious. The onions in the salad was a great touch and I actually found myself wanting more of the salad when I was done.

My steak came out done medium as ordered, and it also tasted great. You can optionally get garlic butter on your steak and I wished that I had, but I forgot at the time. Our mashed potatoes came out as well, and the potatoes mixed with the steak was excellent. I like to get a piece of steak (or meat in general) on my fork and then use that to scoop up some potatoes, it's delicious.

le smush sour cream and chive mashers

As promised Erin had plenty of her filet left over that I took down. The filet was good, but it wasn't as good as others I've had in town, but it also didn't cost as much, so take that for what it's worth. It didn't have that crusty exterior that some filets have, which I really like. Still, I'm not gonna turn it down.

We moved on to dessert. I'm not usually a dessert guy, but if there's a dessert that comes in a turtle fashion (pie, sundae, cheesecake, etc.) I can't help myself. In this case Erte has a turtle fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream that Erin, Erin's mom, and I shared. Oh man, this thing was good. If nothing else, get this dessert, it's two big brownies, a scoop of vanilla ice cream with fudge, caramel, and pecans all over the top. Wow.

Turtle Fudge Brownie Sundae

Our server at Erte was a incredibly friendly woman who was prompt and just knew what she was doing in general. I give the service two thumbs up, this was one of the best servers I can remember.

On to the ratings:
  • Service: Fantastic, our server was very friendly.
  • Food: The food was excellent as was the dessert.
  • Drinks: Limited taps but several bottled beers. A good selection of wines and full bar as well. Several specialty martinis are on the menu.
  • Ambiance: It wasn't busy on a Wednesday night but the inside of Erte is cool looking, its a big open space with a well decorated interior.
  • Price: The bill was reasonable for five people, I think it worked out to around $40 per person.
  • Convenience: Erte is located on University just two blocks north of Broadway in Northeast with plenty of parking on street.

323 13th Ave NE

Highly recommended for the food and atmosphere

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Visited on Saturday, May 17th

Outside of Duplex

Ben's Review

Erin got an email from duplex with a coupon for a "buy one get one free entree" deal this past weekend. That answered the question of which restaurant we should go to next, so I made reservations for 7 on Saturday.

Duplex is named for its location; the restaurant is inside of a converted duplex house at 25th & Hennepin in Uptown. The location used to be a coffee shop that I remember driving by when Erin used to live near there. Being that it's inside of a house is cool, at the very least it's different from most of your restaurant experiences. They've cut walls out and added track lighting with hardwood floors throughout. They have outdoor seating on the street level and on the balcony upstairs; I would've loved to eat outside upstairs but it wasn't warm enough for that yet and ERIN DIDN'T HAVE A SWEATER! So we ate upstairs and indoors.

one part of the upstairs at Duplex

We got sat with a couple menus, the tap beer list is short - only three beers as I recall, and they were obscure. I think they had Boddington's, some random Belgian, and one other beer that I don't recall. Not being a Belgian fan, I went for the bottled beers, which they have plenty of. I got a Bell's Two Hearted but they have probably 20 - 25 different bottles of beer.

Ben's beer

For an appetizer we got steamed mussels. I had never had these before (yep, we have a food blog and there are things we haven't tried, get over it) so I honestly didn't know what I was getting, but the ingredient list sounded fantastic - white wine, ginger, tomato, cilantro, Thai chili paste, scallions, butter. The mussels were good, and the sauce was excellent albeit pretty spicy; without the beer and bread it would've been way worse.

Steamed Mussels

The special that night was a pan seared walleye that I wanted, but I couldn't justify the price, it was nearly double the other entrees. I opted for the shrimp spaghetti instead. The spaghetti had spinach leaves mixed in with the sauce and noodles which I had never seen before. There wasn't much sauce on the spaghetti but it was still delicious, and the portion was surprisingly modest considering that restaurants normally give you way too much to eat, this was a reasonable portion.

Shrimp with House Made Spaghetti

Our service at duplex was spot on, not pushy or annoying but they were there whenever we needed them. I love it when servers just leave you alone, you can tell by observing a table from a distance if they need anything. If they are eating and conversing, they probably don't need anything. If you see empty plates or glasses, head over, it's as simple as that.

We skipped dessert because we were full and we were meeting our friends over at Liquor Lyle's and had to get going. All in all a great meal for a reasonable price. Erin just got another email today with new deals for this weekend (a free glass of wine or beer I think).

duplex ratings:
  • Service: Excellent service, prompt and not annoying.
  • Food: The mussels were good, I actually liked the sauce better, and my shrimp spaghetti was great. The bread is also good.
  • Drinks: Only a couple taps, but a good selection of bottled beer and wine. No bar as far as I could tell.
  • Ambiance: The ambiance was different because it's a converted house, but I like the effect. It does make the tables kind of close together, which I don't really like. I don't want to hear everyone's conversations.
  • Price: I think the bill was $55 with tip. It was cheaper because we got a free entree.
  • Convenience: Amazingly we got a parking spot on Hennepin right in front of the place. Not usually available though, it IS on a bus line however :)
Erin's Review
I have been intrigued by duplex since I first heard about it maybe a year and a half ago. I remember making a reservation and then having to cancel it because something else came up. This must have been how they got my email address, because I now get occasional emails from them with deals. The one I got last week was particularly good - a buy one get one free entree. This to me does not speak well for the restaurant - are they on their way to closing or something? Whatever, we didn't read too much into it and went last Saturday.

I had been to Pandora's Cup, the coffee shop that used to be in this building, quite a few times in high school and early college. They have really made this place a lot nicer as duplex. I don't think they really did much to the layout, but it looks a lot nicer to me for some reason.

The service was very good - our waitress was always there when we needed her. She wasn't overly friendly or helpful but that is fine. We didn't ask too many questions. I loved how our water was refilled all the time. I drink a LOT of water when at restaurants and I hate it when my glass is empty - I'm guessing that someone filled my glass probably 10 times when we were there. They probably hated me.

As for the food, I really enjoyed the mussels. I think that I have had one or two at dinners before (back in the glory days when I got my meals paid for by magazine publishers), but I've never ordered these myself. The sauce was spicy, but surprisingly, I didn't notice it as much as Ben did. The bread was REALLY good - nice and warm with garlic chive butter.


For my main dish I got the house made fettucine with chicken confit, pancetta, shiitake mushrooms, capers, thyme, lemon juice (I copied and pasted that directly from the menu - no way did I remember all of that. I barely know what all of that even means!). It was pretty good, but slightly blah. I could have used some type of actual sauce - there was some I'm sure, but not much.

House Made Fettucine

I also got 2 glasses of wine. After my recent trip to a few wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, I am clearly a wine expert. One of the glasses I got was red, from Chile that was called carmenere. The other was white, from France. That's all I can remember. Apparently this place is a "wine bar" - I'm not sure how a place earns that title, but the wine list didn't seem that extensive to me.

We both enjoyed duplex - the atmosphere was nice. It wasn't busy at all (hence the free entree offers) so we could just sit there and enjoy our meal.


2516 Hennepin Ave.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


Here comes another very long post unrelated to the Twin Cities! Last weekend, my 6 college roommates (in no particular order: Becky, Kimberly, Camille, Mindy, Chelsea, Laura) and I (Erin) flew out to visit Maria who moved out to sunny California to be an astronaut. Ok, not really, but that's what we all like to believe. Maria lives in Valencia, a suburb of Los Angeles, and we all stayed with her. Over the course of the 4 days we were there, much food and drink were consumed.

On Thursday, May 8th, we piled into our rented minivan and drove the 1.5 hours up to the Santa Ynez Valley to go wine tasting.

Sunstone Winery

The first winery we went to was Sunstone. This winery features organic wines and is fairly small and cozy. Their Eros wine was particularly good - it is a blend of merlot, cabernet, and... something. Sunstone had a beautiful picnic area, where we sat for a good long time enjoying the sunshine and great food. Thanks to Trader Joe's for the food, and to the Bride & Groom Cookbook which provided Maria with the recipe for the Orzo Salad with Lemon, Feta, and Pine Nuts. Mmm mmm good.

Sunstone Winery
(Outside of Sunstone)

Sunstone cellar
(Sunstone Cellar - the pourer offered to give us a tour)

Sunstone Winery
(The picnic area)

Sunstone Winery Orzo salad (with pine nuts)
(My glass of Sunterra (Sunstone's "cheaper" line of wines) Syrah, and the Orzo Salad)

The next winery we went to was just down the road from Sunstone - Kalyra. We had no prior knowledge of this winery at all, it just looked cool from the road. We're very selective like that. It turned out that this winery was the place that Sandra Oh's character worked in the movie Sideways. The wines were alright, but not as good as the wines at Sunstone. The pourer was very friendly and personable.

Kalyra Winery

Kalyra Winery
(the view from the front of the Kalyra tasting area)

Kalyra Winery
(These sort of count as food - the little cracker things to "cleanse your palate" or whatever)

Gainey was our next stop, because they had a 3pm tour. Once we got there, we learned that there was a private party doing the tour that day so we were SOL. Too bad. Gainey seemed slightly overwhelmed by the size of our party (8) and the pourer seemed distracted the whole time. His idea of explaining the wine was "this is the syrah" which was a very comprehensive explanation. Gainey was a little bigger and seemed a little more corporate than the other two places we had been. The wines were good, but the experience was just so-so.

Gainey Winery
(the pours were the smallest here of the 4 places we went)

Gainey Winery
(One bonus of going wine tasting in this area versus Napa is that you get to keep all of the tasting glasses)

Gainey Winery
(outside Gainey)

To round out the day, we made one final stop at Curtis Winery. This was a very pleasant experience. The pourers were both very nice and knowledgeable. I really liked their grounds and the artwork they had on the walls. By that time, I really couldn't remember much about the wines themselves, but Maria has been there a few times so if she keeps going back, they must be decent.

Curtis Winery
(the view from Curtis)

Curtis Winery
(Tasting room)

Curtis Winery
(one of the pourers)

For dinner that night, we stopped at State Street in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, we did not do any research beforehand, so we ended up going to State and A, which was okay, but not great. They were very accommodating for us, and lit up some patio warmer thingies because it was getting a wee bit chilly outside. I had the nachos, which hit the spot. I didn't hear too many rave reviews about the food. It's pretty typical bar/grill fare.

State & A

My snachos

The next day we stopped at In-N-Out Burger before driving to Hollywood. I wish I had captured on digital memory card the looks on my friends' faces as they waited in line. I had told them ahead of time that there were special ways to order things at In-N-Out, plus it was really busy at the time so I think they were a bit overwhelmed and confused. I got a cheeseburger, animal style, and it was tasty. I had a double-double animal style last time I was in San Diego which I remember as being better, but it's possible that I am romanticizing the memory. One great thing about In-N-Out is that they are relatively cheap. I got the burger, fries, and a drink for $4.25 which seems pretty good to me.


My in-n-out burger

Our next couple meals were cooked at Maria's house, but after lounging by the pool on Saturday, a few of us headed out to the Valencia Town Center to see if Pinkberry was worth the hype. I enjoyed it, but I'd have to say that I wouldn't seek it out. I got mine with strawberries and I thought that was the perfect accompaniment to the taste of the "yogurt" or whatever it is.

Pinkberry Valencia Mall!
(my Pinkberry, and the inside of the Valencia Town Center)

Our last meal was at Le Chene, a place about 25 minutes away from Valencia that Maria had been to before. I had the Filet Roquefort, which was quite tasty, but there was an excess of sauce. I heard great reviews of the salmon. I liked how every meal came with a salad that was pretty tasty and some warm bread. My only complaint is that each meal comes with 2 veggies, one whole and one pureed. I'd rather have one veggie and one starch of some kind.

Le Chene

Chalkboard menu
(They give each table one chalkboard menu - kind of quaint, and also kind of annoying with 8 people sharing one menu)

Salad Filet of Beef Roquefort

My first and last dining experience were both at Wolfgang Puck Express. I had it at MSP before leaving, and at LAX during our 7 hour delay. I suppose that my real last dining experience was the Whopper that some dude bought with one of our 2 meal vouchers during the 3 hour wait on the plane while the pilot was accused of being drunk and they had to call in new flight attendants, but whatever. I won't count that one.

Wolfgang Puck Express: MSP My pepperoni pizza

Anyway, in the battle of the Wolfgang Puck Expresses, I'd have to say that the LAX one is FAR superior to MSP. The MSP pepperoni pizza was much greasier. I noticed that LAX had a real wood burning oven so that could be why. If you happen to be stuck in LAX (and chances are good that you will) then the Wolfgang Express is highly recommended.

The oven at Wolfgang Puck Express: LAX Wolfgang Puck Express: LAX Pepperoni Pizza

Update on 5/17 - I almost forgot one of the dining highlights of the trip - the IHOP down the street from LAX. It was a magical experience. I got the pancake combo, and it actually did hit the spot. Some others had some questionable items (such as brownish poached eggs) but my meal was pretty good.