Sunday, March 29, 2009

True Thai

Visited on Monday, March 23rd with Scott

True Thai

Erin's Review
After first attempting to go to the deli at United Noodles and seeing it closed, I was STARVING. I didn't really care where we ate at that point, as long as it was close. Scott and Ben chose True Thai, which sounded perfect to me. Because of the mishap at United Noodles along with the time spent shopping, I needed to eat something fast - cream cheese wontons were ordered immediately to tide me over until our entrees arrived.

True Thai

The wontons were pretty good - they seemed to have a little thicker wonton wrappers (dough?) than I'm used to having. Perhaps they are handmade and I'm used to those made using the packages of wonton wrappers you can get at the store. They certainly hit the spot for me!

I didn't feel like being too adventurous, so I just went with chicken pad thai as my entree. There were a ton of options that looked great, and I loved the menu descriptions.

True Thai

My pad thai was SO good - probably the best I've had at a restaurant yet. As usual, it was a huge portion, so I ate plenty that day and still had a fairly large amount left for lunch the next day. That makes the high price for one lunch much more of a deal.

True Thai

True Thai

True Thai is a cute place - I was surprised at how packed it was at lunch on a rainy, cold Monday. With so many Thai places on our list, I doubt we'll go back any time soon, but I definitely recommend this place for a solid meal!

True Thai
(View down the hall to the main dining area)

Ben's Review
I had been trying to get Erin to go to United Noodles for lunch for a couple weeks and last Monday I finally got her to go, with my co-worker Scott. Unfortunately when we got there we found that the deli is closed on Mondays :(. I still wanted to get a big bag of rice and some curry paste, so the trip wasn't a total waste, but we now needed to think of a new place to get some lunch. I remembered there was a Thai place (I thought it was King & I Thai) just down Franklin so we headed over to True Thai.

True Thai has a large seating area with a Thai lunch buffet towards the back of the main room. It was busy when we arrived around 12:30 with the lunch crowd and we were seated down a hallway to a separate dining area. Based on a blog post from last August it looks like this was a remodeling they did last year.

True Thai

Erin predictably latched onto the cream cheese wontons as an appetizer while we looked over the menu for entrees. In typical fashion I couldn't decide if I wanted curry or stir fried dish, or if I wanted noodles or rice. The menu at True Thai is extensive with plenty of choices of soups, curries, salads, noodle dishes, and stir fry dishes. I settled on the drunkard's noodles at the normal spiciness level, since they are already a little spicier than normal dishes. In hindsight I wish I would've cranked up the heat one notch, as it didn't really kick my ass like I wanted it to, just a little runny nose.

True Thai

The cream cheese wontons were good, although I wish they didn't come as a set of five; it doesn't split evenly unless you are alone or with four friends. The drunkards noodles were great as well, it was a good choice. As with most Asian dishes we get, there was plenty leftover for lunch the next day, although I did overindulge a bit during lunch, leaving me with a little less than I should have had left :)

I'm glad that there are some many Thai places in the twin cities as I've really come to love the food, but it also means that I probably won't go back to any particular place for a long time. I would like to come back to True Thai for lunch sometime to try the buffet, it would be a great way to sample a bunch of different Thai dishes in one trip, and at $7.95 it's a fantastic deal.
  • Service: The service was fine, although she messed up the splitting of the tab.
  • Food: The food was great, though I'm beginning to think that Thai food is hard to screw up. Even I can cook it at home :)
  • Drinks: They actually have a good list of bottled beer, with several Bell's and Lake Superior beers on the menu.
  • Ambiance: True Thai has a good lunch atmosphere and all the employees were friendly and happy.
  • Price: The buffet is a great deal and cheaper than most of the entrees. The entrees range from $9-$12, which is a little pricey for lunch for my tastes.
  • Convenience: True Thai is at 27th & Franklin which is pretty accessible from most directions and bus lines. I didn't see a parking lot, so you'll have to find a spot on-street.
True Thai True Thai

True Thai
2627 East Franklin Ave

Sunday, March 22, 2009

La Belle Vie

Visited on Saturday, March 14th

Outside La Belle Vie

Notes from Erin:
We have been planning to go to La Belle Vie, which is widely regarded to be the best restaurant in the Twin Cities, when I finished my masters program since last fall. I really couldn't think of another occasion when I would be able to justify the cost of the Chef's Tasting Menu, so I warned Ben far in advance that LBV was where I wanted to celebrate my graduation. It took a little warming up for him to agree to it, and it also helped that we got a gift card from my parents for Christmas to put toward this dinner. The atmosphere is subdued and we were among the youngest diners there. It took a little while for me to feel comfortable there, but after a few minutes it was fine. Everyone there treated us wonderfully from the moment we walked in the door. We had "the old guy" (as he referred to himself) as our server who was definitely a character. One of the other people waiting on us commented that they weren't sure he even knew where he was right now, and I think they might be right ;) It made for some good entertainment during our dining experience! Right away we each got a plate of 3 types of bread and some gougères - all were warm and delicious. This review is going to be formatted slightly differently than most, with us writing our thoughts under the heading of each course instead of doing them totally separately. It will sound repetitive for sure, because everything was absolutely wonderful! I wouldn't expect anything less from La Belle Vie, and they definitely delivered on their superb reputation. As with most super nice places, I was worried about being disappointed, but thankfully I was not :) This was the most expensive dinner we've ever had, and it was definitely worth it.



Notes from Ben: In the weeks leading up to our dinner at La Belle Vie, I wasn't getting too excited for the meal because I had images of bizarre French food in my mind. I don't care for exotic meals just for the sake of exotic meals, I want something that tastes good and goes well with the other items on the menu, even if the ingredients are "normal". After glancing at a recent tasting menu I was happy to see that there was a good mix of "normal" food prepared in ways that I had not had before. I was especially pleased with how much meat was on the menu and I began to get more excited to go. I agree with Erin that I was a little uncomfortable when we first sat down, but it didn't take long to relax (the huge martini helped). We knew coming in that we were going to have the Chef's Tasting menu, so we got started right away. Erin had the wine flight to go along with the meal, not being a big wine drinker I opted not to get the flight which turned out to be a great idea, since there was no way Erin was going to drink all the wine she was served. As for the food, it was all wonderful. There was not a single thing I could complain about in regards to the food, it was awesome.


Lamb Tartar with roasted red pepper sauce
(amuse bouche)

First Course: Lobster and Salsify Soup with Périgord Truffle
Wine: Lustau, Amontillado, Escuadrilla, Jerez, Spain

Lobster and Salsify Soup with Truffles


Erin: This was my favorite course! Kind of sad that it all went downhill from here, but it didn't go down too far, so it was just fine :) Every bite of this was like an explosion of wonderful in my mouth. There were so many different flavors in this soup, and each one was amazing! It was creamy but not overpowering, and the little chunks of lobster were delicious. LOVED this! I was not as big of a fan of the sherry, but then again, I'm not a sherry fan to begin with. It did taste better once it was paired with the soup than it did on it's own.

Ben: The soup was excellent, I love creamy soups. This was a great way to start the meal, I just wish they would give you a little more :)

Second Course: Spice Crusted Skate with Rock Shrimp and Slow-Braised Artichoke
Wine: Ruinart, Blanc de Blancs, Reims, Champagne, France NV

Skate with Shrimp and Roasted Artichokes


Erin: Probably my second favorite course - closely tied with the soup. It was kind of comical for both Ben and I with these first two courses - both of us kept saying "mmmmmmm" and "oh, wow, this is SO good" after every single bite :) The artichokes in this made every other artichoke I have ever had seem horrible - they were just so much more flavorful than the canned/frozen variety that is usually present in most artichoke dishes. Obviously. The champagne was a great pairing with this dish. Unfortunately, I'm finding it hard to remember specific details about how it tasted, but suffice it to say that it was yummy :)

Ben: Yeah, I was beginning to feel a little silly at this point, as we both kept saying how good everything was, but IT WAS. The artichokes were so much better than others that I've had, it was fantastic.

Third Course:
Chestnut Tagliatelle alla Carbonara with Quail Egg and Black Truffle
Wine: Livio Felluga, Pinot Grigio, Friuli, Italy 2007

Tagliatelle with Poached Quail Egg

Pinot Grigio

Erin: I loved the addition of the egg in this course. I'm not sure how one is "supposed" to eat this, but I ended up just breaking the egg and mixing it in with everything else. It added a richness to an already rich pasta dish that really put it over the top, but in a good way :) The Pinot Grigio was cool and refreshing and paired well. By this point, I was pretty much stuffed and already tipsy, and a little concerned with how I was going to make it to the end! I did share each of my wines with Ben too - I personally would have been unable to walk if I had drank the whole wine flight myself, but I'm a lightweight.

Ben: I also thought the egg was a unique addition to the pasta, and definitely made it better. The pasta was excellent and done just right.

Fourth Course: Roasted Poussin with Foie Gras, Salsify and Dried Cherry Gastrique
Wine: Archery Summit, Pinot Noir, Premiere Cuvee, Willamette Valley, Oregon, 2006

Chicken and Foie Gras

Pinot Noir

Erin: There were a few comments on this photo on flickr debating whether or not this was poussin or chicken. It tasted like chicken to me, but clearly my palate would not be able to tell the difference. It tasted like really GOOD chicken, but... chicken nonetheless. I enjoyed this course - it was again very rich with the foie gras. The salsify did offer a slight break from the richness. I loved this wine most of all - definitely my favorite! This wine flight did prove to me that there is indeed a noticeable difference between the cheap wine I usually drink and the good stuff. I'll try to forget that difference most of the time, so as to not go broke :)

Ben: This was my second favorite course after the veal (coming next). I liked the mix of the foie gras and chicken, and the salsify was really good. I had never heard of salsify before this meal and this was the second course that used it. I have no idea if the salsify that we had is the same as the one on the wikipedia page for it, but it didn't look like that at all :)

Fifth Course: Pan Roasted Veal Tenderloin with Stone-Ground White Polenta, Wild Mushrooms and Pearl Onions
Wine: Domaine Tempier, Bandol, Provence, France 2006

Veal and cheek

Barolo (?)
Erin: As previously mentioned, I was beyond full by this point. I did like this course a lot, but couldn't fully appreciate it due to the pain that was taking over my stomach! I loved the polenta and pearl onions, but the veal was too much for me at this point - I gave half of mine to Ben, who was all too happy to finish it for me! The wine was described as a "big red" and it certainly was - it was a very heavy wine. It worked well with the veal.

Ben: My number one course. While Erin was getting full, I was still charging forward. The courses were small enough and timed apart well enough so that I didn't ever feel really full. I certainly wasn't hungry by this point, but I had room left. This veal was fantastic, the mix of mushrooms and onions were a great complement.

Sixth Course: Gorgonzola Dolce with Asian Pear and Candied Pine Nuts
Wine: Inama, Vulcaia Apres, Veneto, 2003


Sauvingnon Blanc
Erin: Finally, some relief! I was glad to be getting to the end of the courses, and glad that this course was a little lighter. The cheese was rich and creamy and was excellent with the pear and nuts. The wine was sweet and delicious. Loved this course.

Ben: Eh, the cheese tasted ok, but the creamy consistency didn't do it for me. I liked the nuts and the pear with the cheese, it made for a unique taste that I wouldn't have thought to combine.

Seventh Course: Mango with Mint, Lemon and Mandarin Sorbet

Mango with lime and sorbet
Erin: This course was a welcome palate cleanser and was refreshing, but to me, there was nothing notable about it except how comical the tiny portion looked on the huge plate it was served on :)

Ben: Biggest plate for the smallest course, done intentionally I'm sure :) This barely counts as a course in my book, it was a spoonful of sorbet with cubed mango. The plate did not lend itself to getting the small pieces of mango onto your spoon.

Eigth Course:
Dark Chocolate Cake with Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta and Cava Sherbet
Wine: Toro-Albala, Montilla-Moriles, Pedro Ximenez, Adalucia, Spain 2005

Panna Cotta, Chocolate Cake, Sherbet

Erin: After nearly 3 hours, we reached the end of the road :) This dessert was delicious - I especially loved the cake and the panna cotta - I would have liked MUCH more panna cotta, even though I was stuffed! I'm not a port fan, so the wine was kind of lost on me. I still managed to drink it though! After the dessert, the waiter brought out some more little treats, which I thought were overkill since we had eaten so much already. He also told us he was bringing it because we were "special" but since we saw him bring it to every other table it kind of ruined that sentiment :)

Ben: This was an excellent dessert. The cake was awesome, my favorite for sure. The extra treats he brought out were nice, but like Erin said, totally overkill. Now, if he had brought some more of that soup out.................

Little Treats

Final Thoughts:
Erin: La Belle Vie was hands down the best meal I've had in a restaurant. I would love to go back and eat at the lounge - the vibe seemed to be more fitting for us in there than in the dining room, but the dining room was a wonderful place to celebrate finishing my masters degree!

Ben: One of the best meals I've ever had, a great place to go for a quiet meal. I especially liked that they did not squeeze the tables in close together, you get enough space for some privacy even though they could fit more tables if they wanted too, it was a nice touch. I would also like to go to the lounge, it looks like a cool place to hang out and the bartender is highly regarded in the Twin Cities.

Inside La Belle Vie

La Belle Vie
510 Groveland Ave

Sunday, March 8, 2009


Visited on Wednesday, March 4th with Kate and Kyle

Graves 601

Ben's Review
After some deliberation, we decided on going to Cosmos for restaurant week. We wanted to go to a place where the price during restaurant week would be a bargain compared to the normal menu prices and Cosmos fit the bill.

The deal at Cosmos was $30 for a set menu:

- a choice of Creamy Lobster Salad or Baby Arugula
- a choice of ahi tuna or duck for the entree
- a choice of nine layer chocolate cake or creme brulee for dessert

After reading the restaurant week menu, I assumed that the items would not be the same items offered on the normal menu. I figured they would either be smaller portions or simplified items because of the lower cost. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the items WERE the same as the normal menu. Adding up my items the food alone would have come to $50, so Cosmos turned out to be an excellent choice.

Erin and I walked through the skyway after work to Cosmos, which is on the fourth floor of the graves 601 hotel, across from Target Center. We were early for our 6pm reservations so we sat at the bar for a cocktail while we were waiting. The place was completely empty when we arrived, which made it good for photos - it's strange to see not a single person wandering around.

Inside Cosmos

The bartender was a nice guy and he gave us some wasabi peas and snack mix to go along with our martinis. I had a gin/vodka martini with Hendrix gin and Effen vodka and it was excellent, and I'm not even a big martini fan in the first place. (Small side story about Effen vodka - my dad likes the Effen bottle so much that he kept the bottle and refills it with other vodka he buys, true story).

Cosmos Bar

Gin and Vodka Martini with a twist

Munchies at the bar

Kate and Kyle showed up a little after 6 and we were brought to our table. By this point a couple other people had arrived, so we didn't have the entire dining room to ourselves, which would have been even weirder.

Creamy Lobster Salad

I went with the lobster salad, ahi tuna, and chocolate cake options. The lobster salad was fantastic, the beet soup and the vanilla foam made it a unique salad experience. The ahi tuna came with squid dumplings and seaweed. The tuna also had wasabi in the middle of the cut which gave it a good flavor. The tuna was excellent as well, I really liked the seaweed and the dumplings.

Puffed Wild Rice Crusted Ahi Tuna

For dessert I had the chocolate cake, which I thought had a misleading name. Nine layer chocolate cake conjures images of a tall piece of cake, maybe 6-7 inches high. This was not that cake. Instead this was a short, long piece of cake and I'm sure there were nine layers in there somewhere, but it's not nearly as daunting as I thought it would be. It certainly tasted good, no doubt about that. Also with dessert Kyle and I each had a pour of Laphroaig 10 year scotch, which was better than the cake :)

Laphroaig 10 Years

Cosmos has delicious food and great service, both at the bar and at our table. However, I probably won't be back here anytime soon as the prices are higher than I like to spend on a meal (although we are going to trump Cosmos with our meal this coming weekend). I was glad to be able to try it out at a discount and I would recommend others do the same during restaurant week next year.

  • Service: Great service, our server was awesome and the bartender was friendly.
  • Food: The food tasted excellent and the presentation was particularly good.
  • Drinks: Not sure what the beer list is like but they have several wine options and a full bar. Be prepared to spend some money though.
  • Ambiance: Cosmos is a really cool looking place, very modern. The ambiance while we were there was muted, but I think that was only because it was not busy. We were easily the loudest table in the place.
  • Price: Cosmos is expensive. At normal prices you'll be looking at $50 per person, just for food.
  • Convenience: Located in the graves 601 hotel. They validate parking at two nearby lots, which is nice, and there are buses that can get you there.
Erin's Review
Thank you to the few and the proud that responded to our Restaurant Week poll! We ended up choosing Cosmos based on the value of their restaurant week menu, and I think we made a great choice! I figured this would be the type of place Kate and Kyle would enjoy as well, so we invited them along for the ride. Kate blogged about the experience here. I made reservations on opentable for Wednesday night about a week and a half prior to our night out, and it seemed like most of the RW places were wide open - I wonder how the turnout was for other places?

As a happy coincidence, this ended up being a celebration dinner for me, as earlier that day, I received an offer (and accepted!) for a new job within my company! I'm glad that happened for a multitude of reasons, but for that night it at least semi justified what ended up being a pretty expensive dinner :)

We got there a little before 6, and as Ben mentioned, the place was totally and completely empty, including the bar. This was odd, but luckily a few others trickled in while we waited for Kate and Kyle to accidentally go to Chambers instead of Cosmos :) They got there at about 6:10 or so and thank god, the host hadn't given away our table :)

Passion Fruit Martini

The menu that was on the
MSP Magazine website for Cosmos was very simple, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the menu choices were actually the same as the normal menu and not watered down versions due to the lower price. I chose the arugula salad, duck with optional side of foie gras, and the chocolate cake. Our waitress was great - it took us awhile to stop talking long enough to examine the menu so she had to come back several times. She seemed to enjoy having the entertainment though.

Restaurant Week Menu

We got bread right away, which was warm and nutty flavored. The waitress brought out more after we finished one basket (probably not necessary, but much appreciated). The amuse bouche came out - it had something to do with salmon tartar and was fresh tasting and a good start to the meal.


Amuse Bouche

The arugula salad was pretty standard - I really like arugula, blue cheese, candied nuts, and pears so obviously I was going to like this salad. I thought the presentation of the salad was beautiful. I had one bite of Ben's salad and enjoyed the creaminess of the lobster and the beet flavor. Both choices were wonderful.

Arugula, Pear, Blue cheese, candied pecans

After the salad, we each got a shot of lingonberry explosion (I think) which I thought was an actual egg :) Yeah, I don't go to fancy restaurants too often. I was very glad to hear that it was just a little fruit juice that somehow had a skin around it, making it resemble an egg. This was very refreshing.

Lingonberry Explosion

The duck came out done medium, as I requested. The main course was very rich, with the fatty duck, sweet potatoes, duck confit and porcini cake. Throw in a side of seared foie gras and I could barely sleep that night from being so full. It was all worth it though :) The foie gras was buttery and delicious. Not sure I'll order it often, but I'm glad I tried it. It was almost too big of a portion for me to even finish. Kate has a great photo of it here.

Duck with a side of Foie Gras

At this point, obviously I was stuffed, but I still powered through to finish the 9 layer chocolate mousse cake. I thought this cake was the perfect size - I was very glad it wasn't as huge as you'd imagine a 9 layer cake to be. The cocoa puff crisps on top were an interesting change, and that in combination with the cake and the chocolate ice cream created what might be my perfect dessert.

Nine Layer Choclate Cake

Fancy Rolos
These came out after desesrt. Because we hadn't eaten enough.

This was quite an expensive meal with the pre-dinner martinis, glass of wine for me during dinner, and glass of scotch after dinner for Ben, so I'm very glad we came during Restaurant Week. We have so many fancy restaurants on our list that I don't know if we'll be back to Cosmos, but it is a great choice for an amazing dinner downtown. The ambiance is modern and cool, and it gets pretty crowded on weekends (so I hear at least) so it would have a good vibe.

Decor inside Cosmos Decor inside Cosmos Decor inside Cosmos
Decor inside Cosmos
601 1st Avenue North