Saturday, April 24, 2010

Bar La Grassa

Visited on Thursday, April 8th with Kris and Erin

Outside Bar La Grassa

Ben's Review

Friends of ours invited us to join them at Bar La Grassa after seeing we hadn't been there and it was on our list. We arranged to have Erin's mom come to watch Annie while we went out for a couple hours, promising to be home by 9.

Bar La Grassa is located on N Washington Ave, just down the street from Black Sheep Pizza. I really liked the decor with the high ceilings and the exposed industrial interior. The restaurant is huge, running down Washington Ave and extending back fairly deep. As you walk in in there is a nice looking bar that was full of people waiting for their tables, that's where we found our friends, Kris and Erin.

Inside Bar La Grassa

We had reservations so we didn't need to wait, we were brought to a table towards the far end, near the kitchen. Bar La Grassa is one of those really loud places that makes it difficult to have a conversation with the people you're with. Furthermore, as you yell across the table it enables all the tables around you to also hear your conversation, making them talk louder and you can see how this gets out of control. I've come to accept that some places are just loud, there's nothing I can do about it. I'll also admit that sometimes it works, given the ambiance, and this is one of those places. It has a bustling quality to it that seems to make the noise fit in.

Our friend Erin had bought Kris a new set of glassware that she was giving him that night and arranged with Bar La Grassa to bring out our first round of cocktails in the glasses, as a surprise for Kris. Of course as we sat down Kris suggested getting a bottle of wine, but Erin smoothly talked him out of that and into getting something that would go in his new set of glasses. They have a good list of specialty cocktails, but I still opted for Jack Daniels which prompted Kris to get scotch.


We shared a couple appetizers, we had heard that the soft egg and lobster bruschetta was good so we ordered that and the charred red onion and goat cheese bruschetta. The soft egg and lobster was absolutely fantastic. The eggs were just slightly underdone so they weren't runny but had a delicate feel to them and they were delicious. The goat cheese bruschetta was also very good, but I would say the soft egg was well worth the extra $6.

Charred Red Onion and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

For my entree I got two smaller portions of pasta: the fusilla col buco with pork sausage and the silk handkerchiefs with basil pesto (I love basil pesto). Both of my entrees were good, they were not as good as I was expecting given the reviews I had recently seen online. The fusili col buco was great at first until you realize how much salt there was, it was overpowering after a couple bites. The pork and the pasta were both cooked great, just a tad too much salt for my liking. The pesto was bland compared to pesto I've gotten from the store and also homemade pesto, which surprised me. Pesto is easy to make, so I would expect something more flavorful. The pasta was again cooked well, just not enough flavor. I didn't finish the pasta and there wasn't enough leftover to justify bringing it home.

Silk handkerchiefs with basil pesto

Fusilla col buco with pork sausage

Erin had been looking forward to getting dessert but we realized that we needed to get going to make it home without being too late, so we paid our portion of the check and headed out while Erin and Kris enjoyed the dessert menu, so I can't comment on the desserts. We enjoyed going out, we had a good time with our friends and the service was great, but I doubt I will be back to Bar La Grassa anytime soon.
  • Service: Great service, they stayed out of the way and everything was taken care of.
  • Food: Appetizers were excellent, the pasta dishes left something to be desired.
  • Drinks: Long cocktail list and wine list with a decent tap selection, also a full bar.
  • Ambiance: Loud. I think my throat was hoarse the rest of the night. Though the volume does seem to fit in, as mentioned earlier.
  • Price: Prices are on the higher side, especially given the disappointing pasta.
  • Convenience: Parking can be annoying in this area, you might have to walk a couple blocks to find an available meter. I don't believe there are any ramps or lots in the area.
Erin's Review
When Erin L. asked me if we'd be able to get a babysitter for Annie and join her and Kris for dinner at Bar La Grassa, I was super excited. I had read great things about this place, and heard nothing but rave reviews. My mom was more than willing to watch Annie, so we were set! When we got there, I was impressed with the large space and beautiful decor. I really liked the vibe right off the bat - it didn't feel pretentious at all, the service was great, and it seemed like a nice place without feeling too stuffy.

Inside Bar La Grassa

We immediately ordered drinks so that Kris could get his gift of cocktail glasses - he was definitely surprised and realized that the glasses the cocktails came in were the ones he wanted, which made it even more fun :) I had a bellini, which was pretty much the least cocktail-y thing I could find (I'm not really a huge cocktail person, but wanted to play along with the surprise). The bread and amuse bouche served well to help curb my hunger!

amuse bouche


I had read a few reviews before we left, and based on those and Erin's recommendations, we chose the soft egg and lobster bruschetta, which was absolutely awesome. Definitely the highlight of the evening! I didn't try the other bruschetta due to my distaste for goat cheese, but everyone else thought it was good, although not nearly as good as the lobster.

Soft Eggs and Lobster Bruschetta

For my entree, I chose the Calamarata with raw tuna which someone had recommended to Erin. I really enjoyed this dish - the flavors of the sauce paired nicely with the warm pasta and cool tuna. I also thought this meal was a tad on the salty side, but nothing too bad. I would definitely recommend this dish if you like raw tuna! Erin had the gnocchi with cauliflower and orange, which the waitress recommended - I really enjoyed the flavors in that dish as well.

Calamarata with raw tuna

Gnocchi with cauliflower and orange

As Ben mentioned, we all were a bit disappointed in Bar La Grassa - after reading SO many rave reviews, it's hard not to build up a place in your head to be totally amazing. While everything was very good, it wasn't mind blowing, which all of us were expecting. Unlike Ben, I didn't think the prices were that high - they seemed pretty reasonable, but I liked my dishes better than he did so that might be why.

I'm glad we went to Bar La Grassa - the ambiance was great, and it is a beautiful space. My dishes were a bit different than what I usually eat, so it was a nice change. Everyone else seems to love this place, so I'd still recommend checking it out.

Bar La Grassa
800 North Washington Ave

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tanpopo Noodle Shop

Visited on Monday, March 29th with Jen

Outside Tanpopo

Erin's Review

Well, clearly we are kind of sucking it up with the reviews lately, so I decided it was necessary to start pulling in some guest bloggers! While Ben and I still do get to go out fairly frequently due to our abundance of local baby-sitters, I also go out with friends to some new places, and now I'm going to start reviewing places even if Ben isn't along - I think he prefers it that way, because then he doesn't get hounded by me to write his part of the post ;)

I was missing my coworker Jen due to my extended absence from work, so we arranged to meet for dinner. Since I was asking her to be a guest blogger, I let her pick the place - she chose Tanpopo Noodle Shop which sounded perfect to me!

When I got there, it was pretty much empty, which I expected for a Monday night in downtown St. Paul. The space is pretty cool - fairly large and kind of industrial looking, fitting for the area.

The noodle soups were intriguing, but I decided to get something a little more exciting and went with the shrimp tempura teishoku, which is a set meal that comes with soup, rice and pickles. I also went with a glass of their house red wine, which was tasty.


My entree was very impressive looking, AND delicious! Everything was piping hot and tasted as if it was very freshly prepared. Initially, I thought the teishoku would be too much food, but it was pretty much the perfect amount - the salad and soup were small, and there was a good amount of shrimp.

Shrimp Tempura Teishoku

I really enjoyed Tanpopo! I would definitely recommend checking it out if you are looking for a place in the lowertown area.

Jen's Review

Erin and I decided it had been too long since we’d seen each other, and I wanted to hear all about how new mommyhood was going for her, so we decided dinner and drinks were in order. Erin suggested that I pick a place off the We Got Served list, and the Ben suggested I write the blog post for it. A grand plan! I looked through the list, eliminated one (Supo) option because it wasn’t open on Mondays. And then I saw Tanpopo on the list – bingo! I’d been to Tanpopo twice before – once in the old location on Grand Avenue (or was it Dale? I’m not sure; all I remember is that was next to Moscow on the Hill, which had a dangerously good selection of vodkas.), and once a few years ago in this new location. But it had been a while, and a bowl of noodles and veggies is one of my favorite things!

Erin and I had agreed to meet at 6:30 pm, but she texted around 5 and asked if we could meet at 6 instead. I was starving, so the new plan was great with me! Tanppo is next to the St. Paul Farmer’s Market, so I parked in my regular farmer’s market lot, across Kellogg Avenue from Tanpopo’s building. I think I had to pay $2 – yay for cheap parking in downtown St. Paul! I arrived before she did, and I appreciated a few moments to chill in the quiet, as-yet uncrowded dining room after a hectic day.

Inside Tanpopo

I really like Tanpopo’s dining space, despite the fact that all the window face north, so there isn’t much natural light. The high ceilings, spare furnishings, and funky art on the walls more than make up for it. It’s a calm, relaxing space.


Once Erin arrived and snapped a few pics, we settled down and reviewed the menu and wine list. We each ordered a glass of wine, and then debated what to get. At first I was going to get a teishoku – described as “A home-style meal; entrĂ©e, rice, miso soup, salad and a small dish of vegetables” – and Erin was thinking of getting one of the noodle bowls. But when the waitress came with our wine and took our order, we switched. I went with the Nabeyaki udon, which included shrimp tempura, chicken, shiitake, fish cake, Japanese omelet and wakame. Erin got the daily teishoku, which featured tempura shrimp.

Udon Noodle Soup

My nabeyaki was delicious! The broth was just salty enough, but not so salty it overwhelmed the other flavors in the bowl. The omelet was a nice addition – sort of the same effect as eating egg drop soup, but the slices were more substantial than the eggs in egg drop soup. And of course the noodles and veggies made me happy! I found myself wishing I had more than one piece of shrimp in my bowl, and one less piece of fish cake. The tempura was fried perfectly – crispy instead of heavy with oil – and soaked up some broth while in my bowl. Yum! The fish cake, which I’d never had before, was fine, but had an interesting texture – like a slice of very thick, gelatinous custard. After one slice I decided I could do without the second one. : ) My soup bowl was accompanied by a small bowl of red pepper flakes. I added a bunch to my soup, which rounded out all the flavors in the bowl.

By about 6:45, Tanpopo’s dining room was completely full. On a Monday night. In downtown St. Paul. In my mind, that’s a pretty impressive testament to Tanpopo’s popularity!

Service: Our waitress was attentive but didn’t hover so much that I was annoyed, which is my definition of success. Way to go, Tanpopo! Erin and I both enjoyed our food, and it was great to catch up, since I we don’t get to see each other at work while she’s out on maternity leave!

Food: Great (except for the fish cake, but that’s my issue, not the restaurant’s!)

Drinks: Fine. A few reds and whites by the glass, several more choices by the bottle, a few domestic beers, some Japanese imports, and some sake. No hard liquor, but would you want a mixed drink with a bowl of noodles? I didn’t think so.

Ambiance: As I mentioned above, I like Tanpopo’s space, and the noise level was great – Erin and I had not problem chatting non-stop!

Price: Perfectly reasonable.

Convenience: Easy access from I-35E, I-94, and Highway 52. If you’re coming from south Minneapolis like I was, it’s not the most convenient, but from anywhere else, it’s fine.


Tanpopo Noodle Shop

308 Prince Street #108

St. Paul