Saturday, January 15, 2011


Visited with Erin's family on Sunday, January 9th

Outside of Scusi

Erin's Review
December was a bit of a whirlwind in our household. We normally go out to eat for birthdays, but due to the epic event that was my sister's wedding on December 18th, her honeymoon fell over my birthday. Thus, I was forced to postpone my Birthday Dinner. I had chosen Scusi since I knew the other Blue Plate restaurants we've been to have been solid and they are typically pretty child friendly.

Inside of Scusi

Scusi was packed when we got there at 5:30, I was definitely glad we had made reservations earlier. There were several other babies in the house, too, so that was comforting. It's a very cozy space, and I really liked the open kitchen. The server greeted us immediately, and went through some spiel about how Scusi is doing a family plates "concept" - I wasn't quite sure what this meant, but when I hear family style, I think large portions of food that everyone shares.


We picked a half carafe of wine to share between Ben and I (honestly I don't even remember the kind of wine beyond red), and also munched on the crackers and bean dip, which were totally addicting. Annie was a big fan of those as well. They have water in bottles on each table, which feels classy, but it's easy to go through those pretty quickly when you consume water at the rate that I do.

Bag of crackers

Annie at Scusi


It took us awhile to figure out what to order, but we finally came to a consensus after the server told us we should order at least one dish per person. I wasn't sure if that was the typically upselling, so we did go with 6 dishes for the 6 of us, that Ben details below, but I think we should have gotten one more. Each dish actually seemed smaller than a normal entree, so maybe calling these small plates to share would be more accurate.


Lamb Pappardelle

I really liked the food, but serving myself and making sure to keep Annie fed and happy is clouding my memory of the specific dishes. I know that she liked the salmon best, and my favorite was probably the sausage pizza or shrimp ravioli. The only dish I noticed her intentionally dropping on the floor was the lamp pappardelle, but I don't think I'd take that as any reflection on the dish :)

Salmon; Scottish salmon fillet, grape tomatoes, rattafia glaze

There were only a few dessert options, but they were all very enticing - it was a tough decision, but luckily for once Ben agreed to order his own dessert so I could have some of his too. I went with the warm apple cake and vanilla ice cream, which was delicious and made me feel warm and toasty on that freezing winter night! Ben's chocolate cake was a winner as well. I'd love to go back to Scusi, especially during the day (or when it's lighter outside after 4pm at least) to see the space in daylight.

Apple spice cake

Ben's Review
We had a belated birthday dinner for Erin with her parents, sister, and new brother in law this past Sunday. Erin settled on the new restaurant Scusi in Saint Paul, owned by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company that also owns some of our favorite places like Highland Grill and Longfellow Grill.

Inside of Scusi

Scusi is located in the old Heartland space at Fairview and St. Clair, which they occupied before moving to their new location in Lowertown. The interior of Scusi is small and cozy, much like you’d expect from an Italian, family style restaurant and we were greeted warmly by the hostess and our server. While I didn’t face the kitchen from my seat, you can get a clear view of the work area, which I like. For some reason it makes the food seem more authentic if you can see them making it. But, you can also see the people at McDonalds make your Big Mac, so what does that tell you?


Our server recommended to us that we order family style and share everything. We were welcome to order individually, but they would bring the food out as it was ready, so it was likely we wouldn’t be eating at the same time as everyone else at the table. Ok, that’s no problem, we can order family style. We looked over the menu for a bit and asked the server how many entrees we should order, two? three? No, we should order one for each person she said. We settled on five entrees and a pizza, thinking that should be fine.

Family style plates

The pizza came out first and it was fantastic. Easily the best part of the meal, and the biggest portion. Erin had ordered the special that day which had sausage and some other vegetables on it, but the best part was the copious amounts of cheese on the pizza, it was awesome. After the pizza came out the five entrees came at close to the same time. Our five entrees were:
Shrimp ravioli
Veal gnocchi
Vegetable linguine
Lamb pappardelle

Sausage pizza special

Veal Bolognaise Gnocchi

I’m not going to go over each one of these in detail, but suffice to say that while they all tasted great, the serving sizes were small. As each entree was brought to the table, we would each take a small serving and pass the dish around, and nearly every entree only had enough for a rather small serving each. This is in stark contrast to most restaurants where the portion sizes are so large that you leave feeling ill.

Vegetable Linguini

Shrimp Ravioli

Because it was Erin’s birthday we obviously got dessert, I choose the chocolate cake with scoop of vanilla ice cream, hard to go wrong with that, and this didn’t disappoint. Funnily enough, the piece of cake was rather large, so I didn’t leave hungry :)

Chocolate cake

Scusi was good, but if we go back I will stick to the pizza, it was the best tasting and best value they’ve got.

Service: Service was good, we felt welcome and everyone was friendly.
Food: The food tasted excellent but the portions were small. The pizza was my favorite.
Drinks: Scusi has several different wine portions to order from, which was great. This way you didn’t have to choose between a glass or bottle of wine.
Ambiance: Friendly, cozy atmosphere. It was also very warm.
Convenience: A small parking lot out back, otherwise it’s on street parking. Not a huge deal in this area.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Midtown Global Market

Visited on Saturday, January 8th with Janelle, Jen and Brynn

Outside Midtown Global Market

Ben's Review
Erin had arranged to meet up with a couple friends at the Midtown Global Market last Saturday for an indoor photo taking session. Annie and I tagged along for the food.

Dad and Annie at Midtown Global Market

We arrived at 10am and the place was nearly deserted. I had assumed that it would be a busy place given that it’s one of a few (only?) market type places that one can enjoy indoors during the Minnesota winter. By the time we left at noon it was certainly filling up, but nothing like the weekday that I came for lunch about a year ago.

Lights at Midtown Global Market


In addition to being a fun place to kill some time, the Midtown Global Market has an abundance of ethnic food options. Erin got some Mexican food to share with Annie and while I was floundering on what to get, Erin suggested Manny’s Tortas as she’d heard good things and wanted to sample some of my lunch.

Manny's Tortas at Midtown Global Market

I headed over to Manny’s and looked over the options. A torta is simply a sandwich with varying styles, from their web site:

All tortas are prepared with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, avocado, jalapeƱo peppers, refried beans, chipotle pepper mayo.

In addition to the ingredients above, you can select a meat for your sandwich. Recently becoming a lover of the Cuban sandwich, I went with their Cuban torta. It takes about five minutes to make the sandwich, and since it wasn’t busy at all I didn’t have to wait long. The torta was delicious, which makes sense becaues you can’t really go wrong with that list of ingredients. Erin was particularly surprised at how spicy it was, must have been the chipotle mayo.

Ben's cuban torta from Manny's Tortas

While Manny’s Tortas is comparable to fast food in the sense that you just order at a register, pick up your food, and then eat in the common area, there isn’t a whole lot of depth to the service, but I will say that they were very friendly and were happy to explain what a torta is to me. There is another location on Lake St. at Bloomington Ave.

Because the locations aren’t convenient for me, I probably won’t be having another torta anytime soon, but certainly not for lack of quality, highly recommended.

Service: Friendly, knowledgeable employees.
Food: Delicious tortas, and not much else on the menu. They know what they’re good at.
Drinks: Soda, water, coffee, hot chocolate. They do have Mexican sodas though, which implies sugar as opposed to corn syrup.
Ambiance: Hard to gauge since we were at a larger venue. Midtown Global Market has a great ambiance on a Saturday morning though. Very low key and friendly.
Convenience: Plenty of buses on Lake St. and they have a parking ramp across the street that they will validate parking for if you buy something.

Erin's Review
As I explain more in this post, I'm involved in a photo group of sorts with a few coworkers. We've been lamenting the lack of color and warmth for photographic opportunities lately, so we decided to head to Midtown Global Market in an attempt to beat the blahs of January. There are quite a few different eateries in the market - some places that are more like grocery stores, and others that have take-out. They apparently have live music quite often, have a program called "Wee Wednesdays" for kids on Wednesday mornings, as well as many other events. They also DO in fact have high chairs in their main seating area - I saw at least 8 or so. We weren't sure of this before leaving, so in case anyone is wondering... yes. They have them.

Mom and Annie at Midtown Global Market

I had never been to Midtown Global Market at all before, so I was quite excited to check it out. It really is a cool spot, especially in the dead of winter. We got there right at 10 and just walked around taking photos for awhile. There were so many food options that it was hard to decide what to go with - but I knew I wanted to share my food with Annie so that limited me slightly. Although she'll eat pretty much anything at this point, it at least needed to be something she could eat without TOO much of a mess. While I was deciding, I did pick up an iced Vietnamese coffee from Pham's Deli which hit the spot. We have made hot Vietnamese coffee at home before, and I love it.

Vietnamese Coffee from Pham's Deli at Midtown Global Market

There were a few signs around the building saying that City Pages had given a few of the eateries awards in their "Best of" issue - one of them was Taqueria Los Ocampo, for Best Mexican - that was good enough for me! I went there, and chose a chicken quesadilla, which came with beans and rice. I'm pretty sure I was one of the first people ordering of the day (it was around 11am at that point), so they prepared my order quickly. The quesadilla came with lettuce, cheese, sour cream and chicken in the inside of the tortilla. I would have preferred more cheese, but overall it was great. The two salsas that came with the dish were both too spicy for my taste, but I'm not a fan of spicy food at all, so that's no shock. Overall the food was solid - I'd go there again if I was in the mood for Mexican food, but it's nothing I'm dying to go back for - I'd much rather try other things at Midtown Global Market first. Annie loved it, no surprise there!

Taqueria Los Ocampos

Mom and Annie's meal at Midtown Global Market

Annie was a fan

As soon as I saw Salty Tart Bakery, I knew I'd be having a treat of some kind after lunch, so I had been looking forward to that the whole time. Lunch was really just a means for me to get to dessert anyway. I chose a Passionfruit Cupcake and it did not disappoint - the cake was soft and light, and there was a passionfruit filling that was delicious. It was topped with some kind of vanilla frosting with flecks of vanilla bean in it. I liked the frosting, but it didn't adhere to the cake very well, and came off in kind of a chunk a few times. Certainly nothing that bothered me too much.

Salty Tart Bakery Midtown Global Market

Passion fruit cupcake from Salty Tart at Midtown Global Market

Passion fruit cupcake from Salty Tart at Midtown Global Market

I loved our outing to Midtown Global Market - if we ever have a free weekend morning again this winter, I'd definitely return!

Lake St & 10th Ave

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mickey's Diner

Visited on Thursday, December 23rd

Outside Mickey's Diner

Erin's Review
Looking at our post counts for last year was pretty sad - only 13 reviews posted this year! (14 if you count this one, which is a bit late) Hopefully we can beat that number this year - shouldn't be TOO tough!

Continuing with the tradition that I formed last year, we went out to breakfast on my birthday. Which reminds me that I really do want to go to Citizen Cafe again - that place was very good! Perusing the options on our list leaves a bit to be desired, especially on a weekday - there aren't too many places left on our list that fit that bill, so we decided to go to Mickey's Diner, thinking that it might not be as busy on a holiday weekday morning, and we were correct. Obviously, since it was on our list, neither of us had ever been there, and it seems like one of those places everyone should go once.

One stipulation of our visit there was that we have a booth, so we could use Annie's chair - not sure if they have high chairs (we didn't check), but eating at the counter with a squirmy 11-month old would NOT have been pleasant. Luckily one was open when we walked in, as it wasn't busy at all. One customer remarked to the waitress while we were there "So, it's pretty busy, huh?" and the waitress looked at her like she had 10 heads and said "Um, no, it's completely dead, actually."

Annie eating

I was kind of flustered with preparing Annie's food, trying to find something on the menu that Annie could eat, and actually figuring out what I wanted myself - I went with blueberry pancakes, eggs and sausage, since there were at least some blueberries to resemble something healthy for Annie. We had brought a banana and cheerios for her too, so it wasn't like she needed anything really.

2 blueberry pancakes, 2 eggs, 2 sausage

I thought the food was fine - it was typical diner food, nothing more and nothing less. It filled me up and came out quickly, so that was nice. I actually almost forgot to even take a picture of our meals since for some reason I felt rushed. I'm glad we tried it out, but it's not somewhere I'm too anxious to try again.

Ben's Review
Erin wanted to go out to breakfast for her birthday and settled on Mickey’s Diner in downtown Saint Paul. Mickey’s Diner was made famous in the movie ‘The Mighty Ducks’ when a player on the southwest Minneapolis hockey team, Charlie, somehow lived in downtown Saint Paul even though the whole plot hinged on a district line being violated by another player. I digress.

Inside Mickey's Diner

We got to Mickey’s around 8:30 on a Thursday, not knowing what to expect for traffic levels. Luckily there was one of the three booths available at the end of the dining car so we could set up Annie in her little seat. There is a 30 minute limit in the booths, so it’s not the kind of place where you linger after you eat, and the staff certainly didn’t make us feel welcome anyways, so that was no big deal. I’m sure the 30 minute limit exists because Mickey’s is a 24/7/365 diner and they probably don’t want people sitting around all night. I doubt they have wifi, so I don’t know what you’d do anyways.

2 pancakes, 2 eggs, 2 bacons

I ordered ‘The Two’s’ (sic) which consists of two cakes, two sausage/bacon, and two eggs. I got my eggs over easy which was a mistake. The pancakes were good and they come with real butter, and my sausage patties were also tasty. The eggs were certainly over easy, as they were runny as hell, I’m not even sure the whites were done yet. This was a mistake on my part, no fault to the diner, but it made for a yolky mess on my plate.


Even though I didn’t feel entirely welcome here, the coffee was passable and our server definitely kept our cups full, better than any other place I’ve been to, in fact. Even still, you won’t find me back at Mickey’s anytime soon. There are just too many other good breakfast places around that have better food and are more convenient.

Outside Mickey's Diner

Service: Meh. Didn’t feel welcomed by the staff, until it was time to leave.
Food: The food was good, but marred by my extra runny eggs. Next time I will stick to just a short stack of pancakes.
Drinks: Decent coffee and they keep your cup warm.
Ambiance: I’m sure this varies but it was pretty quiet when we were there. Not too busy at all.
Convenience: They actually have a small parking lot, but Mickey’s is located on 7th street in downtown, so there is also bus service.

Outside Mickey's Diner

36 West 7th Street
St. Paul