Thursday, May 19, 2011

Grand Cafe

Visited on Sunday, May 8th

Outside Grand Cafe

Erin's Review
Whenever I hear Grand Cafe, I get confused and think that it's in St. Paul. When Ben initially suggested it for Mother's Day brunch, I wasn't too excited, but once I looked at their website and menu I definitely realized the error of my ways on both counts.

We got there a little late for our reservation, since Ben had spent the night at a friend's house the previous night and we were a little slow to get ready that morning. It was definitely packed when we got there, so a reservation was key. I think that Grand Cafe actually looks much more casual than it would appear on their website. It's certainly a cute little place, but for brunch and lunch at least is quite casual. Most people were a little dressed up since it was a special occasion, but nothing crazy. (Ha - clearly not everyone since the dude in the middle of the photo is just in a white undershirt)

Inside Grand Cafe

Annie and another toddler gazing at each other
Annie and this little girl stared at each other for the majority of the meal
They had eggs benedict, so I knew what I was getting right off the bat. There was actually a special menu, but I saw people with items that weren't on the menu, like blueberry pancakes, so it seems they were offering the normal menu as well. There is no kids menu, so when Ben chose the Huevos Rancheros, I figured Annie could just have some of that. I also wanted something sweet, so asked about the pastries of the day. They had a lemon poppyseed scone that was good enough for me - not what I would have chosen if I had all the options in the world, but did the trick. We ordered coffee right away, I loved the cute presentation of the cream and sugar.


My scone wasn't that great - I've made much much better at home. The best scone I've ever had outside of my kitchen is still the cinnamon scone at Cafe Patteen in downtown Minneapolis. I need to make the trek back over there soon. I'm sure, like most things, it would have been delicious right out of the oven, but it was a bit dry and dense for my tastes. I still ate it up, offering a few bites to Annie who enjoyed it as well.

Lemon Poppyseed Scone

I ended up being swayed from the ham to the housemade gravlax (salmon) for my benedict. I was so glad I got that - DELICIOUS. I loved the combination of the salty fish, rich hollandaise, and asparagus. The egg was the most perfectly poached egg I've had since the eggs benedict at Barbette, and might tie for my favorite eggs benedict I've ever had. Seeing as I have it as often as possible, that is very high praise! I didn't even eat many of the potatoes since I wanted to save my appetite for the eggs, but Annie seemed to like them.

Eggs Benedict with salmon

Perfectly poached egg

Grand Cafe does have high chairs, but isn't a place I would label as kid friendly due to their lack of kids menu - they might be willing to make something, but since they don't offer it, I'm guessing they don't really want the little ones around too much. Oh yeah, and the bathroom was so huge I just had to take a photo there too, since I conveniently had my camera around my neck.

Huge bathroom

I'd definitely like to return to see what this place is like for dinner.

Ben's Review
Erin helpfully gave me a list of places that I, should maybe, consider for Mother’s Day brunch. Looking over the list I tried Grand Cafe first, hoping that they would still have reservations available ten days prior. I never know how early these things fill up, but apparently ten days is plenty of time at Grand Cafe because we got it right at the time I wanted, 10am, for two adults and a toddler.

I was at a friend’s going away party the night before, so I had to hustle home around 8am after crashing on Jake and Allison’s front porch. Not much Sunday morning traffic so I got home with time to clean up and get ready to go. We got a bit of a late start on the drive, so I called and said we’d be a few minutes late, and they seemed very appreciative.

We rolled up right at 10:05 and I dropped Erin off at the door so she could claim our table while I parked. The on-street parking was full in this area of south Minneapolis, but I managed to find a spot about a block away. I walked in and found Erin already at our table, a booth on the north side of the restaurant.

I think the booths are slightly raised, or the seats are just close to the table, because I felt very tall sitting there, as if I could see over everyone else. There was a large table in the middle of the room that looked like it would fit in a residential dining room. They had sat two separate parties of two at each end of the table. You would think that it would be awkward to share a large table with another couple, but they managed to pull this off very nicely, and I normally hate restaurants that squeeze the tables in, but this seemed to protect both couples’ privacy better for some reason.

Inside Grand Cafe

The breakfast menu at Grand Cafe is not huge but they seem to have all of the bases covered. After a bit of indecision I was convinced by the pork confit to try the huevoes rancheros, which always brings to mind a big, sloppy mess on the plate. Surprisingly, Grand Cafe makes them not so messy, and absolutely delicious. The tortilla on the bottom of the plate soaked up the mess from the beans, pork, eggs, and the homemade mole to perfection. This was easily the best huevoes rancheros I’ve ever had, and rivals the breakfast burrito at Longfellow Grill for my favorite breakfast.


I wasn’t getting much of a warm fuzzy from the service; there wasn’t anything bad about it, just didn’t feel too welcomed. I was also surprised at how it wasn’t crazy busy for Mother’s Day as I had assumed it would be, it was a nice surprise though.

We got out of there and had time for a windy walk around Lake Harriet, reminiscing about our walk last year when Annie was a little smaller (same hooded sweatshirt for me though!)

Service: Eh, we were taken care of, but I didn’t feel terribly welcome..
Food: Awesome huevoes rancheros
Drinks: The coffee was good and they were nearly militant about making sure your cup was full.
Ambiance: It was a good level of noise from the friendly breakfast crowd.
Convenience: I find this area of Minneapolis to be annoying to get to, as it’s not convenient from any freeway. Once you’re there it’s not bad.

3804 Grand Ave S

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen

Visited on Friday, May 6th

Outside Wondrous Kitchen

Ben's Review
I “surprised” Erin last Friday by meeting her at her office and taking her out to lunch. (She found out about it that morning, which wasn’t a huge deal). I knew she had been wanting to get sushi, so I planned on trying the new-ish Wondrous Azian Kitchen on Hennepin.

Not knowing anything about the place, I made reservations. Not necessary at all for lunch. The restaurant is large and nearly empty at noon. We were seated in the bar area that has full length windows facing Hennepin. They also have a separate dining room so they can hold a significant number of people if need be.

Inside Wondrous Kitchen

It was nice out that day (a rarity this spring) so the windows by our table were partially open, which I liked. We were quickly asked for drink orders and if we had any questions about the menu. I assumed we’d be getting some sushi to split but Erin decided to get a bento box for herself, leaving me with a wide array of options from the menu.

Inside Wondrous Kitchen

I like sushi just fine, but I love me some Pad Thai, which they of course had on the menu. I asked about heat levels and was told that the Pad Thai comes with a three out of five spice by default, which was fine with me.

The wait for our food seemed long, but maybe sushi takes longer? Anyways, our food looked great and the lunch portion of my Pad Thai was easily enough for a second meal, which makes the $10 price tag even that much better. I recall the heat level not really being what I would call a three. To me, I should be able to taste the heat at three, but this was pretty weak. Not sure what they would do for a two or one. They do have sriracha at all the tables, which is nice. (I nearly stole ours because it was the big bottle and unopened.)


Egg Drop soup
(Editor's note: It seems Ben forgot he had soup)

Aside from the spice not being where I anticipated the Pad Thai was very good. I always marvel at how Asian restaurants can get the noodles done so well, I can never replicate that at home. The chicken, sauce, and noodles were great, but as I look at the picture now, it appears that it didn’t have basil, which I thought was a Pad Thai standard ingredient.

Pad Thai

Wondrous Azian Kitchen was great for a lunch date, and not too expensive when you factor in the leftovers. The bar is huge and well stocked, it would be a fun place to bring a larger group of people downtown (if we ever did that anymore, haha............sigh).

Service: Good service, exactly what was expected.
Food: Great Pad Thai, though not as spicy as I was expecting
Drinks: Being lunch on a workday I didn’t have a cocktail, but they do have a huge bar that has everything you could want.
Ambiance: Hard to tell because it was so empty, but I can see this place cranking the music at night and opening the windows to the Hennepin Ave crowd.
Convenience: Not terribly convenient for parking, but plenty of bus and bike options.

Erin's Review
The Friday before Mother's Day, one of my co-worker's was sick. She had a presentation at noon that I offered to take for her, but my other coworker Jen told me I couldn't. I also wasn't allowed to ask why, and couldn't make any other plans after 11:30am. Reallll stealth, Jen! Ben has surprised me at work before, so as soon as this turn of events happened, I pretty much knew what was up, just wasn't sure of the details. He showed up at 11:30, and told me we were heading out for lunch - pretty sweet guy! After I got over my initial disappointment of him not having Annie with him, as he had the last time he surprised me, I enjoyed our surprise lunchtime date.

It was a beautiful day outside, so Ben offered me the opportunity to switch up the location to a place that had a patio. I'm glad I chose to stick with Wondrous Kitchen as they had their large windows open to Hennepin Avenue, which made it feel almost patio like. We both really enjoyed Azia when we went to a blogger event there, so I figured Wondrous Kitchen would be pretty similar.

After perusing the menu, I decided not to get sushi for Ben and I to split because of the pretty high cost of the rolls I wanted to order. I was glad to see a Maki Bento option on the lunch menu because I really wanted rolls, and most sushi lunch specials feature nigiri (plain fish and rice). I ordered that, as well as my new favorite beverage of cranberry juice and sprite.

Cranberry Juice/sprite

Our soups came out pretty quickly - I had gotten the miso soup, and it was FULL of seaweed and tofu, unlike most places which have a few lone tofu cubes and not much seaweed at all. It was a bit much for my tastes, I almost prefer the more sparse miso soups that I've had elsewhere, but was still certainly tasty.

Miso Soup

When our main dishes arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by how much sushi there was. It was almost too much for me, which rarely happens with sushi! I was a little disappointed with the presentation - when I see the word "bento" in the description, I do expect something a bit more elaborate. Oh well, I got over it. I love sushi, quite a bit, and typically order rolls like caterpillar, dynamite and other specialty rolls. I think one common characteristic of those rolls is some type of delicious sauce, cream cheese or spicy mayo - these rolls were pretty bland in comparison. I did really like the spicy tuna but the other two were a little blah. I was able to jazz them up with some wasabi, but it was a poor substitute for the type of sushi I typically enjoy. This was my own fault - I knew what I was getting, and just didn't want to pay that much for the more involved rolls. Again - oh well.

Maki Bento Lunch

The ambiance at Wondrous Kitchen was a little blah over lunch, just because it was practically empty (as are most places outside the "skyway belt") but I can see it being hopping and really fun late at night. Anyone been here at night that can comment? The decor was minimalist but had some nice touches. I really liked the bar with the huge windows facing Hennepin - it would definitely make for some good people watching.

Inside Wondrous Kitchen

I hope Wondrous Kitchen can make it in this location that does seem to be a bit cursed. The choice of a long and kind of confusing name probably wasn't a good one, but hopefully it won't hurt them. "Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen" just doesn't roll off the tongue very easily, and I'm pretty sure if you were going to pick a place randomly to text a friend to meet you at, you'd pick one with a lot fewer letters. Maybe that's just me speaking as a lazy texter, who knows. Anyway, we both liked it and I'd be interested to come back and see what it's like when downtown is hopping.

Outside Wondrous Kitchen

Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen
533 Hennepin Ave S

Sunday, May 1, 2011

the Bad Waitress

Visited on Saturday, April 23 with Rebekah, Rett and Adelaide

the Bad Waitress

Erin's Review
When Rebekah told me that Annie was playing at the Children's Theater, I knew we had to make a family trip to see it! For some reason I thought the theater was in downtown St. Paul near the Children's Museum, so when we went to make firm plans of where to get brunch, I found I was mistaken. There aren't a whole lot of brunch places really near the Children's Theater and Minneapolis Institute of Arts, so the Bad Waitress was pretty much the obvious choice. The show was at 11, so we figured we were giving ourselves plenty of time with a 9:30 reservation.

the Bad Waitress

We all arrived promptly at 9:30 and were taken back to a large, oddly shaped booth in the back. We mulled over the menus and then wrote our orders on a pad, and sent Rett and Ben over to do the business. Finally, after what seemed like a ridiculously long wait, we got our coffee. Most other places get it to you pretty much the second you sit down, which I much prefer. It took even longer to get our food, as Ben notes below, which since we had a show to get to, and two toddlers with us, was VERY annoying. The service concept at Bad Waitress certainly works fine at other places, like Birchwood Cafe and Be'wiched, but on this trip, I felt like they were deliberately making us wait longer than every other table there for some reason. With no set server, no one has any level of accountability either. No one apologized or even seemed to notice that we were waiting. Overall, the service was pretty horrible.

Annie and Adelaide at the Bad Waitress

Annie eventually got frustrated with the wait

The food finally came - I had ordered eggs benedict, which came with asparagus. It was actually very good, but I had to seriously wolf it down so we could leave in time to make the show, and also help Annie eat. The eggs were done a little more than I prefer, but still had a bit of runniness to them.

Eggs Benedict

The pancakes that Adelaide and Annie both got were ridiculous - larger than most adult pancakes and just seemed to be wasteful. I know they are on the younger end of the spectrum for kids meals, but even a grown adult doesn't need a pancake that large. They came with a few berries in the shape of a face and bear ears, which was definitely cute. Annie ate maybe 1/4 of the pancake there and all the berries, and I brought about 1/4 more along for a 2nd act snack during the play which was definitely needed. I also noticed the pancakes sitting at the window for at least 5 minutes, and they only got brought out when Rebekah finally asked about it. Very, very annoying. Every restaurant should know that you can bring out a children's meal as soon as it's ready.

Johnny bear cake

I actually really liked the food at Bad Waitress, and the service at other tables around us seemed to be much faster, so I'd still recommend it and just hope the service is better for you.

Ben's Review
Erin was unable to pass up the chance to go see the play “Annie” at the Children’s Theatre, so we arranged to go see it with Rett, Rebekah, and Adelaide, with plans to have brunch nearby at the Bad Waitress beforehand.

I had heard little about the Bad Waitress other than they don’t really wait on you. I like the ordering concept a lot; you fill out a short order ticket at your table from the menu, then walk it to the register where you place your order and pay. A food runner then brings your food out when it’s ready. I like that you can order at your own leisure, or as soon as you walk in the door if you know what you want.

The menu was varied with nearly every breakfast option you would want for brunch. We sorted out what we would have and got something for the little ones and headed up to order. I like that they have the option to order a carafe of coffee as opposed to individual cups, and carafe refills are only a buck.

I ended up with the breakfast burrito which is made to order with your choice of three ingredients in addition to a couple scrambled eggs. I got chorizo sausage, bacon, and cheddar cheese, but I turned out to be a horrible “short orderer”, as the cashier had to fix several of my entries on the slip. She seemed annoyed with my ignorance, but also appeared as though it was totally expected from a noob such as myself.

Breakfast burrito
We were so rushed I nearly forgot to take a photo

Rett and I ordered, paid, and went back to the table to wait for our food. We waited. And waited some more. Other tables that arrived after us got their food, ate, and left. We still didn’t get our food. We started to worry that we’d miss the start of the play if we didn’t get our food soon. Rebekah went to check on the status. We waited a little longer and it finally arrived, about fifty minutes after ordering. Luckily the girls were good natured the whole time. Annie and Adelaide did great too.

Annie at the Bad Waitress
Annie was quite patient up to a point

Waiting for the food at the Bad Waitress

While scarfing down my burrito I managed to take a second to taste what I was eating, and it tasted great. The burrito was pleasantly full of eggs, meat, and cheese, and it wasn’t all liquidy like my scrambled egg burritos are when I make them at home. The burrito came with a side of American fries which were good and tasted as if they had actually been made fresh.

Annie and Adelaide both had the largest single pancake I’ve ever seen, in the shape of Mickey Mouse, of course. It came with some berries which Annie made sure to enjoy before moving on to the actual pancake.

Adelaide and her Johnny Bear cake
For size comparison

Luckily since you pay when you order we could simply eat and run, and we made the play with plenty of time. One thing I find a little odd about the Bad Waitress is that there are reminders to tip your server. What is the etiquette in this situation? I tipped the same amount I would normally, but I felt like I shouldn’t have to. The level of service you get is, by design, less than traditional restaurants. Being that I won’t be here that often I didn’t mind this one time, but if I were to make regular visits, I think I would feel justified in reducing the tip percentage, what do you think?

the Bad Waitress

Service: The service was fine, the food took much longer than expected.
Food: The food was very good, so maybe the time it took was worth it :)
Drinks: I didn’t see any alcohol on the menu, so I think it’s limited to NA drinks. The coffee was good and they serve real half and half.
Ambiance: Typical busy brunch crowd, there was a good din to the place. It was difficult to have a conversation across our large table, so the sound carries quite a bit.
Convenience: Parking was OK on a Sunday morning, but this isn’t the easiest place to park, at 26th & Nicollet.

2 East 26th Street (at Nicollet)