Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Grecco's on the St. Croix

Visited on Saturday, January 7th


Notes from Erin:
When I decided on St. Croix River Inn as the location of our B&B weekend away, I started to be on the lookout for good restaurant options in that area. Only a few days later, a serendipitous LivingSocial deal to Grecco's on the St. Croix popped up in my inbox, so I felt it was fate. Kate assured me that it was a good pick, so I went ahead and bought it and am so glad I did because it was exactly the same as the normal tasting menu, just 50% off - really, can't beat that.

Inside Grecco's

I'm going to format this review in the same way I did for our tasting menu at La Belle Vie - unfortunately I have no details of this tasting menu since I forgot to ask them to write everything down. It seemed that the items we got were not nearly as inventive or unique as La Belle Vie, but the idea is the same as in any tasting menu.

The one overall note I'll make is that the service was odd to me - Ben says he thinks it was great, but I disagree - it seems when you have so many people waiting on you, no one takes any ownership. The courses were also really oddly spaced - there were several times we were sitting there for nearly 20-30 minutes in between courses. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy a leisurely 3 hour meal, of course, but some consistency would have been nice because other courses came out on top of each other. There were also a few times where it was hard to find a server, or water took awhile to come out - I just prefer to have one go-to person at a restaurant versus being waited on by seemingly everyone working.

Forks for all our courses

Notes from Ben:
As part of our weekend at the bed and breakfast in Osceola, Erin had bought a Living Social deal to Grecco’s in St. Croix Falls, about 10 miles away. The deal was a buy-one-get-one deal on their six course chef’s menu, a value of $70, not bad!

We had reservations at 7pm and arrived right on time and were seated immediately. Grecco’s is deceptively large, with several different rooms as you go further back. It looked like there was bar seating in the very back room, but I never went back further to inspect. I liked the separate rooms, each had their own decor and their own vibe. We were seated at the second room in, adjacent to the wine bar in front. It took a little while for our server to stop by, but after that the service was excellent.

Inside Grecco's

We did get some bread quickly, thankfully, because I was starving by that point. I noticed that they had a wine pairing that you could add to the meal for an extra $25. Since we had already paid for our dinners several months ago, I had no problem adding that in, and told Erin “you’re driving home” :).

Bread and butter

The server seemed to time the wine a little off from the food. Sometimes I would get the next wine several minutes before the food arrived, and once or twice the food would come out and the wine a few minutes later. It kept me on my toes a bit as I would sometimes get another glass of wine before I had finished the last course. These were full glasses of wine too, so it was definitely worth the $25 in my mind.

Wine #1 - white zin

Course 1 - Spinach salad

Ben: We started off with a spinach salad that was paired with a white zinfandel. I prefer red wines over white and blush wines, but this wine was still good and very cold. The salad was good as well, it came with onions and a red (raspberry?) vinaigrette dressing.

Erin: I thought this salad was nothing special. There was way too much dressing. It seems I'm getting far pickier about the quality of my salads lately. Anyway, I ate it all and it was FINE, I guess, but seemed like an odd choice for a tasting menu.

Wine 2 - Pinot Grigo?

Course 2 - Pasta w/ truffles, mushrooms and feta cheese

Ben: The next course was pasta with truffles, mushrooms, and feta cheese paired with a pinot grigio. The pasta was excellent, I could have eaten an entire meal of it. Again, the wine was good and seemed to work well with the pasta, but me not being a wine buff, I just have to go with what they tell me.

Erin: LOVED this pasta - since everything was taking forever, and all I'd had was a little piece of bread and the salad, I devoured this very quickly. Perfectly creamy and flavorful.

Wine 3 - Sauvignon Blanc?

Course 3 - White fish with rice

Ben: The third course was whitefish over rice paired with a sauvignon blanc. The fish was generously seasoned and delicious. The rice was plain, but with all the flavor from the fish they worked well together.

Erin: The fish was fairly good - I didn't finish it because the dish overall was kind of bland and I wanted to save myself for future courses that might be better. Turned out to be a good decision!

Wine 4 - Ben doesn't remember the name

Seared duck over wild rice

Ben: On the fourth course I finally got a red wine, though I do not recall what kind it was. It was served with seared duck and wild rice. Again, both the food and the wine were fantastic. The serving sizes thus far were also small so while we were having a variety of food and several courses, at no point did I feel painfully full, which was nice.

Erin: The duck was delicious - it was cooked perfectly and was well seasoned. The wild rice I was a little less jazzed about, it was a little too al dente for my tastes. It was fine though, and I think I finished most of it.

Beef tenderloin over truffle mashed potatoes

(Forgot to take a photo of the wine - imagine a glass of red wine here)

Ben: Next up was beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes and another red wine. I love that there were three meat courses all in a row, yum! The steak was excellent as were the mashed potatoes, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with this, in my book.

Erin: This was probably my favorite course - surprising since I'm not normally a beef person, but I AM a mashed potato person. These mashed potatoes were so good - very rich and creamy.

Wine 6 - something I don't remember

Coconut Pound Cake with Blackberry

Ben: I had seen a tres leches cake on the dessert menu, but since we were having a chef’s tasting menu, I was worried that I wouldn’t have any dessert options. I asked our server before the dessert was served if the tres leches cake was available, and she said “yes, I think that’s what they’ve been serving”, so I got very excited.

Then, without another word to us, she brought out the coconut pound cake with a blackberry sauce. Now, this cake was fine, though I’m not much of a dessert person in the first place, but you’d think after I specifically asked for a different dessert, she would have at least mentioned that it wasn’t available. Seriously, I LOVE tres leches cake. Love it. I was sad. And my emotions were running high after six full size glasses of wine.

There were no tears shed and we enjoyed our dessert and the rest of our time at Grecco’s. Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner that lasted around three hours. Even if we didn’t have a Living Social deal, I would consider doing this again just because it’s rare that you get a dinner experience that lasts that long, it was a lot of fun. If you’re ever looking for a day trip with a long dinner, I definitely recommend the tasting menu at Grecco’s.


Erin: The dessert course was the most... eventful, shall we say. I decided I wanted a decaf coffee with the cake - mostly because I too had been hoping for the chocolate tres leches cake I kept hearing about, so I figured the coffee would make the pound cake a bit more interesting. It took me awhile to find someone to actually order from - and when I did, the bartender brought it out and made some completely strange comment to me after pouring cream into my coffee, saying "Soon you'll be seeing someone else doing this!" and then awkwardly coming back a few seconds later and saying "I meant your child!" Ohh, pregnancy comments. They really are something else. Oh, and the cake was just fine. Nothing great, but it satisfied my need for something sweet. Pretty sure I also had a few cookies when we got back to the B&B as well...

I'm not sure I would have wanted to pay full price for the tasting menu, but for 50% off, it was certainly worth it. The food was all on the range of pretty good to delicious, and it was a really fun experience - it had been probably since our meal at La Belle Vie that we were able to spend that long just enjoying our food and each other's company - overall a great evening!

Inside Grecco's

Ben's ratings:
Service: The service was great and we were waited on by three or four different servers.
Food: Excellent food. Fresh and hot.
Drinks: Since I got the wine pairing I didn’t look into the drink situation much. I believe they have a full bar in the back, not sure what the beer list looks like.
Ambiance: A little subdued when we were there on a Saturday night. Mostly older adults.
Convenience: Again, a little far from the cities.

Grecco's on the St. Croix (website not functioning - here is the yelp page)
115 N Washington Ave
St. Croix Falls, WI

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tangled Up In Blue

Visited on Friday, January 6th

Tangled up in Blue

Ben's Review
Erin and I planned a weekend away before baby #2 arrives, so last weekend we were off to a bed and breakfast in Osceola.

We already had plans for dinner on Saturday night (in the next post), so for Friday night we did some searching around and eventually settled on Tangled Up in Blue Restaurant in Taylors Falls.

A few people had mentioned to us that the decor was............eccentric. As we pulled into the parking lot we were prepared for the worst. Maybe we had oversold the decor in our minds, because while it was a little much, it certainly wasn’t the most awful thing in the world. (Just for an example of the decor, we were seated “at the table under the two sconces”).

Tangled up in Blue

The restaurant is rather small and is handled, seemingly, by one server with help from the cooks, so it took a few minutes for us to get water and drink orders. The bottled beer list is rather small and I started with a Samuel Adams.

We were both starving when we had arrived so we quickly ordered the crab cake appetizer while we decided on our entrees. Several of the entrees choices sounded good, but I was sold on the beef Wellington as I had just seen a friend of mine having some leftovers at lunch, and was intrigued.

Crab Cakes

Our crab cakes came our after we had ordered and they were piping hot and delicious, served with some greens and tartar sauce. We devoured them quickly due to our hunger. I don’t know if I was influenced by how hungry I was, but they were some of the best crab cakes I’ve ever had.

My beef Wellington came out awhile later, reinforcing that it was probably freshly made. I ordered a Fat Tire to go along with the steak. The steak came with sides of asparagus and au gratin style potatoes. As an aside, for some reason asparagus is the vegetable that I always notice being served ridiculously out of season. It’s winter and there’s no way that asparagus was grown anywhere near Taylors Falls. It’s ok to use seasonal vegetables, people shouldn’t expect asparagus in the winter.

Beef Wellington

The beef Wellington was excellent, as I had imagined it would be. It seemed a little different than the example I had seen a few weeks ago, but it was awesome nonetheless. The mix of the flaky pastry with the steak was delicious and everything was hot and fresh.

Beef Wellington

Erin was scanning the dessert menu as we finished, but decided instead to grab some ice cream on the way back to our bed and breakfast (and some whiskey for me, thanks Wisconsin gas stations!) and enjoy our lovely suite.

Service: The service was very casual and friendly, almost like you were a guest in their home.
Food: The food was fantastic.
Drinks: Decent wine list, but very small (four, I think) beer list. No cocktails.
Ambiance: Small, cozy restaurant, but it wasn’t close to full when we were there.
Convenience: A bit of a drive from the city. I don’t think Metro Transit makes it out there.

Signing the check

Erin's Review
After telling a few friends that we were headed to the St. Croix Falls to stay at a B&B for the weekend, we got a few recommendations for Tangled Up In Blue... but were warned about the decor (I also was particularly fond of the URL). I'm really not sure what I expected, but I think it was along the lines of scarves hanging from the ceilings, lots of mirrors, maybe some bells hanging from the chairs. Something completely over the top, that's for sure. What we happened upon was tame by comparison, but I guess could still seem to be a bit much, especially considering the glitter on the table. To those friends who recommended the place - was the decor "worse" when you went?

Tangled up in Blue

Tangled up in Blue

We actually were originally going to try out a pizza place in Dresser, but as we approached, it was super bright with about 100 small children running about inside. Not something we wanted to see after leaving our still a little sick (first ear infection - great timing!) Annie with the grandparents. I'm definitely glad we went the extra few miles to go to Tangled Up In Blue - the atmosphere was much better suited to what we wanted our weekend to be - quiet and calm.

Because, as Ben mentioned, we were absolutely starving by this point, we quickly ordered an appetizer. I ate a bit less than half because I wanted to save some room in my limited stomach area for my main dish - I decided to get just soup and salad and to try some of Ben's beef wellington, mostly because he was concerned about the cost of the meal. I was battling a cold and couldn't taste much anyway so didn't want to waste a ton of money on a huge entree I wouldn't be able to taste or eat all of anyway.

I had the house salad and a tomato soup. I liked the soup, but I swear there was some mention of pasta being in the soup on the menu (which isn't updated on the website) - tortellini or something, but that was nowhere to be found in the soup. It had chunks of green pepper and tomato in it, and was very creamy... but no pasta. Oh well, it was good, and soup is easy to eat when you're stuffed up so it hit the spot.

Tomato soup with green peppers

The salad was pretty meh - there wasn't quite enough dressing and the chunks of blue cheese were not flavorful at all, and I felt there should have been more cheese overall.

House salad

I did look at the dessert options, but was glad I passed on them to just enjoy some ice cream by the fireplace at our B&B - it gave me some time to actually want to eat again too. Tangled Up In Blue is definitely a good option in this area - although I liked our next meal more (Grecco's) - but if you are looking for 2 nicer dinners for a weekend trip, these 2 seem like the best choices in the area. I noticed they won some award "restaurant worth the drive" several years ago, and that might be a BIT of a stretch since there are far better restaurants in the Twin Cities, but if you are already in or near Taylor's Falls - it's a great option.


Tangled Up In Blue
425 Bench Street
Taylor's Falls, MN

Monday, January 9, 2012

La Chaya Bistro

Visited on Saturday, December 31st with Nate & Molly

Outside La Chaya Bistro

Erin's Review
Because Ben's parents had asked to take all the grandkids each New Year's Eve, we figured we were pretty much obligated to find SOMETHING to do. 98% of our friends are either pregnant and/or have small children, so the pickings were slim. We have both been burned by special "holiday" menus at restaurants before that are mostly a waste of money and not very good, so I set out to find a place on our list that was just serving their normal menu and either did not take reservations at all, or still had openings. Ben apparently did not know this, after reading his review, but I purposely picked places further away in Minneapolis since I knew we'd have freedom from rush hour and the toddler.

After driving through what was a rainstorm at the time, we got there right on time - all the spots in the parking lot were filled, but we found one on the street very close. The restaurant was completely full when we got there, so I guess it was a good thing we made reservations. I didn't think it would be that full since there were still several openings when I'd checked about a week previously.

Inside La Chaya Bistro

After the men ordered their beers, we decided on a few appetizers. Molly picked something with mushrooms, and we also got calamari. I normally am not a fan of mushrooms, but I actually really liked the appetizer. I guess they are "oyster mushrooms, sauteed in garlic and chili served with grilled bread", according to the menu - I liked that they weren't HUGE chunks of mushrooms, and they were grilled such that the mushrooms had a nice texture to them. I also liked the calamari - the tomato sauce they came with was a nice change, and they weren't overly breaded or too chewy at all.


For my entree, I chose to get the pasta special, which was their standard seafood pasta with lobster. It was served in a white wine sauce with spinach and tomatoes. I liked how light this dish was - I didn't feel disgustingly full when done with it, and the sauce was very flavorful but didn't overwhelm the lobster. I did have enough leftover for a small lunch, and it reheated well.

Lobster pasta in a white wine sauce

I purposely saved room for dessert, but wasn't too thrilled with the options. I went with a key lime pie, but it was a bit TOO tart for my liking. I honestly don't even think I finished the whole thing. Molly got the apple crisp and that seemed like a much better option. I also got a decaf Mexican mocha which was quite good, but not sweet enough for me - adding a few sugars made it perfect. I guess my sweet tooth has gotten a bit out of control lately :)

Mexican Mocha

Key Lime Coconut Torte

La Chaya Bistro was a great pick for this evening - I'm glad we finally tried it, as the food was delicious. The ambiance is a bit generic, but the food makes up for it. It was a fun night out actually enjoying some leisurely kid free conversation with Nate & Molly for once!

Ben's Review
My parents want to start a tradition of taking all the grandkids on New Years Eve, a total of three kids this year. We took advantage of the night off and went to La Chaya Bistro in south Minneapolis with our neighbors.

Randomly, we ended up just a few blocks from our last review spot, Sunstreet Breads, which is odd for us since I feel like we don’t make it over to south Minneapolis that often. We had reservations for 7pm and arrived right on time. Nate and Molly had gotten there a few minutes earlier and already were at the table. La Chaya Bistro is a very small restaurant with the tables close together and “cozy”, so we were elbow to elbow with our neighboring tables. Luckily being the table of four, we got to be the “loud” ones and all the couples just had to deal with us :) The place was completely full of NYE diners and everyone seemed to be a in good mood having a great time.


The beer list at La Chaya Bistro is not huge, but they did have Fulton’s IPA in bottles, which I had been wanting to try. Nate got some sort of peppery concoction with Corona and a salted rim that he seemed to like. The wine list looks more promising if wine is your thing.

Spicy beer or something

Ben's beer

We ordered calamari for an appetizer while we enjoyed the company of adults without any children around. Erin remarked afterwards that she had no idea the last time we ate dinner with Nate and Molly without both of our kids around. I bet it’s been well over a year. The calamari was good, being that it’s pretty tough to screw that up. There was also plenty for the four of us.


I was tempted to get the special that night, an eight ounce pork tenderloin with brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes. Nate ended up getting it and let me try a bite and it was fantastic. I ended up ordering the chipotle sea bass with mashed potatoes and spinach.

Our food took awhile to arrive, but we were fine with the wait as nobody was in a rush. When our food came out it was immediately clear that it was all freshly prepared. The food was still steaming and the plates weren’t hot. I feel like a hot plate is a sure sign that it has been sitting under heat lamps for awhile :) My sea bass was one of the best meals I ate all year. It was absolutely delicious. The sea bass came with a sort of oily pesto on top that gave it a fresh flavor in addition to the chipotle, it was amazing.

Chipotle Sea Bass

Not being a dessert fan I deferred to Erin and she got the key lime coconut torte and let me try a bite. It was good, but I was already too full from my sea bass to really care. I say give me a good piece of meat over sweets any day of the week.

If you’re looking for a nice meal out, I highly recommend La Chaya Bistro, it is fantastic and well worth the money.

Service: Excellent service. Our server was knowledgeable about everything and friendly.
Food: Delicious and fresh, you won’t be disappointed.
Drinks: Good wine list, smallish beer list, but they did have Fulton and Summit.
Ambiance: It’s a tight fit, but everyone we encountered was in a good mood, so it was fun.
Convenience: They have a small parking lot and there is ample on-street parking.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sun Street Breads

Visited on Friday, December 23rd

Outside Sun Street Breads

Ben's Review
For Erin’s birthday she wanted to go out for breakfast, unsurprisingly, and decided on Sun Street Breads in south Minneapolis. Since I still had to work that day we headed over there relatively early and found an already busy bakery.

The entrance to Sun Street Breads is a little confusing if you haven’t been there before. First, there is a curtain that blocks a view of the restaurant from you so you don’t know if you need to queue up, wait to be seated, or grab a table. Secondly, since you can either order food to eat there or simply stop by for a loaf of bread to go, it’s unclear if you wait in the same line depending on what service you need.

It turns out that the line is for everyone, though I certainly could see a second line being useful for those people that are not eating in. Erin probably made a faux pas by going in and grabbing a table with Annie while I got in line to order for us, but with limited seating we didn’t really care :)

Long line at Sun Street Breads

Actually, another family came in after us with three kids and the dad took the kids to grab a table. Someone who was in line commented to him “Uh, I think you’re supposed to order before taking a table”, to which the dad replied, “Well, we’ve got three kids, so......I’m sorry if this inconveniences you.” I can see both sides of it, but still funny to overhear :)

Anyways, on to the food. We knew we’d be getting their breakfast biscuits, it was just a matter of what combination of meat, cheese, and eggs we’d be getting. In order to differ from Erin’s order I got ham with pepper jack cheese and a basted egg. I also got an americano to drink.

After ordering at the counter and getting a number for our table, we had a short wait and our drinks were brought out. The americano was better than I had expected for a place that focuses more on their bread than coffee. Our food also came out quickly while at the same time appeared to be freshly prepared. I happened to notice a bottle of sriracha sauce at the coffee station so I made sure to doctor up my sandwich a bit. The sandwich was fantastic, with the homemade biscuit being the highlight. Being that they have several combinations, and the prices are reasonable, I would for sure come back just to try several styles.

Basic Biscuit Plus with Basted egg, ham and pepper jack

In addition to having great food, the ambiance at Sun Street Breads is cool because the kitchen is in plain view so you can see their large scale baking operation at work. It’s interesting to compare the tools and methods they get to use compared to what I see Erin doing at home when she bakes. We picked up a loaf of sourdough for a family get together that was also delicious.

I had a great time at Sun Street Breads and will be back this spring, probably on Erin’s maternity leave for a sandwich and perhaps a walk around the lake :)

Service: The line was long, but it moves quickly. All the people I encountered were friendly and attentive.
Food: Excellent breakfast and fresh bread.
Drinks: They have beer and wine and the beer selection is small but diverse.
Ambiance: I liked the ambiance a lot on the weekday morning we were there. I was shocked how busy it was, but it was the start of a holiday weekend.
Convenience: They do have a shared parking lot with the strip mall they’re in, but I couldn’t find a spot there. Plenty of bus options on Nicollet as well.

Erin's Review
After asking a few people for recommendations for a good new breakfast spot, I decided on Sun Street Breads for my birthday breakfast. Since my birthday was on a Friday, and some places only serve brunch on weekends, my options were a bit limited. After getting this recommendation, I saw Sun Street in many "best new restaurants" lists, so I figured it must be a good choice!

Ben and I drove separately, so when I got there I immediately got one of the only tables left, bypassing the long line. I'm sure I angered a lot of people by doing this, but it turned out that tables turned over fairly quickly, so everyone got a spot without incident. Ben got inside shortly after me, I took Annie and we got settled at the table. It took probably 10-15 minutes or so for Ben to get to the front of the line and order - it was WAY more packed than I had anticipated for a Friday morning.


Once Ben finally joined us, he brought a scone for our "starter" - it was quite good, and was in a different style than most scones I've had. We all enjoyed it. Since Annie is not so skilled in eating biscuit sandwiches just yet, we got her granola with yogurt. When it came out, the pieces of granola were huge and pretty hard, so I took most of them out and gave her just the yogurt with some of the littler pieces of granola. I did try a few bites and it was very good - just not so easy for a nearly 2 year old to eat with the large very crunchy pieces.

Granola with yogurt

Annie eating yogurt

I got a pretty standard biscuit sandwich with fried egg, cheddar cheese, and sauce. It was absolutely delicious! I loved the sausage, and especially the biscuit. It filled me up for quite awhile too. There is nothing fancy at all about the food here, but it is very well prepared, and comes out with everything hot, including the biscuit, which is crucial. They have lunch and dinner too, and I'd really like to come back to try those meals as well.

Basic Biscuit Plus sandwich with fried egg, cheddar and sausage

As with all places in south Minneapolis, this is not convenient to us at all, however, if we have an open morning it's a fun outing, especially in the summer. Annie and I made the most of the trip by hitting up Heartfelt and Wild Rumpus in Linden Hills after breakfast when Ben went to work. Sun Street Breads is delicious and I'm glad we made it over there!

Sun Street Breads
4600 Nicollet Ave