Tag Archives: restaurant reviews

Eclectic, Engaging Food at Alma in Minneapolis

28 Feb

It isn’t everyday you get engaged. And it isn’t everyday you eat a meal like the one you can enjoy at Alma. Yep, Trusty and I are enfianced! During an incredible meal at Alma he asked the big question. Because of the wonderful occasion and because of the delicious food it was a truly memorable meal.

In one word: Wow.

Food: The food was fantastic. Alma’s menu changes every 6-8 weeks, to offer new dishes that flavorful seasonal ingredients. They specialize in three course tasting menus for $45 per person–not bad at all for a fine dining experience.

I started with a warm Celery Root Souffle ($14 a la carte). De-lic-ious! Great texture and flavors. I’ve never had anything like it.

My second course was out-of-this-world amazing–lobster gnocchi ($17 for a la carte). It was fantastically rich and sweet, with giant pieces of lobster and a delicious orange truffle butter sauce. If we can get Alma to cater our wedding (fingers crossed), this will be on the menu!

So buttery and sweet...

My third course was Pan Seared Scallops with caramelized onions and beets ($28 a la carte). The scallops were seared to perfection–tender and sweet and soft. MMMMMMMmmmmmmmm.

My Trusty Sidekick started with a Mozerella and Beet salad with fresh basil and a light balsamic glaze. It tasted as fresh as summer.

For his second course, he tried Glazed Beef Short Rib ravioli with fragrant and delicious fried sage leaves ($25 a la carte).

His third course was the 12 Hour Beef and Parsnips, a slow-cooked pot roast over parsnips and balsamic onions, with a carrot butter sauce ($28 a la carte). Suffice to say we were both stuffed after our third plate…

…but of course the evening called for dessert! So, we split a chocolate tarte ($8) with chocolate sorbet and yummy, homemade potato chips. It was an amazing combination of sweet and salty.

What a sweet end to the meal.

Drink: As soon as our waitress figured out Trusty had just proposed, the matre d’ graciously sent over two glasses of champagne during dinner, and two glasses of Pacific Rim Framboise, NV, Washington during dessert. I usually don’t like Framboise–it can be cloyingly sweet–but this vintage (if that is the appropriate term) was delicious. I also enjoyed a delicious glass of rosehip herbal tea called “Bliss” at the end of the meal.

Service: Our waitress was fantastic, and the entire staff was so warm and welcoming. Alma’s hospitality was memorable–we’ll be back soon to enjoy their service again.

Scene: Because we went during an epic snowstorm the restaurant was literally empty! Trusty had called ahead to ask if we could be seated in a back, quiet corner of the restaurant, and when we arrived the Maitre d’ somewhat comically led us through Alma’s front room, which was empty, through their back room, which was also empty, and seated us at the very back corner table. When our waitress came over she informed us that the chefs were cooking for us. What an incredible evening. 

The interior of Alma.

The interior of Alma.

Cost: Our meal came to a little under $150 with tax and tip.

If you like, try: Heartland in St. Paul, Naha in Chicago

Crab Cakes, Roasted Trout, and Skate on a Plate: Celebration Meal at the Mermaid Inn

30 Aug

My Trusty Sidekick got a job! Woohoo! It’s very, very exciting news–especially since we’re both broke grad students. To celebrate we went out to a delicious seafood meal at the Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side (there are two other locations in Greenwich Village and the East Village).

MI has great fish and a fantastic oyster bar (if you go before 7 pm, there are $1 oysters at the bar–can’t beat that). Their menu is modestly priced–expensive enough to be a really nice “Special Occasion” meal, but not ridiculous (after all, the job doesn’t start until he graduates next Spring).  That said, MI also has some great Daily Blue Plate Specials (good until 7 pm) as well as Nightly Specials (good after 7 pm) that make it much more accessible to the student budget. Bottom line–their delicious seafood is worth the splurge!

Location: 568 Amsterdam Avenue (between 87th and 88th), New York City

In one word: Seafood

Food: My Trusty Sidekick and I started off the meal by splitting Mermaid Inn’s Friday Night Special: Maryland Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Fennel Slaw ($22). It was amazing. Ah-maz-ing.

The perfect appetizer to share.

For their Roasted Red Pepper sauce, I think the Mermaid Inn took a page from my brother and sister-in-law’s crab cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade. It was a little bit sweet, a little bit acidic, and really complemented the crab cake well.
The Fennel Slaw was something I’d never think to pair with crab, but it was delicious. A little bit licorice-y, and very crunchy, it was a light and refreshing contrast to the rich and buttery crab cake, which was delicate and filled with fresh, sweet crab meat. This special is a great reason to check out the Mermaid Inn on a Friday night.

My Trusty Sidekick ordered the whole roasted fish of the night, which was an Idaho Trout, served with an amazing warm potato and string bean salad dressed in the most delicious mustard sauce ($22).

I usually avoid eating things with eyeballs, but this was delicious.

Here’s how this works–Mermaid Inn roasted the trout and de-boned it before serving it, so, when it arrived at the table my Trusty Sidekick just flipped it open, like a laptop, to reveal one of the most tender, flakey, and flavorful fish I’ve ever tried. I’d love to try to make this at home.

The fish was roasted with a sprig of rosemary, and so when the fish was flipped open, the scent wafted out–yummmm. And, each bite had the very faintest taste of fresh, sweet pine.

For my main course, I ordered the Skate special ($18), which was pan fried and prepared in a lemon-butter-caper sauce, garnished with green apples and tomatoes, and served with a side of steamed spinach.

Skate on a Plate--Yum. Sorry, it's a little hard to see in this picture, but the skate is underneath that pile of diced green apple and tomatoes.

Have you ever tried skate before? It’s not for everyone, but if you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend it. It’s really not a fish, but a type of ray–a relative of the shark–with a flat body and two triangle shaped wings off to either side. So, when you eat skate you get a thin piece of the wing. The meat, when cooked correctly, is soft and delicate, with a mildly sweet flavor. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia of an uncooked skate wing:

Picture of uncooked skate wing. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

I really liked the combination of the soft skate in the salty and buttery sauce with the crunchy apple, which was slightly sweet, slightly sour. The acid of the lemon and the briney bite of the capers also cut the buttery sauce well. My only complaint was with the spinach. I like spinach as much as the next gal, but, after being steamed, it was so soft and mushy–not my favorite pairing with the already soft and tender fish. I think I would have preferred something crunchy. I actually would have preferred the green beans my Trusty Sidekick got–the mustard sauce on those beans was so so good.

Mermaid Inn doesn’t have a dessert menu. That’s the bad news. The good news is that they bring everyone a small espresso-sized cup of chocolate mousse at the end of the meal (complements of the chef). Free dessert is one of the other reasons why I love the Mermaid Inn!

Yum! Smooth, creamy, cold and chocolatey. The perfect end to a great meal. Plus, it's free!

Along with your chocolate cup, at the end of the meal the Mermaid Inn will give  you your own Fish Fortune Teller. It’s a small fish made out of plastic film that you drop into the palm of  your hand. Depending on how the fish moves when it lands, you’ve got yourself a fortune!

For example, if the fish curls its head towards its tail, you’re jealous. If it curls its head and tail together, you’re passionately in love (there’s a fine line between passion and jealousy). If the fish doesn’t move at all, you’ve got a dead fish.

My Trusty Sidekick got a dead fish.

Drink: Mermaid Inn has a pretty straightforward wine and beer menu, with several wines by the glass for $10.

I tried the Cava ($10) and Trusty went with the Bordeaux Blanc ($10). I enjoyed the Cava but have to say that the peach notes in the Bordeaux Blanc made it surprisingly great. Both went very well with our fish dishes.

Service: Our waitress and the wait staff were very attentive when we sat down at 7:15. However, as the night went on and the dining room got more crowded they forgot about us. Our water glasses weren’t refilled more than once, and we waited about 15 minutes after finishing before we were finally were able to flag down our waitress and ask for the check. Slightly irritating, yes, but nothing that will keep us from going back.

Scene: There was a big variety of guests in the dining room–families with young children, couples, tables of girlfriends. The restaurant has a very laid-back feel. The wood paneling, maps of different coasts and pictures of fish hanging on the wall make it seem like you’re walking into a Cape Cod or New England restaurant–it feels very authentic, not in a kitschy way at all.

Dress: Friday business casual is safest. It’s a nice meal, so you’ll probably want to dress up a little. But, if you don’t, jeans and a nicer top will work. That guy in the American flag t-shirt (in the left hand corner of the picture above) was a bit  under-dressed.

Cost: With tax and tip our great seafood dinner was $110. Definitely in the “Special Occasion Price Range” for us.

Delivery: Not available.

If you like, try: The Cape Cod Room in the Drake Hotel in Chicago, Pearl Oyster Bar in New York City, Stella’s Fish Cafe in Minneapolis