There comes a time every winter when I just need to get away. I usually don’t need a long time, just a few days or so. I need that time to not see snow, to remember the stunning colors flowers bring to the landscape and to not see my breath when I walk outside! Just last weekend I, along with Jen, made the escape to Atlanta. While the weather may have been more warm-lanta like, the food was all Hotlanta!

If you find yourself in Atlanta any time soon here is a quick run down of restaurants we recently visited.

Neighborhood: Midtown

950 W Peachtree St, suite 255
Bizzare place, not until a menu was in front of me did I realize this was an Asian restaurant! The decor was modern and nondescript. I ordered the stir fried vegetables with brown rice. Not bad, but the sauce was forgettable.

Prickly Pear Taqueria
Neighborhood: Midtown
950 W. Peachtree St NE, suite 220
I am pretty sure you could find a better Mexican place than this in the area, but it was right across the street from my hotel and when you have been walking all day sometimes you just want something easy. No chips and salsa on the table for you, you have to order it so instead we ordered the guacamole and chips. Guac was ok, but the paper thin chips were better. Additionally, I ordered 2 veggie tacos which were too heavy on the green sauce and not heavy enough on the cheese!

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This is a total sports bar place, with fun oversized booths that have individual flat screen TVs, although we were seated at a boring table. The tomato-goat cheese soup was yum. The veggie sandwich listed herbed Brie but I couldn’t find it, without cheese it lacked dressing.

La Tavola
Neighborhood: Virginia Highlands
992 Virginia Avenue NE
My favorite restaurant of the bunch! We sneaked in just before the wait turned from zero to 1 hour! If you are looking for Italian, go here. The Caesar salad was heavy on the garlic, but that is exactly what I like. My main dish was an apple, walnut, smoked ricotta ravioli that I hope to see on a menu near me someday.

Dakota Blue
Neighborhood: Grant Park
454 Cherokee Ave
You can tell this is a local, neighborhood gem. Tables filled with young, hip, artsy couples and local art hangs on the walls. I left with a new craving, jalapeño cheese grits from Dakota Blue. The wrap I ordered was overstuffed with beans, cheese and scrambled eggs and it was great. If this was in my area I would visit frequently!

Marlow’s Tavern
Neighborhood: Midtown
950 West Peachtree Street
It is a chain, with 6 locations in the Atlanta area! However, I am glad I didn’t say no to chain dining this night! Dinner was great, and they were happy to have us for hours (which I love to settle in a booth,with a good friend and a bottle of wine and not think about leaving the safety of booth life and entering the scary world again). The asparagus fries were crisp and with aioli sauce. My house made black bean burger was good but lacked flavor. Jen said that her steak was the best she had in ages. This was the first restaurant on the trip I ordered dessert at (for shame) and was pretty sad I couldn’t finish my carrot cake.

Baraonda Caffe Italiano
Neighborhood: Midtown
710 Peachtree St NE
They serve Neapolitan style pizza where the pizza is cut into 4 giant slices and you are left with that dilemma, to fold or not fold. I folded my special of the day – Fontana cheese, goat cheese, plum tomatoes, zucchini. I more than satisfied my craving for pizza at this stop!

Looking for something to do in-between the restaurant outings… go to the Cyclorama! It is a giant oil painting completed in 1886, that covers over 15,000 square feet, depicting the Battle of Atlanta and you get to view it by sitting a chair that rotates 360 degrees. Sounds nerdy, right? Well, it is. But it is stunning and Jen and I loved it!!


The Vegetarian
4022 Central Avenue Northeast
Minneapolis, MN 55421
(763) 782-9678‎

First I want to start with a big thank you to everyone that recommended the Vegetarian lately and putting it on my radar. The best way to briefly summarize my outing: 100% vegetarian. 100% yum.

The warmth and spices hit you immediately upon walking in. We were greeted by the friendly owner and were told to sit wherever we wanted. The restaurant is small, laid out in a rectangle where one wall was lined with about  10 – 4 person tables and the opposite wall housed the large buffet stand and a few more tables. Bright yellow and a counter, laden with accessories, stare back at you when you walk in to pick your seats.  The out of season, holiday paper place mats actually made me smile more about this little gem on Central Ave.

The menu was overwhelming to this vegetarian who usually has a limited selection on every menu. It took awhile just to comprehend that I could order anything on this menu without making a single substitution! We started with just ordering some appetizers before deciding upon dinner. We ordered garlic naan – 2 orders! I was in heaven. We also ordered vegetable pakora. The pakora was served with a green chutney that the server picked up on the fact we loved when we finished off nearly all of it but freaked out when he tried to take the remaining drops away. He offered to bring more which ended up being twice as much – thank you! 🙂 Pakora is a deep fried vegetable with a spicy tempura batter. The thing that I love about a 100% vegetarian restaurant is that I can grab at a deep fried item and not worry about what I would be eating. There was a sampling of cauliflower, potato slice and other delicious mystery items.

Finally I settled upon the mutter paneer for my main dish. Surprise, surprise – it is what I usually order. I also usually order everything with zero spice, yes, I know, that is sad, but I don’t like cover-ups. Spicy dishes are hard for me to sample all the true flavors, all I taste is that hot spice. Of course my fellow dining buddies are much more adventurous and asked for medium spice. Once my dish of peas and cheese in a slightly creamy, tomato sauce was brought out I couldn’t wait to dig in. However, one bite and I was like, “oh no”. Then I really looked at the dish and I saw the chili oil pooling in mine, I knew that meant I got the spicy dish. And at the same time one of my fellow dining buddies said she wished her dish had more spice and couldn’t believe this was “medium”. It wasn’t medium, I had the medium. Even though it wasn’t the spice level I would prefer, I still think my only complaint of the dish is that the cheese didn’t hold up to other paneer I have had. But don’t get me wrong, I still loved the dish.

One bonus at The Vegetarian is the seasoned rice. Adding a little flavor to the rice makes the whole dish have an added layer of flavor that ended up in me having no leftovers! With no leftovers to pack up, it was time to head out. Probably the best timing also because I was about to start in with another sneezing attack. There were a couple of times the spices being cooked in the kitchen wafted out to the front and made it a bit difficult to not cough or sneeze. Some real cooking was being done back there!

Oh and something to note: We happened to have a bottle of wine in the car (always a wise move to just travel with a wine selection of your own, right!?) and asked if we could bring it inside to drink. That doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence in MN, but I think it is being allowed more and more. We weren’t able to here, but the owner came out later and told us he was working with the city to make that happen and be sure to stop by again so we could really party. 🙂

Wine Wisdom: Corks

There is one thing always in my way before I can enjoy a nice glass of wine – the cork. I usually don’t pay too much attention, but recently I opened a bottle that had a glass stopper and it lead me to think and research a bit more. Here is just a quick summary of the 4 that I am most familiar with:

Natural cork: More and more often you hear that natural corks are only being used because of tradition. People don’t want to spend money on a nice bottle of wine only to just twist off the top. Wine consumers might be dragging their feet at the possibility of a change, but the modern wine industry continues to seek other ways to cap their wines. The biggest reason for finding an alternative? A chemical called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA). The greatest fault of the natural cork it that it allows the possibility of “cork taint” (which by the way, I always thought a “corked” bottle of wine would taste and smell like vinegar, but it actually smells like wet cardboard). TCA is a compound that forms when a chlorine bleaching agent used in the manufacture of corks, reacts with mold already present in the cork. The chemical TCA in turn will destroy the aroma and taste of the wine, although it is still harmless to drink. It is also thought that if the chemical TCA is present in the manufacturing facility that the cork may allow it to pass through, because the one advantage of natural corks they do allow wines to breathe. And for those wanting to age a rich, bold red a little bit of oxygen is needed to interact with the wine to create an environment suited for aging. But come on, how many of us really age those wines?

Screw tops: are made only from aluminum material. They form an air tight seal that can keep out oxygen for a longer time than cork, which helps to maintain the wine’s overall quality and aging potential. Right now the countries using screw tops the most are France, Australia and New Zealand, but more and more are popping up.  Plus I found when traveling with wine, a screw top is very handy!

Synthetic corks: are made from plastic compounds designed to look and “pop” like natural cork, but without the risk of TCA contamination. The biggest complaint is that the synthetic corks are nearly impossible to extract, and who wants that??

Glass: released by Alcoa. They only hit the market in 2003, but already 300 wineries have utilized Vino-Seal.  The glass stopper has a rubber ring at the base, which creates a hermetic seal that prevents oxidation and TCA contamination. However, these glass stoppers come with a high cost and few automatic bottling equipment is available so I think it will be awhile before more wineries adapt these, but they sure look cool!

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Pizza
4552 Bloomington Ave So
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. Last night I fell for the smartest marketing campaign ever and tried Domino’s “new” pizza. If you haven’t heard about Domino’s “Pizza Turnaround,” you can watch this documentary. If you don’t trust the Domino’s employees and focus group members, you can watch Stephen Colbert’s take on the whole thing.

What sparked my interest? Well, Domino’s admitted that their pizza was bad, and made an effort to fix it. That’s crazy! As far as I know, other companies have not done that, nor would they. Maybe I am totally gullible. Maybe I am more willing than the average gal to give something a second chance? In any case, this reinvention campaign succeeded in persuading me to try the new Domino’s pizza.

I know, Domino’s is relying on suckers like me to make this work.

I haven’t eaten Domino’s for several years, so my memories have faded. I am sure that I didn’t hate the old Domino’s, but with so many other options, I just never ordered it.

The new pizza is topped with 100% real (what was it before?) mozzarella, mixed with a bit of provolone. Its sauce features a “medley of herbs” and a “red-pepper kick.” The new crust is “garlic-seasoned hand-tossed crust with a rich, buttery taste.”

You’re curious right? Don’t worry…nobody will know if you keep reading.

But first, a little bit about the ordering process. If you order online, not only do you get to see an image of your pizza as you select ingredients, but you get to watch the “Tracker” as they prepare your meal!

Events occur in real-time.

Beep. Boo. Beep. Boo.

I placed my order at 7:29 pm (with an estimated delivery time of 29-39 minutes).
Derrek started making our pizzas at 7:30.
Derrek put our pizzas in the oven at 7:33.
Derrek went out to smoke by the dumpster at 7:35. Wait, sorry Derrek–I just made that up.
Derrek double-checked our order for perfection at 7:41.
Luke left the store with our order at 7:45.
Luke rang the doorbell at 7:55. I verified that his name was really Luke.

I didn’t want an imposter delivering my pizzas.

Pepperoni and Mushroom PizzaOnion and Green Pepper PizzaI was happy that the pizzas were still very hot when they arrived. We ordered one with onion and green pepper and one with pepperoni and mushrooms.

Here are my observations:

– The crust was fairly flavorful with hints of butter and garlic which were much stronger on the outer edge of the pizza.
– There was no big ridge of dough on the outer crust, and the toppings went almost to the edge. This is good!
– The sauce was perhaps thicker than in the past, and there wasn’t a ton of it. Just the right amount for me.
– The typical spices are certainly identifiable in the sauce, along with a definite kick from hot pepper.
– The cheese was pretty bland and had the same weak structure that I recall from the old Domino’s pizza.
– The vegetables were fresh, crunchy and decently sized.
– The pepperoni was thin, overcooked and crispier than I like.
– There were tiny green sprinkles on top of all the other ingredients. Flakes of basil or oregano? I couldn’t taste them but they made the pizza, er…fancier.

The new Domino’s recipe seems to be an improvement over the old version, but you are still getting average “delivery” pizza. If you expect that, you may be pleasantly surprised with what you get. It was cheap (we paid $5.99 for each 2-topping medium pizza), and plentiful (providing dinner for two plus a couple of lunches). I would order it again.

*Please keep in mind that if you want to try this “new” recipe you must order a hand-tossed pizza.

If you try it, let me know what you think!

Nalapak Indian Restaurant
4920 Central Ave NE
Columbia Heights MN 55421

I hope this outing is one of several future research excursions. I need to research which I like better – Southern Indian food or Northern Indian food. Or maybe I just need to learn more about the differences and similarities between the two. Or maybe I just need an excuse to eat more Indian food. While I sort out my reasons, here is a trip to a predominately Southern Indian restaurant…

I fancy the coupons and a new favorite site of mine is Groupon! The other day the special was for $15 you could buy a $35 certificate to Nalapak. Nalapak is a strictly vegetarian Indian restaurant that offers both Northern and Southern cuisine. There was a note on the door warning all Groupon coupon holders that the coupon, even though not stated on the form (or fine print), did not include lunch. Good thing we showed for dinner!

After a bit of confusion, among those of us at the table, we realized different menus were handed out among the 3 of us. The menus listed different items and different prices. This continued to create ongoing confusion, however all menus at our table said 25% off bottled wine Sunday-Wednesday (but be sure to ask when you order if that is true!). Turns out they were out of all bottled wine but one type of white. We asked to look at it because the server didn’t know what it was off-hand. I don’t know why we bothered to ask. It was Monday, we were going to order of bottle of whatever they had left! The remaining bottled wine was a Gewürztraminer. Ha – no wonder why the poor server didn’t want to try to pronounce it. I will admit, it is a type of wine I am not all that familiar with… turns out it was nice, sweeter than I would normally drink, but pretty refreshing. It was from Chile, vintage 2008.

They don’t have naan (traditionally a Northern item) on the menu, which threw me, that is a staple I order at every Indian restaurant, but on the other hand it was an opportunity to try Paratha. We ordered garlic Paratha for the table ($4), which was described as pan roasted wheat bread. It was a flat bread, like naan, but much more doughy. It was nice and crisp from the pan roastedness (what? I am sure that is word), but I missed my naan.

For the entrée I selected Cheese Aloo (Potato) Vindaloo and was told they no longer have that, but they have Paneer Vindaloo, which is really the same thing: cheese and potatoes in a spicy sauce ($13). Call it whatever you want, I just want cheese and potatoes! This is a usual Indian entrée order for me, so it was good to compare to other similar orders from the past. It didn’t even dawn on me, until a dinner buddy mentioned, they didn’t ask the level of spice we wanted. Oh no. I worried I would be in trouble. The description said “spicy sauce”. Turns out I could handle it. I thought the paneer (a homemade, mild cheese) was very nice and plentiful. However, I don’t know if I was really sold on the rest of the dish. I found maybe 2 pieces of potato, buried in too much sauce and the sauce tasted like tomato paste with chili powder (or some kind of spice).

1. Paneer is just so yummy. This mild, homemade cheese was some of the best I have had.
2. I appreciated the amount of extra rice that was immediately served. I forever seem to be asking for more rice when I am out.

1. More attentive service. Everyone was nice, however we always had to be the ones flagging someone down when we wanted food, the bill, water, a correction to the bill, etc.
2. It was cold! But this is MN and being seated by a large old window does not help regulate the temp on nights when that chill is in the air.

The Grand Dining Room
Grand View Lodge
23521 Nokomis Avenue
Nisswa, Minnesota 56468

Hungry for Wine (and friends) took a field trip this winter and traveled to the great “up north” for our annual spa weekend. Initially, we were devastated to find out that our usual restaurant was closed for the season, but perked up when we learned about a 5 course wine dinner upon check-in. The dinner was a joint effort between the new Headwaters Wine Cellar and the Grand Dining Room, both at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota. We called ahead to make sure they could accommodate a vegetarian (Ann!) and made our reservations. After a relaxing day at the Glacial Waters Spa (also on the Grand View Lodge property), we were very hungry and excited to see what our favorite resort had to offer!

Arriving at the historic lodge (built in 1918) we were warmly greeted by a blazing fireplace and a cozy table for 20 with centerpieces of assorted cheeses and 4 empty (soon to be filled!) wine glasses.  We were also greeted by the gentlemen of the evening: Tim Edmunds, Sommeiler and Michael Manders, Executive Chef. Both seemed very excited to welcome us to the feast! Mr. Manders had prepared special vegetarian dishes for Ann and announced them with pride in addition to the scheduled menu.

Assorted cheeses
The first pour of wine was the crisp and delightful Gramona Cava from Catulunya (Spain). This cava is made in the true “champagne” style of fermentation, meaning the bubbles are created inside the bottle (as opposed to prosecco for example, which is fermented as a large batch in stainless steel barrels). Every cheese sample was a favorite. We sampled goat cheese on olive, brie on toast with a cranberry reduction, manchego with olive tapenade, tellegio with tomato..

Spiced Pumpkin Salad
The second course was by far the best salad anyone in the group had ever tasted. It was comprised of baby arugula, spiced pumpkin, french lentils and herbed goat cheese (with a sherry/sugar dressing). The salad was served with the fragrant  Hugel “Gentil” from Alsace (France). The wine was crisp, floral and paired brilliantly with our new favorite salad. Hugel & Fils have been making wine since 1639 and unfortunately, in the U.S., it is hard to come by outside of restaurants.

Cioppino and Roast Red Pepper Soup with Garlic Toast

The third course is where the dishes diverged. The chef was kind enough to create two different meatless courses. The regularly planned soup for the evening was a tomato base with snow crab, mussels, shrimp, corn and paprika. It was bursting with veggie flavor and, as you can imagine, plump sea creature goodness! For many of us it was our first experience with this kind of soup, and I think the overall impression was very positive. (But thank goodness for our beautiful white napkins, which were not so white by the end of the meal!) While everyone struggled with the shellfish in the seafood soup, Ann practically inhaled her rich, roasted red bell pepper soup. It was not a soup filled with overwhelming flavors, but it was creamy! We are pretty sure it was a cup of straight half & half with a red bell pepper puréed right in–and that works just fine!

The soups were accompanied by a glass of Rocca delle Macie Rubizzo Sangiovese from Toscana, Italy (boy, that is a mouthful!). The dry Sangiovese warmed our tummies and enhanced the flavors of both soups.

Braised Boneless Short Ribs and a Vegetarian “Beef” Wellington

The short ribs were tender and very good. They were made with seasoned flour, a red wine reduction and served atop a caramelized mixture of parsnips and fingerling potatoes. We were quite pleased with the color of the meat. As you can see from the photo, it was slightly pink and shiny with yummy juice. For the meatless entrée, the chef created an over-sized and over-stuffed puff pastry filled with all sort of veggies, along with Boursin cheese and a meaty-like portabella gravy. It was also served on the roasted fingerling potatoes and caramelized parsnips. On the 2 hour drive back home, Ann spent hours lamenting the fact that she forgot her leftovers in the fridge. Put puff pastry or deep fried anything in front of her and she is the happiest person around (you should have seen her eating fresh fried doughnuts the other night). Just writing this post made her sad all over again for not having the leftovers in her belly also.

The wine for the main dish was Robertson Winery Constitution Road Shiraz from South Africa. Its strong black pepper flavor added a nice spice to the dinner. The flavor didn’t linger long, but we still really enjoyed this wine.

Fall Fruit Crumble
Our dessert consisted of apples, pears and cranberries under a crunchy oat crust and cinnamon spiced whipped cream. The fruit was a bit too raw–we would have preferred a few more minutes in the oven. The crust was also a bit too dry, but after four fabulous courses, this was not a huge concern. A glass of Quady Electra (California) was served with the last course. This dessert wine is 3% alcohol and made with late harvest muscat. It was very sweet, with a hint of effervescence, just as dessert wine should be. Ann found it very sweet, but not so syrupy that she couldn’t handle it. Jen adores sweet dessert wines and was caught stealing leftovers from the early departing dinner guests.

People of the world, if you get a chance to attend a wine dinner at Grand View, do it! You will get great food, smart wine pairings with an educational component, a comfortable and luxurious setting, excellent service staff, and a very memorable evening. Grand View does not have any wine dinners scheduled for 2010, but when they do we will be sure to post them on our Wine & Food Specials Page and in the comments of this post.

South Lyndale Liquors
5300 South Lyndale Avenue
Minneapolis, MN
(612) 827-5811

We realize that there are several great wine clubs and/or tastings around town, but we feel like we have found our second home whenever we attend a Grapevine Wine Club meeting. A yearly fee of $75 gets you approximately one meeting a month, 8 to 10 total during the year. All meetings are held at the Park Plaza Hotel in Bloomington.

The 2010 season will start on Wednesday, January 13th. The guest speaker is Drew Fuller of Palm Bay Imports. Each meeting lasts about 2 hours and 10-12 samples wines are poured at your table. You leave having sampled a wide variety of wine and quite possibly eating through a plate or two of cheese!

If you are not sure about joining, you can pay the $15 guest fee for the first meeting and if you decide to join, apply it to the yearly membership fee!

Their website has not been updated yet, but upcoming guests for 2010 include:

February 24: Journalist Dave Hughes [South Africa]
March 24: Annette Peters of World Class Wines [France]
April 14: Rick Hartingson, Mendocino Wine Co. [Green CA wines]
May 12: Winemaker Jose Luis Lavin of Cono Sur Winery [Chile]
June 16: Eugenio Meschini of Famiglia Meschini [Argentina]
July 14: David Duckhorn of Via Pacifica [New Zealand]
October 13: Blake Murdoch of the Rare Wine Co [Worldwide]

An additional bonus: all Grapevine members enjoy a 20% discount on regular-priced wines at South Lyndale Liquors all year round!

Wine club is a nice way to make sure you see your wine friends on a monthly basis–so grab your pals and sign-up! This year we have 8 girls! Can we even fit at one table?

Call the store at 612-827-5811 for more details. Hope to see you there!