Tag Archives: birthday

Put on your PARKA! {Closed}


Because winter has arrived!

I’m not a huge fan of winter, so I’m trying to embrace it as much as possible… But it’s hard for me to come up with a list of things I do like about it.

When I saw a Groupon Living Social deal for a restaurant in Minneapolis called PARKA, I was intrigued. Those of us who live in Minnesota practically live in our winter coats for at least four months out of the year.

The restaurant intrigued me because:

  1. I had never heard of it before even though it opened back in January of this year.
  2. It hails from the owners of Victory 44, which has been on our wishlist for burgers because it always seems to win that “Best Burger” title in the Twin Cities.
  3. Parka has this “Perfect Burger” on their menu, too!

After I informed my husband of my deal purchase, he said, “Why have I never heard of that place before? I know where I want to go for my birthday!”

And so we went, on a Saturday night… early. I spent all day reorganizing and purging from my closet and dresser, so we didn’t eat lunch. I think we left the house around 4:15pm, by which time we were hungry. It didn’t appear that they were the type of place to take reservations. And I knew that if they just sold a bunch of deals, the place just might be packed.

The place was pretty small and reminded me more of a coffee shop. You order at the counter and your food is delivered to you.

They carry three beers on tap and they are all from the local brewery, Indeed Brewing. We’ve had a few of their beers before, one of which includes the LSD, which doesn’t get great ratings, but I totally puffy heart it. There are many more beers available by the bottle or the can, as well as wine. But we, eh hem, Indeed ordered the Midnight Ryder Black Ale on tap.

Our deal included two beverages, an appetizer, two entrées and a dessert. We placed our orders, tipped in the jar and had a seat. Below is the Living Social photo for the deal, but it was pretty much taken from the seat where I sat that evening!

Source: Living Social

{Source: Living Social}

The décor design feels Scandinavian and cozy, reminiscent to the heritage that is rooted here in Minnesota. And although the term Parka is Aleutian, it captures the essence of the cold weather than we Minnesotans either complain about or embrace all winter long. In the corner is a very old TV {with knobs!} and VCR playing recorded {obviously} old North Stars hockey matches. Hockey is beloved here, and although the Wild are wildly popular, the North Stars are still highly missed. I’m sure watching those games is nostalgic for some.

Our beers were promptly delivered to our table:

Indeed Midnight Ryder Black Ale

Indeed Midnight Ryder Black Ale

Originally, for our appetizer, Rob wanted to order the bacon fries. Despite my anti-bacon-on-or-in-my-food preference, I conceded because, after all, it was his birthday dinner. However, we were told that the bacon fries came with the burger, so if we planned on ordering that, we might want to try something else. We asked for an appetizer recommendation. Here’s what we got:

Devils on Horseback

Devils on Horseback

Unless you’ve heard of these before, the average person would not know what these were because there are no descriptions on the menu. I must say that our service was excellent and when someone came to check on us and we asked about the creamy foam, we were given quite a lot of detail about the dish!

Devils on Horseback = Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese-filled dates baked in the oven accompanied by a blue cheez whiz (foam), almond brittle and a ginger date purée.

Who would have known this otherwise? And it was so good! I actually liked not knowing what all of the accompaniments were before I tasted them so that I wouldn’t have any preconceived idea or thought whether or not I’d like every component.

Rob was giddy as he exclaimed that he felt like we were getting to try dishes on Top Chef!

Then came our entrées, which ended up being a bit disappointing.

photo 3

The Perfect Burger

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this burger was perfect. I would say it was good, but it wasn’t one I’d ever get again. Maybe I’d give it a try over at Victory 44 just to see if there is a difference. The cheese was nice and melty, but the meat was a little strange to me. And although the bacon wasn’t overpowering, I still wasn’t feeling it.

We didn’t see any bacon on the fries and Rob thought the white topping was goat cheese, but when I dipped my finger in it, it felt like a powder! I tasted it first, then made Rob try it. And neither of us could taste any flavor. When we inquired about the topping we learned that it was bacon fat powder. Lucky for me, the fries weren’t overpowered with bacon. But if you are looking for bacon fries, these probably won’t satisfy you. The fries themselves weren’t all that exciting anyway. If we are in that neighborhood and craving fries, it’s off to Mosaic we will go!

The second entrée we split:

Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese

A hefty portion of mac and cheese arrived along with our burger. Rob found the dish to be creamy; I did not. Plus, it needed some sort of seasoning. It was completely blah. I ended up mixing in those greens and mustard seeds in, which helped a bit, but not enough to get excited about ordering the dish again. And those sausages? I thought they’d be house-made or something. They had a little kick to them. But they were just hot dogs!

And finally, probably the star of the show:

Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolate Layer Cake

Rob and I rarely order dessert, so this wasn’t the dish we’d been waiting for. Besides, Chocolate Layer Cake sounds a little boring. But this dessert was far from that!

Side note: By this time, there was a line nearly out the door!

Rob was in the restroom when the plate was delivered to our table. I asked what kind of ice cream was served with the cake. The bearded gentleman who brought it to our table wasn’t sure. But I told him that it was okay, I could just taste it! He said that he could check, too.

When Rob returned to the table, he was impressed by the presentation. Bearded man returned and said, “Did you taste it yet?”

I hadn’t because I didn’t want to start Rob. Then, “I’ll give you a dollar if you can guess!”

I took a bite and tasted coffee. But it couldn’t be that easy! I love coffee ice cream, but there was something slightly different about this one.

“Some kind of coffee?” I said.


He turned to Rob, “I’ll give you a dollar if you can guess, too!”

Rob had nothing.

And it was revealed:


I was pretty darn close. It did remind me of the coffee I’d had in New Orleans! I love when chefs attempt at fun, unique ice cream flavors. Who would have known that this would come with our chocolate layer cake? It’s not noted on the menu! The cake was very good, too, by the way, along with the toasted marshmallow!

But when I bit in into the white chocolate, it almost bit me back! There was something that seemed spicy in there. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. I was just more fascinated by it than anything else. I would go back for more in between bites of the cake. My palate was thoroughly confused. I flagged bearded server down again only to find out that the sugar they use to make that white chocolate is the sugar used to make Sweet Tarts. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Talk about an interesting dining experience, especially with such basically described items on their menu!

This deal reconfirmed something for us. Deal sites like Groupon and Living Social allow us to try something new, whether it be a dining at a new restaurant, discovering a different neighborhood, or trying foods we won’t normally try. It opens up a whole new world for us and gets us out of our comfortable little box.

Just think about it, even if we had heard of Parka before, we may not have ordered anything there but the burger and mac and cheese and then would have gone away disappointed. We still have another deal to use, so we’ll be trying some different entrées next time around.

Now, after all that…

What do you like about winter?


Extended Birthday?


Today’s my HoneyBear‘s birthday!

Birthday Cake

This year, he won’t be won’t be thrown a surprise birthday nor receive 40 individually wrapped gifts like last year. But he still has it made!

Rob’s Extended Birthday Celebration…

  • Last year, he had the day off because his big day was on Thanksgiving. This year he still has his birthday off today because it’s his “off” Friday from work.
  • Thursday night, his co-workers planned a trip down to Fulton Brewery. {More on that next week!} It wasn’t for his birthday, but what a fun way to start his birthday weekend!
  • Tonight, we’ll be spending A Night with Mark Twain {a play he picked out!} and having a quick happy hour dinner beforehand.
  • Saturday night is when we’ll go out for his true birthday dinner per our tradition. But you’ll have to come back next week to find out where he picked!
  • There may be an Ale Fest mixed in there, too. This is something we did ten years ago when we first met and Rob was teaching me about beer. While we do enjoy good beers from time to time, we haven’t done anything like this since. It’s another way to celebrate ten years together.
  • Sunday – Packers vs. Vikings. This should be an interesting one. If only we were at Lambeau…

Have you ever extended your birthday throughout the weekend?

What kind of events did you plan?


Heidi’s Minneapolis {Closed}


This past weekend, we celebrated my birthday with our birthday dinner tradition. Last year, we were in Chicago, on our way to Ireland and I had an absolutely perfect experience at Naha. It was going to be tough to top that.

I wasn’t really trying to top anything, though. I just wanted to go someplace nice and new for dinner. Originally, I had chosen Louis Ristorante in St. Paul. But then, just one week before my birthday, I received this email in my inbox. I was immediately intrigued and changed my restaurant choice to Heidi’s.

Rob made reservations for early Friday evening, perhaps to make a night of it. We tend to sit at the bar when we dine out, but this birthday girl got to choose.

First, it was 80-freakin’-degrees. It’s never 80-freakin’-degrees around my birthday! It’s the time of year that starts to get rainy, dreary and cold. So I had seriously considered sitting out on the patio. But I remembered the photos from the article and thought about how nice it would be just to sit inside, not at a bar, but at an intimate table. {Besides, the street traffic seemed pretty loud.}

We were seated in a corner of the restaurant. The table was set for two, but each of our chairs were situated with their backs up against each corner of the wall, so we that neither of us would have had our backs to the rest of the dining room. This is the first time I’ve been seated this way. In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but at the time, I thought it was brilliant.

Rob still found it strange that after we ordered our silverware was placed in front of us, in the middle of the table instead of beside us:

130The menu here is a little different, so I’ll explain a bit how Heidi’s works. You can order a four-course meal for just $48 by choosing one item from each item on this grid.

121Or you can order anything off the grid à la carte. I know it’s hard to read, but that’s the best I could lighten/clarify that photo with the lighting in the restaurant. But you get the point. You can see a version of it on their website, too.


You can choose to go with the seven- or nine-course menu. If you decide to go this route, all of people in your party must do the same. This was not an option for us with Rob’s allergies.

122Before we ordered, we each started with a cocktail.

Ramos Gin Fizz    20 (please allow 8 min) Beefeater gin,lemon, lime,vanilla, simple syrup, cream egg white, orange blossom wate

Ramos Gin Fizz – $20
(please allow 8 min)
Beefeater gin, lemon, lime,vanilla, simple syrup, cream egg white, orange blossom water

I really couldn’t justify getting a $20 cocktail. But I wanted to know what all the hype was about since THRILLIST said it was “worth every penny.” Although I had no problem waiting the eight minutes for the drink preparation, I tried to time it just out of curiosity. It took about eleven minutes and that is with no one else in the restaurant ordering beverages.

The verdict? It was good. I’ve honestly never had a gin fizz before, so I don’t know how it would compare to others. But I wouldn’t order it again. Maybe it wasn’t my thing. Maybe I just expected it to knock my socks off. In any case, I know it’s labor intensive. Maybe I need to order one at the Bradstreet Crafthouse to compare.

Then there was Rob’s cocktail:

Bobby Burns    11 Dewar’s, sweet vermouth, Benedictine

Bobby Burns – $11
Dewar’s, sweet vermouth, Benedictine

I’m not a huge fan of whiskey, but I took a sip anyway. At first, the whiskey is in your face, like I’m used to, but this drink has a really mellow finish. And I couldn’t figure out why! I couldn’t even pinpoint the flavor. That must be from the Benedictine.


I knew I was going to go with the four-course option and had an idea what I was going to order by what I thought sounded good by the THRILLIST recommendations and by, of course, looking at the menu online. Rob decided on two items from the à la carte menu which would be brought out during my two middle courses.

First Course

Chilled Langoustine

Chilled Langoustine – $9 (à la carte)

This was such a beautifully presented dish, one which took me a while to even notice that the eyes were still on the critter. That’s usually a turn-off to me. I don’t like me food staring at me. The flesh was topped with an almond cream, which was quite luscious. While good, it’s something I really wanted to try, but not something I’d order again.

At this point, I was feeling a little rushed. I  know that the staff was only trying to provide good service. We were the only people in the restaurant for a while, so we were the only customers to tend to at the moment. But I was hoping to order some wine with with my seafood and I wasn’t even near finishing my before-dinner drink. I had planned on ordering a glass of white wine with the seafood I was having:

124I was looking at the Viognier in particular.  It’s a wine from the Var region of France. It’s a smaller locale {where I studied for a semester during college} within the region of Provence. It’s rare to see a wine from that region on a restaurant list and I know that Viognier tends to pair well with scallops…

But before I knew it, my second course arrived.

Second Course

Sauteed Diver Scallop - $17

Sauteed Diver Scallop – $17 (à la carte)

What I really wanted was the Apple Orgy for my appetizer. I really no idea what an apple orgy is; but it came highly recommended by THRILLIST and I thought I saw it on the grid/à la carte menu. That night, it was only offered as part of the nine-course tasting menu. I inquired about this to see if our server could swing an exception, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t budge.

But I wasn’t disappointed because my scallop was out of this world! I dipped my fork first into the side of lavender cream. Heaven! The scallop was perfectly seared and laid atop a bed of sauteed greens. I couldn’t quite place the citrus-y sauce drizzled, but it mixed well with the darker balsamic sauce. I found it to be such a well-balanced dish of unique flavors that this scallop has found its way onto my unpublished/unofficial list of the best scallops I’ve ever had.

Believe it or not, Rob went vegetarian for the evening…

Smoked Mushroom Ragout - $7

Smoked Mushroom Ragout – $7 (à la carte)

He was in heaven and said it was the best $7 he’s ever spent! Lots of umami going on there!

Third Course

Originally, I wanted to try the tilefish in the THRILLIST post. But I didn’t expect it to be available when I didn’t see it online. Then I thought about the halibut. At this point, though, I had just had two courses of seafood. So I decided to go with the Petit Filet instead.

With it, I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Rob chose the French Syrah to go with his entrée.

126Rob is not a fan of South American red wine, so I was surprised when he tried mine and preferred it over his! I liked both of them and found that they paired equally well with my steak. So we switched.

This filet was incredible. I normally order medium rare, but I sometimes find that in restaurants this nice that I need to order medium. Such was the case here, so I’m glad I told the server what I wanted.

I wouldn’t say that this steak is as good as my favorite filet in Minnesota at Sul Lago, but it’s still one of the best filets I’ve had. Rob couldn’t believe the value. This steak was listed as $36 à la carte. And I was getting this entire four-course meal for $48.

And if Rob didn’t order this, I was planning on ordering it…

Caramelized Onion Risotto 12

Caramelized Onion Risotto – $12 (à la carte)

This risotto is excellent – cooked perfectly al dente with lots of onion flavor. {Biz, this risotto is not for you!} 😉 Still, Rob’s love affair with the parmesan risotto at Sul Lago cannot dissolved. It’s actually no longer listed as a side on the menu there, but he orders it anyway!

Fourth Course – Dessert!

Hibiscus Meringue 9

Hibiscus Meringue – $9 (à la carte)

THRILLIST intrigued me with this one, too. So I had to try it.

At first bite, it was a little blah. The flavors were so subtle and the merigue so light and airy {which it is meant to be.} I guess it wasn’t what struck my mood that day. Rob felt the same, but as I continued to eat the dessert, it got better as some of the flavors mixed together and I had no trouble finishing it!

Dinner at Heidi’s was an experience – one that I’d recommend. I’m curious about their Thursday Night Happy Hour. Who wants to try it with me sometime? If we have another patio night with this weather, it’d be perfect. Or we might just have to wait until next spring…

We did make a night of it and had an after dinner cocktail. You’ll have to wait until later in the week to read about it!

Do you ever do a course-style meal or tasting menu at restaurants?

If so, what’s the best one you’ve had?


Whiskey Wednesday – An Ireland Post


I interrupt your regularly scheduled Wine Wednesday post to bring you Whiskey Wednesday in honor of recent trip to Ireland.

I dedicate this post to my dad, who is celebrating this 60th birthday today. He loves to add whiskey to hot apple cider on Christmas. Uh… or maybe it’s rum. Well, whatever it is, it doesn’t keep him from being…

The Most Interesting Man in the World.


Happy Birthday, Dad!

Let’s start off by saying that I didn’t like whiskey. I don’t have the palate for it. When we are out at an Irish Pub here in The States, we often order cider. Rob and my friend Jen, like to order a Johnny Jump Ups – a pint of cider with a shot of whiskey. I always take a taste of theirs and say, “Nope, can’t do it.” There was only one time I could drink one, but I swear it was because the bartender put in the wrong liquor, or a cheaper whiskey. 😉

All of that being said, as we were nearing the end of our vacation in Ireland, I suddenly wanted to try something different. Cider and stout were just getting old. Out of the blue, while sitting at the Creamery Bar near Bunratty Castle, I said to my husband, “I think I’d like to sip on some Irish Whiskey right now.”


His initial shocked look on his face slowly turned into a smile. I mean, we were in Ireland, right? There are more whiskeys here than you’d ever imagine.

Storefront in Galway

And if this man celebrating his 90th birthday could alternate between Guinness and whiskey all night, surely I could try a little:

Terry from Carrickfergus singing a song on his 90th birthday at the Reel Inn, Donegal Town, Donegal County

Well, there’s more to Irish Whiskey than just Jameson, of course.

So we opted to split a Whiskey Flight.

tasting flight

Despite the fact that I’m knowledgeable about wine and can describe just about any, I’ve never been able to tell the differences in nor describe the nuances of the aromas and flavors of whiskey.

Furthermore, I often feel like we think we don’t like something because we’ve never really had the good stuff. Here are some things I never liked before until I discovered the real thing:

  • Mushrooms – I grew up on canned ones and hated them. Now I could put real mushrooms on just about everything. When I dine out, I always ask if the mushrooms are canned or fresh before ordering.
  • Green Beans – Same thing as mushrooms.
  • Beer – It took me a long time to like beer. I only really tolerated certain kinds in college. It wasn’t until I backpacked in Europe and drank beer in Austria, Germany and Belgium that I actually enjoyed it. And it wasn’t until I met Rob that I discovered a world of beer snobbery.
  • Coffee – I never liked coffee until my first espresso in France. Enough said.
  • Pinot Noir – I never liked this light red wine until I had that of Guy Davis. His Pinots are exactly what they should taste like. Fruity, elegant and dusty. It’s a hard grape to grow, which means it’s hard to do right.
  • Rob discovered discovered something similar with tomatoes while we were on our Honeymoon in Italy.

The trouble is, once you learn about something, you start to become snobby picky. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Here are the four whiskies we tried:

And Rob’s notes:

Robs notes

Okay, so that was his fun before we drank the flight.

Our verdict? We agreed that the Tyrconnell Single Malt was our favorite. Can I tell you why? No. I still don’t have a palate for whiskey. I’m still learning. The tasting notes in the menu: “Complex nose of sherry, honey & fruit with a long sweet oaky finish.” But I can’t say I could pick out those things. And, of course, it’s not widely available.

What I do know is that I don’t like the peaty stuff – like the last taste in the flight. It’s rare for Irish Whiskeys to made this way. It’s more common of Scotch. Rob will have a glass of Scotch from time to time and he already knew that peaty just isn’t for him. For us, it’s just too smokey.

We didn’t do the tour of Jameson while in Dublin. They don’t even produce the stuff there anymore anyway. I think it’s even owned by a French company now. However, we did learn a few things on our hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Dublin:

  • American Whiskies are distilled once
  • Scottish Whiskies are distilled twice.
  • Irish Whiskies are triple distilled… and it’s said that it’s just “to be sure, to be sure, to be sure.”

I think on a cold winter day, I could enjoy sipping a whiskey, but it’d have to be the right one. Rob and I recently purchased a Canadian Whiskey infused with Maple Syrup, which we plan to taste and share at Christmas this year. Will my dad put it in his hot apple cider? I guess we’ll just have to wait to find out.

If you drink whiskey, what is your favorite and why?

If not, what is your liqueur of choice?


112 Eatery – Minneapolis


It’s been a few years since we’ve been to the 112.

All I remember is that I ordered the Nori Encrusted Sirloin with Ponzu and my husband ordered the Bacon, Egg & Harrisa Sandwich. And while we were both pleased, we weren’t blown away like some say that they are when dining here.

I do, however, remember Rob craning his neck to follow a burger that was being delivered to a table across the restaurant. While staring in that direction, he vowed that we would be back.

For his birthday dinner this year, he chose 112 Eatery with every intention of finally trying the 112 Cheese Burger.

We made early reservations as we had planned our night out around the Ike Reilly Thanksgiving Eve 10th Anniversary Celebration. Our friend Jen joined us. {If you haven’t heard of the Ike Reilly Assassination, be sure to check them out!}

I ordered a glass of French bubbly: Bouvet-Ladubay Brut; Jen went with a Sammy Smith’s Oatmeal Stout; while Rob was seduced by the fact that they had San Pellegrino beverages on the menu. He went with the Pompelmo flavor {grapefruit}. His favorite flavor is Blood Orange, but we haven’t seen that since Chicago.

While we waited for our beverages and perused the menu, some pre-dinner snacks were brought to our table:

Greek olives and wasabi almonds

This reminded me very much of France because at parties, you often see nuts and olives served with an apéritifs.

Rob already knew that he wanted a burger, but I was a little perplexed on what to get. I asked for recommendations and favorites. The menu was even a little too “foodie” for me, but sometimes we can be turned off by an entrée just because of the name. The 112 menu doesn’t give much for descriptions, but I will tell you that our server did an excellent job once I asked! It helped me make my decision.

I decided to start with and share this:

(partly eaten) fresh ricotta w/ white truffle honey – $8

Oh dear, was this sinfully delicious. The bread was toasted. The ricotta was whipped and creamy and the sweetness of the honey with the hint of earthiness of the truffle flavor balanced beautifully.

I chose another appetizer as my entrée:

sea scallops w/ oyster mushrooms – $16

I probably would not have ordered these with that description alone. However, the way our server described them sold me. And by now, you know how much I love scallops. These were decadent, perfectly seared, and if you like mushrooms, these will make you swoon. There’s a lot of umami going on here! However, as I kept eating, it eventually became too much, almost too salty. Maybe just one scallop would have been perfect. Now I know why it’s an appetizer, perhaps meant to share.

For the table, we ordered some sides:

(half eaten) pan-fried gnocchi w/ parmesan reggiano – $10

The sides here are meant to be shared and while we did order two sides, we couldn’t finish either of them among the three of us! This gnocchi was just the way I like it. I think gnocchi is always the best the next day, when you sear it so that it has a nice crust. These had just that along with those yummy shavings of parmesan reggiano. Perfect.

Of course, to go with the burger, we had to get a side of fries:

french fries – $7

Again, a huge portion! Luckily, the fries were the kind Rob likes – the perfect ratio of potato to fried surface {read: skinny fries}. And while they were no Pops fries, they did the trick. However, the ketchup and almost-too-tangy mayo-like dipping sauces didn’t thrill us.

Both Rob and Jen ordered burgers:

112 cheese burger – $10

So there is no real description on the menu about this burger, but Rob has been hearing about it for years! The meat sits on an English muffin and is topped with brie cheese. Rob said that the brie overpowered the entire burger. He was a little thrown off, too, because he looked at the menu online prior to dining out and there was a picture of the 112 burger. By the looks of it, the 112 burger had cheddar, or at least some sort of orange cheese!

It’s not that he doesn’t like brie cheese. In fact, one of his top 10 burgers in the Twin Cities is a truffle burger with brie that also sits on an English Muffin. But he didn’t come for that burger. And this one didn’t compare. The meat was high quality though, and he ate most of it. But I was sad that his birthday dinner choice was a bit of a let down.

But something made up for everything:

izzy’s ice cream, salted caramel flavor – $4

We first discovered Izzy’s Ice Cream at Scusi in St. Paul. We fell in love. So much that, one of the items I put in Rob’s birthday box was a “coupon” for a trip to Izzy’s.  I had no idea that we’d be having some of Izzy’s ice cream the night before he opened his gifts!

Both Jen and Rob ordered the salted caramel ice cream, so I elected to get something different:

caramel cake w/ dulce de leche whipped cream

This cake was quite yummy and caramel-y, but when I had a bite of the oh-so-decadent salted caramel ice cream, I was entirely jealous. Both Rob and Jen tasted my cake and were happy with their choice. Jen said that if we had just ordered the caramel cake to split, we would have enjoyed it just fine. However, after trying the salted caramel ice cream, it just didn’t compare! And there was so much going on with caramel-y sweetness in the cake and on the side, that I couldn’t tell if the whipped cream was of a dulce de leche flavor or not.

With our tummies full, we asked for the check and were also brought this:

spicy caramel corn

We were too full to take more than a taste. For flavors, I got cayenne and cardamom. Jen said she didn’t understand who would like a combination like this! While I didn’t mind it, I just couldn’t eat anymore at this point. But I love the thought of a complimentary post-dinner treat!

What’s a flavor combination that you’ve been surprised by?


Gratitude: Brought to You by the Number 40


It’s Thanksgiving – the day of the year when we Americans are reminded to give thanks. For some, that may just mean a day off of work and some home-cooked turkey. However, if you haven’t before (or even if you have), let’s dig deeper beyond that.

Although we hear the word gratitude and are encouraged to be thankful this time of year, most people don’t take the time to practice it more often than that. It wasn’t until I received a book as a gift called The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude that I started to practice it more often myself. But it took reading the book The Secret for me to truly understand its power. Being grateful for even the tiniest things can really change your perspective. For me, writing a list of things for which I am grateful helps me turn my mood around. It changes my focus from the negative to the positive. It may sound simplistic, but I find that it really works.

In honor of Thanksgiving, just one day that reminds us that we should be thankful, I want to challenge everyone reading this post to do any of the following:

  • Find someone you love and thank them for something you never have before.
  • Take a piece of paper or notebook and over the next week write 100 things you’re grateful for as they come to you.
  • Keep a notebook by your nightstand and each night before you go to bed, write five things for which you are grateful.
  • Join me on Twitter with thousands of others and tweet one thing each day for which you are grateful followed by #365thanks.

Because really, shouldn’t we show gratitude everyday? That is what #365thanks symbolizes. It’s simple to do and you’ll feel great doing it.

Today, I’m grateful for my wonderful husband.

It’s his  40th birthday today!

He actually *asked* me for a surprise party this year. I just laughed at him and said, “I can’t throw you one now!” Then, to throw him off, I threw a “40 Days Before Your 40th Birthday” party last month. It worked out perfectly. And he was absolutely surprised. I’m probably the only person in the history of mankind to throw one of those!
For his birthday on today, we elected to stay home. We normally travel back to Green Bay for Thanksgiving, but we decided to stay put this year because:
  • We visited two weeks ago for our nephew’s 5th birthday.
  • We went to the 10th Anniversary Ike Reilly Thanksgiving Eve concert last night at First Avenue and were out very, very late.
  • He’s allergic to turkey.

So it was another gift to him not to have to drive there and back. When we originally decided to do this, I thought I was doing him a favor as to not drive in snowy weather. However, this year, we just so happen to have the best weather here in Minnesota in years. It’s currently 61 degrees! {I bet people who were out doing Turkey Trots this morning were elated!}

For his birthday, we celebrated with our usual birthday dinner tradition {Restaurant Impression to come} prior to last night’s concert. But this morning, I put this box in front of him:

Birthday Box

This box contains 40 little gifts that I’ve picked up that reminded me of him. They are either things that he loved when I first met him, things that he likes or uses right now or just things I thought he might like now or in the future.

The first gift he opened however was this:

The instructions are that he has to set the timer for 15:00. Every fifteen minutes, he can open any gift of his choice. He’ll be opening fun gifts all day. {Well, while he watches the football of course.}

Happy Birthday, Baby! I’m grateful to have you in my life.

Cheers to many more years together. #365thanks.

Name one thing you for which you are grateful today.


Naha – Chicago, IL


After a wonderful experience at Pops for Champagne, we walked over to Naha, just four blocks away for my birthday dinner. We were happy knowing that we wouldn’t have to worry about not having reservations thanks to the staff at Pops!

When we arrived, we headed straight to the bar, our favorite place to dine. There was no one seated there at the time, but the dining room was hopping!

We ordered some drinks to start, me keeping with the bubbly theme:

Sparkling Valipolicella – a bubbly I haven’t knowingly had before

Our bartender was busy, busy creating a number of different cocktails from scratch. Boy could he move! He just didn’t have much time to chat. So after placing our orders we noshed on some excellent bread:

bread with what I think was a fennel butter

I decided that I really did want to try an order of those oysters the manager at Pops kept raving about. Of course he loved them because they were topped with a Champagne sorbet. So why wouldn’t I? He also mentioned some special type of baby tomatoes. I was in! I assured Rob that I’d get just one order, not dozens and dozens, even if they were good. There were just too many menu items to try and just one night.

This picture doesn’t do these beauties justice!

Naha is one of those places that changes its menu based on what is available and in season. You know I love that! Looking back at the their menu now, the oysters are described this way:

French Kiss Oysters from New Brunswick with a Sorbet of Champagne Vinegar and Celery Marmalade

I can’t be sure that those ingredients are exactly what I had, but I can tell you that they were the best oysters I’ve ever had. They had such a complex range of flavors that didn’t mask the flavor of the oysters, but rather, heightened them. Exquisite. I can see how a bottle of Champagne and dozens of these later, one could be quite happy.

After we ordered, Rob asked another guy who started helping behind the bar:

“Are you Michael?”

Instead, another guy around the corner answered:

“No. I am. I was wondering when you guys were going to show up!”

He chatted briefly, but he had a few group dinners to tend to and oversee. He said he’d come and have a drink with us later.

While we were waiting for our main dishes, the bartender brought each of us one of these:

Corn Soup

“Compliments of Michael,” he said.

Wait a minute… What? We weren’t expecting this! What a special surprise. I took the first spoonful. Mmm… The fresh corn flavors really shined through in this velvety-textured soup. And the portion size in these little cups was just right. It was the perfect amuse-bouche before our entrées.

I ordered another “Starter” menu item as my entrée. You know how I have a weakness for scallops:

Perfectly seared…

These may have been some of the best scallops I’ve ever had, too. Although, when anyone serves me a scallop that is fresh, perfectly seared, and having more creativity than being wrapped in bacon, I’m happy. Furthermore, while I’ve experienced flavor complexities in wine, I didn’t realize there could be so many flavor complexities in one dish! Each bite made my palate sing a new tune. And again, I can’t be sure if this was the exact combination of ingredients I had in my scallops, but the current Naha menu describes their scallops as such:

Hand-Harvested Scallops from Barnegat Light roasted with Vanilla Bean, Citrus and Spices, Caramelized Belgian Endive, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Candied Lemon and Mint

I definitely tasted that candied lemon!

Of course, Rob had to try Naha’s Burger, which was listed as one of Serious Eats’ Top 15 Burgers in Chicago. There is no reason a burger guy wouldn’t!

Naha Burger & Fries

I believe you have to be at the bar to order this burger. It’s only on the bar menu and is described as such:

Our Famous Half Pound and Wood-Grilled Angus Beef Burger on a Housemade Sea Salt Crusted Ciabatta Bun with Stone Ground Mustard, Glazed Onions and Hand-Cut Idaho Potato Fries

choice of Artisan Cheese, Kurobuta Pork Belly, Mushrooms and/or Slab Bacon for an additional charge

Rob added a smoked cheddar of some sort that was highly recommended by the bartender. I thought he added bacon, but today he tells me that he got the pork belly. I was surprised! Rob is not usually a fan.

And he loved this burger. He said it was exceptional and that it’s probably a Top 10 Burger for him. I took a bite and could immediately tell that the meat was high quality. I love how Naha lists where they get all of their meats on their website. In fact, if you go to their menus, each dish will link you to the source!

Sure it may have been a bit expensive as far as burgers go, but it was much more worth it than the $20 burger we shared at Forepaugh’s in St. Paul a few months ago.

And it’s not even fair for us to talk about the fries. They were very good. But Rob just had his best fries ever over at Pops. How could anything compare? If he hadn’t, he could have made a much fairer assessment.

The Dessert:

Since oysters and scallops are a rather a light dinner, I decided that there was no way that I was passing up dessert at this place. As I took a look at the menu again, I knew it was going to be difficult for me to choose. I seriously wanted one of everything. And I really mean that. I would not have hesitated if someone told me to get anyparticular dessert on that menu. That’s why I asked the bartender what is favorite was and when he replied, “The Custard Cake,” I spouted, “Done.” It was the only way I could make up my mind.

While we were waiting for the preparation of our desserts, our bartender came over with two glasses of wine and said:

“Compliments of Michael: A dessert wine to go with your dessert.”

Sweet! Literally. As I may or may not have mentioned in a Wine Wednesday post, your dessert wine should always be sweeter than the dessert itself. Otherwise, the wine will taste bitter after you bite into your sweet treat. So the Moscato d’Asti that was sent over, paired nicely. Thanks, Michael!

Custard Cake

Oh Dear Lord, this is what dreams are made of. Could any dessert be so delectable? Every single one of my courses had such complex flavors! And when I say complex, I mean that a new flavor hits your palate at every single bite. Here is the site’s current description:

Gateau Basque Custard Cake, Olive Oil Ice Cream, Red Velvet Apricots, Soft Polenta, Sherry Vinegar

This time, I know that my version was a bit different. As you can see, there is a beautiful fig {no apricots} on my plate above. Oh how I love figs! And that custard cake is really something made from heaven.


Oh who am I kidding. I could never do this thing justice. I should just “Basque” in the memory… And that olive oil ice cream? Luscious. I drug my fork into different pieces of the dessert with each bite to get a wide variety of combinations and flavors. The portion size was perfect. I walked away from this dinner feeling content, not full or stuffed. This was one of the most enjoyable dinners I’ve ever had and it was all about quality, not quantity.

I actually think Rob had a hard time choosing a dessert, too, but in the end opted for a Blueberry Tart:

More than just a Blueberry Tart

This was every bit as good as it looks. And yes, that is popcorn on the plate. This was like three or four desserts in one. There we go with the complex flavors again! It’s no longer on the menu, so I don’t have a description of the {possible} ingredients. But I can tell you that Rob finished his plate.

As we finished our dessert wine, Michael, who is a young, very laid-back kinda guy, sat and chatted with us about restaurants, Chicago and the world in general. Who takes the time to do that?! Michael did.

When we woke at the hotel the next morning, Rob turned over to spoon me and said:

“I had the best dream last night. I dreamt that we went to this Champagne place that had the best fries I’ve ever had in my life. Then the manager called over to an awesome restaurant and told the owner to take care of us. We enjoyed dinner at that restaurant where we finished with a dessert so good it was silly.”

I went along with it and responded:

“Baby, that really did happen.”

I could hear the smile in his voice as he snuggled a little closer:

“I know.”

That magical birthday evening is what dreams are made of…