Tag Archives: dessert

…to Blackbird Cafe

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So last week, I told you about the Girls’ Night that Rob crashed.  But after dinner at Pat’s Tap, the girls and I wanted to practice our usual tradition of finding somewhere else for dessert.

Only we were no longer hungry.

So instead, we decided to find a place for a nightcap or coffee. And… if we had an inkling for dessert a little later, that’s when we’d take a look at the menu. 😉

Our Smartphones were not yielding any intriguing results. So we finally just decided to drive around the neighborhood until we saw something.

That’s when we happened upon Blackbird Cafe.

It was quite busy when we walked in! But we found the last three seats at the bar and made them work. A guy at the end moved down just one more for us and we were Golden.

After about three hours of sitting there…

We knew that we needed to come back for dinner sometime.

The variety of beverages including the beer, wine and cocktails is unique and inviting. Evidently, there is much thought in putting together this menu. The six-tap beer selection is constantly rotating and could make any beer-lover drool. It’s no joke. The lists may not be extensive, but they focused and varied to just the right degree.

The girls each ordered a Maiden Rock Honey Crisp Cider that was good and slightly dry. I started with a Kir Royale, {bubbly + crème de cassis} one of my fave afternoon cocktails to order when I’m in Paris. Hophead Rob chose the Epic Hopulent IPA on tap. See?

You can please everyone!

We watched all the food orders come up. Rob eyed the ramen dishes. Jen was curious about the seafood tacos.

There were a few Asian touches to the menu, including sake. There were also sake buddies, which is something I’d never heard of before. They’re shots or sidepours of sake that are meant to pair with the beers on tap. Rob had one. I thought it worked well. But what do I really know about sake buddies?

Then Rob switched to the Southern Tier Barrel Aged Back Burner. This is described on the Southern Tier website as an “Imperial Barley Wine Style Ale Aged with Oak.” It was my first time tasting this beer and I loved it as well. Like, really loved it. What’s unique about enjoying this beer on tap at Blackbird? They received it about a year ago and then aged it themselves in their cellar!

Sitting along the bar, it was quite hard to hear each other. At one point, Jen and Kim were in a deep conversation; so we turned and stared at Kim creepily until we got her attention. The funny thing is, that when she finally noticed, she thought we were asking her to take a picture of us. So she did.

Creepy Photo {source: Our friend Kim!}

Creepy Photo {source: Our friend Kim!}

Check out that deer head between us. And notice the antlers on the walls. They are all over the restaurant. It makes me wonder why this place is called Blackbird!

But one of my favorite things in all of the restaurant could be found in the restroom. There is a doorbell next to the mirror with a sign that reads, “Press for Champagne.” Okay, so YOU just press it and let me know what you get.

The service we had at the bar was exceptional. Kim and Jen ended up splitting an ice cream parfait with bacon. They were quite happy. Rob got some late night fries for a snack.

But as driver that night, I found that one of the best things about this place was the espresso machine. I will be sober cab anytime as long as wherever we go has either superb coffee or an espresso machine.

Do you have a tradition when you go out with friends?

Cheers~
Carrie

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Signature Café & The Craftsman

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I really, wanted to like Signature Café when I went there with the girls last weekend. It’s a small restaurant that focuses on local and sustainable foods and wines. I’m all about supporting that kind of thing!

When I pulled up the menu online, I saw that they have a Chef’s Tasting Menu that changes weekly for just $30! This includes four courses that change weekly. Wine Pairing can be added for $15. When I read this menu for the week, I was stoked:

  • Crostini with Pesto, Tomato, and Fresh Mozzarella
  • Spinach Salad with Dried Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Goat Cheese and Red Onion Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Cumin Chicken Breast with Smoked Tomato Rice and Chorizo Greens
  • Chocolate Cake with Butterscotch Drizzle

Every piece of that menu intrigued me! However, in talking with the girls on our way to the restaurant, I learned that I had mistaken. This was the 4-course meal for the following week. I totally missed the current menu, which consisted of some barbecue beef, firecracker coleslaw and basically nothing which suits my palate. I was going to have to order off the menu.

Signature Café is located in a beautiful residential neighborhood of the Prospect Park/East River Road area of Minneapolis. It was too cold to sit out in the outdoor patio, but I loved the twinkle lights! And the ambiance inside was cozy, too.

The Wine

There were some unique wines on the menu. I was quite surprised to see a wine from Traverse City, Michigan on it! I haven’t seen those wines outside of Michigan before. It must have made Signature’s menu due to the vineyard’s sustainability.

Since we all decided that we were either having chicken or fish, we selected a Pinot Gris, from the Willamette Valley in Washington:

I have to admit, I cannot describe this wine. We had no problem knocking it back, but I can’t tell you much about it. I think I was lost in the conversation with the girlies!

The Food

To be quite honest, we were all underwhelmed by our food. The flavors weren’t all that enticing and it tasted more like a home-cook made them. When I dine out, I want it to taste better than that.

056The bread in the bucket was a cute touch. The bread is supposed to be homemade, but was kind of mushy and not very satisfying. I’d pass up on the bread bucket next time.

Pan Seared Wild Atlantic Salmon with Roasted Mixed Vegetables and Roasted New Potatoes

Pan Seared Wild Atlantic Salmon with Roasted Mixed Vegetables and Roasted New Potatoes

Kim’s piece of salmon was huge! She orders salmon a lot and was unimpressed by this one. She was bummed when on her first bite, it tasted fishy. Yes, it’s fish, but it shouldn’t taste the way it did.

Pasta with Scallops

Pasta with Scallops

Jen chose the featured pasta, which I believe was dressed with a white wine sauce. She said the scallops were cooked just fine; but that the dish, overall, was bland. It, too, was a lot of food. She took the leftovers home.

Lemon Thyme Broiled Chicken Breast with Risotto and Sauteed Greens

Lemon Thyme Broiled Chicken Breast with Risotto and Sauteed Greens

There is a reason why you don’t see “chicken breast” on many restaurant menus. They aren’t very exciting and anyone can make them. I chose it because the seasoning sounded good and the dish sounded healthier. However, it did taste like something I could just make at home. {If I can ever make chicken!} And it wasn’t trimmed. I got a few of those fatty, grizzly, cartilage-y pieces on the edges. Ewwww!

The risotto was a tomato and spinach one with gorgonzola. It wasn’t bad. And the sauteed greens were seasoned nicely.

One of the things I really did like about Signature Café was that you can pick your own sides.

The other thing I liked? They belong to a program called Eatiply. It’s a meal-for-meal donation program. For each meal that you purchase at an Eatiply-participating restaurant, a meal is donated to local food banks to help fight hunger. It’s the first time I’d heard of such a thing. Kudos to Signature Café for participating!

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Do you ever find that when you aren’t satisfied with a meal, you just want something else? I mean, you might not necessarily be hungry, but your lack of satisfaction leaves you with an empty sort of feeling.

This happens to me when I put all my love and care making something and it turns out okay enough to eat, but not something I’d make again.

Well, we wanted dessert.

I can’t speak for the other girls if this feeling was the case for them that evening. But Kim said that she was in the mood for dessert. I suggested that since this place didn’t satisfy us that we go somewhere else for a sweet treat. We each got out our Smartphones and used various apps to find something close by with dessert.

Enter: The Craftsman.

It’s not a dessert-specific place, but it was nearby and after pulling up the menu and finding Izzy’s Ice Cream along with some delectable sounding desserts, we were sold.

We had no idea how busy it would be, if they’d have room for us or if it would be strange there to just pop in for dessert. But everything worked out just fine.

It was too dark in there for photos. No would do these desserts justice anyway. But he’s an account of our experience…

  • We sat at the bar and had the best bartender ever! You’ll read why below.
  • Jen and I have already experienced the wonderfulness that is Izzy’s Ice Cream. Kim was an Izzy’s virgin. She is no longer!
  • When we couldn’t decide on the exact desserts, not only did our bartender tell us her favorites, but she also gave us suggestions on how to add to them!
  • For example, she said that she likes to get the Cinnamon Sugar Beignets with a scoop of Izzy’s Ice Cream on the side.
  • I was conflicted. I considered the Chocolate Torte so that I could pair it with a glass of Port.
  • The Dessert Menu also listed an Orange Muscat {dessert wine} that I thought might work well with the beignets. When I asked the bartender what she thought, she let me sample the port and muscat side-by-side!
  • I chose the beignets, ice cream and orange muscat in the end because how often do you get that combo for dessert?!
  • FIVE beignets arrived on a plate! While they were nothing like I’ve had in New Orleans, they were delectable. I passed one each over to Kim and Jen.
  • They both got the Apple Crisp with Izzy’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
  • They could have split one of these huge desserts! They took a bite, finished their ice cream and ended up taking the majority of their crisps home to warm up for breakfast.
  • Jen said the crisp was nothing like her mom’s, but she still loved it!
  • Jen also got a coffee with Bailey’s to warm up and our best-bartender-ever offered splashes of coffee to warm it up whenever it looked like she might need it.

I was the creepy girl at the bar asking the guy next to her anything and everything about his burger. He saw me eyeing it when we arrived, so I took the opportunity to have the discussion. It looked like one Rob would love! It’s another restaurant that supports local farmers who use sustainable and organic practices. And with four local beers on tap, I think I just may be taking a trip back.

Do you ever go out just for dessert?

What’s your favorite place to have dessert where you live?

Cheers~
Carrie

King’s Wine Bar – Minneapolis

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When driving through the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis, I came across Kings Wine Bar. Since we don’t really have a good wine bar in our neighborhood south of the river, I just had to take Rob here for a nightcap after dinner one night.

We loved it. It kind of reminds me of a neighborhood café you’d find in Paris. You know, the kind where they have full-service: beer, wine, food and coffee. I imagined sitting here for hours sipping a coffee while meeting a friend, blogging or just reading a good book. In the evening, the place is dimly lit, creating great ambiance.

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I guess that the trouble with going there for a nightcap is that food must be ordered in order to serve alcohol. It’s a requirement as part of their liquor license for locating in a residential neighborhood. While it would be nice to just stop in for a glass of wine from time to time, I totally get it. If people didn’t eat and just drank all night, they could be loud, obnoxious and disturb the other neighbors.

Since then, we’ve gone back a few times. In fact, I’ve taken girlfriends here for dessert after our dinner nights out, too! On one occasion, Rob and I put in an order for mac & cheese with our wine and the tried the dessert special.

MAC & CHEESE  full $10 || half $8 add bacon $2 || add broccoli $2 || mushrooms $3

MAC & CHEESE

Dessert Special: Butterscotch Budino

Dessert Special – Butterscotch Budino

Since Rob absolutely adores butterscotch, we were excited about this dessert. Unfortunately, we were disappointed. No biggie though, everyone else who has been there with me has enjoyed the desserts there.

It’s a Wine Bar! What about the wine?

There are four beers on tap at any given time which are often local or craft brews. But many other beers are offered in the bottle or the can.

The wine list is pretty extensive for a little neighborhood wine bar. I mean, how many of you can walk to one in your neighborhood and order a bottle of Sancerre or Amarone? There are over 20 wines offered by the glass and over 100 by the bottle. They offer a hefty pour of Port, too!

But despite all of these offerings, this place is in no way stuffy. In fact, the people who work there are kind of quirky. I like that. A lot.

Still, the food shouldn’t be overlooked! {You have to try it if you want some wine or beer, anyway.} We wound up here when my mom was in town. She wanted to try a Café Cubano and my google search yielded Victors 1959 Café. We decided on it for breakfast/brunch. However, it was Memorial Day and the wait seemed like it would be hours for such a small place. After driving around, we happened upon Kings and having been there before, we knew it would be a good choice.

GRILLED CHEESE mozzarella, cheddar and gruyere with tomato soup

GRILLED CHEESE – mozzarella, cheddar and gruyere with tomato soup

And while I thought it was tasty {exceptional bread, possibly from Patisserie 46 next door?!}, I was quite envious of my mom’s and Rob’s orders. How could I know they’d make an exceptional burger?

KINGS BURGER caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, bacon, pickles and shallot aioli $11

KINGS BURGER – caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, bacon, pickles and shallot aioli

Burger of the week? Blue cheese or mushroom sauce?

Burger with Blue Cheese Mushroom Sauce

I can’t find this burger on their online menu now!!! How annoying is that? I considered this a top burger in the Twin Cities and I *think* Rob agreed. That day, there was a burger and beer special. A burger plus a beer for just $10. That’s a pretty good deal in our area. I wonder if I it was a specialty burger or if I could order it again.

And you know how I mentioned that we enjoy the Port here? I don’t think we’ve ever patronized this place without one of us ordering a glass of Port. I can’t think of many other places where that is the case. But that day that we were there with my mom, our server, Lori, told us that when she was in a band that performed in Portugal and loved her experience stopping at all the vineyards where you could enjoy Port and tapas with the beautiful view. We loved her passion and you must know that is now on our travel bucket list!

We love that in the Twin Cities, Kings Wine Bar is not well-known, or at least we hadn’t learned of it until I drove by the place. But there’s so much going on there! One time there was a doggie parade in the neighborhood. And they offer brunch and date night. It’s just one of those places where I find myself drawn to dine. I feel content here.

Now you know why I chose Café Ena for dinner one night. I knew Rob enjoyed Kings as much as I did, so trying another place across the street was difficult.

What is your favorite Wine Bar {or place to drink wine if you aren’t near one!} where you live?

Cheers~
Carrie

The Red Wine & Chocolate Debate

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About ten years ago, when I first started doing Wine Tastings with The Traveling Vineyard, I learned that red wine and chocolate paired well together. I am not really sure where I learned that. I took an online Wine Spectator class where a bunch of us met weekly to go over the lesson and taste the wines together. Did I discover it there? At our first Annual Harvest Convention, I attended a session on food and wine pairing with a gentleman from the Culinary Institute of Arts. Did I taste it there? Or was it just something I overheard from other consultants? I truly can’t remember.

But over the past year, I’ve read articles {like this one} by wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts across the globe who state that pairing red wine and chocolate is just plain WRONG! {For the record, my husband agrees, swearing that chocolate should only be paired with Port. But this is not because he’s a connoisseur; it’s just his personal preference.}

And you may be scratching your head asking yourself the same question, especially after my post about dessert wines, stressing how a wine should always be sweeter than the dessert itself.

I have used dark chocolate at Wine Tastings to illustrate food and wine pairing and to convert people from whites to reds. It works. I still have guests who swear by this pairing. I must admit that it has been a while since I’ve had the two together myself. But as a wine enthusiast, maybe my palate has not evolved to that of a connoisseur.

In any case, I have a couple of points to make and tweak about this pairing.

In my opinion, not all types of chocolate go with red wine.

When I’ve suggested that hosts serve dark chocolate and recommend just picking up an easy package of Dove Promises, some decide to go all out instead. They get all sorts of flavors with white chocolate, caramel, mint, chili pepper – you name it. Most of these don’t go with red wine. You are going to taint my poor wines that I’m bringing with mint! While these flavors might be fun to try with specific wines with a more experienced wine drinking group, it’s not the best option when I am trying to teach and showcase new wines, possibly to new wine drinkers. Furthermore, some hosts have even just bought milk chocolate because they don’t like dark chocolate. But both the red wine and dark chocolate tend to smooth each other out. So dark chocolate is the way to go, or at least the place to start.

Dark chocolate doesn’t go with all red wine.

At my tastings, I save a specific wine to be paired with the dark chocolate. This is because, I don’t believe it works with all wines. I feel like it works best with the more fruit-forward of wines from the New World. Earthy Old World (aka European) wines are best served with dinner. Bigger, bolder, fruit-forward wines from California and Australia seem to be the best candidates for chocolate pairing. I’m talking Cabernets, Syrahs, and Zins. Some New World blends work, too. This is a generalization; however, not a rule to live by. Not all California Cabs have the same style and characteristics. Therefore, not all of them will work.

Pair dark chocolate with reds that have chocolate “notes” when you smell and taste the wine.

Just as you’d pair chicken or fish marinated in lemon and herbs with a nice Sauvignon Blanc with citrusy notes, try chocolate with a red that has the aromas or flavors of chocolate. Not sure which wines showcase that? Tasting and describing wines takes practice. Remember the Importance of Company? Otherwise, if the bottle has a description, look for chocolate words like “mocha”. But remember, taste is subjective, so not everyone will agree on those notes. Furthermore, labels may describe wines more for marketing purposes than what the wine actually smells or tastes like.

At one time, the Traveling Vineyard carried a bold smoky Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. It had chocolate and raspberry notes, but was a very heavy wine that usually only big red wine drinkers at my tastings enjoyed. That was until I started pairing it with these Raspberry Chocolate Bars, a recipe that I believe was shared by my friend and fellow Wine Consultant, Deb. I always have my guests taste the wine before trying a food and then after. Many white and sweet wine drinkers were surprised how much they loved this red after trying these decandent bars!

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Quick & Easy Raspberry Chocolate Bars

*Warning: This is not a healthy recipe by any means. Make it for a crowd, eat one and send the rest home with someone else.

  • 1. 5 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup softened butter
  • 10 oz raspberries
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, beat the first three ingredients with a spoon or on medium until all crumbly. Press the mixture in the bottom of an ungreased 13″ x 9″ pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. In a saucepan, mix together next three ingredients. Bring to a boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Let cool ten minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the first mixture in the pan and then carefully spread the raspberry mixture over that. Bake until set (about 20 minutes). Then let cool for 30 minutes. Chill for one hour. Cut into 48 bars.

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And lastly, there is a general rule of thumb that goes for any wine pairing:

Pair any wine with any food as long as you like them together!

All that matters is that you like the wine with whatever you are eating. I swear by the fact that grapes don’t go with wine, but if you like them together, by all means, pair them!

So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are singled or coupled, pick up a bottle of New World red wine and some dark chocolate to do a little experimenting yourself. It’s more important that you be the judge.

What side do you take on the chocolate and red wine debate and why?

Cheers~
Carrie

This valentines’ day…

Dessert Wines

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I find that you can usually put wine drinkers in two camps – those who like sweet wines and those who don’t. There are the few though, who might not drink sweet wines on a regular basis that can appreciate them for what they are:

DESSERT

In fact, as much as I try to move sweet wine drinkers across the spectrum to teach them how to appreciate red wines, I also aim to show dry wine lovers how to love the sweets.

Just to be clear, most wines are dry. If they aren’t, they are usually dessert wines. However, there are wines that people call sweet that are actually dry, but just fruity. This takes some time and tasting to discover. {Perhaps with some company?}

However, the real key to enjoying a sweet wine is to drink it with dessert. To do this, there is one very important rule of the thumb:

The wine must be sweeter than the dessert itself.

If there is anything you take away from this post, take that. Why is it so? Give it some thought. If you eat a sweet dessert and then take a sip of a wine that is not, the wine is going to taste bitter and not be enjoyable at all!

Here are three of my favorite examples of sweeter wines and the desserts that pair well with them:

Bubbly

Contrary to popular belief, Champagne is not a sweet wine. Most sparkling wines aren’t either. However, varieties like Moscato d’Asti {which has been a very popular Traveling Vineyard favorite in the past} and a similar reddish-pink wine such as Fissata are good candidates.

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These wines are lightly sweetly with a bit of effervescence that cleanses the palate after each sip. Therefore,  \you don’t want to pair it with a dessert that is too sweet. Remember: Sweeter than the dessert itself

Favorite Dessert Pairings: Cheesecake or Biscotti {I’m told the Italians actually dip it in the wine!}

Looking for an easy, bite-sized dessert for a party? Here’s one my friend Amy served at her Wine Tasting.

Cheesebars

  • 1 pkg of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
  • 2  pkgs 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 egg yolks (save whites)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x13 pan with cooking spray. Spread 1 package of crescent rolls on the bottom bottom. Thoroughly blend together cream cheese, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla. Spread over crescent rolls. Cover with a second package rolls pinching perforations together. Paint top with egg whites, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar if desired.

Bake 15 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool thoroughly. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Cut and serve.

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Sweet Rosé

Just like most bubblies, rosé wines do not tend to be sweet. It’s actually pretty rare for true rosés to be such. Those that are vary greatly in sweetness. Traveling Vineyard‘s Sweet American Rosé is one of the sweet ones! It’s nearly as syrupy sweet as the dessert wines you’ll find in a half-sized bottle. Due to it’s sweetness, we’ve found a perfect pairing to cut through that!

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Favorite Dessert Pairing: Key Lime Pie

Here’s another recipe for an easy, bite-sized party dessert. It was found and adapted by one of my favorite repeat hosts, Wendee!

Key Lime Bars

Courtesy of Betty Crocker

Makes:  36 small bars

  • 1-1/2 cups coconut cookie crumbs (says ~17 cookies – more like~14-15 Voortman’s).
  • 3 Tbsp unsulted butter, melted
  • 1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened (1/3 less fat works great)
  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk (fat free works fine!)
  • ¼ cup Key lime juice or regular lime juice (suggestion: Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime juice)
  • 1 Tbsp grated lime peel
  • Lime peel or strawberries for garnish, if desired

Heat oven to 350⁰ F.  Grease or spray a 9 x9 x 2 inch square pan. Or line the pan with parchment paper for easier lifting out & cutting.

Mix cookie crumbs and butter thoroughly with fork.  Press evenly in bottom of pan. Refrigerate while preparing cream cheese mixture.

Beat cream cheese in small bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in milk until smooth. Beat in lime juice and grated lime peel. Spread over layer in pan.

Bake about 35 minutes or until center is set. Cool 30 minutes. Cover loosely and refrigerate at least 3 hours until chilled (or overnight). For 36 bars, cut into 6 rows by 6 rows.  Garnish with lime peel.  Store covered in refrigerator.

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Torrontés

Never had a Torrontés? Well, it’s the signature white varietal of Argentina. It can be hard to find, but when you do, you’ll fall in love.

torrontes

I’ve had red wine, white wine and sweet wine drinkers go crazy over this wine. It’s probably because it’s so versatile. Although it’s not technically a dessert wine, it’s got floral aromas with a fruitiness that can be perceived as sweet. It pairs well with spices, Asian foods, guacamole and smoked meats. What’s more is that I’ve discovered that it sometimes can work well with a lemon cookie or meringue pie!

Favorite Dessert Pairing: Lemon Cookie or Lemon Meringue Pie

This discovery came about when a guest came to a tasting with a lemon trifle. Immediately, I remembered another consultant telling me that she had a crowd of sweet wine drinkers and successfully served a Torrontés as a dessert wine with a lemon dessert. On a whim that night, I switched the Torrontés to serve it last with the trifle.

It was a hit! As I was bringing the dessert around for everyone to try with the wine, one woman asked me if the Torrontés was a dessert wine because she generally didn’t like them, but was loving this. There were a few repeat guests who had already tried the wine at a past tasting, but were amazed at how different the wine tasted when served last and with dessert!

I asked the guest for her trifle recipe:

Lemon Trifle

  • Angel Food Cake
  • 2 cans of lemon pie filling
  • 8 oz cool Whip
  • 16 oz of lemon yogurt (She says she uses the Yoplait Lemon Burst – 3 of them)
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries or raspberries

Mix the lemon pie filling, coolwhip, and lemon yogurt together. Break up the Angel Food Cake into pieces.  Make 3 layers of each:

Angel Food Cake

Blueberries and strawberries (or raspberries)

Lemon Mixture

The Lemon Mixture should be the top layer, but if desired, you can finish with a thin layer of whipped cream or cool whip and sliced strawberries on top to make it look nice.

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Of course, these are just ideas and not all desserts will work for all wines. It’s time for you to experiment! Just remember the rule: The wine must be sweeter than the dessert itself!

Consider savoring dessert with a dessert wine this Valentine’s Day. Or stay tuned next week when we discuss the debate of red wine and chocolate!

What is your favorite dessert wine pairing?

Cheers~
Carrie

Borough – Minneapolis

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The first time I heard about the Borough was when I read the list of opening and closing restaurants throughout the Twin Cities at the end of an article on the Heavy Table website. I checked out the menu and I stopped at the first item:

SoupChampagne, Fingerling Potato Chips, Black Truffles, Chives – $7

I didn’t even need to read the rest of the menu. Instead, I immediately sent an email to my husband stating that we had to put this on our list of restaurants to try!

But I went without him.

We ended up there by accident. My friends Kim, Jen, Jared and I had scheduled to take a cooking class together at Saga Hill. Unfortunately, the chef had the flu and I totally missed the message that afternoon that they had to cancel the class. We arrived there to find dark rooms and no one inside. When we learned what was going on, we thought that since we were together and were hungry, we might as well dine together!

We all searched our smartphones for nearby restaurants and when Jared suggested the Borough, I gave them a call. They didn’t have any tables left; all were reserved. However, they did have a large bar that wasn’t quite busy yet.

When we arrived, the bar was busy in that nearly all of the seats were taken. There definitely weren’t four seats together. However the hostess asked a few people to move down to allow us to sit. They kindly did so!

As do many restaurants in the Twin Cities now, there was an excellent assortment of beers on tap. I rather liked the bar area and the style of taps.

bar

Borough Bar

Look closely above. There are no advertised taps here. They all have the same look to them. Instead, the beers are listed on mirrors on either side of the bar.

mirro

These mirrors indicate the beers on tap as well as the basic menu.

However, after Jared ordered a glass of bubbly, I couldn’t help but order a glass myself. Once three of us decided to go that route, we chose to order a bottle instead.

By this point, I was pretty hungry. The menu was separated into categories of small, medium and large plates. I  was hungry, so I totally skipped that soup that sounded so good! And you won’t believe this… Even though they were highly recommended by the bartender, everyone else but me ordered the scallops!

Scallops

Scallops – Parsnips, Maitakes, Maple, Pancetta, Cider Gastrique, Pearl Onion – $16

I think $16 is a pretty decent price for a scallop dish in the Twin Cities. Despite the fact that all of my friends ordered these, I didn’t take a taste! Here are their thoughts on the scallops:

Jared: “I liked the scallops, but wouldn’t say they were the best I’ve had. I thought they were done correctly and had a nice sear on them. The Parsnip puree was slightly sweet and went well with them. I would order them again. The seafood sausage was very interesting, but could have had a bit more flavor in my opinion.”

Jen: “I don’t have anything too memorable to report on the scallops. They were good, but I would not have gotten as excited as the bartender.”

Kim: “They were ok. The scallops were a little chewy and too salty. Presentation was awesome. I would try something else next time.”

Because I was so hungry, I ordered a “large” plate. I also was in the mood for comfort food. Fried chicken was calling my name:

Fried Chx

Chicken – Fried, Buttered Potatoes, Mustard Greens, Radish, Soubise Gravy – $19

Although these pieces just look like over-sized chicken nuggets, it ended up being a lot of food – definitely worthy of being called a “large plate. And to me, the chicken was more like just breaded chicken than true fried chicken. When cutting into the square pieces, I noticed that the white and dark meat was pushed together to form the square. Only a place like this could get away with that! Fast food joints are chastised for it.
I did love the presentation though. The contrasts of colors and the use of the watermelon radish as a garnish was perfect. I adored the mustard greens! But overall, I found this dish to be too salty.
When Jared asked if we wanted to get to dessert, I remembered that there were only three desserts to choose from:

Dessert menu

So why not order them all to split?!

Pineapple

Pineapple Cake – Caramel, Rum, White Chocolate, Pineapple Ice – $7

Chocolate

Chocolate – Flourless Cake, Ganache, Chèvre, Cherry, Ice Cream, Hazelnut, Espresso – $7

Margarita

Margarita – Lime Curd, Saltine Cracker, Tequila, Meringue, Sea Salt – $7

The Verdict on Dessert:

Jared: “I wasn’t really wowed by any of them. I like pineapple upside down cake, but this one left me wanting more. It had more caramel on it than it needed. The chocolate was ok, but I’m not a coffee fan and that was too much for me. I guess, I would give Borough a second chance, but the BEST thing about it was the company.” Awww!

Jen: “I liked the tequila lime dessert the best. I am realizing that I could take or leave flourless chocolate cake.”

Kim: ” My favorite dessert was the lime one with the chocolate a VERY close second. That’s just because I love key lime pie!”

Me: These desserts were beautiful! They reminded me of the presentation at Naha. My favorite of the three was the chocolate cake, but mainly because of the espresso flavor. I loved the combination of the two! A very close second was the Margarita. I tried that one first and looked at Kim immediately and said, “You are going to love this one!” since she adores key lime pie. That’s just what it tasted like!

So you can see we do have somewhat different tastes!

One thing I really loved about Borough is that when they delivered the plates, they explained all of the components to you. Too often, I forget what the menu read. It’s nice to have a reminder and not be left wondering.

The couple next to me had split the burger on the menu and I overheard them raving about it with the bartender. Hmmm… I just may have to come back and bring Rob. Okay, so I really want to try that burger, too! It looked so good.

What’s the best dessert you’ve ever had?

Cheers~
Carrie

Naha – Chicago, IL

Standard

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.

I.must.find.a.recipe.to.replicate.

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…

Cheers~

Carrie