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Apr 25, 2008 05:18 AM

MSP Dining Out for Life 2008 -- where did you go?

Last night was the annual Dining Out for Life event for the Twin Cities. Where did you go? What did you have? How was it? Was the place crowded?

I was with a party of six at Ngon Bistro in St. Paul. We had a great experience and racked up a big three-digit tab for charity. I'll provide more details later today.

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  1. This was the first time for any of us at Ngon Bistro. We liked the room quite a bit -- it's big, airy, with good art on the walls and attractive, light colors. The noise level was somewhat deafening, though. It was very hard to be heard across the table. The room was packed for the Dining Out for Life event, and the host circulated with stickers, Raffle envelopes, and Borders coupons.

    We had a couple of bottles of Riesling, which the wine drinkers praised, and several of the appetizers. It was hard to choose appetizers, as the entire (large) selection sounded interesting and tempting. We had the special pork bao, seared scallops with frisee and pickled mango salad, lettuce wraps with Fischer Farms pork, sugar cane shrimp, wild boar sausage, and crispy rabbit dumpling. Everything was good, but the standouts were the rabbit dumpling (light and flavorful), the soft, mild homemade boar sausage with addictive wasabi mustard and little half-moons of pickled cucumber, and the pork lettuce wraps. Actually, I totally ignored the lettuce, rice noodles, and pickled carrots to concentrate on that amazing pork. These were skewers of paper-thin sheets of pork, lightly coated with a sweet glaze, and caramelized to a browned sugar crunch on the outer edges. Fantastic!

    For entrees, three of us had various pho. The oxtail broth was deemed superior, though all were good. One person had a shrimp bun (salad), which seemed adequate. My friend had the arctic char special, which had some kind of a marinade that turned the flesh light orange. He was quite impressed by it. I had the Vietnamese take on duck cassoulet, which was spiced pho-style and served with white beans (traditional), carrots and Chinese mushrooms (not so traditional). The flavors were amazingly good, and I was impressed by the fall-off-the-bone (literally), perfectly tender, slow-cooked duck leg. This was a great interpretation of a French dish.

    We tried all three of the desserts they were offering last night, including a tremendous poached Asian pear, coconut cream spring rolls (I think -- I didn't sample that one), and the playful "Vietnamese coffee cake." This dish takes the traditional Vietnamese iced coffee and turns it into a pastry, with Vietnamese coffee-infused and spiced cake, topped with a layer of vanilla custard, and served with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Really great.

    To sum up, we did our part for a good cause and enjoyed a unique and delightful St. Paul treasure.

    1. Mr. Tastebud and I went to Toast Wine Bar. Thanks to a thread I spied on another board, I actually knew about "Dining Out for Live" BEFORE it happened. (This is a first.) And it was the kick in the pants I needed to get back to Toast.

      We nibbled and sampled our way through the menu, sharing everything. The food was great!

      We started with a cup of spring vegetable and white bean soup. It was a clear broth with tiny cubes of carrot, slivers of green onion, and bits of white beans. The soup was light and savory - I liked it, but wasn't blown away. Though if I had made something like this at home, I would be very pleased.

      Then we had the mixed greens salad. Wow! This salad was simple and absolutely delicious. It was nicely-cut pieces of a crispy loose-leaf lettuce with a lemon-mustard vinaigrette, topped with shredded cheese (parmesan?). The lemon flavor was quite pronounced (zest? lemon oil?) and was fabulous. I would drive from Apple Valley for this salad.

      Next came the salumi/charcuterie plate - a generous serving of prosciutto, salami, sausage, and chorizo. Plus a dollop of violet mustard (so-called because it's dark purple from grape juice, I think) and some glazed almonds. Very nice! I loved the spicy chorizo and the melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto. I've forgotten the prices of most things, but I think this item was $9.

      Then we had some crostini. They're $1.50 each, and there are 15+ toppings to choose from. Each is 3 or 4 bites, which makes a nice tidbit when cut in half. We had, if I remember, black olive and tuna (yum), white bean with tomato (OK, not great), egg with chorizo (tasty), roasted onion with taleggio (double yum), and goat cheese with sauteed zucchini (fabulous - my favorite).

      We ended with a chicken & fontina cheese pizza. The pizza base is a thin, crispy cracker - I have no idea how they keep it so crispy with the toppings on it. The chicken, which is from Brasa, had a slight BBQ-sauce taste - lovely with the cheese. I really really really liked this pizza.

      We were too full for dessert, but I heard the waiter describing something that came with blue-cheese ice cream. I need to go back for this!

      The restaurant was quite busy and very festive. The noise level was high, unfortunately, due to several large and loud groups, but I'll cut the place some slack, because it was a special occasion, and because they don't usually have large groups. The service was good, though our waiter was a bit distracted during the busiest (and noisiest) parts of the evening. But it was fun to be a part of the festivities.

      All in all, a lovely evening. We were very happy with Toast's food, and even more pleased that they're a Platinum (top-level) supporter of Dining Out for Life. Thanks, Toast!


      2 Replies
      1. re: AnneInMpls

        Here are the places links for Ngon and Toast.


        Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
        799 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN 55104

        Toast Wine Bar & Cafe
        415 N 1st St, Minneapolis, MN 55401

        1. re: AnneInMpls

          Chowspouse and I went to Toast, too! We met a friend there. The place was slammed, but because we all know Tom, he made sure we had a nice table.

          We had our usual - mushroom pizza, olives, 3-cheese plate, our friend had his fave egg & chorizo crostini, we ordered the side of aparagus (relatively new for their menu), and we finished with the chocolate pudding.

          The pizza was, as always, fabulous for what it is. The olives were as good as ever. The asparagus disappointed because they squirted lemon on it, and I don't like lemon on things. To me it's a great way to ruin perfectly good seafood or vegetables. Next time I'll order it without. The cheese were the blue, manchego, and gouda, all perfect. The chocolate pudding was less an American style wet pudding or a British style bread pudding, and more like a brownie with melted mini-marshmallows. None of us were particularly impressed.

          We, too, liked that they were dropping 35% for the cause.

          A good time was had by all!

        2. We ate at Cafe Ena. I got there around 6, and it wasn't too busy, but by 7 the place was packed! We shared a pitcher of Sangria, which was kind of refreshing on such a crappy, rainy day. The complimentary bread came with an amazing butter. It was pink, really creamy, a little spicy, and I tasted honey, red pepper, and garlic. We ordered the ceviche duo as a starter, and it came with corn chips and fried plantain chips for dipping. It was excellent! I ordered the monkfish, which came on top of a wild mushroom risotto and asparagus stalks. There was a buttery truffle sauce surrounding it. The acidity of the sauce was great with the mildness of the fish and the creamy risotto. The other people I was dining with had salmon and a salad and both enjoyed their meals. Really wonderful meal, wonderful service (though there was a big mixup with food at the table next to ours) and I'd definitely go back.