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Jan 3, 2011 08:24 PM

Best meals of 2010

Here are mine, what were yours? (full disclosure: this is edited from a post on my own blog)


When, I arrived, the host immediately wished me a happy birthday, and “Happy Birthday Kevin” was printed on my menu. Cheesy? Birthdays are cheesy.

More important was the food. Lamb brains and steak for me. Beet salad and chicken with eggplant lavosh for the wife. All four were simply outstanding. Chef Wadi has such an extraordinary command of such broad range of flavors that you find yourself fishing for analogies far cheesier than the “happy birthday” bit.

Cave Vin

I think the words criminally underrated are in order. We popped by during restaurant week at my wife’s discretion. We were both thrilled with the result.

I had escargot, mussels and braised short rib. If you are going to ingest 8,000 calories in a meal (not an exaggeration), this is the way to do it. Nothing revolutionary, just fantastic technique on display in a subtly romantic room. I will remember that balsamic reduction for, well, until I eat their short rib again.

The Strip Club

I’m not a steak joint kind of guy. In Minnesota, we have access to great cuts of meat, and I know how to prepare them. Throwing down $60 for 26 oz. of meat and hash browns isn’t my idea of a good night.

Enter The Strip Club. First of all, they use grass fed cuts of meat, which feature a higher degree of difficulty. Second, my rib eye clocked in under $30.

Third, instead of 8 lbs. of cheesy potatoes on the side, TSC offers a remarkable array of small plates. The Devils eggs earn every accolade they have received, and the poutine is decadent fun.

Throw in great service, and one of the coolest spaces in the cities, and this is a steakhouse I can get behind.

Victory 44

Yes, it’s my neighborhood place. I’ve been there 44 times. I’m their mayor on Foursquare. I’ve been with it through it’s various iterations, including their time with the now Travail chefs at the helm.
What has impressed me is the consistency. Regardless of format, or chefs at the helm, the food has always been interesting and affordable.

Of late, the place has caught fire, culminating in a New Years Eve tasting menu presented by chef Erick Harcey. Highlights: Pork belly with pops of jalapeno balancing ribbons of apricot gel. A dessert made with foie gras, and black cod fused with prosciutto.

Note: V-44 is planning to do this every weekend. Well worth the trip.

Black Sheep

Tradition holds that restaurants do their worst work during Valentines Day and New Years. And yet, one entry on this list was our NYE meal, and the other is Black Sheep, where I spent V-day with my lovely bride.

A crock of olives and such was needlessly hot, but tasty, but that is some pizza to get hot over. Black Sheep nails everything, from crust, to ingredients, to reheating instructions. At the same time, it’s an exercise in elegant simplicity. Just like love.

La Sirena Gorda

The kid in candy store metaphor is overused, but it rings pretty true when I enter Midtown Global Market. That said, I find myself going back to La Sirena Gorda, in spite of the wonders around me.

The octopus tacos are simply one of the best plates you can find in the cities. That they clock in under $10 is every reason for you to go get them, and a testament to a chef who can make great food out of affordable ingredients.

Corner Table

Handpicked for our anniversary dinner, Corner Table delivered on every score.

The nosh plate was lovely and innovative, and I say that as someone who hates the word “nosh” (it’s the first syllable of the word ‘nauseous’, and pretentious besides). But, having taken half a dozen stabs at gazpacho myself, I am extra-appreciative of how hard that is too pull off.

I’ll also note that this place has made me a fan of the “eggs for dinner” movement. Poached and perched perfectly on poultry. That’s the way to do it.

Sole Café

Simply two great chefs making the best Korean food in the cities. The spicy pork stir-fry is lovingly prepared (and the chef will come out to make sure you love it), but it’s the Korean accoutrements that got to me.

To be honest, I have never understood why Korean restaurants feel compelled to serve patrons a salad bar of goodies. Thanks to Sole Café, I’ve gotten religion in that regard. All I can say is, go try.


Unapologetically fussy. Not as perfect as it needs to be. Still, it was a lot of fun to dine here. The service was near flawless, the wines represent a remarkable value, and the food…

A couple of the courses needed work. But the hits were electric. The octopus was the best thing I’ve ate this year, and our cheesecake dessert was astonishing as well.

At present, this place is a bit overrated. But it’s hard to fault the critics for being excited about the potential. Just be prepared for the price point, and the portion size. It’s a different philosophy, and one that Americans would do well to embrace.

I Nonni

On the opposite end of the philosophy, I Nonni offers a three-course all-you-can-eat menu on Tuesdays. The three courses were delicious, the all-you-can-eat redundant. Three courses are plenty.

This is the best Italian in Lilydale, naturally, but also the Twin Cities. You cannot leave without eating the Veal Osso Buco. I’ll put it this way: there is more the Italian than pasta.

Midtown Global Market
920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

La Sirena Gorda
920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407

Corner Table
4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

Cave Vin
5555 Xerxes Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55410

I Nonni
981 sibley memorial hwy, Lilydale, MN 55118

The Strip Club
378 Maria Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55106

Victory 44
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

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  1. Cave Vin. Scallops for my husband, lamb for me. Absolutely delicious. During the summer they had a very simple, beautiful scallop on watercress dish that I craved constantly.

    La Belle Vie, lounge tasting menu. Fabulous.

    Birthday dinner at Corner Table. Best rabbit I've ever had and a a maple syrup panna cotta that I could not stop eating, or more like inhaling.

    The yum yum bowl from World Street Kitchen. Again, it got to where I simply craved it every day.

    Corner Table
    4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

    La Belle Vie
    510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

    Cave Vin
    5555 Xerxes Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55410

    1. I didn't do much fine dining this year, for whatever reason. Unless I'm forgetting some (very possible), my fine dining was limited to: Alma, Saffron, and Corner Table. The first two were excellent, as always. I finally made it to CT and I'm glad I did. Also took 2 of Scott's butchering classes, which were well worth it.

      Casual dining:

      MGM - Long overdue and have been back a few times.

      Sea Salt - Still a fan of the blackened catfish po' boy and a Bender on a nice summer afternoon.

      Anchor Fish and Chips - Made multiple visits. Like the namesake, though the fish could do with a bit more salt. The helicopter burger is outrageous.

      Tacqueria Olmeca - Hat tip to MSPD for this gem. Too bad I live in the northern burbs.

      Victory-44 - I echo the sentiments about their unwavering quality. Given the current crush at Travail, this is now my go-to spot. Funny how that happens.

      Travail - Love what the boys are doing, though the quality dropped slightly on my most recent trip. Still a huge fan, but the overwhelming popularity is keeping me away. Like Yogi Berra said, 'Nobody goes there anymore because its too crowded'.

      Black Sheep - Seems to get mixed reviews around here, but if you get past the initial spite of 'is it authentic' this or that, I think they are putting out the best pizza in town and I'm an absolute pizza junky. Along those lines...

      Randy's Premier Pizza - Not mind blowing by any means, but a semi-diamond in the rough in Maplewood/North St. Paul. Everything from the hand tossed to the Chicago style is very well done.

      Q Fanatic - Multiple visits, the highlight being the AYE brisket a few weeks back. Fork tender with a nice smoke flavor. Looking forward to trying the pastrami.

      Cecil's Deli - Great pastrami and corned beef sandwiches.

      Busters on 28th - Excellent burgers and a beer selection to match.

      Looking forward to trying: Piccolo, Heidi's, Haute Dish, In Season, and Steven Brown's new spot (Tilia?). Also, the vast number of Asian and Latin restaurants I still haven't visited.

      Corner Table
      4257 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55409

      Randy's Premier Pizza
      6030 50th St N, Saint Paul, MN 55128

      The Anchor Fish and Chips
      302 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413

      In Season
      5416 Penn Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55419

      1. OM
        The Modern
        Black Sheep
        La Belle Vie

        La Belle Vie
        510 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55405

        1. W. A. Frost - Lunch w/ mom.

          Made my first visit to WA on the back of a Groupon. I always figured it was too fussy, expensive, and meat-centric for me, but I was dead wrong. I sat in the Bar side and had Kataifi crusted Tofu in hot and sour soup with Chinese mushrooms, bamboo shoots, baby bok choy and a scallion radish salad. Taking a lowly slab of tofu, which even for this vegetarian isn't exactly a favorite, and elevating it into a great dish that any meat eater would've been satisfied with is quite the feat. The tofu actually had flavor, and all of the accouterments were excellent. The mini-dessert trio afterwards capped off a great afternoon of hooky from work.

          Heartland - Dinner w/ mom.

          I had the Flora fixed price with a cold cauliflower soup, Morel mushroom gnocchi, and a croissant bread pudding. The soup was ho-hum, the bread pudding was something totally new for me, but quite good, but the star was the gnocchi. Big, pillowy gnocchi will plenty of earthy, Morel goodness. A bite with some greenery and the dried ricotta chunks was heavenly.

          Victory 44 - Brunch w/ friend.
          My first and best visit. I ordered the Beet Terrine and Olive Oil Pancakes. The terrine was awesome and the pancakes outstanding.

          Meritage - Dinner w/ friend, 5 course vegetarian tasting menu.

          The best meal I've ever had. Hard stop. Best service, best overall meal, and best overall experience. Here is the 2,000+ word review I wrote:

          Travail Kitchen & Amusements - Lunch w/ mom.

          Stopped in on a Tuesday afternoon for a bite and to share about 10 lbs. of Swiss Chard I grew. I had the deconstructed Tofu Banh Mi for my dish, but was surprised with a dish made from my Swiss Chard. Goat cheese and pine nut chard leaves with fazzoletti pasta, butter poached radishes and deep fried chard ribbons. Not only was it cool to get a dish done "Iron Chef" style, but it's one of the better dishes I've had there. This was right after the introduction of the $9 "dessert tasting", which on this visit was 5 items! Insane value, and insanely good.

          Travail Kitchen & Amusements - Dinner w/ friends, solo @ bar

          This fall I got into mushroom foraging. After one of my forays, I went to dinner at Travail and was delighted to see a Wild Mushroom Risotto on the menu. It was $7, and chock full of mushrooms, one being a large cross section of Hen of the Wood's, apparently cut with a deli-slicer. The portion was the largest single dish I've had there as well, a nice deep bowl filled about halfway. It was delicious. Seriously, one of the best things I've ever eaten. "Last Meal on Death Row" good. The following Friday, I actually called ahead to see if it was still on the menu, and was told they'd save a portion for me, which I ended up enjoying at the bar by myself.

          Fuji-Ya - multiple dinners w/ friend.

          I get gift certificates from work for Fuji-Ya every once in awhile, so not only am I enjoying awesome sushi, it's free! I am now greeted by name and always sit at the bar. I usually order off the Specials Menu or ask the chef what is good. Have become a huge fan of the Super Spider-Man roll, usually two kinds of crab, or crab and lobster, in a giant roll the size of a baby's arm. My friend and I have taken to bringing the chef / servers a treat from Candyland because of the service we receive.

          410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102

          Victory 44
          2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN

          1. If I had to choose one, it'd be Bar La Grassa. The calamarata with raw tuna was the best dish, and I think of it almost daily! Also really enjoyed the soft eggs and lobster bruschetta and the gnocchi with cauliflower and orange. The orecchiette with rabbit and chicken were good, not great, IMO. But that calamarata . . .

            Bar La Grassa
            800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401

            1 Reply
            1. re: diesel

              Yikes, how could I forget BLG?

              My absolute favorite was the chicken, but the pasta with sweetbreads was also a hit.