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A Week in Rochester, MN

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Just returned from a week in Rochester. I was concerned by the bad food buzz, but - thanks to the posts here- had a pretty successful week, at least foodwise.

Sontes for tapas -- the place has a nice, but relaxed atmosphere. The tapas was very good, with some of the more mundane sounding dishes standing out. Started with citrus marinated olives (the citrus was a nice touch) and the charcuterie plate - both good. The squid ink ravioli was just ok, but the cannellini bean and rosemary crostini was excellent as was the kohlrabi in dill sauce (my darkhorse favorite of the meal). For desert, the carrot cake was ok, but on the dry side. There were many other dishes (esp. the scallop) I would like to try.

Jasper's (Alsatian) - a small space with very nice atmosphere. The chicken liver pate was fantastic, served with a traditional set (chopped gherkins and onion); I could eat my weight in this dish. The roasted beet salad with goat cheese was also perfect. (Roasted beets were on every menu I saw this week). I had the fried pork cutlet over spaetzle and sauerkraut - which was good, but way too much food - leaving no room for an amazing looking carrot cake for desert. My dining companion had the cou au vin - which was just weird; the chicken meat did not have the usual red wine-soaked color and it was covered with a strange, heavier sauce that had a kick to it. The service was extremely good - especially considering one waitress covered the entire dining room and never missed a beat.

Pescara - the decor is trying a little too hard to be hip; it's in a Doubletree Hotel after all. The service was very good until the end (when the server seemed to have moved on to other tables) - overall very attentive and good recommendations. I had the Cioppino - which was amazing; I'd eat the sauce on anything. My dinner companion had the dayboat halibut - which was cooked perfectly and stunningly fresh (considering we were in MN). For sides, we overdid it because we really wanted to sample a few. The much-recommended truffle risotto lived up to its billing; I could not go back without ordering it again. Grilled asparagus was good. The lobster mac and cheese was bland and should be skipped.

Rainbow Cafe (Pine Island) - with some free time, we drove 20 minutes north to Pine Island for lunch at the Rainbow Cafe. Well worth the trip. Pine Island doesn't even have a traffic light, but they have one hell of a great restaurant. We started with the local cheese plate - which was a slight disappointment with only one cheese (farmhouse cheddar). But they more than made up for it with the lunch. The "signature" pulled pork appears to be a house specialty so I ordered the pork sandwich (served on a homemade bun with house BBQ sauce). The pork was excellent - tender and moist, but not greasy; the homemade bun was also great - toasted perfectly; the tomato-based BBQ sauce was ok but nothing special. I hate being out-ordered, but my dining companion did it this time: an amazingly fresh tasting chicken salad melt on homemade marbled rye. The bread was so good I ate all her scraps. Would love to go back for dinner whenever I'm anywhere within striking distance. Again, well worth the drive.

Nosh - another drive, this time west to Lake City and again well worth the 40 minute trip. The scenery is much nicer - with a view of the frozen lake (and Wisconsin on the other side). We both started with soups. I had the pureed turnip over chorizo; turnip is a tricky flavor for a soup but the chef nailed it. My dining companion had a black bean soup with coconut - which sounds odd, but worked really well. We then shared the charcuterie plate - with house made venison prosciutto (which obviously is not really prosciutto, but was damn good), pork belly (pork belly, need I say more?); and something called "fruit leather" (which I had never tried and which lived up to its name - leather); the cheeses were three and much better than our last attempt. My dining companion had the scallops which were perfectly cooked and had a little kick to them. I had the short rib over risotto - very good. For desert, we split an apple tart with cinnamon ice cream; the ice cream was excellent; the tart was good but not remarkable. Very attentive service from the entire staff.

Daubes' Bakery (the main location, not in the subway) - the bakery case was sensory overload for me. The Long Johns and donuts were excellent - with more heft than your average fried dough. The cinnamon roll-as-big as-your-head was good, but did not live up to my imagination before I ordered it. The coffee was also very good.

Although I didn't have the chance to eat there, I went by Zzest which has crazy variety of food stuffs you won't see most places (lilac confit, truffle honey, etc). The menu looks really good and would I love to try it. Also went by Good Foods - the local coop -- the selection looks good, including locally raised meats.

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Sontes
4 3rd St SW, Rochester, MN 55902

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