July 24, 2014

A UNION Strike?

Do restaurant employees have a union that represents them? If so, I’m pretty sure that this next destination for the Gnaw was experiencing a strike. If not, then the Union Rooftop Restaurant in Minneapolis has A LOT of educating to do. According to their website, “Our seasoned team of chefs has traveled the globe pursuing their passion for cooking, studying and working with some of the most talented chefs in forward thinking kitchens around the world. Union is their statement: a declaration of their skills and carefully cultivated interpretation of what food should be.” Lets read on to see if this is an accurate statement.

It just happened to be Restaurant Week and the Aquatennial Torch Light Parade was also taking place on a beautiful Minnesota evening. My wife thought this would be the perfect time to check out the Union Rooftop and enjoy the parade from the rooftop. Unfortunately, the phrase, “You only get one chance at making a good first impression” decided to rear its ugly side. The downward spiral to our beautiful evening took only five minutes of being at Union.

We made reservations months in advance knowing Restaurant Week can be crazy busy. Upon our arrival, they were about 20 minutes behind schedule, which is fine and understandably so. We had also requested in our reservations to be seated near the perimeter of the restaurant so we could enjoy the parade while we ate. As tables opened up near the edge, they quickly went into “who cares about reservations mode”, not the end of the world, so moving on…

We made our way to the bar to grab a quick drink while we waited for our table to be ready. We stood there for about ten minutes while all three bartenders refused to make eye contact with us while looked confused as to what they were doing. They had puzzled looks on their faces trying to figure out how to make the drinks they were being asked to make by guests. Not the guests at the bar, just the two ticket windows at either end of the bar. I decided to go to the first floor bar instead to grab a whole two drinks. I asked for a beer (tough to make, I know) and a Palmer for my wife (since she can’t have alcohol). I got my beer, but she said, they only had iced tea at the upstairs bar and I replied, “I’ll pass then, because no one up there knows what they’re doing or even asked us if we wanted anything, I’ll just take a Sprite.”

Off to a good start, right? We started to second guess our decision to even go to Union at this point and hopeful that the cuisine would turn it the night around. Also found on the restaurant’s website, “Our chefs hold themselves to high standards, following self-imposed rules to ensure every dish is special, surprising, and cohesive.” This statement was about become false as well.

Their Restaurant Week menu wasn’t really anything special – couple of apps (Asian style wings and seafood ceviche) and entrĂ©es (rigatoni and seared salmon) to choose from and a desert. My wife decided to stick with the Restaurant Week menu and ordered the wings, salmon and a strawberry pavlova. The server quickly stopped my wife and stated, “Sorry, but we’re all out of the wings.” Um, what!? How does a restaurant run out of something that they planned to have a special and not be prepared for people to order? Either people know their seafood ceviche is downright terrible and refused to order it OR, they simply weren’t prepared, especially when they had months in advance to plan. Instead of the wings, which I really wanted to try, we got donut holes. That’s right, we got donut holes to replace the wings.

I decided to not go with the Restaurant week menu and ordered the Lamb Shank. A couple next to us ordered it and it looked absolutely amazing. My meal came with mint infused Israeli cous cous, cilantro sauce, red beet shoestrings kale, fingerling potato broth and shallots. My wife’s meal came with coconut broth, jasmine rice, bok choy and caramelized carrots. I was hoping to be blown away, but instead I was very much let down. I was starving at this point in the evening and devoured it, but not once did I taste mint or cilantro, but whatever their sauce was, was very much overpowering. The meat was tender; I will give them that, but was nothing to brag about.

As for my wife’s salmon, well, do you remember the scene from Christmas Vacation when Clark is cutting into the turkey? If you do, it was similar to that! Very dry, not a whole lot of flavor and my wife said it was fatty compared to other filets she’s had. I took a bite and would completely agree. As for the rest of her small portioned meal, it was nothing to brag about, but she did say the carrots were delicious. At least their world renowned team of chefs can cook carrots, oh boy.

Preparing a dessert isn’t very difficult, or is it? We waited over 20 minutes to get nothing more than some kind of a cookie, whipped cream and strawberry slivers. WHAT!? CHECK PLEASE! The check arrived as our dessert hit the table, took a few bites, paid for our overpriced meal and bolted. Like their sister restaurant, Crave, the Union is also a place where you will get VERY mediocre food (at best) at high prices. If you want outstanding fish, head to a place called VIVO Kitchen in Apple Valley, their chef(s) will outperform the team at Union any day of the week. If you want good lamb, find a German restaurant, nothing compares to the lamb you’ll get at a German restaurant, specifically, the Gasthaus in Stillwater. I've been to higher capacity restaurants with better service and quality as well as to smaller places where the gauging of prices isn't found and serving better food.

Finally, if you’re going to have an open air dining only restaurant (as long as it’s nice outside), you should consider this. Those of us who are non-smokers, are not for a reason and we don’t want to sit in a cloud of smoke while we’re trying to enjoy food (as poor quality as it was). When the roof is closed, can you smoke? No! So why would you do anything differently just because the roof is open? If restaurants do indeed have unions, the “A-Team” must have been striking, including those famous chefs they brag about on their website. What was even better, I was up for quite a while trying to hold back from seeing my food for the second time (sorry for the graphic nature), but thankfully that beautiful pink pill helped me get some sleep. Yep, the Union food is that good! I would not recommend this place to anyone and I’ll go back when Jimmy Hoffa is found alive. 

I thought about adding pictures of our meals, but it really wasn't worth it to be perfectly honest. Looks can be deceiving! :)

July 19, 2014

VIVO Las Apple Valley

Bright light city gonna feed my soul, gonna feed my soul with some food. That bright light city isn’t quite the lit up city that Vegas might be and the soul pleasuring food I found could give some the finest restaurants in Vegas a run for their money as well. That place my friends is VIVO Kitchen where I had one of the best meals ever.

It was a nice Friday evening and my wife and I were trying to think of a new place to try in town and she mentioned VIVO. I would have invited Elvis, but well, we all know that’s not possible. We’ve been wanting to check it out since we heard of its opening, so my wife, parents and I made some reservations. VIVO Kitchen is quite large and the patios, yes plural, are large and the scenery is wonderful. The inside is very modern with an open kitchen and as I mentioned, large! And now, it’s time for the food.

My mother and I decided on the Halibut which just so happens to be my favorite fish when it’s prepared correctly. My wife went with the Salmon and my dad decided on a Filet. We’ll start with the Filet. My dad isn’t a huge Filet guy, but he went for it and he was happy he did. He said it was prepared perfectly and while I didn’t take a bite, it really did look awesome and was definitely juicy looking.

I wasn’t a big salmon eater for the longest time and I think it’s because I was given some really bad salmon many years ago. This Wood Grilled Copper River Salmon that my wife ordered was easily the best salmon I’ve ever had and the accompanying whole grain red pepper risotto was insane. I almost wanted to devour my wife’s meal, but I was busy enjoying mine as well and that’s where we’re heading next.

The first time I had the opportunity to try halibut was in high school and I was hooked. I’ve had bad halibut and I’ve had really good halibut. VIVO’s Alaskan Halibut was easily the best halibut I’ve ever had and when it comes to a seafood meal, this was the very best. A very generous filet atop some outstanding red pepper mashed potato with some delicious olive oil around the outside of the plate for dipping. WOW! My mother chose to replace her taters with asparagus which you will never see me doing!

We finished off the evening with some Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta with caramel, crushed Butterfingers and whipped cream for all of us to share. While I was hesitant to dig in with the soul/mouth pleasuring that was going on from my meal, I had to try it. Good decision? YES! If you plan to get a desert following dinner, this is a must!

One of the most unique things about VIVO Kitchen is that everything is made from scratch, in house and everything comes from local farms and businesses. They’re ensuring that they are providing the very freshest ingredients to their customers and it definitely shows. They serve what’s in season and because of that, the menu is always evolving and changing which helps with the freshness. How I wish that there were more than the twenty-four hours in the day… And I had a whole lot of money that was ready to burn. I would spend a lot of evenings at VIVO, it really is that good! 

VIVO Kitchen
15435 Founders Ln
Apple Valley, MN 55124 

July 16, 2014

So Good, Coney Coney

I said eat, eat, eat, eat, eat (Eat, eat, eat, eat, eat), 'Cause you make me feel, like eating Coney's, they're so good, eating Coney's. What place can make me feel like eating Coney's? A tiny little hole-in-the-wall called the Gopher Bar in downtown St. Paul and a place not for the faint of heart. 

You will need some thick skin to enter the Gopher Bar and if you're easily offended, the Gopher Bar should be on your skip list. For instance, their shirt has a saying on the back that I will refrain from posting here and the menu provides you with instructions on how to order your Coney; Sit Down! Shut Up & Wait Your Turn!. Well, that's exactly what my wife and I did as we were laughing at all the funny signs they have hanging up that yes, would offend some people. 

It's definitely a place you would find Billy Idol in and if you can get past their unique (to say the least) marketing, they are serving an outstanding Coney Island hot dog that you should try yourself. Two ways to order them up, with cheese and without - pretty simple and straight forward. I went with cheese while my wife went without and they pile on the chili and onions and pile on they indeed do! I love hot sauce and noticed a bottle of delicious Sriracha just looking at me and telling me to put it on my Coney, so I obliged. I used to eat Coney's growing up doing youth hockey fundraisers and they were never this good!  The chili was awesome, as you bite into the dogs, they had a nice snap to them (as they should) and the buns were grilled nicely as well. 

All-in-all, these things were awesome and I would recommend adding a little Sriracha to it, it makes everything that much better. The Gopher Bar is a simple place, they only accept cash and they don't take crap from anyone and they're not afraid to let you have it if you're acting out of line. They have some other items on the menu, 11 to be exact, but the Coney is what you should be going here for any ways. While you're there, you might as well stay and have a few adult beverages as well. Just be nice to your bartender, even toilets can only handle one _____ at a time! Yes, that's actually a sign behind the bar!

Gopher Bar
241 7th St E
St Paul, MN 55101