in transit, mark danielsonJournal

FoodLog: Dinner at Chambers Kitchen


Lisa and I had our first date in months this past weekend, consisting of dinner and an excellent little movie known as WALL-E. (I’ll get to the movie some other time.) Following our decision to see the movie at Block E, I set about finding someplace downtown for us to eat, and, for some reason that escapes me now, settled on Chambers Kitchen.

It wouldn’t be fair to say our dinner was a complete waste–the service was decent and the atmosphere was kind of interesting–but the food was completely and totally forgettable. I tried the striped bass in a sweet and sour broth, and quickly found the only way I knew I was eating bass was because the menu said so. Blegh. Lisa’s crispy tofu was even more disappointing. We both know people who can make tofu better than what we were served at Chambers (incidentally, those people may very well include Lisa), and when you’re paying $110 for your meal, you’re right to expect something a bit better than what you can whip up in your own kitchen.

Lisa got a side of veggies in green curry, which was OK, although it delivered more in the heat department than it did taste. Our shared appetizer of asparagus and goat cheese was OK as well, although nothing to write home about. My side of ginger fried rice was completely not worth any cholesterol I gained from it.

If there’s a bright side to Chambers (and, really, I’m trying here), it’s that the drink selection is pretty good. The cucumber mint cocktail in particular is tasty, and has a nice little kick to it. That’s important, as if you’re going to enjoy a meal at Chambers Kitchen, you probably need to be wasted.

Not recommended.

~ ~ ~

Looking at my archives, it appears I’m more likely to review a restaurant when we have a bad or mediocre experience than when we have a good one. There’s no real mention of the wonderful meals we’ve had at Masa and jP. Meanwhile, I have not one but two reviews of Duplex. I’m going to have to try to be a bit more level about that in the future.

Since I’ve mentioned Masa and jP, it’s worth noting that our good experiences at both restaurants weren’t just one-time flukes. We’ve been to each multiple times, and have never have come away with anything less than wonderful experiences. If you haven’t tried either one of them, you really should.

Posted in FoodLog at 11:24 pm

FoodLog: Dinner at Duplex


As I mentioned last week, Lisa and I finally assembled the necessary infrastructure for us to begin going on dates again, and I wanted to briefly mention our dinner at Duplex, our second visit there in as many years. It could basically be summed up by four data points, three positive, one negative. The good:

  • Good food. While some dishes were better than others, with one exception Lisa and I didn’t have anything bad at Duplex. The squash soup I ordered was probably a bit better than the carrot ginger soup Lisa picked out, although both were enjoyable. (Lisa’s soup may have been just a bit too heavy on the ginger.) Our main courses were good as well, although in this case her potato gnocchi edged out the steak available for the evening, a rib eye served with French fries.  (Those fries were the low point of the evening.  They didn’t pair well with the steak, and by themselves were, well, gross.  I found myself yearning for the fries at the Town Talk.)
  • Nice atmosphere. Duplex manages to be romantic and unpretentious at the same time.  Basically, it’s Hennepin Avenue without the attitude problems.
  • Good service.  Prompt and friendly without hovering.  I know a lot of places that could learn from Duplex in this regard.

And, alas, the bad:

  •  Price.  Including my one solitary glass of wine, our dinner came in just over $80.  Off the top of my head, Ike’s, Giorgio’s, Figlio, and Masa are all places we could’ve had a better dinner for the same price or less.  (Despite the wildly divergent experiences we’ve had there, I’d have to throw in Town Talk as well.)  $80 is starting to scrape jP territory, too, and if you’re willing to spend the couple extra bucks for jP, well, it’s really no contest.

This kind of pains me, as for some odd reason I really want to like Duplex.  Because of the price, though, I can’t see us returning any time soon, but for those who haven’t tried the place out, I’d still have to give it a tentative recommendation.  Maybe you could see that something else in it that Lisa and I missed that would justify the cost.  If you do, let us know.

Posted in FoodLog at 10:22 pm

FoodLog: The Old Spaghetti Factory


I had the distinct misfortune to experience one of the worst meals of my adult life this past Saturday. I’m not a food snob, but the meal I’m about to describe was so excruciatingly bad it may very well make me sound like one.

While staying at The Depot in Minneapolis, my parents asked the staff for recommendations on nearby restaurants, and, possibly out of spite following my folks’ decision not to eat at the hotel, suggested The Old Spaghetti Factory a few blocks down on Washington. My dad fondly remembered the OSF we’d visited in St. Louis a couple of decades ago, and despite my best efforts to get him to reconsider, eventually convinced us to go.

I fully expected the meal to be bad, but have to report that The Old Spaghetti Factory managed to exceed all expectations, reaching levels of awfulness not experienced in recent memory. On my 1-10 food scale, with “1” being held by my mom’s disastrous 1985 attempt at a vegetarian stew–stew that actually caused my brother to throw up on our dining room table–and “9” being held by Lisa and my delicious dinner at Kiki’s Bistro in Chicago, I’d rate my dinner at the OSF a, uh, 1.5.

It wasn’t just horrible, it was fucking horrible. (And this from someone who’s trying not to swear on his blog, because, you know, the kid may read it one day.)

You know what? I’m not sure I can do this. I’m getting so sick just thinking about this meal I almost can’t bring myself to describe it. (I had the No. #2. Talk about bad foreshadowing.) Seriously, they fucked up spaghetti. I repeat, THEY FUCKED UP SPAGHETTI. How do you fuck up spaghetti!? Is it a special gift, a talent? I wasn’t aware bad spaghetti was even possible, but now consider myself enlightened. The noodles had the consistency and strength of thin strings of toothpaste, the sauce tasted like watered down ketchup, and the copious piles of parmesan cheese made my nose burn. I could have gone down to Lunds’, spent a total of $5 on a cheap box spaghetti, bottled pasta sauce and a loaf of bread and given four people a meal that in every conceivable way would’ve proven itself superior to the crap we were served Saturday.

Seriously, stay away from The Old Spaghetti Factory. Far, far away.

Posted in FoodLog at 10:17 pm

Journal for 7 April 2007


Well, it’s late afternoon in Chicago. We’re sitting at the Comfort Inn a few blocks off Michigan Ave–it’s actually pretty nice for a Comfort Inn–resting our feet for a few hours before going to see Wicked this evening.

Aside from the cold and blustery weather plaguing this part of the country, it’s been a good trip so far. We got down here Friday afternoon, and spent the afternoon walking the Mile and visiting the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. For dinner we headed to a French restaurant I found online, Kiki’s Bistro, and it was excellent. I had a delicious lamb stew, while Lisa ordered the special, seared King Salmon with a herb dill dip. While my dinner was very good, Lisa’s was much better–quite possibly the best salmon I’ve ever had. We had an onion and bacon pizza for an appetizer and a wild-berry sorbet for desert, both of which were excellent as well. In all, it was probably the best meal Lisa and I have had since our first visit to Town Talk over a year ago.

Today we headed to the Shedd Aquarium, which was a bit of a mistake. The place was cool as always, but was absolutely packed. I’ve been there three or four times before and never encountered a line to get in. Today, not only was there a line, but it stretched for almost a football field outside the front door. It took us almost 40 minutes to get in, and once in some of the exhibits were too packed to visit. Lisa still enjoyed it though, although the next time we’ll make sure we bring ourselves–and our kid–on a non-holiday weekday.

This afternoon was marked by more shopping and a visit to Dunkin’ Donuts. Oh, how I wish we had those in Minneapolis.

Well, time to get ready for the show. More later.

Posted in FoodLog,Journal,Travelog at 6:55 pm

Journal for 17 Feb 2007


Woke up this morning to some guy from IHOP showing Belinda Jensen how to make pancakes. The IHOP guy was accompanied by IHOP’s feminine-looking pancake mascot.

“Look,” said Lisa, “he’s dressed as a giant flapjack!”

“That’s supposed to be a girl.”


“Men don’t have flapjacks. Only women can have flapjacks.”

And with that, we put on our coats and headed to the New Uptown Diner for pancakes.

Posted in FoodLog,Journal at 11:28 am

FoodLog: Dinner at Duplex


Knowing that my Wednesday evening would have to be dedicated to studying, I took Lisa out to an early Valentine’s Day dinner at Duplex on Saturday. Overall, it was pretty good. We weren’t blown away, but enjoyed dinner all the same.

I had curried chicken, Lisa potato gnocchi. Both dishes were quite tasty, as was the appetizer of tamales and Lisa’s dish of squash soup. (Lisa really liked her chai as well, making me wonder if ghosts of Pandora’s were haunting the place.) The environment was both romantic and pleasantly funky, and the service was very good. It was relatively inexpensive, too: Our meal came in under $75, including tip. (Neither of us had any alcohol.)

Because of all that, I kind of hate to say I don’t see us rushing back. For the price, we could probably get a better dinner at Town Talk or, dare I say it, Figlio. (Yes, I’m a heathen.) But it was good, and I don’t think either of us would hesitate to recommend giving it a try.

Posted in FoodLog at 9:19 pm

FoodLog: Breakfast at Hell’s Kitchen


Sunday brought the opportunity to try out the highly-regarded Hell’s Kitchen in downtown Minneapolis. Robin, Andy, Michelle and Dwight met us down there, and after about 45 minutes of waiting we were able to get a table. Regrettably, long lines aren’t necessarily a sign of high quality in the Cities, and the visit to Hell’s kitchen seemed to support that. Granted, my food wasn’t bad, per se, but it wasn’t the mean breakfast I’d been hoping for. The best I could say about it right now is it’s kind of like the Uptown or Sunnyside minus the grease, and with clean floors. Now, that’s definitely better than the standard around here, but I’m not sure it’s worth a $95 bill for six people, an amount that could’ve brought a damn good breakfast at the French Meadow.

I’m not saying we won’t try Hell’s Kitchen again, either–I’m sure we will, and I’ll try to get around the menu somewhat. (I had the Hell’s Breakfast Stir-Fry, Lisa the homemade yogurt. I tried both and neither were that great.) But, for now, it doesn’t seem to be anything special.

Posted in FoodLog at 11:45 pm

Journal for 6 November 2006: Turkey and the New Guthrie


Well, it was a pretty busy weekend. Saturday brought the seventh edition of our annual Turkey Party. Despite a number of people having to pull out at the last moment, we had a pretty good crowd show up, enough that there wasn’t enough turkey to go around. (Robin and Andy and Michelle and Dwight trekked up from Madison, which was really cool.) There was a lot of alcohol consumed, but somehow we still had a net gain in bottles of wine by the time the party was over. We also found a bagged 40 of malt liquor behind the couch, which I suppose helps illustrate the group that helped close the night out.

Anyway, to paraphrase the free bi-weekly newspaper I used to work for, a good time was had by all. Or, at least, that’s what everyone told me.


Sunday night brought Lisa and my first visit to the Guthrie. She was able to snag a couple of tickets to Lost in Younkers through her job; we ended up in the very back row of the balcony, but, hey, free tickets are free tickets. I’d never seen Lost in Younkers before, and I really enjoyed it. The acting was strong throughout, and the set design was pretty clever. (I could complain about a clap-happy audience that felt the need to applaud every time the lights started to dim, but that wasn’t the show’s fault.) The show is going for only one more week, but if you’re up for seeing a play at the new Guthrie, I’d highly recommend it.

Speaking of the theatre itself, the new Guthrie is great. (I’m sure I’ll write about it over on LSTC in the near future.) While the building can be a bit clumsy in places on the outside, inside it is modern, sleek and sexy. The Wurtele Thrust Stage seems exceedingly similar to the old Guthrie stage over on Vineland, and that can only be a good thing. I have to say, though, the new theatre doesn’t seem quite as intimate as the old one. I’m not sure why that is.

As good as the play the building happened to be, our evening was marred a service train wreck at the Guthrie’s new restaurant, Cue, where we met a couple of friends for light drinks and snacks before the show. The restaurant is as gorgeous as anything else in the building, and our initial service was quick and courteous. We only had an hour before we had to take our seats, and the server gave us recommendations as to what we could have and still get out with a comfortable padding of time. We ordered drinks and the cheese platter, which then arrived promptly (along with a complimentary salmon appetizer) in a flurry of eight different servers. The cheese tray was very good, and we enjoyed a half hour of friendly conversation.

And then things… Changed. There must have been a handoff between servers somewhere, and the new one didn’t know that we were trying to make a show. It took us a while to get our bill, long enough that others had started to get nervous, and I, almost always the first to come unhinged, was basically flipping out. When our bill did come, it was only for the cheese tray, not the drinks. In good-Minnesotan fashion, we pointed this out, and hence were penalized with another delay that took us up to five minutes before showtime. We made the show–barely–but I’m pissed we had to go through contortions to do it.

But, as I said, the play was very good, and that’s what really mattered. We may try Cue again, just sometime we have a couple of hours to burn.

Posted in FoodLog,Journal at 11:19 pm

FoodLog: Dinner at Amore Victoria


As it happens, today’s my birthday. I’m usually not much one for celebrations, but Lisa went ahead and surprised me with dinner at Amore Victoria anyway. We had a good time, but unfortunately the food was disappointing and the service kind of passive aggressive. I had rolled chicken with mushrooms, asparagus and potatoes. It was edible, but didn’t have much else going for it. The chicken was overcooked and very dry, and the asparagus seemed one degree away from canned. Lisa had some bland concoction of eggplant and noodles in a white wine sauce, which was pretty uninspiring as well. It was also obscenely oversized, with her plate holding enough for three or four people. For a moment I thought we were at Buca, but no, that was supposedly a single serving on her plate. Leftovers are nice, but her dinner was ridiculous.

Before leaving we decided that Olive Garden would’ve been better, even though neither of us actually likes Olive Garden. We also decided we need to eat out at Figlio more often.

Not recommended.

Posted in FoodLog at 10:41 pm

FoodLog: Dinner at the Town Talk Diner


Speaking of food, Lisa and I had an excellent meal last Friday at the Town Talk Diner here in Minneapolis.  This may sound a bit strange, but in a way it was almost a relief to find such a good place to eat.  While it definitely has a high-class edge to it, at root it’s nothing more than a damn good diner.  It’s the kind of place someone in Chicago or many parts of Wisconsin could take for granted, but up to this point has been completely lacking in the Twin Cities.  (Sure, the New Uptown Diner, Mickey’s, and others have their place, but the operative words in those cases are “food” and “bland.”)

And, holy crap, it has good hamburgers!  Good hamburgers in the Twin Cities!  (Just as I was about to give up hope, this place comes along to counter the scourge of “oh, the Convention Grill has great hamburgers!”  And don’t even get me started on those abortions at Matt’s Bar.  Best burgers in Minnesota my ass.)  Good beef, appropriately charred, a sesame-seed bun, properly toasted, and paired with extremely delicious garlic parsley french fries.  I’m a burger snob, so I could quibble (I prefer semmel or potato rolls), but, really, I’d eat Town Talk’s burger regardless of what state I was standing in.

Lisa liked the Town Talk, too.  Especially those mini hot-dog appetizers.

The good-Wisconsin-diner analogy isn’t perfect, as the Town Talk definitely isn’t your typical Wisconsinish diner in many ways–it’s stylish, a bit expensive, and serves Guinness floats–but no matter.  Just the very fact that the place exists fills me with hope for the future of food here.  There’s always the risk we’ll return and the food will suck, but for the moment I’m just going to let myself bask in the warm, fuzzy feeling I get about good, non-pretentious food available just a couple miles down Lake Street.  Whoo hoo!

Posted in FoodLog at 11:24 pm

in transit—a lame attempt at a homepage since 1996—is a service of Mark Danielson and
© 1996-2006 by Mark Danielson. All rights reserved unless specifically noted.