Feb 262012

Disclosure: I was invited out to do this review and my meal was provided by Morrissey HospitalityAll opinions are my own.

Cuisine: Italian
Restaurant Features: Banquet, Bar, Valet Parking
Location: St Paul, MN (Downtown)
Address: 360 St. Peter Street, Saint Paul, MN 55102 651.223.7000
Hours: Daily 4-11pm
Links: Pazzaluna Website * Pazzaluna on Facebook * Google Map

Atmosphere: Located Downtown St Paul on St Peter Street, Pazzaluna is in the heart of St Paul’s entertainment district , putting it within walking distance of The Ordway, Xcel Energy Center, Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the Science Museum of Minnesota.  The space is big and open, with the bar area greeting you when you first enter and the dining room taking up the remainder of the space.  The dining room actually has two tiers; an upper and lower.  The upper dining area has a separate room with French doors that can be used for private parties.  There are a handful of round booths but otherwise all of the tables in the dining room can easily be arranged for parties of various sizes.

The Kitchen at Pazzaluna is big and open, the center of which is a beautiful  green wood-burning oven.  It is set off to the side of the restaurant, you walk right by it on the way to the restrooms.

Menu: Appetizers at Pazzaluna include Bruschetta (White Bean & Prosciutto, Tomato Basil, Portabella Goat Cheese, Burrata & Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Braised Beef & Porcini Mushroom), Polenta Fries, Mozzarella & Artichoke Bagna Cauda, Calamari, Seared Scallops, Crab Cakes and Antipasti Bar (cheeses, meats, salad and vegetables).

Soups offered are the Scallop with Cucumber and Cannellini Bean.  Salads offered are the Mixed Greens, Caesar, Arugula, Shepherd, Beet and Panzanella.

Pazzaluna also offers traditional  12″ thin crust hearth baked Pizzas in a wood-burning oven.  Varieties include Quattro Formaggi, Grilled Vegetable, Pear and Gorgonzola, Margherita, Bolognese, Spicy Sausage and Peppers, and Grilled Chicken with Asparagus.

Pasta dishes include Spicy Penne, Rigatoni with Chicken, Capellini alla Caprese, Fettuccine Alfredo, Pappardelle Bolognese, Spaghetti & Meatballs, Seafood Linguine, Spinach and Cheese Ravioli, and Three Meat Cannelloni.  Pazzaluna also makes homemade Gnocchi.  Varieties of Gnocchi include Bolognese, Quatro Formagi, and Tomato Basil. Risotto options include Saffron Risotto with Chicken, and Herb Risotto with Shrimp and Chorizo.

Pazzaluna offers Entrees such as Salmon, Ahi Tuna, Sea Bass, Scallops, Rabbit, Chicken Saltimbocca, Chicken Piccata, Chicken Parmesan, Pork Chops, Beef Short Ribs, Veal Medallions, Filet Mignon, and New York Strip.

Desserts at Pazzaluna include Creme Brulee, Tiramisu, Mocha Cheesecake, Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Versato, Banana Nutella Tart, Frangelico Pecan Pie, Gelato, and Sorbeti.

Price guide: Appetizers $8-14 Salads $7-11 Pastas $14-24 Entrees $19-45

Happy Hour:

  • Daily 4-6pm * In The Bar
  • $3 Beefeater, Pinnacle, Bacardi, Windsor or Campari Featured Cocktails Michelob Golden Light
  • $4 Stella Pinot Grigio or Montepuliciano D’Abruzzo, Summit EPA, Summit Seasonal or Blue Moon
  • $5 Coppola Bianco White Blend or Rosso Red Blend Fulton IPA, Stella Artois or Surly Bender ; $5 Two Antipasti Bar Selections, Fried Gorgonzola Gnocchi, Polenta Fries, Tomato Basil Bruschetta or White Bean & Prosciutto Bruschetta
  • $6 Pazzaluna Signature Cocktails Pazzaluna Signature Martinis  Appetizers: Three Antipasti Bar Selections, Portabella & Goat Cheese Bruschetta, Four Cheese Pizza, Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza, or Veggie Pizza
  • $7 Four Antipasti Bar Selections, Burrata & EVOO Bruschetta, Margherita Pizza, Bolognese Pizza or Chicken & Asparagus Pizza
  • $8 Five Antipasti Bar Selections, Braised Beef & Porcini Bruschetta, Rustica Pizza, Calamari or Mozzarella & Artichoke Bagna Cauda

Birthday Special: Dine at Pazzaluna the week of your birthday and they’ll give you a complimentary* bottle of wine priced at your age. *Purchase of two (2) entrees required. Offer valid for in-store consumption only. Equivalent credit of person’s age can be applied to a higher priced bottle of wine. Proof of age and birthday required. Must be 21 years or older. Offer good for one birthday per table.
What we ordered: We started with the complimentary basket of bread.  It contained slices of fresh ciabatta and focaccia.  The focaccia was especially tasty, as it was seasoned with butter, parmesan and herbs.

There are many delicious appetizers at Pazzaluna, making it hard to pick just one. For our first course we started with the Seared Scallops and an order of Calamari.  The Seared Scallops were cooked to perfection, with a nice caramelized seared crust and soft meat within.  The dish was garnished with slices of skinless pink grapefruit, orange, fresh mint and other fresh herbs.

We also tried the Calamari with our first course.  Pazzaluna puts their own spin on the traditional fried calamari by adding thin slices of carrots, zucchini and sweet onions and frying those too.  It was delicious, I loved the combination of textures and flavors.  The order was very big; piled several inches high and full of vegetables with lightly battered calamari rings tossed in (and a few pepperoncini peppers too!).  The dish was drizzled with a zesty roasted garlic aioli that finished the dish off nicely.

For our next course, my companion and I split the Beet Salad, which was served to us on two plates.  The base of this appetizing salad were the salt-roasted beets, which had a firm yet juicy texture.  We both enjoyed this salad quite a bit; it had such a unique combination of flavors and textures including shaved goat cheese that was subtle yet distinct at the same time.  The candied walnuts provided a nice crunch and hint of sweetness and the micro-greens were fragrant and refreshing.

Pazzaluna is known for its Bolognese sauce, which they offer with a selection of dishes. For our next course, we tried a half-order of the Bolognese Papperdelle and a half order of the Gnocchi Bolognese.  The sauce was a thick and rich blend of ground beef, pork, tomato, onion and a variety of Italian herbs and spices.  It was delicious and would be great on any pasta but was especially good served on the long strips of papperdelle.  Our server grated fresh parmesan on top giving it that extra touch.

The Gnocchi at Pazzaluna are made in-house and are fantastic!  They are soft potato dumplings that are sticky, velvety pillows that on their own don’t have much flavor but when topped with a thick and rich sauce like the Bolognese, they are delicious.

For my main course I ordered the Sea Bass.  This was wonderful! The fish was pan roasted until it had a nice crispy sear to the outside while being soft inside. It was served on a bed of carrot purée, and was topped with red onion jam with a drizzling of salsa verde on the plate.

My companion had the Veal Medallions for the main course and it was the highlight of the meal. The veal itself was cooked to a medium temperature and was extremely flavorful and juicy.  The medallions were served on linguine with garlic butter with sautéed porcini mushrooms & spinach.  The dish was topped with a silky roasted tomato butter sauce.  The server topped it with freshly ground pepper corns

I was much too full for dessert but ended up ordering the Banana Nutella Tart.  This was also very good; it had a layer of chocolate Nutella custard, then a layer of banana in a vanilla cream, then topped with real whipped cream.  It was topped with a wafer of caramelized nuts.

Service: We had excellent service at Pazzaluna, starting with the curb-side valet service.  We had a reservation ahead of time and our table was waiting when we got there.  Our server was very professional and highly knowledgeable about the menu, giving us many excellent suggestions from each section of the menu.  Each course that we had was separate and distinct, with plenty of time in between each.
Overall Impression: We really enjoyed our experience at Pazzaluna.  They have a great selection of both pasta and traditional Italian meat and seafood dishes and the service is top-notch.  Pazzaluna is a great place to visit for Happy Hour, a romantic dinner, to celebrate a special occasion or even for larger parties.
Pazzaluna Urban Trattoria & Bar on Urbanspoon
Pazzaluna Reviews in St Paul

Oct 222011

Cuisine: Breakfast, American,  Fish, Irish
Restaurant Features: Banquet, Bar, Flat Screened TVs, Hotel, Live Music, Patio, Waterfront
Location: Stillwater, MN
Address: Water Street Inn  * 101 Water St South  Stillwater, MN 55082  651-439-6000
Hours:  Mon – Fri: 7 am-1am * Sat: 8am-1 am * Sun: 9am- 1am
Links: Water Street Inn Website * Water Street Inn on Facebook * Google Map

Atmosphere: Located on the street level of the Water Street Inn in Historic Downtown Stillwater,  Charlie’s Restaurant and Irish Pub encompasses a few different dining rooms, including the Red Room.  Old fashioned wallpaper and hand-painted murals on the ceiling emphasize the history of this building which was originally built in 1890 as the Lumber Exchange Building.

Another large sitting room can also be found nearby, with several velvet chairs basking in the natural sunlight that streams in through windows that run along two entire walls.

The Pub seemed to be the most popular place to be with a number of wooden tables as well as a few taller bistro tables.  There were a number of framed prints and posters on the walls as well as a couple of flat screened TVs displaying sporting events.  There is a self-serve popcorn machine near the entrance and the Pub often bears the aroma of the freshly popped kernels.

The bar in Charlie’s Irish Pub seats about six customers or so and is very inviting.  Overall the Pub is a lively place to be.

Menu: Breakfast items include Eggs O’Brien, Pancakes, Thick Cut French Toast, Fruit, Cinnamon Roll, Irish Country Breakfast, Traditional Irish Breakfast, Ham and Eggs, Ha and Gruyere French Toast, and Steak and Eggs.  Omelette choices include The Traditional (choice of meat and cheese), Apple Brie, The Victorian (ham and swiss), and The Baron (ham, sausage, bacon, onion and swiss).

Appetizers on the dinner menu include Antipasto Plate, Walleye Cakes, Smoked Chicken Quesadilla, Calamari, Mini Reuben Purses, Beer Battered Onion Rings, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, Homemade Chips & Dip, Smoked BBQ Chicken Legs.

Salads at Charlie’s include Caesar, Cashew Chicken, Greek Salad and Traditional Cobb.

Charlie’s sandwiches are served with chips or upgrade to fries or fresh fruit for $2.50.  Options include Pulled Pork, BLT and Guacamole Wrap, Buffalo Chicken Wrap, Classic Reuben, Walleye, Chicken Jack Melt, Grilled 1/2lb Burger, Steak Sandwich, Roasted Portabella and Turkey Burger.

Entrees include Seafood Linguini, Chicken and Portabella Pasta, Mostaccioli, Fish & Chips, Honey Soy Grilled Salmon, Blackened Seafood Trio, Eggplant Parmesan, Almond Crusted Walleye, Twin Lobster Tails, Stuffed Center Cut Pork Loin, Stuffed Chicken Breast, New York Strip, 8oz Pub Steak and 11oz Ribeye Steak.

Desserts at Charlie’s includes Berry Bread Pudding, Charlie’s Big Brownie, and Flourless Sin Cake.

Price guide: Appetizers $7-11 Salads $5-12 Sandwiches $9-13  Entrees $17-31 Desserts $7

What we ordered: We started with an order of Calamari.  I didn’t take much notice of the menu description so the unexpected sweetness of the first bite caught me by surprise.  This calamari at Charlie’s is lightly breaded and  fried, yhen bathed in a sauce of honey, ginger and garlic.  The flavor of the honey sauce was delicious, but very sweet and almost too much for just two of us.  The green onions helped counter the sweetness but I would have loved some thin slices of red thai chili peppers to spice it up.

After much deliberation over the menu, I ordered the Reuben.  This sandwich was stacked with thinly sliced corned beef then topped with genuine aged Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing sandwiched between marbled rye bread.    The swiss and thousand island really made this sandwich; the corned beef tasted good but it was definitely deli-style.  I upgraded to fries for $2.50 and received a huge pile of the hot crinkle variety.

My companion ordered the Fish N Chips. This basket of crinkle fries was topped with one large fillet of walleye that was beer-battered and fried.  The fillet was impressive; not only was it long, it was also thick and meaty.  It was served with a homemade tartar that had dill rather than the traditional pickle.  Seriously good fish!

Service: Our visit was in the early evening on a Sunday but we easily found a spot in the the adjacent public parking lot.  We entered through a door on the patio that led us directly to the Irish Pub.  There wasn’t a hostess so rather than sitting in the dining room, we found a table in the Pub despite it being fairly busy.  We took our time ordering and the server had many suggestions from the menu.  There appeared to be only one server for the entire pub and she was constantly running out to the kitchen or perhaps to one of the other dining rooms.  Drinks took awhile to be filled but food was prepared in a reasonable amount of time.

Overall Impression: The food at Charlie’s was pretty good, the walleye was especially memorable and the calamari was also unique and excellent (albeit sweet!).  Great place to stop for breakfast, lunch or dinner while wandering around downtown Stillwater or as a romantic weekend date.

This is an original review of Charlie’s Restaurant and Irish Pub on Twin Cities Restaurant Blog
Charlie's Restaurant and Irish Pub at the Water Street Inn on Urbanspoon
Water Street Inn Reviews in Stillwater

Oct 022011

Calamari… so good when its cooked properly, so bad when its not.

Here are my current picks for Best Calamari based on the restaurants I have personally visited and reviewed.  This list will grow and change as necessary.  If you know of calamari served at other restaurants  that I need to try, please leave me a recommendation in the comments of this post.

#1 Murasaki– These giant, tender pieces of calamari were so big you could almost mistake it for fish, it was cooked perfectly so that the calamari had the right texture and the panko was golden brown.  It wasn’t highly seasoned but the perfect texture puts the Calamari into the #1 slot on the TCRb Editor’s Picks.  It was served with a flavorful, creamy dipping sauce.

#2 The Six15 Room – The calamari fries at The Six15 Room rank up there with the best. These calamari strips were double-dipped in tempura batter and then fried just perfectly. The batter was crispy yet the calamari was tender and delicious. Thin slices of slightly pickled peppers were arranged on top, adding a slight bite and interesting contrast. A lemony mayonnaise was served for dipping, a light and fresh compliment to the calamari.  This is a very close second.


#3 Il Premio ~ The Calamari at Il Premio Italian Steak House ranks up there at 3rd place. The breading was crispy yet the calamari was cooked absolutely perfect. There was a mix of rings and babies. It was served with a basil tartar sauce and lemon wedges.


Calamari al Fritti at Il Premio at Mystic Lake ~ Prior Lake, MN

Calamari al Fritti at Il Premio at Mystic Lake ~ Prior Lake, MN


#4 Orchid Restaurant ~ The calamari at Orchid is also extraordinary.  It is cooked just perfectly so the texture is delicate, not tough. It is coated with a panko and is extra crispy in just the right places.  The spicy sweet and sour sauce that comes on the side is delicious and has just the right amount of “kick”, a perfect compliment to the calamari.

#5 Shorewood Bar & Grill ~ I much as I was let down by the poor service at Shorewood, I can’t knock their calamari; the squid was cooked perfectly yet the batter was still crispy. It was served over a bed of sauteed banana and pepperoncini peppers, which was a nice tangy accompaniment. I could also taste a hint of lemon and I loved that it had little squids in addition to the rings. Served with a Crab Louie sauce, which was tangy and creamy. Huge portion.


#6 First Course– This calamari was excellent! It was breaded and fried, cooked to the proper texture then served with some kind of smokey mayo. Seriously good calamari.

#7 McCormick & Schmick’s– Delicious! The batter was crunchy but the calamari was cooked perfectly; the rings were tossed with banana peppers and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. The order aame with fire-roasted tomato sauce for dipping.

#8 Enjoy! – The calamari strips at Enjoy! were thick and cooked perfectly without any hint of chewiness. The outside wasn’t as crispy as I like it but since that would mean overcooking it, I’ll take it tender over chewy any day! It was served with two dips, the spicy marinara and a lemon herb aoili. Both were excellent!

Calamari that did not make the cut:

Chianti Grill ~ This was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The calamari was cooked just right so it was still tender but the breading wasn’t too crispy and was kind of boring in the flavor department. It was served with marinara and also a horseradish dip, which were both good and definitely helped spice up the flavor.


Murray’s Restaurant ~ served with a seasoned mayonnaise. The portion was decently sized for the price. It was cooked just right so that the texture of the calamari was cooked without being chewy, but the breading wasn’t quite crispy enough and easily fell apart. Although I liked it, I probably wouldn’t order this again.


CRAVE~ This calamari at CRAVE was cooked so that it was the right texture inside but the breading wasn’t crispy at all on the outside, which was disappointing to me.

Calamari at CRAVE ~ Mall of America