Feb 202012

Cuisine: Fine Dining, Italian,
Restaurant Features: Bar, On-Site Parking, Patio, Seasonal Menu, Water-Front
Location: White Bear Lake, MN
Address: 4453 Lake Avenue South, White Bear Lake, MN 55110

Hours: Tues-Sun 4-10pm
Links: Acqua Website * Acqua on Facebook * Google Map
Atmosphere: Acqua is located on on Lake Avenue, overlooking White Bear Lake, just a block east of Hwy 61.  Making its home in a structure that was originally a house, Acqua is a small and intimate dining destination.  The lighting is dim and there is only room for a handful of tables on the lower level, but each is adorned with white tablecloths and stemware.  One of the best physical features of Acqua is the patio overlooking the lake, open during the warmer seasons.

Menu: The menu at Acqua changes seasonally.  Small Plates currently offered include Calamari, Bruschetta, Pettine e Foie Gras, Polpette (veal and pork meatball), Mitili (mussels), and Carpaccio (beef tenderloin with black truffle horseradish panna cotta).  There is also a selection of Artisan Cheeses.

Soups at Acqua include Lobster Bisque and Crema di Funghi.  Also offered are salads such as Caesar, Fried Goat Cheese with Golden Beets, Field Greens, and Baby Spinach with Apple-Pear Compote.

Entrees include Black Truffle Gnocchi, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Risotto e Pollo, Rack of Lamb, Sea Scallops, Ossobuco di Porco, Ragu alla Bolgnese, Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin, Lobster Tail, Veal Chop, Crab Encrusted Certified Chilean Sea Bass, and Panko Encrusted Walleye.

Side items also offered include Brussel Sprouts, Malt Vinegar Fries, Roasted Asparagus and Black Truffle Risotto.

Acqua also has excellent, desserts such as Smoked Chocolate Souffle Cake with Marshmallow and Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Oreo Semifreddo with Peanut Butter Ganache, Butterscotch Budino with Caramel, Vanilla Crème Brulee, Almond Panna Cotta with Brandied Cherries and Dark Chocolate, and Trio of Izzy’s Ice Cream or Sorbets.

Price guide: Small Plates $9-15  Soup/Salad $8-10  Entrees $18-45 Desserts $7-8
Daily Special:

  • Daily 3 Course Tasting Menu $35
  • First Course (choice of one): Caesar Salad, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Baby Spinach, Roasted Golden Beet Salad, or Field Greens.
  • Main Course (choice of one): Braised Pork Shank, Roasted Chicken, or Panko Encrusted Walleye.
  • Dessert Course (choice of one): Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, Trio of Izzy’s Ice Cream or Sorbets, Butterscotch Budino with Caramel, Oreo Semifreddo with Peanut Butter Ganache, Almond Panna Cotta with Brandied Cherries and Dark Chocolate, Smoked Chocolate Souffle with Marshmallow and Graham Cracker Ice Cream

What we ordered: We started with a couple of cocktails; I had the Ginger Jameson, made with real ginger and fresh lime.

My companion had the Mojito, which was very good.  The drink was both sugary and tart, the rum was pleasantly noticeable, and it contained several muddled mint leaves and freshly squeezed lime juice.  While this Mojito is good at any time of the year, I can imagine how refreshing it would be in the summer out on the patio, overlooking the lake on a hot summer day.

Mojito at Acqua Restaurant ~ White Bear Lake, MN

We were brought some bread and butter, both were pretty standard but tasty all the same.  The butter was creamy and salty and the bread was thick and crusty.

We then had an order of Calamari, which was battered and fried crispy.  The calamari were cut into wide strips and were on the verge of being chewy however the flavor and texture of the breading was very good.  It was served with a lemon thyme aioli that was both creamy and citrusy; light and refreshing.  Calamari at Acqua Restaurant ~ White Bear Lake, MN

Foie Gras is one item I will not pass up, when given the chance to eat it. The version at Acqua comes seared atop a giant Massachusetts Day Boat Sea Scallop with a  walnut-blueberry chutney and Cabernet reduction.  This variety of scallop is very meaty and tender and well-matched with the melt-in-your-mouth foie gras. The piece of foie gras was slightly thin but was cooked to a beautiful brown on both sides.  The sauce added just the right amount of sweetness and the walnuts provided a nice crunchy contrast.
Scallop and Foie Gras at Acqua Restaurant ~ White Bear Lake, MN

Scallop and Foie Gras at Acqua Restaurant ~ White Bear Lake, MN

My companion ordered the Tasting Menu, which came with the choice of one of a handful starters offered. Everything sounded good but my companion opted for the Cream of Hen-of-the-Woods Mushroom Soup.  This was the best Cream of Mushroom soup that I have had the pleasure of eating.  It was buttery, creamy, and seasoned so nicely, while having the beautiful robust flavor of roasted mushrooms.  It was drizzled with something slightly sweet and was served with Fontina Cheese Crostini. Absolutely delicious!

There were so many tempting choices for entree and our server did a great job explaining each and every one of them.  It was a very tough choice but I decided on the Branzino Crab Encrusted Certified Chilean Sea Bass.  The dish was prepared with a nice meaty slice of sea bass topped with a delicious, crispy crab mixture served on a bed of roasted red potato wedges and steamed broccolini.  The rich and creamy Chili Buerre Blanc sauce pulled the entire dish together perfectly.

My companion had a choice of three different entrees for the Tasting Menu and went with the Pork Ossobucco. You would think that the entree in a tasting menu would be on the smaller side, but this was a full size pork shank.  The port demi-glace sauce was rich and hearty and the meat extremely tender.  It was served with organic white sweet potato puree that was a nice change of pace from the traditional mashed potato.Braised Pork Shank with Port Demi-Glace and Sweet Potato Puree at Acqua Restaurant ~ White Bear lake, MN

We were beyond full at this point but since my companion had a dessert coming with the Tasting Menu, we ordered the Chocolate Souffle with Marshmallow Fluff and Graham Cracker Ice Cream. Every aspect of this dish was delicious; a gourmet spin on the traditional S’More.

Service: Weekend reservations quickly fill up at Acqua, so I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t get a table until after 9pm with a weeks notice.  Our table was waiting for us when we got there and our server quickly introduced himself and was a real gentleman all evening.  He took his time to explain the menu to us and answered any questions we had about the dishes.  He was attentive but also very respectful of our privacy.  The courses were brought out to us with time in between so that we never felt rushed.
Overall Impression: We had heard great things about Acqua and it certainly lived up to the expectation.  The dishes and cocktails were well executed and the service was impeccable.  Highly recommend the Cream of Mushroom Soup and the Foie Gras.  The Three Course Tasting menu with many options for $35 is an excellent deal.
Acqua Restaurant and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Nov 062011

Cuisine: American, Steaks, Fine-Dining
Restaurant Features: Bar, On-Site Parking
Location: Willernie, MN
Address: 310 Stillwater Road, Willernie, MN 55090
Hours: Daily 11am- 12am  Friday-Saturday until 1am
Links: The Hanger Room Website * The Hanger Room on Facebook * Google Map

Atmosphere: Located in the space that was formerly Wildwood Bowling alley and Wildwood Pizza, The Hanger Room looks nothing like the former occupant.  After major renovations, the space metamorphosized into a fine steak house with rich wood features, and white-clothed tables.

The dining room is split into a couple of long corridors with tables along the wooden walls.

The bar is the busiest area in the restaurant, with a handful of booths as well as several bistro tables.  Colorful neon signs sporting the names of many premium beers that can be found on tap at The Hanger Room’s bar adorn the walls.

The 70+ beers on tap at The Hanger Room are rather impressive….

Menu: Small Plates offered at The Hanger Room include Artisan Cheeses, Steak Frites, Tuna Poke, Seared Sea Scallops, P.E.I Mussels, Shrimp and Green Beans, Duck Confit, House Smoked Salmon, Home Made Gnocchi, Filet Mignon Carpaccio, Bing Cherry Glazed Pork Belly, Braised Beef Springrolls, Spicy Beef Tips, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail and Crab Cakes.

Salads include Frisee au Lardone (with fried egg), Grilled Caesar Salad, Spinach and Blue Cheese, Mixed Green Salad, and Beet Salad.

Entrees include Duck Breast (with roasted truffle cauliflower), Chicken Breast (with jalapeno corn and black bean hash), Pan Seared Elk Loin, Walleye, Scallops, Bourbon Glazed Salmon, Risotto (with mushroom,spinach, caramelized fennel and goat cheese), Shrimp Strozzapretti, Chicken Orrechiette and Porcini Rubbed Filet..

The Steaks at The Hanger Room are dry-aged for 21-28 days. 21 Day Aged Steaks include the 8oz Sirloin, 10oz New York and 12oz Ribeye.  28 Day Aged Steaks include the 20oz Kansas City Strip, 20oz T-Bone, 22oz Porterhouse, and 30oz Ribeye/  There is alsoa  14 Day Aged Pork Chop.  All steaks come with one set.  Set #1: mashed Potatoes, Garlic Spinach and Roquefort Sauce Set #2: Au Gratin Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts and Bearnnaise  Set #3:Mushroom Risotto, Haricot Verts, and Bordelaise Sauce.

Desserts change frequently but may include Toasted Coconut Creme Brulee, Mocha Parfait, Craisin Walnut Bread Pudding, and Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake.

Items offered in the bar include Onion Rings, Chicken Wings, BBQ Ribs, Chicken Saltimbocca, Angus Cheeseburger, MN Game Burger, Tenderloin Steak Sandwich, Vegetarian Panini, Pulled Pork Sandwich, Margherita Pizza and White Pizza.

Price guide: Small Plates $7-21  Entrees $16-36  Steaks $28-75

What we ordered: We started with some of the complimentary homemade bread.  This was wonderful; it was thick and dense, with tiny pieces of garlic baked within so it was very flavorful.

My companion and I ordered the Duck Confit small plate, which was recommended by our server.  As the technique requires, the leg of duck was cured with salt and other seasoning and then rendered in its own fat until extremely tender.  The duck was rich and delicious, served on a  bed of crispy spaetzel and then covered with tart balsamic cherries, feta and chives.  I thought the combination of the cherries and the feta worked really well together and complimented the richness of the duck perfectly.

For my dinner I ordered the MN Game Burger, which was a blend of ground bison, elk and bacon.  The elk and bison meats are very tasty but so lean that the bacon is needed to give it additional juiciness. The burger sat on a very fresh bun and was topped with bleu cheese and caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a lingonberry aioli.  It was served with fresh cut fries and homemade ketchup.

My companion ordered the 28 Day Aged  22oz Porterhouse Steak which came with a choice of set; the set chosen was au gratin potatoes and brussel sprouts with bearnaise sauce.  The steak was quite large and was cooked rare while still having a slight charred crust.  It was very lightly salted so the aged flavor of the steak was more noticeable.  My companion thought this steak was wonderful but the few bites I tried weren’t all that tender.  At $65 for this steak, I thought it would be the best steak I’ve ever eaten and it fell short.

Service: We had excellent service at The Hanger Room.  Our server was very knowledgeable of the menu and had several great recommendations for us.  The food was prepared in a reasonable amount of time and every detail was attended to with forethought.
Overall Impression: Everything on the menu looked great and was made from scratch. Meats and produce are locally sourced when possible.  The service was very good but prices were on the high end. The bar is a great place to come and have a beer, especially since there are 70 on tap.

This is an original review of The Hanger Room on Twin Cities Restaurant Blog
The Hanger Room on Urbanspoon
The Hanger Room Reviews in Willernie

May 302011

Cuisine: American, Brunch Menu, Dessert, Fine-Dining
Restaurant Features: Bar, Happy Hour,  On-Site Parking, Patio,
Location: St Paul, MN
Address: 374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102  651-224-5715

Dining Room Hours:

  • Lunch: Mon – Fri 11am – 1:30pm
  • Brunch: Sat/Sun 10:30am – 2pm
  • Dinner: Mon – Sun 5pm – 10pm

Bar Hours: Sun – Thurs 11am – midnight  Fri/Sat 11am – 1am

Links: WA Frost Website * WA Frost on Facebook * Google Map

Atmosphere: WA Frost & Company is located on Selby Ave at Western Ave, in the Dacotah Building just a few blocks from the Cathedral, its home since the mid 1970-s.  I came to sit on the patio so I never saw the main dining room but I did get a peek at the bar area, a nice sun-lit room with wooden floors and tables,  as well as seating along the bar.

WA Frost has a beautiful patio that sprawls out behind the building.  At the far end from the hostess stand is the Garden Bar.  This area is open for seating in the afternoon before the main dining room opens.  There are a number of little tables all over the patio, as well as cushioned sofas and sitting areas.

Another part of the garden patio is a sunken dining area with bigger, umbrella’ed tables and beautiful, lush green plants and flowers.  Gorgeous!

Menu: Small plates on the bar menu include Rye Pierogis, Artichoke Spinach Dip, Korean Barbeque Chicken Wings, Marinated Mediterranean Olives, Grilled Octopus, Pork Belly Fig Strudel, Steamed Blue Mussels, Trio of Pacific Coast Oysters, Roasted Amish Asparagus, Grilled Duck Confit Flatbread, Charcuterie Plate.  Additional plates found on the dinner menu include House Made Rabbit Sausage, and Torchon of Au Bon Canard Foie Gras.

Micro plates include Spring Vegetable Linguini, Crab Cake Salad, Roasted Pork Belly, Grilled Salmon, Housemade Lamb Sausage, Grilled Angus Filet.

Sandwiches on the bar menu include Reuben Panini, Lamb Burger, Grilled Black Angus Burger, Chef Burger, Fried Egg BLT, Cold Smoked Salmon Club, and Quinoa Falafel.

Salads include  House Green Salad, Strawberry Salad , and “BLT” Salad.  Soups include Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Soup and a Soup du Jour.

There is also an extensive number of domestic, regional and imported cheese plates.

Entrees on the Dinner Menu include Spring Vegetable Linguini, Crispy Barramundi, Pan Roasted Faroe Islands Scottish Salmon, Roasted Icelandic Cod, Grilled All Natural Dry Aged Top Sirloin, Moroccan Spiced Iowa Lamb Chops, Dry Aged Minnesota Duroc Pork Chop, and  Pan Roasted Wild Acres Half Chicken.

Desserts include “Kit Kat Bar”   house made Chai ice cream, Spumoni, Venezuelan Chocolate Torte, Stickney Hills Goat Cheese Panna Cotta,  Classic Crème Brûlée  and a Selection of Izzy’s Ice Cream.

There is also a Sunday Brunch menu that can be found here

Price guide: Small Plates $8-11 Micro Entrees $10-17 Sandwiches $11-12  Entrees $18-34 Desserts $6-8

Happy Hour:

  • Monday-Friday 4- 6p.m. and 9 – 11 p.m.served in bars/lounge only
  • $5.50 Appetizers:  Shishito “Poppers”, Artichoke Dip, French Fries – Trio of Sauce, Korean Barbecue Chicken Wings   Mini Cheeseburger and Fries
  • Select Wines by the Glass   5.00La Playa Chardonnay,    La Fiera Pinot Grigio99 Vines Pinot Noir,    Flaco Tempranillo Select Beer,   Rail Pour Cocktails  5.00 Featured Happy Hour Cocktail    5.00

Weekly Specials:

  • Early seating prix fixe menu Mon-Fri 5-6pm .  Three course meal $30 person$50 with select bottle of wine

What we ordered: My companion and I both started with cocktails.  I ordered a House Margarita, which was decent.

My companion ordered a Gimlet, a cocktail with gin and a splash of lime.

My companion also tried this sampler of Whiskeys.

Our visit was during Happy Hour so we sat in the Garden Bar area.  We started with the Artichoke Dip, one of the features on the HH menu.  The blend of cheese and artichoke was covered with cheese and baked to a crispy brown.  It was served with lavasch, a cracker-style flatbread.

We also ordered the Coconut Curry Blue Mussels which we both thought were amazing.  The mussels were on the small side but they were extremely tender and the flavor enhanced by the sweet, creamy and spicy coconut green curry broth with fresno chili and cilantro.  Delicious!  The order also came with grilled sourdough bread from Rustica Bakery.  I could eat a million of these!

We also shared the Reuben Panini, which is made with house-cured corned beef.  The beef was delicious and tender, but did not taste at all like any corned beef I’ve had (and by now you should know I am a huge fan of corned beef and anything Reuben).  The beef simply tasted like seasoned roast.  It was topped with cheese, sauerkraut, thousand island and marble rye then pressed on the panini grill to make it extra crispy and give it the customary panini lines.  Our server actually had the plates split for us so we each received a big portion of fries with our half of the panini.

When I ordered the sandwich I asked if they had any flavored mayonnaise (for dipping the fries), my server said he would  see what he could do.  He came back with the WA Frost  trio of sauces; a Sriracha Aioli, Watercress Ranch, and some other type of aioli.  They were all very good.

The server must have overheard that it was my companion’s birthday and brought out the Homemade Kit Kat Bar, compliments of WA Frost. This was very good and had an interesting texture.  The base of the bar was hazelnut praline with maldon sea salt caramel and was somewhat flaky yet more dense than I expected.  It was served with a creamy house made Chai ice cream.  The serving size was somewhat small, I suspect this was the sample size that is served with the dessert trio.

Service: We had really good service while at WA Frost.  I arrived early for Happy Hour and was able to get a spot in one of the parking lots and then a nice table in the Garden Bar area.  Our server was reasonably fast and went out of his way a few times to make sure we got what we needed and then some.

Overall Impression: This was my first time at WA Frost and I fell in love with the patio at first site.  Then one bite of the coconut curry mussels and I thought I might have died and gone to heaven!  I will definitely be back to WA Frost again this summer for what can only be another fabulous meal.

W.A. Frost & Company on Urbanspoon
W A Frost & Co Reviews in St Paul

Feb 202011

Cuisine: American, Fine-Dining
Restaurant Features: Bar, Farm-Direct, Locally Sourced, Market, Tasting Menu
Location: St Paul, MN (Lowertown)
Address: 289 East 5th Street St Paul, MN 55101 651-699-3536
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 5:00pm  last seatingat 9:30pm
Links: Heartland Restaurant Website * Heartland on Facebook * Google Map
Atmosphere: Heartland is now located in Lowertown St Paul, in a large warehouse-style building overlooking the St Paul Farmer’s Market.  The space is divided into two levels, the upper level has two dining spaces, the lower level is the home of the Farm Direct Market where you can buy local and regionally sourced produce and meats.

The dining space is a wide and open, with extra tall ceilings.  Most tables are spaced far enough apart that you never feel crowded even on a busy night (which it always is at Heartland).

Menu: The theme of Heartland is that it is Midwestern Cuisine, with all items being locally sourced.  For this reason, the menu is always changing.

Here is an example of the menu: (actual menu from February 11, 2011)

Fauna Tasting Menu: 1st course Bison Liver with Caramelized Onions, 2nd Wild Boar Roast over Barley,  3rd Spiced Duck Egg Pot-de-Creme

Flora Tasting Menu: 1st Frisee with Walnut Croutons, 2nd Golden Potato Gnocchi with Wild Mushrooms, 3rd Chocolate Peca Tart with Honey Cherry Ice Cream

Small Plate options include Squash-Root Vegetable Cream Soup, Braised Bison in Broth, Chick Pea Salad, Cress with Caramelized Pearl Onions, Pork Cracklings with Fingerling Potatoes, Pork Rillettes with Blue Cornbread, Duck Breast Prosciutto, Wild Boar Liver Terrine with Nuts and Fruits, and Smoked Roast Bison.

Large Plates include Walleye with Mashed Sunchokes, Chicken Breast with Potato Puree and Crimini Mushrooms, Pheasant Breast with Weinkraut, Cassoulet with Kielbasa, Bison and Duck Leg, Lamb Chops with Fingerling Potatoes and Apple Cider Kraut, and Bison Ribeye with Turnips.

Side Plates that are offered include Roasted beets, Sunchokes, Sweet & Sour Cabbage, and Red Potatoes with Smoked Chili Pepper Aioli. $8

Cheese and Pastry plates include the midwestern Artisan Cheese Sampler with Fruit Chutney and Crackers, Spiced Duck Egg Pot De Creme with Cumin Cookie, Pear-Pumpkinseed Tart with Hazelnut, and the Chocolate Pecan Tart with Chestnut Honey-Cherry Ice Cream.

Price guide: Cheese & Pastry Plates $10-14 Small Plates $10-16  Large Plates $ 24-34  Tasting Menu $30/40

What we ordered: We started with cocktails and wine.  I ordered a bottle of Green & Red, a lovely red zin which I drank almost completely to myself.  I was celebrating my birthday!

One of my companions ordered the Norwegian Ginger, a very fresh and spicy drink made with real ginger root.  It was strong and delicious!

Another companion ordered a Dirty Martini, a classic.

Shortly after we ordered one of the wait staff came around with a basket of rolls, offering a choice of either Semolina Buckwheat or Sourdough.  I tried the wheat, which was crusty on the outside, soft and slightly warm inside.

Before the starter course we were brought these complimentary small plates with a potato crisps, hummus and chopped root vegetables with a sprig of cilantro.  Very good, I could have eaten many of these ;)

There were many appetizing choices on the menu this night but I decided to go with the Fauna Tasting Menu (3 courses for $40), which one of my companions also ordered. The first course was bison liver in sweet & sour chicken consomme broth with caramelized onions, and Mangalitsa pork bacon.  When I ordered the tasting menu I didn’t realize it included liver, which I had not been a fan of in the past.  One bite of this creation by Lenny Russo and I quickly changed my mind! The texture of the liver was very tender and it lacked the irony flavor that you find with beef liver.  The caramelized onions gave it a sweetness and the bacon gave it a smokey crunch.  It is true, bacon makes everything better! My companion who also ordered this declared it the best liver and onions ever made.

The main course was the Roasted Wild Boar.  The meat was tender and lean, three slices served over cooked barley in a blackberry walnut glace de viande.  The sauce was a rich but sweet, boiled down from the meat stock, blackberries and walnuts,with a hint of sherry.  This was good but wasn’t very exciting.

The dessert course was a black-pepper spiced duck egg pot de ceme with a cumin cookie and passion fruit puree.  This rich, velvety custard made from duck egg had a smooth, creamy texture reminding me more of a pudding than a custard.  It had a hint of vanilla and the black pepper it was spiced with, topped with crunchy glazed pecans.  I enjoyed it very much! The cumin cookie was a little strange, but I did like the passion fruit curd, a sweet mix of beaten egg yolks, fruit and sugar.  The server brought out complimentary flutes of sweet champagne with our dessert in celebration of my birthday.  That was a very nice touch!

For the main course one of my companions ordered the Bison Ribeye which came with a winter squash fondant, turnips and foie gras butter.  This steak was lean and delicious, slightly more tendinous than beef ribeye but rich in flavor, especially with the foie gras butter melting over the top.

Another companion ordered the Walleye with mashed sunchokes, mushrooms and a crayfish cream sauce.  This was one of the highlights of our meal at Heartland that evening.  The walleye had been flown in that same day from Lake of the Woods so it was fresh as can be.  The mushrooms were delicious and extremely flavorful from the herbs and wine they were sauteed in, the mashed sunchokes were also a nice change of pace from the usual potato.  The dish was accompanied by a crayfish cream sauce.

Service:  We had made reservations for pur Friday night visit a few weeks ahead of time, as it is very difficult to get in without a reservation on the weekend.  It was late enough at night that we were able to park on the street without paying.  The hostess was pleasant upon our arrival and brought us right to our table after offering to check our coats.  When ordering drinks we were given the option of premium bottled water, or choose from a select list of cocktails and beverages.  Our server was attentive and helpful with ordering, and food was appropriately paced for each course.  The complimentary champagne was a great touch.

Overall Impression: I had been wanting to try Heartland for a few years now and I am glad I finally did.  I love that everything is locally sourced; Chef Lenny Russo truly does a beautiful job of highlighting foods that are native to our region and presenting them in a unique way.

Heartland Restaurant and Farm Direct Market on Urbanspoon