Archive for December, 2008

Three Squares and Claddagh Irish Pub, Maple Grove

December 13, 2008

I met a couple friends for happy hour on the west side of town. We started the evening at Three Squares, which is owned by the folks who such nice work at the Groveland Tap and the Highland Grill. We started auspiciously with the sweet potato fries with chipotle pesto aioli. There was something just a little off about the texture– they weren’t crispy enough yet they were kind of tough in the middle. They were still tasty and we had no problems cleaning our plate.

We also tried the pierogies, the pulled pork quesadillas, and the beef and vegetable fondue (with polenta, grilled zucchini, and oven-roasted tomatoes). All were incredibly satisfying and flavorful. 

For beverages, I had a pear martini, which was crisp and refreshing, followed by a tequila mockingbird, which was smooth and had a salty rim. After several sips, I would mutter some sort of thanks to the gods who created tequila. It’s been my beverage of choice lately. 

We each had two drinks and we split the four appetizers, and before tip the bill came to less than $15 each, which was a great deal. 

Not ready to call it an evening, we skipped across the street (some of us literally) to the Claddagh Irish Pub. It was warm and cozy, and they gave us a table in a small  room all to ourselves. 

We split the Warm & Tipsy Bread Pudding and the Caramel Whiskey Apple Crisp. The pudding was served in a bed of cream sauce, and the apple crisp was topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Both were warm and comforting and sweet, exactly what we were looking for to end the evening before we had to head out into the cold. 

I couldn’t resist ordering the Paddy’s Pumpkin, made with Bailey’s, Hiram Walker Pumpkin Liqueur, Kahlua, and Hot Damn! Cinnamon Schnapps. It had a brown sugar and cinnamon rim. It was excellent, and I made everyone else at the table try it and rate it. We all agreed that although it was an incredibly tasty drink (and I would definitely order it again), the flavors of the pumpkin didn’t really shine through. We were using the Iron Chef system of judging. 

Rating for Paddy’s Pumpkin (on a scale of 1 to 5 pumpkins, with 5 being the highest): 3 pumpkins 

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Oasis at Target Center

December 13, 2008

We almost didn’t go to this show. The day tickets went on sale, I kept throwing them back until something good came up. When I got 12th row, I decided to jump on it. 

Matt Costa was the first opener. He delivered an acoustic set (with the help of another guitarist named Mitch) and played for about 30 minutes. Ryan Adams and the Cardinals came on right after that. It was the most efficient set change I’d ever seen. Even when you have an acoustic opener and don’t have to set up anything for the next band, it usually takes at least 20 minutes, but not this time. Tim went to get us water, and by the time he came back, they were on their second song.

Their set was fine, but it seemed to go on for a long time, partly because I wasn’t familiar with most of their work and a lot of it blended together in my mind, and partly because I was anxious to see Oasis. Also, I was hoping Ryan Adams would have one of his infamous epic meltdowns, but I think he saves that for his headlining gigs. He didn’t even speak to the audience. Other than singing, he blew loudly into his microphone once, and he let the other guitarist handle the between-song banter . If he’d gone off on Westerberg as he’d done at a recent First Avenue show, I think there would have been fisticuffs.

Toward the end of the Cardinals’ set, two obviously hammered guys stumbled into the two seats to our right. One guy kept saying “Oasis?” to Tim, who nodded in agreement that he was indeed there to see that band. The guy kept shaking his hand in affirmation. He and his friend wandered around during the break between sets, then came back and asked, “hey, have the Cardinals played yet?” Then he announced that he and his buddy were going to rush the stage and try to get kicked out at some point during the show. It was extremely entertaining.

Just before Oasis took the stage, Tim noticed one of Prince’s former hired goons roaming the aisle, and he visibly clenched at the memory of getting probed before an early-morning concert at Paisley Park. 

Liam came onstage with a tambourine in his mouth, the band kicked into “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” and we were on our way. 

We were in front of a group of chatty “woo girls,” and if I’d been there to see a more mellow headliner I would have been worried, but once Oasis started playing, they got into the show. Even if they had been talking during the set, the band drowned them out anyway. 

Despite the venue being less than half full (the entire upper level was curtained off, and there were just a handful of people in the back of the lower level), the crowd was really into the show. Two guys to my left were bouncing up and down the entire time and alternately yelling “Liam” and “Noel.” It was a visually stunning spectacle, with four large video screens showing the band. The graphics were very retro-inspired, with the band initially appearing in black and white and filmed from the sides of their faces, rather than straight on. They superimposed the group’s faces over other psychedelic graphics later in the set. 

And they definitely brought the attitude. I was highly amused by Liam standing with his hands at his sides, looking out at the audience during Noel’s guitar solos. Most people retreat to the back of the stage, but not Liam. 

Here’s a summary of an exchange a few songs in:

Noel: Hello, Minneapolis!

Crowd: Yay!

Noel: And Saint Paul!

Crowd: Boo!

Noel: You know it’s cold here, right? Ever heard of a place called California?

Crowd: Boo!

Noel: They’re walking around in shorts, and girls are walking around in bikinis. 

Crowd: Yay! No, boo! No, wait… 

The new material was good, but the crowd was in full swing during the more familiar material. Liam’s voice wasn’t as strong as it had been in the past, but the crowd lifted him up when he needed it. There were several rousing singalongs, especially during “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” “Morning Glory,” “Wonderwall,” and “Champagne Supernova.” 

Overall, it was a good time. It was very therapeutic for me to sing at the top of my lungs with several thousand other people. I wasn’t expecting such a good vibe off the crowd, and it was a pleasant surprise. And those two guys beside us changed their minds and ended up staying until the very end. 

Set list (from the Star Tribune)

The New Standards Christmas Show, Fitzgerald Theater

December 7, 2008

This was our second Christmas show featuring The New Standards (we missed out on the first year), and it might have provided the jump start I needed to get into the Christmas music mood. I didn’t start listening to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving, but it felt forced. I wasn’t enjoying it, and I was going through the motions. This show reminded me that the holiday season could be fun, and it was about being around your friends and family and enjoying yourself.

(Yes, I’m aware that’s pretty obvious, but all I can think about lately is that I have a ton of shopping to do, not a lot of money to do it with, and no desire to battle the crowds in case there’s another trampling incident, or at the very least, an outbreak of cranky in my vicinity. Sure, I could have been better about saving money and not going to as many shows or restaurants or Vegas, but I also need to maintain my sanity. Okay, now that all my personal issues are out in the open, let’s move on, shall we?)

Last year’s “wow” moment was when Haley Bonar performed her rendition of “River.” Everyone in the theater had goosebumps. One of this year’s occurred when The Brothers Frantzich performed an acoustic cover of “Love Is the Law,” backed by The New Standards (and original composer Chan Poling). It was an unexpected take on the song, and the vocals were powerful. 

(Okay, another digression. I just went to the site for The Brothers Frantzich, and they founded an organization called Feed Them with Music, which helps feed starving people. 10% of the bar tab went to the charity, and it gave us an excuse to buy two extra vodka/sodas. However, I did not realize that they also founded something called Wild Christ, which immediately sent my brain into a parody of Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys.” Lest you think I’m going to hell, I get comeuppance at the end of this post. Just wait.)

The Brothers Frantzich also did a really cool (and even more unexpected) performance with Robert Bly, who read poems while one guy played acoustic guitar (I think it was an open D chord) and the other played bongos. Because Robert Bly’s work has such rhythm, it worked well. He has such a cadence to his voice, and he has this amazing stage presence that exudes coolness and authority and wisdom. I felt really honored to be in his presence. 

Lucy Michelle, whom I’d never heard, did a rendition of “Santa Baby,” which is one of my least favorite Christmas songs (thanks, Madonna!), but she pulled it off with her charisma and unique voice. I think it helped that she wasn’t trying to be too cutesy with it, and she had this retro vibe that worked. She also sang “Last Christmas,” which is one of my favorite Christmas songs. The entire band, horns section, choir, and all joined in, making it a rollicking good time. At some point, I heard laughter, and saw a guy making his way towards the stage with a beer in his hand, dancing all the way. He returned to his seat at the end of the song, though.

In addition to the Christmas music, The New Standards performed several songs off their new CD (which was available in the lobby, and we promptly purchased the CD as we entered the theater). My favorite track so far is their cover of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” 

During their cover of “Watching the Detectives,” some dumbass yelled out “Free Bird.” John Munson responded by saying “This is my ‘Free Bird.'” He also said that during “Toxic.” 

I’m going to write to my senators (whenever that race happens to be decided) and request the following:

  • It should be legal to smack someone who yells “Free Bird” in concert. 
  • It should also be legal to smack someone who yells “Toolmaster” at any event featuring Trip Shakespeare alumni. 

(Really, people. It’s not funny. It’s tired and unoriginal and obnoxious and lame and dumb. Also, it’s most definitely not gay. If it were gay, I’d actually enjoy being around it and I’d want to take it shoe shopping. I think we should start a campaign to make “gay” synonymous with “awesome.” Like, The New Standards show was really gay. Wow, I sure do like the tangents this evening.)

Other highlights: Jeremy Messersmith had a nice performance of “Miracle” and was backed by Chan Poling’s daughter, whose voice blended really well with Jeremy’s. Matt Wilson also delivered an epic version of “MacArthur Park.”

Okay, so at the end of the show, we gave everyone the traditional standing ovation after the last song. And by “we,” I mean everyone except me for the first few seconds, because somehow I forgot to use my feet. I don’t know if I got up too quickly, or if my boots were not giving me the proper support in my heels, or if I absorbed those two vodka/sodas too fast, or if it was the first day with the new legs, or what. All I know is, I tried to stand and then I heard gravity calling to me, loudly. I grabbed my husband’s left arm and slowly righted myself, dusted myself off, and clapped and cheered loudly for the performers. This would have been all well and fine and unnoticed, except that we were IN THE FRONT ROW. World, behold my clumsiness– this is what it’s like to be me, every day! 

As an encore, they performed “Angels We Have Heard on High” with the entire band (cellos, horns, choir of all the previous performers). And I remembered how to properly stand for the second ovation. Hooray!

Hell’s Kitchen

December 7, 2008

As I sat waiting for my friend Sue in the new Hell’s Kitchen space, I did have the fleeting thought that I was in hell. Not because of the decor, but because I would never be able to return to Rossi’s (my dearly departed beloved bar and burger purveyor), and reality was smacking me in the face. 

I was relieved that it looked different. The decor is much lighter, in contrast to the dark interior of Rossi’s. The walls have bright red paint, and lots of sand-colored brick. There’s a lot more lighting, too. 

You can descend into Hell’s Kitchen using the elevator, which brings you to the entrance near the former tavern and steakhouse, or using the staircase, which leads to the former Blue Star Room. They call the tavern the “pub” now, and they’ve kept the center bar and the booths. I’m not sure if there’s a difference in menus in the pub area and the main restaurant area or not. We were seated in the previous Blue Star Room, which was easier for me because I’d only been in there a couple times and didn’t have as many memories attached. Still, it was weird to look around.

By the staircase, they have a painted set of rules on the bricks. I had already violated two of them (no swearing and no surly attitudes). But my mood did lighten after I got my food. They really do have excellent food at Hell’s Kitchen, and the place could have done a lot worse with tenants. (I’m thinking of Vegas, when the Drai’s nightclub in the basement of the former Barbary Coast used to be a McDonald’s.)

I ordered my usual, which is an All-American Breakfast and a cup of Mahnomin Porridge. The porridge was fantastic, especially on a cold day. The All-American Breakfast comes with a choice of eggs (scrambled), ham, bison sausage, or bacon (bacon), sourdough or multi-grain toast (sourdough), fresh fruit, and hash browns. I remembered that the menu on the previous location had Rosti potatoes instead of hash browns, so I substituted those instead. I’m really picky about hash browns, and often they sit unattended on my plate, but I devoured the Rosti potatoes, which are a blend of potatoes (duh), bacon, scallions, garlic, onions, parsley, sweet cream, and awesome. The toast comes with a trio of toppings: marmalade, blackberry jam, and peanut butter. The toppings are all homemade and fresh and delicious.  

I almost ordered the toasted sausage bread, but was glad I didn’t because I was stuffed from everything else. I had it the last time I was there (at the previous location), and it was quite tasty. You can’t taste the sausage at all– it’s a sweet, dense  bread with spices and walnuts, like banana bread without the bananas.

I asked about happy hour, and our server said that they had $3 taps, $3.50 house wine, and $5 specialty drinks, plus cheap appetizers. No 2-for-1s like the Blue Star Room, but now that I’ve ripped the band-aid off my grief, I think I’d be willing to give it a try. 

In summary: I will always have a special place in my heart for Rossi’s, but I need to move on, and Hell’s Kitchen serves some damn fine food. It will serve a different purpose than Rossi’s, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s almost better that it’s different, like the caterpillar turning into the butterfly, or something. Also, it it gives me an excuse to start a quest to find the best burger in the Twin Cities.

Town Talk Diner, Revisited

December 7, 2008

The go-to dinner spot for me and my friend Dave is Town Talk Diner. We have our other favorites, but when we heard (incorrectly, I hope) that it might be closing due to an ownership change, we became extremely attached. I feel like I use a lot of superlatives when I write about this place, but they’re all easily justifiable. 

We sat at the bar, and Dave wisely grabbed the two stools farthest from the door and closest to the kitchen. This ensured that we wouldn’t be shocked by the occasional cold burst of air whenever the door opened. It was 14 degrees when I drove to dinner, and 7 degrees when I drove home. Welcome to winter in Minnesota! At least it wasn’t snowing.  

Our seating location had the added bonus of various pork smells wafting by us as we dined. I abstained from ordering any pork-related items, but every time I caught a whiff of one, I inhaled and sighed deeply, ingesting the pork vicariously. 

Because of the bitter cold, we started off with warm beverages. I had the Hot Shot, which consisted of brandy, cherry liqueur, and cider. It filled all my needs of thirst, warmth, and alcohol. Dave ordered a drink made of hot tea, pine liqueur, and honey Jagermeister. It was blend of familiar tastes presented in a new way, and it was amazing yet comforting at the same time. 

We split two entrees: the macaroni and cheese with truffle oil and mushrooms, and the fried chicken served on a bed of sweet potato hash browns and a sweet potato sauce. Both courses were unbelievably good. They were savory and flavorful and warm and delicious. Every bite was a masterpiece. Again, as with the tea, they took familiar tastes but put a new spin on them. I’m extremely picky about mushrooms, but these were outstanding in the creamy, cheesy macaroni dish. And the sweet potato hash browns complemented the chicken quite well– sweet, but not cloying. I’m drooling as I type this. Winter brings out the comfort food cravings, and these dishes fit that need perfectly. 

For dessert, we split one of the adult milkshakes. We’re slowly working our way through their milkshake list, having tried the Silly Rabbit, Monkey Business, and Pumpkin Pie Shake. We decided to branch out and try the German Chocolate Cake, with dark creme de cacao, coconut rum, and ice cream. We were not disappointed. We wished that we had all night to try more items on their beverage list, but we both had to work in the morning. 

On our way out, we asked our server/bartender about the rumors that it might be closing, and he said he hadn’t heard anything about it. So we hope to be returning many times in the future.