Archive for January, 2009

Barrio Tequila Bar – Downtown Minneapolis

January 30, 2009

The third time was a charm. 

I had tried to stop into Barrio on two previous occasions, but we didn’t have reservations and it was insanely crowded. I made reservations this time, to guarantee a table, and it was well worth the wait.

My friend Andrea and I got together to catch up over tasty food and beverages. I was a little concerned that the small space would be noisy, but we were able to carry on just fine. 

The beverage special that day was the Macho Camacho, which was made from blood orange ancho 1800, with a splash of cava. The first sip was fruity and sweet with a hint of tequila, but it had a surprising peppery kick at the finish. It was complex and wonderful. I had two. 

For food, we ordered the made to order guacamole, which arrived in a huge stone dish and was topped with cilantro, sliced radishes, peppers, and tomatoes. It was accompanied by fresh corn tortilla chips. We almost opted for the queso fundido, but thought that the soft tortillas might prove unwieldy, especially after a beverage or two. 

We also got the BBQ pork sopes, which were little round crispy things filled with savory, delightful pork. We each had a taco. Andrea was more adventurous and tried the lingua (tongue), which had a pulled beef texture and flavor. I ordered the skirt steak taco. Hers arrived in a soft tortilla while mine was in a lightly fried corn tortilla. Both tacos were fresh and tasty. They were garnished with lettuce, cilantro, and radishes, but the vegetables were used sparingly as accents. 

We were warned that the plates were fairly small, but we were full after our tacos and two appetizers. The food had heat, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. 

I would definitely return, if only to continue my love affair with tequila. I can still taste the Macho Camacho and I sigh fondly whenever I think of it.

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25 Things About Me

January 30, 2009

Yes, it’s the dreaded Facebook meme, but I thought I’d draft it and cross-post it here.

  1. I was born in Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the Corn Palace.
  2. I graduated from Denison High School in Denison, Texas. 
  3. I still say certain words with a Southern accent, and sometimes it kicks in when I get nervous, although I never really had an accent when I lived there.
  4. I studied in Germany for four months when I was in college. 
  5. I know how say “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “may I have a beer?,” and “where’s the bathroom?” in German, French, and Spanish. 
  6. I’ve always wondered if I should have studied in England during college instead, but I’m not sure if I would have come back. 
  7. I moved to Minnesota after college, and only intended to stay temporarily, because I thought winter was insane. Then I met my husband. But this wasn’t a bad thing. 
  8. 16 years later, I still think winter is insane. As of January 30, 2009, it hasn’t been above freezing this year. But we have our diversions.
  9. I played nude soccer on the library lawn once during my senior year of college. (Important note: This was in May.)
  10. I hope there aren’t any pictures floating around of #9. That would be awkward, to say the least.
  11. I’ve played the Palms Lounge in Vegas. (Vastly different from my three botched karaoke performances at the former Barbary Coast.)
  12. I’ve been to Vegas 31 times. You would think this would help me pack more quickly. Not so. 
  13. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen perform “Atlantic City” in Atlantic City, and “Born in the U.S.A.” just outside Washington, D.C.
  14. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up (which is painfully evident on this blog). 
  15. I can’t imagine my life with children, and I’m incredibly content with that.
  16. When I was in grade school, I wrote a version of “Cinderella” on paper Shopko bags. I brought costumes to school, and our teacher let us perform the play. 
  17. The handsome prince ended up being a major league baseball reliever for the Atlanta Braves when he was older.
  18. I attended Prince’s first wedding reception at Paisley Park. Not as glamorous as it sounds: He charged for admission, and he and his then-wife (Mayte) had already left. But we did get to hear “Friend Lover Sister Mother Wife” for the first time and we had the most divine lemon cake.
  19. You can’t see me in the crowd shots, but I’m in Prince’s videos for “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Alive (and It Lives in Minneapolis)” and “Gold,” which is one of my favorite songs. We used to spend a lot of time at Paisley Park in the mid-’90s. 
  20. During baseball season, I’m slightly cranky the day after the Minnesota Twins lose. 
  21. I am on a personal quest to find a burger in the Twin Cities that I love as much as the burgers at Rossi’s Steakhouse. 
  22. When I was in junior high, I thought Motley Crue worshiped the devil. I saw them twice in 2005.
  23. I have had a crush on John Taylor for 25 years. My husband is OK with this. I don’t actively lust after him or anything. I just think he’s dreamy and I sigh whenever I see him on TV. 
  24. Despite working extensively with an intranet site in my day job, I cannot get half of the applications on Facebook to cooperate. I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
  25. My life would have been dramatically different if I had discovered The Replacements before 1993. I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since. 

Axel’s Bonfire Grill – St. Paul

January 30, 2009

I’ve been spending a lot of quality time at Axel’s in the last month or so. We got a gift card for Christmas, so a couple weeks ago, Tim and I were feeling stir-crazy and ventured out for dinner. Tim had the petite filet and a side of the smashed potatoes with bacon, accompanied by a strawberry passion drink. The filet was good but needed a little salt. The drink contained tequila and was sweet and fruity and tasty. I ordered the blueberry BBQ pork chop, a side of the smashed potatoes with bacon (surprise), and a bubbly lychee martini. The martini came with an extra serving and a half in the shaker, which is always welcome. It had grapefruit in it so it was slightly tart, but the lychee flavor still came through. The pork chop was one of the most interesting dishes I’d had in a while. The blueberry and barbecue flavors complemented each other well, with the blueberry adding just a hint of sweetness. It was one of the specials for the evening, but I wish they’d add it as a regular item because I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

Last weekend, a friend and I were looking for a convenient place for brunch, and I mentioned Axel’s again. Although we didn’t indulge, they have $2 mimosas and $4 build-your-own Bloody Marys. They had added a new family-style breakfast since we’d been there last. The breakfast was similar to the offerings at Ike’s, yet there were a few deviations. The breakfast is $12.95 per person and comes with your choice of cinnamon or caramel roll (we chose caramel), your choice of regular, cheesy, or Denver-style eggs (we chose cheesy), cheesy hash browns, and your choice of bacon or sausage (again, the bacon). 

What the caramel roll lacked in height (unlike the towering rolls at Ike’s), it made up in width and taste. It covered an entire plate, and the smells of the hot caramel drifted toward us as the waitress set the plate on the table. It didn’t contain pecans (which could be a plus or minus), but it was light and fluffy and warm. We finished about half of it. 

Unlike Ike’s, we could get more than one egg dish, but the servers can only bring out one kind at a time. The same thing went for the meat, which I thought was really odd. How hard was it to throw a couple sausage patties onto a plate along with the bacon? But maybe they were more in tune with our appetites than we thought. By the time we’d finished our first plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns, we had no room for sausage, much less an extra round. 

Their service was excellent for both visits. I wouldn’t have tried the pork chops without the waiter telling me how incredible they were. And the waitress for brunch was quick with the refills and patient with our questions. The brunch was a new feature, so she had to ask the kitchen for clarification a few times, but it was a smooth experience.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

January 17, 2009

On Thursday, our high was approximately -5 (Fahrenheit). Our lows were somewhere between -22 and iceberg. According to the local news, we spent at least 86 hours below zero this week.

I don’t feel that surviving this weather makes me a hardier person than anyone else. There’s usually a week like this every winter in Minnesota, and it’s just something you get through. Luckily, I had booked a vacation on Monday, so that kept me from being too crabby, even though we’re not leaving for a month and a half. Being able to work from home for three days also helped tremendously.  

You have to wear at least two layers everywhere. I usually wear tights under my corduroys (they seem warmer than jeans to me, and I’ve learned to walk in them without appearing bow-legged yet not making that swishing sound), and a pair of wool socks in my fake-fur-lined snow boots. I wear a wool sweater with a thick long-sleeved t-shirt underneath. And if you’re wearing low-cut pants and the shirt isn’t long enough, you definitely feel a draft on your lower back when you sit down, even inside your car. When you wrap your scarf around your neck, try to cover the gap between your coat and your shirt, and try to cover your face. Wear a hat and a coat with a hood if you can– otherwise, you’ll feel the wind in your ears. 

I made the mistake of leaving my face uncovered while walking from the parking lot to work, and rather than stopping and adjusting, I just ran for the building. It took 15 minutes for the feeling to return to my nose and cheeks. The upside was that I didn’t have to wear blush– everyone has that rosy look on their faces. 

I wanted to try to spit to see if it froze before hitting the ground, but my teeth were too busy chattering. 

When you inhale, it hurts to breathe. The cold air hits your lungs before it has time to warm up inside your body, and it’s a shock.

Houses and cars make strange noises. There are all sorts of cracking and popping sounds everywhere, and you just hope it’s something that didn’t allow more cold air in, and you pray your vehicle will continue to start. When I worked from home, the only time I left the house was to start the car every few hours. Even though it was in the garage, there was no insulation (just protection from the wind, so even though it was about 10 degrees colder outside, it was still below 0 inside). Obviously, I moved the car out of the garage while I let it idle. 

The cold seeps in everywhere. Even if you’re standing in your house, you can feel it. Some of our doors and windows are newer than others, so some do a better job of keeping the drafts out, but you can still feel little air pockets here and there. If you store your clothes or dishes in closets or cabinets that are on an exterior wall, everything is cold to the touch. 

The roads and sidewalks look like they’re covered with chalk. You know it’s really cold when all the roads turn white. They spray chemicals on them, but it has to be a certain temperature for them to work, so there were lots of accidents this week. 

A couple people died from exposure. It’s scary to think that this weather can kill you if you’re outside for too long. 

On a lighter note, if you’re outside for more than a minute, you develop snotsicles in your nose. All the mucus freezes. I’m not kidding. 

Someone on the news was cracking eggs on the sidewalk, and the eggs froze through within 15 minutes. 

You know how your breath forms vapor when you breathe out? I’ve never seen anyone’s farts when it’s this cold outside. I was relieved to see that other people wondered about this, too.

Grand Casino, Hinckley, MN

January 1, 2009

Because we’ve both had the gambling urge lately, we made a brief road trip to Hinckley, MN (about an hour north of the Twin Cities) to visit Grand Casino. The drive was bleak and wintery. We live in a very flat state and it’s colorless when the snow on the ground and the gray sky blend together. You feel like you’re driving in an endless dirty cotton ball. Luckily, the sun came out on the way back to help ease my Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

We saw some interesting billboards on the way: 

  • Pinehaven Farm promises Pumpkins and Fun (technically not a billboard, but the side of a barn, which is even better) 
  • The Pump & Munch filling station
  • eatlamb.com
  • Babies everywhere, in almost every other advertisement (apparently there’s nothing to do in northern MN except have sex)

When we arrived at 11:00 a.m., the casino wasn’t terribly busy. We were able to park ourselves at a bank of Deuces Wild machines with reasonable pay tables and play for a while. 

The casino smells of smoke and desperation. Although they had lots of slots you’d expect to see in Vegas (Star Trek, Dean Martin’s Wild Party, Happy Days, Gold Fish, eBay), demand was high because they only had a few of each type. People were especially anxious to play the eBay machines, hovering around until a seat opened up. I remembered from my last visit (in 2000) that this occurs frequently. Because there aren’t other casinos nearby, you can’t just walk to the next gambling hall to see if those machines are available. It creates a culture of lurking, which creeps me out a bit. 

I noticed (but did not play) some Miss Kitty slots with a “sticky wild” bonus. If  you get free spins and a wild symbol appears, it “sticks” in the same place on the screen until the bonus round is over, giving you more winning paylines.)

We took a brief break for lunch, enticed by the signs that promised a redesigned buffet, although Tim commented that he didn’t see much difference from the last time he was there.

The buffet’s tag line should be it’s not worse than the Flamingo buffet,” which isn’t saying much. It featured several stations: Salads, Asian, International (serving fried chicken and ribs– how international is that?), American Bounty, and Desserts. Most of the entrees gave “mystery meat” a new meaning. Several of the beef and pork items looked almost appealing, but I was afraid to try them with an hour-long car ride awaiting me. I stuck mostly to salads and non-meat items, although I did give the meatballs a try and they were good. To round out my plate, I had “some of the yella,” au gratin potatoes that had a Velveeta-esque sheen. 

My next round was interrupted as I waited 5 minutes for the elderly man in front of me to figure out what the ice cream machine was for. I think he was confused that it didn’t accept slot tickets.

For dessert, I tried some of the chocolate pudding cake, which was warm and gooey and good. I also had a couple bites of apple pie with ice cream, but it tasted a little off, so I left most of it on my plate. The best item on the buffet by far was the bread pudding with whiskey sauce. It was warm and somewhat firm, not soggy as I would have expected, and the sauce was sugary but not overpoweringly sweet.

After lunch, we resumed our gambling (or, if you prefer, losing) for another hour (Tim on Deuces Wild again, me mixing up my losses between Deuces Wild and Gold Fish slots), then we headed home.