Saturday, October 22, 2011

OK, I tried the McNally's "new" lamb burger. Here's the 411.

A few weeks ago, I lamented, well bitched, about McNally's making a significant change to the star of last Fall's special seasonal menu, the lamb burger. Check that out here. So, in the interest of fairness and good blog journalism, I decided to try one about a week ago.

So, how was it? Am I going to eat my words? Hell, no!

The new McNally's lamb burger was just as expected- too eastern-tilted to suit my tastes. If the goal was to produce a lamb burger similar to what other joints are doing with ground lamb or trying to play into the stereotype that all lamb must be served in some Greek sort of fashion, then they nailed it.

Here's what I noticed. When it came to the table, it honestly smelled like someone slid a dish of curry under my nose. The meat is blended with cumin and some other herbs, and SAUSAGE for crying out loud. All together the aroma was very curry-like.

My burger was cooked ok. By that I mean a little more on the rare side, but not quite enough. The Secret Soup Spoon also had a lamb burger and noted it was a tad on the dry side. Lamb is that way. If you don't under cook it just a tad, you end up with a dry burger. The sausage blend was mild, but still noticeable. I much prefer full-on lamb flavor and the new burger just teases.

The yogurt sauce on the burger was a major eh. Didn't seem to add anything. No real sourness or cooling sort of effect. It was just there for looks, apparently.

Go have one of these if you want. I am going to pass. It's not nearly as good as last year's super delicious lamb burger and it is not worth the whopping $12 price tag on it. If you want this yogurty Greek/middle eastern flavor profile, save yourself about 6 bucks by going to Nick's and getting a big greasy gyro.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hy Vee 26th and Sycamore and the Five Stages of Grief

This post has been a long time coming. If you didn't know, Hy Vee is doing some MAJOR renovation work on its store at 26th and Sycamore. I've made it a point to go over there from time-to-time to check it out and enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out where the hell they have stashed whatever item I went in there to purchase. The process started months ago by shoving a few aisles closer together and slowly tearing things apart. Then things started really coming apart- the old thrift store building was torn down and the entire front entrance modified so construction could continue on the exterior. The entire experience was like visiting the only grocery store in a community that had been struck by a terrible natural disaster.

Over the course of the summer, though, little things got done, like the new cheese counter and bakery. The milk is now always in the same spot. The new liquor and wine area and pharmacy are still open. Things are coming together, but chaos prevails- mainly in the parking lot at present, but plenty inside as well.

This whole experience got me thinking about the five stages of grocery grief.

1. Anger. Big time anger. if you thought it was hard to find stuff in there pre-remodeling, you hadn't seen anything. Not even the helpful smiles knew where to find milk on most days. And, if you did locate what you were searching for, there was no guarantee it would be there next time.

2. Denial. Mostly as in, "I can't believe this will ever be done!" Generally, quickly followed by more anger.

3. Depression. If you tried to buy any sort of bread that Hy Vee passes off as decent this summer, you should have felt depressed. The Banquet offers its guests better looking baked goods every morning after breakfast. Seriously. You might also be easily depressed by having to drive to another Hy Vee to have to escape the calamity.

4. Bargaining. After a while, finding shredded cheese or organic beer became kind of a game. "Hey, this is kind of fun!" you told yourself, thinking that you can put up with this until sometime in 2012 when the project is supposed to be finished.

5. Acceptance. As things settle into place, it is clear that there are a few real improvements in the place. The new cheese aisle is pretty nice. I don't believe the Taj Mahal at 37th and Minnesota has that sort of set up for cheeses. And the wine, beer, and liquor area is pretty spacious and very well stocked. Gone are the days of picking up a 12-pack of PBR cans across from the eggs in the dairy aisle. Maybe this won't be so bad?

But wait, it's still Hy Vee. And that brings us back to anger and depression...

In all candor, the new, improved store will be nice. But, the real question will be whether Hy Vee can step up it's game. For instance:

  • Will the produce in the sparkling new aisle still look like crap most of the time? Will cilantro be available with any regularity? Can I purchase an avocado that is somewhere between rock hard and water balloon, in other words, ripe?

  • Will purchasing meat still require a graphing calculator to figure out the screw job the helpful smiles are laying on you between the packaged meat and the stuff in the full service case?

  • Same goes for pricing cheese.

Time will tell. Happy shopping in Sioux Falls, where boy, have we got options!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Martha Stewart Enameled Cast Iron Recalled. That Sucks!

Okay, here's a post I never thought I would write. First, I am no Martha Stewart fan. Incredible personal history and entrepeneur, but still, not one of may favorite people. She's certainly no Julia Child. Second, Macy's. Love hate there. Any glimmer of a decent retail experience took a nose dive when Macy's bought out Marshall Field's and rebranded the Sioux Falls store. Again! Actually, I miss Dayton's. But occasionally, one can get a decent deal on merchandise at Macy's with the proper combination of sales prices, coupons, and a Macy's charge card.

So, I was out trolling for bargains in the old cookware department a couple of weeks ago. I was hoping to add to my collection of enameled cast iron.

If you haven't used enameled cast iron, you are seriously missing out. Some of the more famous brands are LeCrueset and Staub. A 5 to 7 quart covered enameled cast iron pan is, in my opinion, perhaps the single most valuable piece of equipment when it comes to cranking out authentic French food. The pot itself is called a "casserole" in more authentic French cookbooks, such as Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So, if you tried to make ratatouille in the short dish you used to take that Tater Tot Hot Dish to the First Lutheran Pot Luck last month, now you know why it didn't seem quite right.

LeCruset and Staub casseroles are spendy. If you can find a decent size for under $200, grab it! Macy's had a great alternative though. I mean, look, it's a heavy cast iron pot covered with enamel. How crazy can that be? Well, apparently simple enough that Martha got some factory in China to kick out ones that could be sold for less than a hundred bucks retail, on sale. Unfortunately, they got recalled. Here's the bulletin from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

I think there is something to this recall because my own casserole has a few spots where chips of enamel are missing. The Secret Salad Fork was relieved to hear about the recall, because until that time, grossly negligent dish washing technique had been identified as the cause of the chips.

So, take that sucker back to Macy's and get some semblance of a refund. I understand Macy's will roll out an improved version later. Chances are I am going to undergo a chronic case of Boeuf Bourguignon withdrawal that I expect will coincide with the fist snowfall of the season. I hope my Macy's refund will at least get me a down payment on a LeCrueset.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oh, The Humanity!! McNally's Messes With Lamb Burger

Last Fall, McNally's devised a seasonal menu that included something rarely seen in these parts- a lamb burger. I raved about it and some molten hot dip that was also on the special seasonal menu in a post last year. I made it a point to go to McNally's as much as possible to get that lamb burger (which was especially delicious with some Guinness) and to convert as many of my forkie-friends to the cause as I could. I preached the gospel of the lamb burger and was sad to see it go when the menu had to change.

Well, I had a chance to visit McNally's this week. I was pretty excited to go because I heard my beloved lamb burger was back. Oh, the anticipation. The longing I had endured. The chance to once again savor that tasty lamb with cheese, prosciutto, braised onions and fresh tomato. I was nearly shaking as I opened the menu.

My anticipation evaporated and my life flashed before me as I scanned the menu only to learn that the lamb burger was there, but HAD CHANGED!!! WTF??!! (What the Fork)

So, how did it change? Three major ways in my opinion. One- the lamb is mixed with sausage. Probably a reason for this. Lamb can be kind of lean and some sausage can add some fat to keep the meat moist. But sausage is sausage and lamb is lamb, unless of course it's lamb sausage, but that is a different story. If I want lamb, I want lamb, not sausage. I hate it when people mix a meat that is perfectly good on its own (like lamb) and make it taste like sausage. Two- cumin. Cumin is one of the most distinctive spices I can think of. It's right up there with saffron and fennel. I can pick cumin out of just about any spice blend. It has its place, usually in some Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. The reason it bent my tines on the lamb burger was because it told me the whole thing was taking a Mediterranean/Greek/Turkish twist. Three- yogurt sauce. Bingo! That confirms it. Maybe it was even served on pita bread. I don't know, I was too forked off to read on. Besides, turns out McNally's had run out of them, so even if I wanted to give it the old college try, no go.

Okay, okay, so I hear you saying, "How can you sit there and complain about something you didn't try? You might like it." Yeah, well, you have a point there, a small one, but fine, a point. Maybe it is good and juicy and sausagey/Greek tasting with creamy cucumber yogurt tzatziki sauce. I DON'T CARE!

Here's my point: When you make something good, you shouldn't screw with it. Ask Coca Cola about that.

My other problem is, this is just a tad too trend-oriented. Why does everyone seem to associate lamb with Greek flavors? Sure, lamb is stereotypically Greek. Remember the scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the aunt says to the finace', "What? You donn eata meat? Okay, I'll make lamb." Also, this Greek gyro tzatziki burger thing isn't new or unique around here. Bros. has a lamb burger on the menu that bears the same description. Now, instead of putting last year's tasty burger on the menu, McNally's is content to follow suit.

Last year's lamb burger, the REAL lamb burger was tasty. Great combination of ingredients. Best of all, it really showcased the flavor of the lamb. When it was cooked just right, so it was hot and super juicy, it was without peers in the local burger universe. I miss it dearly. Maybe I will try one of the new trendy lamb burgers. But, more likely, when I want something with that flavor profile, I will probably go to Nick's and get a phenomenally delicious gyro made out of that spinning meat loaf on a stick. If I try one, I will let you know.

But, for the time being, shame on you McNally's. Last year you showcased lamb. This year, you're just showcasing a trend. Woo Hoo.

By the way, if you want to try a burger with a composition that is pretty close to the REAL lamb burger, go to Granite City and try their Napa Valley Burger. No lamb, but pretty nice.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Old B-Dubs Remodeling

The original Sioux Falls Buffalo Wild Wings location on West Avenue is under construction. The place is still open and serving icy beers and spicy wings, but it is a bit of a mess. Apparently the game plan is to generally update the appearance. Presumably you are going to see more of the corporate cookie cutter sort of motif like the new West Side location.

When chatting with out server about the changes, we learned that part of the plan is to expand the bar area. Presently, errr, previously, when entering, the bar was on the right and a more resturanty seating area was on the left. Separating the two was a sort of no-man's land. I am pretty sure that center area was not open seating, but I know for a fact that it was treated that way more than once. Not that I know anything about commandeering a table before a Stampede game when the place was packed and a line of people were standing patiently waiting for tables. Anyway, opening up that area and making it more definitively bar is a great idea. My guess is that people who want to take their kiddies to eat wings and drink Mountain Dew are headed to Louise Avenue and the extra bar space will be very handy during televised football games and pre-live games at the Arena.

Keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks if you are heading out there. It looks like the construction is going to get a little more serious and a brief period of closure might be required. You might want to call ahead before making the jaunt.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Breaking News: Shonna Haugen Leaving Parker's

Wow! I was just literally writing a glowing review of Parker's. I think they have done a remarkable job of getting the whole operation into high gear in the last year. Shonna Haugen, Executive Chef at Parker's deserves a lot of credit for that. It's not easy to crank out consistently great product night after night and also to change and develop new twists on familiar ingredients. This is especially remarkable to me, because as far as I know, Shonna does not have any formal culinary education.

As I am working through my post, I just happened to jump over to Shonna's Facebook page and noted the most recent post stating that she just completed her last Saturday evening shift at Parker's and her last day will be Thursday, 9/22. She is apparently heading over to Carnaval Brazillian Grill.

I don't know quite what to make of that. I think Shonna and staff have done a remarkable job with the food at Parker's. (Despite a slight leaning toward Asian-Fusion on occasion that I personally do not particularly care for.) I am not necessarily a Carnaval fan, but will be interested to see what touches Shonna brings to a menu that is comprised mostly of protein on a stick. Best wishes to Shonna with her new endeavor.

As for Parker's, I am sure Stacy Newcomb-Weiland has her bases covered. Stacy and Parker's have undergone a change in the culinary team line-up previously. The guys who opened Bros. were the original Parker's culinary staff. That transition was seamless and I am sure the next one will be, as well. It will be interesting to see what changes a new Executive Chef might bring.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New B-Dubs is Open!!

Buffalo Wild Wings has finally opened the long-awaited new location on the West Side. The new location is in the former Sportsman's Warehouse building along with some furniture stores.

For those of you who have only experienced B-Dubs at the West Avenue location by the Arena, this will be quite a change for you. From what I know, the new spot is created in the image of the standard B-Dubs layout. If you have been to B-Dubs in Rapid City, or another community, you know what I mean. Much different feel with the black and yellow color scheme everywhere. Family/restaurant style seating is in the front, and a big bar area in the rear.

One of my foodie friends, the Secret Soup Spoon, and I love B-Dubs at the West Avenue location. It sets a pretty high bar for tasty, spicy, suck-the-sauce-off-your-fingers wings and good service. The Secret Soup Spoon and I were worried the new Louise Avenue location wouldn't be able to live up to the high standards set by the original location. In a word, they have. Good service. Tasty wings.

Two cool features to check out at the new location. First, there is some upper deck seating above the bar area. A person could perch themselves up there and have a commanding view of the entire place. It's pretty cool. Second, the place is absolutely loaded with TV screens, including what has to be the biggest projection screen in Sioux Falls. So big in fact, that you might want some Dramamine if you have to sit up close to the huge screen in the bar. This place is seriously loaded with TVs. If you suffer from epilepsy or an advanced case of ADD, you might want to head back to the cozy confines of West Avenue.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Trip to Luciano's... and it might be the last.

I recently got around to trying Luciano's recently. Luciano's is located on the main level of the Falls Center, the space formerly occupied by Food & Fermentation, the Brickhouse, and the Sioux Falls Brewing Company. It's gorgeous space-- open, rustic beams and brick and wood floors. There is also seating available outside with really nice views of the courthouse and the Cathedral. Great place to sit on a nice evening.

Luciano's here in Sioux Falls is an off-shoot of the eatery of similar name in Sioux City. I don't spend much time in Sioux City. Like most people from Sioux Falls I am rather skeptical of almost all things Sioux City and pretty much limit visits there to hitting the occasional concert. But, word on the street is that the Sioux City Luciano's is pretty decent and, hey, the place is new, so gotta give it a try.

Despite the Italian sounding name of the place, the menu is more European than it is Italian. Yes, there is some typically Italian sort of fare, such as lasagna or other pasta dishes, but there are also things like different varieties of schnitzel (complete with German potato salad), and French dishes like Flemish beef. There are also seafood selections.

We started the evening with some antipasti. I love these assortments of meats, cheeses, and pickled vegetables. I didn't notice anything particularly "authentic" on the plate, i.e. a good dried sopressata or mortadella or aged provolone, but still, pretty good. Unfortunately, this was the high point.

We'll skip the unremarkable soup. It was unremarkable. Let's get to the main dishes. I had lasagna. This is a dish that I often puzzle how one can screw up. They did. Overcooked pasta. Practically flavorless sauce, odd ricotta/b├ęchamel. And a really flat, poor presentation to top it all off. The Secret Salad Fork had a fish dish- Salmon Wellington. I had a bite that was mostly the mushroom duxcelles and puff pastry. I kid you not, I nearly had to spit it out, it was that bad. That's a new one on me.

Service got a solid C+ for being friendly and somewhat knowledgable. I give the guy credit, he tried. But I didn't want placation or platitudes at that point, I wanted out.

I am told the place does a great job when owner Ray Hoffman is in the house. I hope so. But even then, it is going to take a great deal of convincing to get me back in the place.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Forget you, Chevy's! I'll make my own beans!

Disclaimer: Look. I know I try to write about the finer aspects of food around here. And when it comes to Mexican food, I have often crowed about the virtues of the extremely authentic Mexican food experiences available. This post is not about that. I freely confess that, sometimes, I want a particularly un-authentic experience and for sit-down dining, when it comes to Mexican, nothing gets much more un-authentic than Chevy's. At least not since Chi Chi's closed. Remember that??? I do! Anyway, there is nothing wrong with un-authentic, if that is what you are looking for.

So, I went to Chev's a little while back and when ordering my entree was extremely surprised to learn that the charros beans are no longer available. What the fork? How does that work? For those of you lacking the foggiest what I am talking about, charros beans were the frijoles that were not refritos. They looked like, well, beans In a spicy sauce. And now they are gone.

So, like Cee Lo Green might say, fork you and your no cans menu-hoo-hoo. Make your own beans. So, with props to Rick Bayless and Alton Brown, here is a method for making your own very tasty beans at home.

Pay attention.

Get yourself about 4 slices of nice, thick smoky bacon. Cut it into small, but roughly cut pieces and cook it in a suacepan, maybe 3 or 4 quart, over medium heat. Let it get crisp and render that fat out. (No, don't drain the damned fat. The beans soak it up and that's part of what makes this so good.) Pull the bacon out of the pan with a slotted spoon and set it aside on a plate. Don't eat it all while continuing the recipe. Now, at this point, you got options. You could saute about a cup of diced onion in there until translucent and then finely chop a couple of cloves of garlic and saute that for a minute. Then you add about a half a can of fire roasted tomatoes and a half a beer. Or, you could totally cheat and add the beer and about 7-8 ounces of salsa. (Know what salsa is? Chopped tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic with tomatoes. Duh. Let David Pace do the chopping. Completely fair.)

Oh, that beer? Dos Equis Amber works great, but so does Corona, Tecate, and Miller High Life. B-double "E"-R. It all works.

Simmer that stuff. Drain a couple of cans of pinto beans. Dump them in, toss the bacon back in and simmer the whole shebang on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes. Let them thicken up a bit.

If you didn't use the salsa, chop up a few seeded pickled jalapenos and put them in there. Salt to taste. Finish them with a handful of chopped cilantro-- about a half cup.

Knock yourself out. These are good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Crawford's on Urbanspoon

I just can't quite put it another way: This time of year sucks. Sure, the weather is starting to get a little nicer, and the grass is starting to show the slightest signs of coming back to life. But, overall, it is still rather "grey" around here. Hate that.

However, if you find your visual senses needing a little jump start, you might wander down to Crawford's on Phillips Ave downtown. Crawford's is the newest addition to the Sioux Falls fine dining scene. Named after the menswear store that once occupied the same spot, the building is beautiful. Step inside and be prepared for an explosion of styles, textures, and colors. I believe I read the decor is kind of like cowboy meets gypsy. That's a pretty good start. You'll see original brick, a pressed tin ceiling, leather, iron, lighting fixtures fashioned from antlers, cowhide, dark wallpaper festooned with jewels, colored candle holders, silk curtains, etc. etc. etc. A person could probably discover something they haven't seen previously on just about any trip in there. It's quite the experience.

The menu is pretty interesting. Kind of standard fine dining fare, in my opinion. Steaks, fish, lamb, pasta, salads, soups, appetizers. On our visit, we started with some calamari, steak bites, and smoked chicken wings. Nothing terribly exciting, but all prepared well and sent out without error. The calamari was some of the largest cut and tenderest squid I have had here. We tried the onion soup, which featured something like four onions. Hard to tell that, though, because of the smoky gruyere melted on top that gave it a definite smokiness. The entrees were good. Fairly big portions.

Service was good. We had a great waitress who was friendly and eager to serve. That can get a person a long way. Her only fault was a general lack of knowledge of fine food and the nuances of the menu. Crawford's makes a pretty big production out of the service. Our entrees were delivered by at least two people from the kitchen.

However . . . decor alone won't carry the day. Even though Crawford's is off to a great start, especially for being open only a week, I would offer the following thoughts:

  • I personally thought the approach to the entrees was a little ham-handed. The food was well prepared, but the portions were a tad large. Big and pretty don't necessarily go together. I hope the chefs will start to experiment and get out a little more toward the "edge" like the guys at Bros have done. The food just needs a little more, well, finesse.

  • I'd like to see some awesome off-menu specials. I learned a long time ago that if a place is featuring a really special dish that isn't on the menu, that's probably what you want to go for.

  • Get that staff educated.

I also have one general question about fine dining downtown, in general. Let me preface this by saying that in my humble opinion, thanks to Parker's, Bros, and K's, downtown has wrestled the fine-dining epicenter back downtown, where it should be. But, are Crawford's, Bros, and Parker's too alike? Time will tell. Anyone who pays attention around here knows that almost any food place will be jam packed for the first several weeks it is open. Hell, Senor Wiener probably hit it out of the park for a month before everyone figured out they were serving hot dogs from a difficult to access location. Crawford's is definitely the "it" place right now. Can they sustain it, and what does this mean for other establishments?

I think David Graham should do well with this endeavor. By decor alone, Crawford's has quickly set itself apart from other venues, but in time it is going to take great food and support from the dining public. Personally, I prefer Parker's and Bros, but I will definitely be back to visit Crawford's many times, I am sure.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Revisiting old favorites- do they change or do we?

I was recently in Pierre and had the opportunity to visit one of my favorite places, La Minestra. Over the years, I have had many very enjoyable dinners there and have raved about it here. I re-read that post and puzzled over whether I felt the same now. I mean, the meal I had with some friends and family was perfectly good, but it really wasn't anything terribly special. The question I kept pondering: Had LaMinestra had changed or had my experiences and expectations changed? Probably, a little of both.

If you have read any of the older posts on this blog, you probably know that I have had the extreme fortune of being able to dine in some of the very top-tier restaurants in the country. These aren't places that merely make good food, they are on the cutting edge of food preparation and techniques. The sort of things a chef like Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago is experimenting with today may appear on a plate somewhere else years from now. You don't think some line cook at Chili's in suburban Atlanta invented molten chocolate cake, do you? Anyway, eating really great ingredients prepared in extremely innovative ways can change the way you think about the ingredients and how they are used. At least, that's what should happen if you are paying attention.

The other factor, for me at least, that I believe has changed my perspective a bit is that we are enjoying an embarrassment of riches here in Sioux Falls right now. I credit the efforts of places like Parker's and Bros along with an absolute smathering of really excellent richly ethnic spots. We have reached a point where if you want something more interesting than a steak with baked potato or even a brick oven pizza, you can get it. Thanks to really excellent seared duck breast (Parker's) or unctuous, slow cooked pork goodies, including pork belly (Bros), even a trip to old standards like Minerva's don't look quite so attractive. Thanks to beef tongue tacos and really decent Pho, we know there are more exotic flavors out there.

My recent meal at LaMinestra was really pretty good. Steak cooked correctly and good service. But it was just lacking pizzaz. The sauce for the steak, a take on beef bourgignon, fell short. Too acidic. Lacked richness of the dish it was meant to replicate. The potatoes- eh. It was good. It just wanted something more jacked up, so to speak.

There is always going to be a place for safe, mildly-seasoned, old favorites served in familiar settings. After all this is South Dakota, and there are still plenty of people around here who believe that too much salt and black pepper can render a dish too spicy. But for those of us who understand the criticism of a judge on Top Chef that the food is not well-seasoned, and who have eaten outside our comfort zones, the old standbys begin to look, well, old.

Please make an effort to visit a small, independent restaurant in South Dakota. Order something other than a steak, stuffed chicken breast, or basic pasta dish. Treat your server well and thank the chefs- if you think they do a good job. See if your perspective changes, even just a little.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Boston's Est Mort

According to the AL, Boston's is no mas. Anyone surprised?

Amazingly, Boston's has seemingly done well in Rapid City, but here in Soo Foo? Not so good.

Any thoughts?