OK….this is going to sound stupid……but only at first.

We’re gonna talk about ICELAND.

Yes, it’s winter there. And visiting Iceland is probably the furthest thing on your mind. But remember, the climate in ICELAND will soon become tolerable. April and October are chilly, but not necessarily cold. And May through September can be downright pleasant, with highs in the 50s. Joanne and I visited ICELAND last October, when the temperature was about ten degrees cooler than that.

Here’s why we need to deal with ICELAND now…while it’s still winter here in Minnesota:

Tourism in Iceland has exploded in the last few years, reaching an expected 2,400,000 visitors this year. Just think of it. For six months, a city of 300,000 people swells to eight times its normal size. It’s also become a hot spot for celebrities. Some come to make movies, others to charter boats for fly sea fishing. Some just crave the isolation, which Iceland offers in abundance. Reyjkavik is overwhelmed. The city is building hotels as fast as it can and restaurants are heavily booked during the summer season. Reserving early is a MUST. And have your hotel concierge book your restaurant reservations right away. That’s why I’m telling you this now.

So here’s a heads-up on some restaurants that Joanne and I like.

But first, your hotel. Besides an array of boutique properties, the major chains have set up shop in Reykjavik, although not in the heart of town. There are two Radisson Blu hotels, a Hilton, and a soon-to-be-opened five-star Edition brand by Marriott.

Joanne and I stayed a couple of blocks from the city center in an older, but very nice property called THE HOTEL HOLT.

Now, before we dive into the cuisine and restaurants, I strongly suggest that you read my posting on Iceland from November 9, 2017. It provides a backdrop for the restaurants I’ll be describing.

Something important to understand from the outset is that the NEW NORDIC CUISINE revolution you’ve read about in Copenhagen and Sweden is also relevant to all of the restaurants I’ll be talking about.

What is the “new Nordic cuisine?” It’s natural. It’s local. It’s sustainable. It’s about preserving, smoking, salting, fermenting. It’s seasonal and it prides itself on serving “foraged” ingredients. It’s about sheep and cattle freely grazing on the slopes completely free of drugs and hormones. And finally it’s about being surrounded by an ocean and the bounty of fresh seafood from Iceland’s ice cold clear coastal waters.

For imported items, Icelandic chefs tend not to rely on heavy emission-inducing transport. Their trading partners tend to be their other nearby Scandinavian neighbors. And for tomatoes and vegetables, they have an abundance of hot-houses, no doubt thermally heated (check out the winter low temperatures; surprisingly ICELAND is a hell of a lot warmer than Minnesota).

The pioneer of this movement was, of course, NOMA in Copenhagen, named best restaurant in the world for three years in a row.

So let’s get started. We had heard of Reykjavik’s top-rated eatery, THE GALLERY RESTAURANT, which was housed in our hotel, and its chef, an alumnus of NOMA. Being slightly jet-lagged upon arrival, we decided to make it the first stop in our culinary tour of Iceland’s capital.

The dining room was well appointed and pleasantly lit, with spaciously placed tables and an overall classy and comfortable – if a bit dated – feeling. That was okay because the food trumped everything else.

Yes, it expressed the core of the NEW NORDIC CUISINE but with clever, slight French overtones.

We began with two AMUSE BOUCHES: a tasting spoon of marinated local veggies and secondly a sensational Lobster Bisque garnished with WHITE CHOCOLOATE CREAM! Dorothy, you ain’t in Kansas anymore!

Next we shared three starters: a Zucchini-wrapped Langoustine, a Golden-Crusted Sea Scallop on a bed of tapenade with a sauce of golden bell pepper coulis, and finally Salt Cured Salmon with a side of dark, chewy toast and honey mustard. As you might expect, for mains I took the “snout-to-tail” route and got the Icelandic Cod with Crispy Pigs Ears. Joanne surprised me and chose the Baby Lamb with Plumbs and Red Beets.

I snooped at nearby tables and concluded that they were dining equally well and as adventurously as we were. I spotted the Icelandic Duck, the just-caught Flounder, the Salmon Tartare with Scallop Ceviche. All looked really, really good.

If that wasn’t enough, we just couldn’t pass up dessert. A Dark Chocolate Cake with a Chocolate Tuile and Raspberries was a hit. So was the Olive Oil Cake.

We trundled up to bed and immediately collapsed.

It was a GOOD NIGHT.



P.S. Stay tuned for upcoming postings on Reykjavik restaurants. And by the way, Minnesota: Icelandair out of Minneapolis is AFFORDABLE. Dare I say, even cheap?

The Abruzzi in America

I’d heard great things about the original IL MULINO restaurant in downtown New York – its 4.6 Zagat rating, its reputation for great service and ambiance, and its slavish devotion to using only the best quality ingredients.

Learning it was also a celebrity hangout sealed the deal. So I booked a table for Joanne, myself and some friends. Alas, Martin Scorsese and Tony Bennett were nowhere to be found, but I brushed shoulders with enough CEO types and elderly gentlemen with bejeweled ladies to get that “only in New York” feeling.

The meal began with a parade of complimentary antipasti – first, a quarter wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, gouged into generous chunks by our tuxedoed waiter. It was accompanied by slices of a spirited dry salami, and followed by a tableside presentation of tomato bruschetta with a steamed mussel as a counterpoint. And finally, a plate of crispy zucchini slices “bucked up” with garlic and chili flakes.

The hits just kept on comin.’

We started with an order of Clams Casino – perfectly toasty, and beautifully bacon-y.

A well sauced, “frisky” and unforgettable Penne Arrabiata, laced with hot chili flakes, abruptly awakened my palate. Joanne had a knockout half-portion of Linguini Al Vongole – the noodles perfectly al dente and loaded – really LOADED – with fresh clams. That ran about $30. We also shared a Rack of Lamb ($80). And one of our guests had the Double Veal Chop, topped with fried sage ($65 as I recall).

This is NOT Canyon Ranch Food!

Your overstuffed critic ended the meal with a Ricotta Cheesecake and a glass or two or three of Limoncello.

Now, Il Mulino has its roots in Abruzzo, Italy, the region to the east of Lazio (where Rome is). That’s important because the area borders the Adriatic Sea to the east and the mountains to the west. So Abruzzi cuisine has the best of both worlds – abundant seafood as well as lamb and beef from nearby grazing lands.

The location also sits right on the line that divides the vastly different North and South of Italy.

As you may know, there are French culinary influences in the North (during the French Revolution, quite a few of the aristocracy’s chefs fled there). Plus, the upper portion of Italy is blessed with a climate and soil that easily support the raising of cattle (think Bistecca Fiorentina), as well as the production of cream and butter, along with glorious cheeses of all varieties (Gorgonzola and Parmigiano Reggiano being among the best known). Then there’s the prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables.

The South, on the other hand, has it a lot tougher. Most of the soil is not nearly as rich as in the North. The climate is too hot to raise cattle – and few can afford that luxury anyway.

Southern Italians did, however, import water buffalo, who love the heat, from India, and BINGO: we got Buffalo Mozzarella, one of the world’s greatest culinary pleasures. And the hot climate and rich, volcanic soil around Mt. Vesuvius give us the incomparable San Marzano tomatoes that show up in so many southern specialties. But those are hardly the only assets of the South. Just like the North, seafood abounds here – tuna, swordfish, calamari, branzino, etc. Barnacle all that with the Arabian and North African culinary influences, and….WOW!!

Now, let’s switch gears – from remote Abruzzo to Las Vegas. Yep, Vegas.

Having had such a great experience in New York, Joanne and I feverishly anticipated dining at Il Mulino in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Place a few years back.

And while it was good, something seemed “off” to me. Despite the glitz of its surroundings, Il Mulino’s dining room was distinctly vanilla and almost utterly lacking in character. I think Il Mulino was in an expansion mode at the time, because they’ve since opened in the Hamptons, Atlantic City, Chicago, Aspen, Puerto Rico and Miami Beach (more about Miami later).

As the disappointments added up, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way rapid growth can beat up on quality. For example: The tableside antipasti service that we loved so much in New York was non-existent here. The salami, zucchini and bruschetta were all pre-set on the table – saving labor at the expense of theater. Instead of presenting our bread choices tableside, an unenthused wait assistant discarded a basket. The Bison Steak seemed out of place in an Italian restaurant. Moreover, both the Gnocchi with Basil Pesto and the Lobster Ravioli were way, way over-sauced.

As J.K. Simmons says in the Farmers Insurance ads: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Well, one thing I know from my numerous trips to Italy over the years and in cooking classes with Marcella Hazan in Bologna and Anna Tosca Lanza in Sicily is: DON’T OVERSAUCE THE F***ING PASTA!

Fast forward to Miami Beach a few weeks ago.

I was a little reluctant to go to Il Mulino on South Beach after our Vegas experience, but I gave it a shot and called to reserve a table by the window. No answer. I tried again that afternoon. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. But I was in a forgiving state of mind and decided to call back near opening time, when staff would be there to answer the phone. So at 5 PM, I dialed them up and…no answer.

Now, I’m “red-assed.”

“They just don’t give a shit”….”They’re not trained”….”It’s Thursday night, so I know they’re not closed. WTF is going on?” Don’t they know: hospitality starts BEFORE you enter a restaurant!

Well, being a glutton for punishment (and perhaps eager to dole out some of my own to a hapless waiter), Joanne and I walked over. I was really pissed – all set to enter the joint and “carve them a new one.”

So we walk in, loaded for bear…

…and are greeted with a broad smile by the manager. And before I can spit out my first invective, he leads us to a gorgeous table by the window, the best in the house (#50, I believe). Our waiter shows up immediately and gives us a genuinely welcoming smile and takes our drink order. He’s followed by another server bearing a quarter wheel of Parm. And THAT was quickly followed by me feeling like a first-class JERK.

Privately embarrassed, Joanne and I settled into our chairs in the white on white on white dining room that could have just stepped out of Italian Vogue Magazine.

The fresh-baked bread and focaccia, as well as the antipasti were graciously and politely served tableside – all with style and flair. That was just the start of a parade of some of the freshest, best-crafted Italian food I’ve ever had stateside.

Highlights included Joanne’s Langoustines – so fresh that they may have been swimming yesterday. We shared a loaded-up, pristine Seafood Salad. Joanne savored every bite of featherweight Gnocchi in a lite marinara sauce ($17 for a half portion), and I splurged on the Ravioli Stuffed with Lobster and Porcini Mushroom in a Champagne Cream Sauce with Shaved Black Truffles. Wretched excess? ABSOLUTELY. $25 for a half portion. But that’s about a once-a-year indulgence.

For our mains, Joanne (as predictably as she’d order a salad over a pâté) zeroed in on the fish – a Branzino (Mediterranean sea bass) expertly de-boned at the table and simply dressed with just a light drizzle of olive oil, lemon and a little salt and pepper. I, being the carnivore, ordered the Costoletta – a crisply breaded pan-fried veal chop with the bone attached and, in a contrasting note, topped with chilled arugula and chopped tomatoes (A “cotoletta,” incidentally, is essentially the same thing, but without the bone).

Espresso and a shared Limoncello Cake with Zabaglione made tableside rounded out a wonderful night.

Vegas: You are forgiven.



Not Your Pillsbury Baeckeoffe

As I sit here writing this post, the radio is warning of a giant snowstorm bearing down on the Twin Cities. Schools have been closed, and all anyone can talk about is how miserable their evening commute will be.

So today I’ll write about a dish I’d LOVE to come home to – especially on a night like this.


The origin? ALSACE, on the French-German border.

Maybe you’ve never heard of it. I hadn’t until a few years ago. Baeckeoffe is an ALSATIAN MEAT STEW from the BAKER’S OVEN. (Really, how much more do you need to know before saying, “Yes, please!”)

Julia Child once wrote, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it…without question.” In 2016, New York magazine cited this seminal reference source in a piece about Baeckeoffe, describing it as a popular Monday night special among the town folk of Alsace. Why Monday? Because that was laundry day, when housewives often found themselves too busy to cook. Their solution was to prepare an earthenware casserole of mutton, pork and beef stew marinated in wine, and then drop it off at the village baker, who – like a human crockpot – was responsible for slow-cooking everyone’s Baeckeoffes in his oven after he finished his bread. Then the kids would pick up the finished dish on their way home from school.

In Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, you’ll find no shortage of restaurants that specialize in this dish. Some have even named themselves after it. And what better place to sample the various iterations of this quintessentially regional specialty than in its largest city?

Some versions are made entirely with lamb, others with pork and sometimes duck. But most common is the combo style of mutton, pork and beef, with sliced potatoes, garlic, carrots, German Riesling wine, preserved lemon, artichokes and herbs – all layered like lasagna in a Dutch oven and sealed with a simple elastic dough of flour, egg and warm water. (I recommend Le Creuset or Staub for your Dutch oven).

If you happen to find yourself in New York City on a bitter cold winter night – and if you can summon several dining companions – be certain to go to GABRIEL KREUTHER restaurant in Midtown (I posted on this place on October 17, 2017) and treat yourself to a truly authentic dinner of classic Alsatian comfort food – including baeckeoffe.

About a year ago (April 20, 2017 to be precise), I wrote about LE COQ RICO bistro in Paris – “The Bistro of Beautiful Birds” and home, in my opinion, to the best chicken in all the world.

What does that have to do with baeckeoffe? Well, Parisian chef Antoine Westermann has since opened a New York branch of Le Coq Rico (near Gramercy Tavern, on East 20th Street) and guess what? His menu features baeckeoffe. Westermann’s take is a lighter, springtime version and features roast chicken instead of the meaty combo. I haven’t tried it, but I sure as hell will, because, based on my dining experience at Le Coq Rico in Paris, it will be delicious.

Here’s where things get a little tricky if you make this at home (and you CAN make it at home; recipes are on the internet). First, the chicken: In his Paris restaurant, Westernmann primarily uses Bresse chickens – the only chickens in the world protected with France’s official A.O.C. designation (the same as with French Champagne and Roquefort cheese) guaranteeing its authenticity.

You can’t get a Bresse chicken in the United States. You can’t even get a Bresse chicken egg (see my post from July 28th, 2016: “I’m a Bresse Man”). So what to do? What to do?

Well, one of the things that makes a Bresse Chicken so special is its size. Our supermarket chickens are around 40 days old. The Bresse chicken is much older – 90 to 130 days old – and weighs in at around 7 pounds or more; double what we’re used to. This allows the older and bigger bird to develop a much deeper, richer flavor.

So you need to source a BIG FAT CHICKEN. You won’t find it at the grocery store, but a good butcher or even a chicken farmer at your local farmer’s market might have one – if only available as a preorder (in which case you’ll have to wait a month or two while the bird fattens up).

And while there are no Bresse chickens in America, we do have several breeds (depending on where you live) that will work quite well: Plymouth Rock, Amish, Blue Foot, Bell and Evans, to name a few. They’re all-natural, all free range. All are American facsimiles of the Bresse chicken.

The other thing they have in common: Price. When you look at the cost of a chicken, 90% of what you’re paying for is the feed. The older the chicken, the higher the price.

Chef Westermann seems to have locked into a breed called “Brune Landaise” at Le Coq Rico. The New York Times describes it as a chicken with “a pedigree.” From what I understand, it’s a bit milder than, say, a Plymouth Rock.

The decision you have to make: Should you seek out or prepare a traditional, three-meat Baeckeoffe, perfect for winter? Or should you look to spring and make yours with a chicken? (A warning: While Westermann’s chicken version eats lighter than others, the price is on the hefty side. It costs $140. But hey, you can get it any night of the week, AND it will feed at least two people. You may even have leftovers for laundry day.



Cuckoo for COUCOU

Chef Daniel Rose has taken a peculiar route to stardom. Born and raised in Chicago…moved to Paris…and in 2016 he astonished Parisians with his creation of the “ingredient obsessed” SPRING restaurant located on the Rive Droit near Les Halles. Gregory Marchand, the chef of the wildly popular FRENCHIE restaurant, said of Daniel, “His love for French cuisine and French culture made him accepted by the Parisians and by the French as well.”

But it wasn’t simply his love of French cuisine that dazzled Paris. Rose’s nerve and playful re-interpretation of classic French dishes thrilled their jaded palates. The restaurant also had none of the heaviness of the traditional fine dining spaces in Paris. It was a perfect counterpoint to restaurants hidebound by tradition.

And then suddenly – SPRING CLOSED. It wasn’t immediately clear why.

But then I learned that Daniel had partnered with acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr and opened LE COUCOU on Lafayette Street in New York in June, 2016. A coucou, of course, is a bird, but it also describes someone who is, in Daniel’s words, “sweetly crazy.” Visit the restaurant and you’ll find that there’s nothing crazy about it – it’s a well-oiled machine – but the ambiance and crisply edited menu also evoke a relaxed “happy to be alive” attitude that never takes itself too seriously. Recognizing the refreshing attitude (and delicious food) of LE COUCOU, the New York Times awarded it three stars in a review that applauded Rose’s “modern take on French cuisine.”

Three stars it is…I would even suggest 4 stars. After all, the James Beard folks named it “The Best New Restaurant in the Country.”

Now, forewarned is forearmed: LE COUCOU is a tough reservation. You’ll need to book weeks in advance. However, you can finesse the situation by wedging yourself in at the “shoulder times” – 5:00-5:30, or 10:00-10:30. Not a problem for Joanne and me. We’re confirmed early birders. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve been up later than 9:00 PM in the last five years.

Something else to note: LE COUCOU ain’t cheap. But at the same time, it’s definitely not an exorbitant indulgence. Think of it as a “splurge night.” Lunch, by the way, would be an excellent way to save a few bucks while enjoying a wonderful dining experience – especially because this is a rare restaurant that’s just as attractive during the daytime as it is at night.

Where to begin, where to begin? So many excellent dishes.

Let’s start with the Lobster Tail with tomato and basil and a great salad ($34. Yeah, I know).

Joanne had my favorite: Pike Quenelles – feathery eliptoids of pikey mousse served in a decadent lobster broth of whipped cream and egg called Sauce Americain (and here I thought that was ketchup). She loved it. My wife was less enthusiastic, however, about the Buckwheat Breaded, Fried Eel, even though it was sauced with a delightfully aromatic curry vinaigrette.

Our friend, Michael, had the “show stopper.” Called “All of the Rabbit,” it was a three-course sequence beginning with a crusty panko-coated foie gras ravioli in rabbit leg bouillon, followed by the leg and thigh stewed with summer vegetables…and then two fork-tender medallions cut from the saddle. It was worth every penny at $43.

The Halibut Buerre Blanc was surpassingly creamy and buttery, and served over a bed of braised pickled daikon radish choucroute. $44 for a five-ounce portion, but the taste justified the price. Sure, some critics have argued that the butter sauce overwhelms the halibut. Not me: The more butter, the better.

And the list goes on….

Tripe with olives and green tomatoes (“Oh God, not that again!”) sounds awful; tastes delicious. If your dining companion won’t give you a taste of his Glazed Lamb Neck with Eggplant, Olives and Almonds, strangle him for it. Pan-Fried Sweetbread Lobes in a union of heavy cream, white wine, tomatoes, maitake mushrooms and tarragon are fantastic. Ditto the Duck with Cherries, Foie Gras and Black Olives. In the mood for Poussin? Order the whole roasted young chicken (28 days old).

My God, this stuff was good!

The Medallions of Beef were, as expected, spectacular. But what stole the show were the accompanying Oxtail Potatoes – thin, crunchy slices of potato glazed with juices of braised oxtail. (Let me tell you, there is NOTHING that won’t be improved by braising it with oxtail).

But…. it doesn’t stop.

We returned for BRUNCH.

Here’s what you need to do: Get the Buckwheat Crepe stuffed with Lobster and Poached Egg ($24). The Egg “Norwegian” – smoked salmon wrapped around a layer of cream cheese and a poached egg – all atop a bed of Arugula. Avocado Toast seems to be on every menu nowadays, but the LE COUCOU iteration sits on a grainy slice of buttered sunflower spelt toast with two poached eggs – a bargain at $18.

After a recent trip to Paris, I tried to introduce Eggs Murette at SALUT – a classic French country recipe of poached eggs in red wine with veal stock, smoked bacon and mushrooms. Edina would have none of it.

Ah, but LE COUCOU? In New York? From what I could observe, that may have been the most popular brunch item on the menu. (I may have to try again at SALUT).

Desserts? OMG. If you save room, get the Rice Pudding. DO! It’s in the same league as the world-renowned version served at L’AMI JEAN in Paris. Other choices include an impossibly rich Chocolate Mousse with 80% Cocoa Chocolate Shards shaved on top tableside and the surprising nod to Italy with the Baba Rhum with apricots and crème fraiche. But if you can only get one dessert (after the rice pudding), choose the house signature, CHILBOUST: a super-rich combo of vanilla, meringue, pastry cream and marinated cherries. YUM.

Our table also shared the Large Cheese Platter, featuring five generous wedges (that change daily). These selections are not supermarket-variety cheeses. They’re rich and pungent – some buttery beyond words. They’re SOOOO good. They don’t taste pasteurized (by American law) like most all American cheese. Do you suppose?

We left plump and happy.

I need a nap!




Running kids from soccer to basketball to dance class to piano lessons to hockey to play dates to birthday parties to check-ups…OMG!

How do they ever work in mealtime for the LITTLE DARLINGS, especially when they can be so fussy and finicky about what’s on their plate – screaming, “Don’t let that green stuff touch my chicken!”… “I hate this!”… “You never make anything I like”… “You’re a bad mom!”

Is it any wonder that moms frequently take the default route and open a jar of SPAGHETTI SAUCE, universally loved (or at least not despised) by busy, highly strung, highly programmed, type A kidlets?

And honestly, some of the jarred sauces are pretty good. So that’s okay.

But Mom, when it’s a frigid Sunday afternoon in Minnesota and the temp hovers around zero, I have an “oasis” for you – better than “Mommy’s Little Helper” (if not quite a spa treatment). It involves losing yourself in a fulfilling, rewarding and serene six-hour hover over a steaming pot of comfort food – the Holy Grail for Italian food lovers: MARCELLA HAZAN’S BOLOGNESE SAUCE!!! It’s the best you’ll ever eat. BY FAR.

In preparation for opening PRONTO RISTORANTE years ago in the Hyatt Minneapolis, my partner Pete and I attended Marcella Hazan’s cooking school in Bologna, Italy (check us out. We were “puppies”). And while I am certain that every region in Italy considers itself the country’s food capital, I’ve traveled enough in Italy – north to south, and even Sicily – to come to the informed conclusion that EMILIA ROMAGNA takes the prize. That’s why its capital, Bologna, is called “FAT CITY.”

By the way, David Leite of Culinaria once described Marcella perfectly, calling her “a woman who spoke her mind, knew right from wrong, and who, if you disagreed with what she had to say, well, that was your problem.”

Marcella has published a number of cookbooks over the years, the two most popular being The Classic Italian Cookbook, published I think in 1982, and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in 2000.

My understanding of Bolognese sauce is that a version of the earliest documented recipe first appeared in Italy in the late 18th century. Since then, innumerable versions have seen print. Many claim to be “definitive.” All the ones I’ve tasted are definitely delicious.

The Italian have RULES UPON RULES – or at least very passionately held opinions – about exactly which pasta should be paired with which sauce. Italian cooks may frequently be wrong, but they are NEVER IN DOUBT, and the prevailing opinion is that Bolognese Sauce should be paired with TAGLIATELLE. Perhaps. I like tagliatelle. But I also like my Bolognese paired with tortellini…and fettucine…penne…farfalle…and my favorite, pappardelle, with its broad surfaces for the sauce to cling to. That’s the way we served it at MOZZA MIA…and in a skillet (DAMN, I miss that place!).

Now, I would expect that the “Birkenstock crowd” (of which my daughter is a proud member) would tout that the sauce is equally delicious paired with tofu or zucchini ribbons. Go ahead if you like (but that sounds awful to me).

Some stuff that does NOT sound awful to me: SAN MARZANO TOMATOES, for one thing. Whatever you have to pay for them, it’s worth it. They come from the rich lava soil on the slopes of MT. VESUVIAS near Naples. Buy them canned (yes, canned). They’re picked at the peak of flavor and are much better than the rock-hard ones you may find at the grocery store. Squash them with your hands or cut ‘em up with kitchen shears.

Use a LE CREUSET DUTCH OVEN or something equivalent – NEVER CAST IRON (the acid from the tomatoes will have a bad reaction and turn the sauce into a disgusting color).

Now, I mentioned two cookbooks that Marcella wrote. Both have a recipe for her Bolognese sauce. Her secret – the thing that makes Marcella’s Bolognese deeply flavorful and smooth as silk, is the addition of WHOLE MILK or CREAM. Marcella taught Pete and me to use HEAVY CREAM.

Yet her two published recipes are not identical. In the earlier book, when the sauce is composed and simmering, Marcella adds the wine and, after cooking it down, adds the milk. The later book instructs you to add the milk first, then the wine. See the printed recipe. Pete and I were taught to add the wine first.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s a distinction without a difference. But here’s one bit of advice that Marcella provided consistently: After you toss the Bolognese with the pasta of your choice, at the table, grate PARMIGIANO REGGIANO CHEESE on top. Do not skimp here. Get the real thing – aged three to four years, priced around $22-25 a pound, AND WORTH EVERY PENNY.

So Mom…on a cold, cold winter Sunday afternoon, don’t waste the day or do something stupid outside. Follow Marcella and sweat and sauté those veggies…braise those meats (beef, pork and veal if you like)…crack a bottle of BASKET CHIANTI, and hover over that steaming, simmering pot.

Six hours later, celebrate your therapeutic afternoon with a sauce that just might be Italy’s single greatest contribution to cooking.

Buon Appetito!!!! (and yes, crack another bottle of Chianti!).



I like seafood a lot (it drove me to create the OCEANAIRE SEAFOOD ROOM), and I’ve had the luck and the pleasure of dining at some of the best seafood places anywhere…and that includes little seaside un-named spots in Greece, Turkey, France and Asia…just can’t remember their names.

As far as fine dining goes…. you can’t beat LE BERNARDIN in New York. It’s perfectly run, with artful plating, intense flavor profiles and a beautiful dining room. Only been there twice. It’s pricey…not a rip-off…but REALLY EXPENSIVE.

Another place that I like is ESTIATARIO MILOS in New York, Vegas, Miami and elsewhere. It’s also REALLY EXPENSIVE (but Joanne and I have “cracked the code” and order off the $39 “SUNSET MENU”…which may refer to the time of day, or to our age….)

Although we haven’t been back to Rome for a while, our favorite seafood place there is LA ROSETTA, located just a short walk from the Pantheon. On our last trip there, a still-attractive Kathleen Turner was at the next table. (We’re going back to Italy this spring, so stay tuned. I’ll post about LA ROSETTA in June.)

Leaving the “fine and fancy” world, it’s important to mention some of the important “old school” seafood houses. One is JOE’S STONE CRAB in Miami Beach. I’ve posted plenty about that restaurant. Another is TADICH GRILL, a San Francisco icon that’s over 100 years old….. Zagat rated 4.5.

I’m writing about Tadich Grill partly because, as I sit here, it’s 7 degrees below zero outside my window, and I recalled that Tadich refers to itself as “THE ORIGINAL COLD DAY RESTAURANT.” It says so on their window.

And TADICH gives new meaning to the term CLASSIC. I would guess that the interior has changed hardly at all since they opened a century ago. It’s incredibly cozy, safe and comfortable – and the last time I was there the prices seemed at least a decade behind the times. The food is consistently good – very good indeed – and is served up by veteran waiters in starched white “cut and sewn” jackets. They’re a little like the crew at MANNY’S: most are lifers, each has an attitude, and they know how to take care of you.

Lots and lots of folks dine at the bar. That’s not all that unusual today, but Tadich has been doing it long before it became a trend.

There’s nothing terribly exotic on the menu (well, maybe abalone), but most everything else is a classic offering (They do a great Crab Louis) and is done up today just as it was in decades past.

I’m hard pressed to identify Tadich’s “SIGNATURE DISH” because so many seem like signature dishes, but if I were forced to name one, it would be the CIOPPINO (a dish I wrote about a few weeks back). It’s redolent with the freshest stuff off the boat…. and lots of it. Besides, CIOPPINO was created by San Francisco fishermen. It’ll run you about $36 (It would probably be $136 on the Estiatorio Milos menu).

But what about Tadich Grill’s Sand Dabs? And what about its Petrale Sole? Or the Lobster Thermidor?

Aren’t those classics, too?

But the menu isn’t boring. Try the Grilled Calamari Steak, the Lobster Pot Pie, or – if you over-indulged the night before – the Hangtown Fry (eggs and fried oysters, especially restorative with a Bloody Mary or two). And by all means, indulge in Tadich’s non-seafood offerings, like the Lamb Shank or the New York Strip. You won’t be disappointed.

By the way, we know about the Hangtown Fry because FIGLIO introduced so many Twin Citians to this dish back in the ‘80s.

This place works for kids as well. They’ll like the bibs and love the desserts. I steer youngsters to the Bread Pudding. My grandkids like the gooey-ness and I find that the bourbon it’s doused with really calms them down.




A few days ago, Minneapolis hosted the 52nd SUPER BOWL.

And I am PLEASED…PROUD…(VERY PROUD) not to mention SHOCKED AND AWED (as well as SURPRISED and ASTOUNDED) at the number of celebrities in town for the event – and by how SO MANY OF THEM seemed to adopt MANNY’S STEAKHOUSE as their “go-to” dinner hangout.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, on radio and TV as well as in the newspaper, said….”I went to the famous Manny’s Steakhouse last night and had a steak that was bigger than me. Then I went to bed and slept for 12 hours.”

My Dad always told me that “SELF-PRAISE STINKS”…

… but I can’t help myself. I am IN AWE of our MANNY’S STAFF and the care, quality and efficiency they displayed during the biggest week in our 30-year history.

I’m reminded of what the management guru, Tom Peters, said about how “your customers will never be happier than your staff.” Well, at Manny’s last week, there were smiles all over the place – not just from our guests, but also from servers, cooks, managers, supervisors, bartenders, hosts, dishwashers, cocktailers and wait assistants. Manny’s was one NON-STOP “buzzy” and happy place.

In the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, we got a call from our friend and colleague from Indianapolis, Craig Huse, owner of ST. ELMO’S STEAKHOUSE (listed with Manny’s as one of the Top 10 Steakhouses in America). His city hosted the Super Bowl a few years ago, and he told us, “It will be the most electric and rewarding week you’ll ever have in the restaurant business – one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.” HOW TRUE!


Just check out the images below (especially those “KICK-ASS” SERVERS). I’m sure you’ll see some of the heart and soul of MANNY’S and why it’s managed to become a celebrity magnet.

Which prompts me to mention a couple of principles at the heart of MANNY’S.


We’re in this for the long run. That’s why we did not take advantage of the situation and raise prices during Super Bowl Week.


That’s why we turned down the Philadelphia Eagles when they requested A TOTAL BUY-OUT of the restaurant. Instead we “busted our butts” to do our best to make room for the local folks that support Manny’s day in and day out.


That’s why we don’t call the paparazzi or plant stories about sports figures, film stars, entertainers and socialites who dine with us. Manny’s needs to be their “safe place” in Minneapolis (and also where they can get a BIG HUNK OF COW!). That’s not to say we’re not proud that they’ve chosen our restaurant. In fact, we’ll often ask them if we can take their photo and put it on our wall. But if they say no, we respect that.

I’ll be honest: I’M A SUCKER FOR CELEBS. Maybe because I grew up in an isolated farm town in fly-over country, I’m tickled and grateful for their patronage.

But here’s one other secret to Manny’s success: We don’t treat celebrities any differently from our other guests. Yeah, we’ll help them enter and exit discreetly if that’s what they want, but their dining experience is the same as everyone else’s. They don’t get fawned over (or cordoned off); they just get taken care of. Because all of us – even celebrities – need a “night off” once in a while. And there’s no better place to kick back, enjoy life (and eat your weight in steak) than MANNY’S.

And speaking of gratitude: I’m REALLY GRATEFUL TO EVERYONE who made SUPER BOWL 52 such a SUCCESS for our city.

Thank you, Minnesota!



Stewing on Seafood

Joanne and I both grew up in downstate Illinois – far, far from either coast both geographically and, even more so, mentally.

Typical meals ranged from pork chops and fried chicken to roast beef and meatloaf.

Pasta? I didn’t know the word.

Chinese? That meant Chung King in a can.

Hell, we didn’t even have pizza back then (eventually a Pizza Hut opened and promptly became the Best Italian restaurant in Kewanee, Illinois).

It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how isolated we were culinarily – particularly in regard to seafood. Sure, my dad caught crappies, blue gills and the occasional perch in the nearby canal. Otherwise, we were limited to the occasional Friday Night Fish Fry and platters of frozen cod and catfish. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Fish Fry!).

How much of that Midwestern culinary deprivation still exists? Plenty. I recently had dinner with an old friend from Ohio. Not only had he never eaten lobster, he had no plans ever to go near it.

There but for the grace of God go I. Fortunately, my first jobs involved business travel to places like New York City – and that set me off on a whole different trajectory.

Thinking about my first encounters with exotic fare like lobster and shellfish, I thought it might be fun to examine seafood soups, stews and other concoctions from places far away from the Midwest.

Let’s start with Clam Chowder – sorry, CHOWDAAHH – thick and creamy and buttery with diced potatoes, and best with clam bellies rather than clam strips. For a less caloric version, there’s Manhattan Clam Chowder, a tomato-based “brothy” iteration made with chopped vegetables. It’s plenty good, of course, but nothing compares to the delicious decadence of a true New England Clam Chowder.

Hop to San Francisco and the chowder’s just as good, but you might enjoy it in one of their famous sourdough bread boules, hollowed out and filled to the brim with this tummy stuffer.

Then there are fish stews – often creamy, but also tomato and broth-based. They allow for most any kind of fish or shellfish, and most always include potatoes, occasionally smoked bacon, and typically come with sopping bread on the side. Lobster Stew is special for obvious reasons – and the more claw meat, the better.

A variation is Lobster Bisque, which is velvety, delicate and elegant compared to its lusty big brother, Lobster Stew.

My first encounter with fish soup in France was a simple Soupe de Poisson, always served in a French Tete de Lion porcelain bowl and accompanied by toast rounds and a rouille (garlic mayo with “bite”). Shredded gruyere cheese sits alongside for sprinkling. As a starter, I LOVED this soup.

Which brings me back to the whole Midwestern thing. When we opened Salut, I had Fish Soup on the menu. Prepared with slavish devotion to the French recipes and techniques, it was utterly delicious. We sautéed the fresh fish bones in olive oil, added the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots and fennel) and white wine, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Then came thyme, bay leaves and rosemary as well as garlic, juice from orange wedges and orange zest. (If we included shellfish in the broth, we went lighter on the sodium, as shellfish is salty all by itself.) And then we let it simmer – for a good two hours.

After the simmer, it was off to the food mill and pulverized into a smooth, rich and aromatic soup. The final touch: a dash of Pernod to give it a very slight and subtle licorice edge. We served it with the requisite toast rounds, a “bracing” rouille and the shredded gruyere (not the Wisconsin imitation, but the real thing, from the town of Gruyere, Switzerland, just across the French border).


And it didn’t sell worth a DAMN.

Eventually we took it off the menu. (Do you think it might have been the name – “fish soup”?) But we didn’t give up on seafood soups. Instead we introduced the mother of them all: BOUILLABAISSE!

Allegedly created by fishermen in the southern port of Marseille, Bouillabaisse has become emblematic of French coastal cuisine and its recipe must adhere to a strict code. For example, only certain fish may be used, including St. Pierre, Rascasse (a certain kind of eel), galinette and a host of others that swim primarily in the waters off Marseille. Today, I think those rules have been relaxed, probably quite a bit, but the dish remains a powerful point of pride. If you find yourself in Marseille, numerous restaurants around the Vieux Port specialize in Bouillabaisse. The most notable of these is FONFON, but I’m certain others do just as great a job, especially on a warm summer afternoon, accompanied by a glass or two or three or four of French Rosé.

Something to be aware of when ordering a Bouillabaisse in or around Marseille: it may well be presented in two parts. First comes the broth, typically served in a large shallow bowl with slices of bread and rouille. Next comes the fish portion, sometimes presented on a large platter of its own or ladled into another soup bowl, accompanied by more broth. Diners unaware of this two-phase presentation risk filling up on broth before they even get to the fish.

Then there’s CIOPPINO. Word is that it was invented by Italian fishermen from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco who, when they were out to sea (with no refrigeration) would toss various species of cleaned fish and shellfish into a heated community soup pot with canned tomatoes, garlic and wine, plus various vegetables and spices. That sounds plausible to me.

The fish they used depended on the daily catch – no rules. And being Italian, the recipe is certainly less tightly wound than the rule-governed French version. Oh, and instead of toast rounds, Cioppino usually comes with olive oil-laced salty garlic bread.

Italy, of course, offers its own version of Bouillabaisse: ZUPPA DI PESCE. Based on my experiences with it, it’s similar – if not identical – to a good Cioppino, with two exceptions: First, it’s occasionally served over bread (big deal); and it’s often available in a spicy-hot version called FRA DIAVOLO (which means “of the devil”). And oh yeah, they use real San Marzano tomatoes.

And then there is SALUT’s Boullabaisse: We select the fish that were swimming yesterday, so the composition varies. But the flavor profile hews faithfully to the French tradition, so we call it Bouillabaisse anyway. Yeah, yeah – we’re taking liberties. But DAMN it’s GOOD!



A Not Entirely Welcoming Habitat

I love Miami Beach in the winter – the vibe…the energy…obviously the warm weather…and, of course, the restaurant scene; there’s always someplace new to try.

The constant stream of openings, however, represents part of the problem with Miami: No sooner do you fall in love with a place than it closes and gets replaced with a new one.

That’s the case at a restaurant Joanne and I recently visited at the swank 1 Hotel South Beach, which opened a couple of years ago in the heart of South Beach at 23rd and Collins Avenue.

Their flagship restaurant, BEACHCRAFT, created by world renowned restauranteur and James Beard award winner Tom Colicchio, created a buzzy vibe throughout the area. Joanne and I, of course, needed to try it out. Not only was it a good-looking place in an ultra-chic hotel, but we really enjoyed it. The fare was rather simple and straightforward with just enough twists and turns to make every dish engaging.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment last week when we learned that it had folded and had been replaced by HABITAT, led by Jose Mendin and Angel Palacois of the highly successful Miami-based PUBBELLY GROUP. The geometry of the dining room has not changed, so if there are two of you, be sure to request the corner table, #72.

Now, HABITAT is nice. Although it didn’t seem that very much was done to change the interior décor (what I call “washing the cat and putting up new fly paper”), the menu was different – sort of MODERN SPANISH, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, much of it prepared in their wood-fired oven.

Due to economic headwinds largely imposed by city and state governments, it seems that the whole restaurant world has begun charging for bread. And HABITAT was no exception. The difference is that they offer CATALAN TOMATO BREAD – and charge $14 for it!!!

I liked the Kale Tempura with Kimchi Mayo as an appetizer, also $14.

Check out the image of the Margarita Flatbread – loaded, and I mean LOADED, with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. It’s really good, and fairly priced at $14.

Ceviches, oysters and sea urchin form a seafood core of the appetizers, while Paté de Compagne ($22), Salt-Cured Foie Gras with Tomato Chutney, and Bone Marrow Stuffed with Steak Tartare (and crowned with a quail egg), at $21, will satisfy any carnivores in your party.

A starter of Iberico and Serrano Ham ran about $40 for a table -size platter, but was worth it. These hams – which come from pigs that eat acorns and other healthy forageables – rival the best Prosciutto di Parma from Italy. If you’re looking for drama, go for the Lionfish ($34, pictured below). It’s a predatory species, so you’ll feel like you’re doing your part for the environment by eating it. Plus, it’s accompanied by chicharonnes (delicious, crunchy deep fried pork skin), so how can you go wrong? And if its comfort food that you have in mind, the Black Angus New York Strip ($42) will do just fine.

For dessert, we had the Barba-Papa. I had absolutely no idea what that was, but it’s a sort of spun sugar/cotton candy pear-shaped confection accompanied by fresh ginger, pineapple and coconut. Apparently the name refers to the shape of the dessert as well as a French cartoon character.

I have included the image of the Dessert Cheese Plate from the previous restaurant, Beachcraft, as it was one of the better that I’ve ever had. I wish it were on the menu at Habitat.

Some other things that I wish…

I wish never, ever again to be told by my server that “the food comes out when it’s ready.” That’s what Habitat does. I HATE THAT. So when I’m in a party of 4 or 6 and my hamburger arrives before everyone else’s food, do I sit there politely as its juices congeal? Or should I be an impolite ass and start gorping down my burger while the other guests twiddle their thumbs?

I also wish Habitat would come to their senses about wine. While the food is good – really good – the wine list must have been put together by a “wine nut” who reads every page of Wine Spectator and doesn’t give a damn about wine purchasers. The offerings here are CRAZY NUTS EXPENSIVE.

I did a “back of the napkin” calculation and said to our server, “I can’t afford to dine here.” The French whites averaged $226 a bottle – with the lowest priced offering at $72 and the highest priced wine at $565.

The U.S. Cabs averaged $115 a bottle, and the least expensive Pinot Noir was $90 (for a section average of $225).

Adding insult to financial injury, our server couldn’t answer the simplest questions about the offerings. My every query sent her running to the manager. So….was I given the Captain’s Wine List by mistake? When I asked that question, she just stared at me like a goat.

I hope I WAS looking at the Captain’s List. I’d like for this place to succeed, but in my opinion they won’t stand a chance unless they include some approachable and affordable “safe harbor” wines. We ordered the cheapest one on the menu: an Italian Rosé for $57. It tasted liked pink water.



RAKU: Our Neighborhood Japanese Joint

Joanne and I live in the downtown Edina area, within walking distance of the movie theater, the grocery and liquor store, and of course SALUT and the other restaurants that populate the neighborhood – Edina Grill, Arezzo, Beaujo’s, Coconut Thai, and D’Amico.

We frequent them all, but the one we dine at the most often (other than SALUT) is RAKU…tucked between Lunds’ parking lot and the Edina Movie Theater, at 3939 W. 50th Street.

“Why?”, you ask.

Well, it’s a cozy space – stylish but not chic, with a muted color palate, and just plain comfortable. Now, I’m not a HUGE fan of Japanese cuisine…but I do like it from time to time. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

RAKU feels REAL, not contrived. In fact, the restaurant has a pronounced home-spun quality that suggests it’s family-run – and, by and large, run well. Even the occasional slips are endearing; a reminder that this isn’t a well-oiled corporate chain (“Hi, my name’s Sally and I’m going to be your server tonight…”). A few weeks back, Mama (who doesn’t speak English) gave away our coveted (and reserved) window booth, but who cares? It’s obvious they mean well.

Since we don’t dine often at Japanese restaurants during our travels, I can’t really judge how their food compares to other Japanese restaurants around the country. Raku calls itself “MODERN JAPANESE.” And I suppose that the closest I’ve come to a restaurant along those lines is MORIMOTO in Honolulu.

All I know is that I like it.

Joanne and I always start with a $5 order of well-salted Edamame Beans and frequently Miso Soup ($3. Yes, just $3). On occasion our entire evening meal will consist of appetizers, including Shumai, Steamed Shrimp Dumplings with a little Asian slaw and Ponzu dipping sauce ($6). Don’t miss the pork-filled Gyoza Dumplings, either. They can be ordered either steamed or fried (also $6).

Duck Springs Rolls are a treat for me, though not for Joanne; she prefers the sushi Ginza Roll (rock shrimp tempura and asparagus topped with a crab mix) or the Captain Crunch Roll, stuffed with shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber and crab, all rolled in crunchy tempura flakes and served with a slightly sweet sesame sauce.

Joanne basically loves the Alaska Sushi Roll, packed with salmon and avocado, rolled up in brown rice (right up her alley), and touched with tobiko (flying fish eggs, which definitely AREN’T up her alley).

It’s about now that we start washing down our food with a chilled bottle of white wine…usually Ferrari Carano Fumé Blanc – reasonably priced at $45.

Salads are not a Raku strong suit. They’re frequently over-dressed, but that’s easily remedied by ordering your dressing on the side. Our 12-year-old grandson recently had their Steak Salad, which is quite good with sliced filet mignon and – at $14 – a real bargain. Our favorite starter salad, by far, is the Seaweed Salad ($6).

Sashimi Plates are pristinely fresh. Expensive? Yes, but who wants to eat cheap raw fish?

Here are some other favorites, in no particular order:

Rock Shrimp Tempura, Veggie Tempura, Sesame Shrimp and Sesame Chicken, and the Chicken-Fried Rice (a highly complementary side dish). I recently tried the Crispy Tuna atop crispy eggplant with smoked eel sauce and spicy mayo. I’ll have that again.

If you find yourself up for a main course, by all means try the Toban Yaki. The name means “cooked on a ceramic plate” and this dish arrives HOT, so be careful. A while back Joanne had the mixed Seafood Toban Yaki, redolent with scallops, shrimp and other seafood stuff. I’m not sure if they still do this dish; it might only come in a beef version now.

Finish up with Green Tea Tempura Ice Cream – deep-fried and full of antioxidants. Healthy? Uh, sure.

Well, this posting probably won’t mean much to readers outside of the Twin Cities, but WTF – Raku deserves a shout-out!