Twin Cities: Take 2
The Gentleman Runner and I spent the weekend in Minneapolis, so he could compete in the Monster Dash Half Marathon. Incidentally, he “PR-ed,” which in runner-speak means he set a personal record — or, as I like to say: he “really earned his cheesecake.” I did not earn my cheesecake in any such spectacular manner, but I indulged anyway. Our post-run lunch involved a return to Cafe Latte, where we enjoyed big bowls of hot, flavorful soup, freshly baked bread, and gigantic slices of creamy cheesecake.
I ordered the Canadian Split Pea Soup, expecting a bowl of the usual green puree, perhaps studded with pieces of Canadian bacon. Nope. This soup was a chunky affair in a lighter broth base — peas, wheat berries, carrots, celery, onion, potatoes, and enough dill to take me straight back to Russia in my mind’s eye. Unexpected, but delicious.
The Gentleman Runner ordered Creamy Romano and Artichoke Soup, a thick, creamy base with a pronounced Romano cheese flavor, replete with large chunks of red-skinned potatoes and artichokes. Cafe Latte knows how to make soup. We both ordered the Cookies ‘n’ Cream Cheesecake. Cream-filled chocolate sandwich cookies had been crushed into the vanilla cheesecake filling, as well as the thick layer of whipped cream on top; the whole creamy affair rested on a chocolate-cookie crust. The cookies ‘n’ cream flavor was actually pretty subtle, but I still enjoyed it.
Dinner on Saturday night, at the independent boutique restaurant Amore Victoria, was arguably the culinary highlight of the weekend. This intimate, unpretentious restaurant is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner with your sweetie, but if you’re over the age of 20, you’ll want to bring a tiny flashlight or cellphone to help you read the menu in the soft, dim lighting.
We settled into a cozy corner table and checked out the waitstaff dressed in their Halloween finery. (Our server’s ensemble sported a cowboy hat and sheriff’s badge, and I spotted a pointy-eared, sword-wielding elf maiden carrying platters of food as well.) Cocktails gave way to fresh, mouthwateringly flavorful Italian fare. This was the best Italian meal I have had since moving to the Midwest, and I nearly teared up at my first bite of tender, velvety, generously-cut homemade fettucine. None of my photos turned out well (did I mention the dim lighting?) but the meal was wonderful from beginning to end, and our server was attentive and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. I vaguely recall GR making happy noises about the chicken and mushroom dish he ordered, but frankly, I was so absorbed by my love affair with Grazie’s Sweet Basil that I missed most of the details.
Did I say the culinary highlight of the weekend was dinner on Saturday? I may have been hasty, because brunch at the Grand Cafe could easily compete for that title. The Grand Cafe occupies the ground floor of a renovated house, with wooden floorboards, quirky windows, and local art on the walls.
The whole place has a vintage vibe supported by its charming silver, china and other tableware. In spite of all the wonderful savory breakfast items on offer, neither of us could resist the Brioche French Toast with Orange Caramel Sauce.
The french toast was perfectly cooked; the eggy batter had penetrated fully to the center of the bread, but the slices were firm, with no sogginess. The orange-caramel sauce was thin and syrupy in consistency, rather than the thicker kind of caramel sauce you’d expect on an ice cream sundae. Its sweet tang provided the perfect complement to the rich french toast.
A mound of soft, dense, freshly whipped cream was served on the side. A generous garnish of toasted pistachios took the whole dish over the top. Toasted pistachios — who does that?! I couldn’t stop grinning throughout the entire meal. Oh, Minneapolis-St. Paul: I think I might love you.