Tag: wine & beer
When the hustle of the day slips away and the summer evening light begins to fade, there’s nothing better than a relaxing dinner out with the simple pleasures that only a city night can afford. I rounded up a few close friends and started out a steamy summer evening with a refreshing glass of wine on the rustic terrace of the Black Dog Coffee & Wine Bar. This Lowertown gem offers an eclectic mix of coffee bar, wine and beer outpost, and cafe style dining. It’s a perfect “go to” for a casual dinner or – in our case – a quick glass of wine before dinner.
Our true goal for the night was a Zen-like evening of Japanese noodles at the delightful and unique Tanpopo Noodle Shop. Tucked in a row of lively art galleries and artist co-ops, Tanpopo is an oasis of authentic Japanese flavors. If your only experience of Japanese cuisine is the sushi bar, you may be stunned by the comforting warmth of a steaming bowl of Japanese noodles, somehow able to evoke the exotic and the homey simultaneously. The rustic meets industrial vibe of the entire space – enormous exposed wood beams and shoji style partitions matched to exposed ducts and sealed concrete – strikes the perfect balance between historic and modern. We were seated at a large communal table with stones and candles recessed into the center, a nice touch that immediately immersed us in the calm atmosphere. Our table-mates were two sweet seeming middle aged couples who appeared to have just come from a day of golf and chatted amiably with each other in Japanese while perusing the menu. While trying to decide on an appetizer, we each ordered a sake flight. The 3 sakes are served in delicate glasses along with a small mat that identifies the sake and orders them from dry to sweet. It’s a nice introduction to the beverage if you are not already an aficionado, but if you are already a sake fan, you may want to order one of the 300ml bottles (ranging from $16 to $18) to share with your dinner companion. Beer and wine is also available with most beers under $4 and wines by the glass mostly in the $7 range. Sushi is on offer, and the shop hosts sushi education workshops, we suspect they would be worth checking out if even a small amount of the simple elegance of Tampopo’s food could become part of your home cooking skill set.
For starters we ordered Agedashi Tofu ($4.75) and Cold Tofu ($4.00). The Agedashi is a deep fried tofu served in a warm savory broth with an artful and delicious topping of bonito flakes, green onion and ginger. We loved the contrast of textures and flavors between the silky tofu and the unami flavors of the broth and the bonito. Vegetarians should consult their server to determine what on the menu is in fact compliant, but one item that is a treat for vegetarians and omnivores alike is the Cold Tofu. The deceptively simple dish brings together house made fresh tofu and a rich and savory sesame paste to create and addictive and refreshing starter. We could have eaten additional orders had we not already had our noodles on the way.
For our main courses we sampled noodles both hot and cold. The menu is separated into Hot and Cold Soba or Udon bowls and Teishoku, home-style meals consisting of an entree, rice, miso soup, a salad, and a side of pickles. With either option you receive a georgious laquered platter littered with traditional Japanese ceramics, each meticulously arranged for maximum visual delight. This is food as minimalist art, and all the more delicious for the obvious care and effort that goes into the preparation. I decided on the Kitsune Udon (after much debate between Udon or Soba) ($11.95) which was a huge steaming bowl of Udon in a hot broth with deep fried tofu, shitake mushrooms and wakane (seaweed). It was exactly what I was craving and somehow managed to be fun to eat in addition to endlessly sophisticated. Perhaps it was the setting or perhaps the noodles are just that good, but I literally felt more calm and content with each bite. One of my companions declared “I’m having some meat” and ordered hot Nabeyaki Udon ($11.95), served in a ceramic ‘nabe’ bowl with shrimp tempura, chicken, shitake mushrooms, a fish cake, japanese omlet and wakane. She was delighted with her choice and constantly surprised how harmoniously the various flavors worked together with each bite. My other companion opted for cold Bukkake Soba with shitake mushrooms, wakame, cucumbers, seasoned tofu, Japanese omelet, tempura shrimp and nori ($13.95). He was also enamored with his choice declaring it “refreshing, clean and beautifully balanced”.
As the evening progressed our Japanese table companions became increasingly friendly, chatting us up about our sake selections and giving one of our party’s chopstick challenged members friendly tips. The vibe was perfect, like having an impromptu dinner party at the house of a close friend – who also happens to be a phenomenally talented chef. We left Tanpopo feeling we had participated in the uniquely urban experience of trying something new and exotic that also manages to become a study in the power of wonderful food to sustain and comfort. That’s the kind of dining experience that has you patting your full belly while vowing to return often.
Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar, 308 Prince St. #100, St. Paul, 651.228.9274
Tanpopo Noodle Shop, 308 Prince St. #140, St. Paul, 651.209.6527