From pasta to poke, here’s a rundown of my dining diary’s recent entries. What were your top eats of the past week? Share the details in the comments section. 

Bucatini all’amatriciana at Monello

I’m post-vacation, and my return to the office has triggered a hunger for comfort food. For me, that often means pasta. I love the simplicity of this expertly prepared dish: tomatoes are enriched with cured pork cheek and onion, and given a tickle of heat with Calabrian chiles. That bright sauce clings to long, thick ropes of toothy bucatini, and fried parsley makes for a colorful and wispy, delicately crispy garnish. This is the small ($11) portion; the larger (and highly shareable) version goes for $19. 1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207

Poke bowl at Almanac Fish

This is unquestionably one of the Twin Cities’ great lunch deals. Poke bowls, which are basically raw fish served over rice, are all the rage right now (I fully expect McDonald’s to introduce its version at any moment) and my feeling is, why not go where the star of the show -- the fish -- is freshest? That’s at this retail counter, which is stocked by the Fish Guys (the Twin Cities seafood wholesaler to the stars) and is adjacent to chef Tim McKee’s Octo Fishbar. It’s a refreshingly uncomplicated formula ($10): vividly fresh yellowfin tuna or Norwegian Atlantic salmon, cut in cubes, garnished in a packs-a-wallop miso mayonnaise and spooned over rice. For an additional buck you can add a seaweed salad or kimchi, and you should absolutely spend that additional dollar. Another welcome touch: instead of a throwaway plastic container, lunch is served in stunning handmade bowls, the work of gifted St. Paul potter Kevin Caufield. 289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-202-3413

“Wagyu and Wine” promotion at the Capital Grille

On the subject of deals, this one is pretty impressive: choose one of three carefully prepared burgers (served with fries), select one of three premium Napa Valley wines and drop $25. Not bad, right? My burger was excellent, with a thick, juiced-up and well-seasoned patty that boasted a prodigiously beefy flavor and was topped by a slice of havarti and a fried egg with a runny yolk; others call upon white Cheddar and grilled onions, or Jarlsberg with braised shiitake mushrooms and a truffle aioli. The fries? Excellent, with a crunchy exterior covering a fluffy, mashed potato-like interior. The bartender on duty said that the wines normally go for $22 per glass. “So I guess that makes the burger and fries three bucks,” he said with a laugh. Two caveats: the “Wagyu and Wine” promotion is available in the bar only, and it runs through Nov. 17. 801 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-692-9000

Bacon waffle at Al’s Breakfast

When I luck into one of the 14 highly coveted seats at this Dinkytown landmark, my cravings generally fall between blueberry-walnut pancakes and these golden beauties ($8.50). This week, I opted for the latter. They’re prepared to order in a stovetop waffle iron – no labor-saving electric irons here – and they’re tender as all get-out, thanks to eggs (and plenty of them) and a not-insignificant amount of butter. Even more butter – seriously, a generous schmear of it – is spread across the textured top of the waffle, and if you don’t act fast, the whole thing will melt and insinuate itself into the waffle. Wait, what’s wrong with that? Incorporating bacon into the waffle’s center is a genius move, because what pairs better with sweet maple syrup than the flavor of smoky bacon? “We used to put whole pieces of cooked bacon in them, but these days we use bacon bits that we make ourselves,” said co-owner Alison Kirwin, noting that each waffle boasts the equivalent of three bacon slices. Here’s a tip: make the investment in real maple syrup. That’ll set you back $1 for a half-serving (the full is $1.50), which is a more-than-enough portion. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely upon the fake stuff that’s available for free, and these gloriously old-fashioned waffles deserve better. Someday, I’m going to rent out the place ($150, plus food and gratuity) for an after-hours bacon waffle party for 14 of my closest friends. 413 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-331-9991

Savory Danish at Cafe Alma

Pastry chef Carrie Riggs and her crew have a real gift with savory Danish, always managing to incorporate seasonal ingredients into the mix. A few weeks ago, it was sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes finished with chèvre and basil, so good. This week, I encountered earthy mushrooms with Gruyere ($4.25), a welcome taste of autumn. The pastry itself is delicately flaky and barely sweet, and the results always make for a welcome repast minus the sugar-rush guilt. 528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909

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