Critic Rick Nelson answers questions posed during recent live chats.
Q What's the hottest restaurant/food trend, and where locally would we see and experience this?
A Here's one from Boston: The chef/owner of Oleana, Ana Sortun, opened a much more casual restaurant called Sofra, and it was my favorite meal during a recent trip to that city. We've seen that here a bit -- Alex Roberts with Brasa (600 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., and 777 Grand Av., St. Paul, www.brasa.us) -- but I'd love to see more. Also, more food trucks, please. I'm looking forward to a long, hot, food truck-filled summer.
Q Is there a dish you prefer to make at home as opposed to eat out? And vice versa?
A I have a thing for popovers, and I love to make them, although I also love to encounter them at restaurants, if they are prepared properly, which they rarely are. It's funny, I prefer to do really simple cooking at home, like a great roast chicken, but I find that I'd rather have a great chef's version instead; it's always so much better. I had dinner at the Craftsman (4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., www.craftsmanrestaurant.com) recently, and had a fantastic roast chicken with gnocchi, and I could have never made it so delicious on my own.
Q Where can one find a good bialy?
A I'd say Rye (1930 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.ryedeli.com).
Q Do you only visit/write on new places? How do you keep the buzz going regarding great eats?
A I generally stick to new places, yes (putting the new in newspaper), but I think it's important to go back and revisit established restaurants, and find ways to get them into the newspaper. For example, each Sunday in the Variety section I highlight three restaurants.
Q Oceanaire Seafood Room (50 S. 6th St., Mpls., www.theoceanaire.com) is my partner's favorite. How is the new location?
A I like it, if only because dining there no longer involves the soul-sucking trudge through the depressing Hyatt Regency Hotel's shopping mall. It seems to have a new vitality now that it's on a busy street corner. And they're serving lunch, which is a good thing.
Q What do you think will be the next big thing in fast casual food similar to Chipotle and Noodles & Co.?
A Chipotle has a new concept, ShopHouse, and I imagine that the Asian-inspired chain is going to be huge. The first one opened in Washington, D.C., last year.
Q Recommendations in the east metro?
A Here are two places: Acqua (4453 S. Lake Av., White Bear Lake, www.acquawbl.com) and the Hanger Room (310 Stillwater Rd., Willernie, www.thehangerroom. com). Oh, and I like the Green Room (215 S. Main St., Stillwater, www.thegreenroomstillwater.com) a lot, along with Ursula's Wine Bar (2125 4th St., White Bear Lake, www.ursulaswb.com).
Q Any exciting new patios this summer?
A I'm totally psyched about the beer garden at Butcher & the Boar (1121 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.butcherandtheboar.com). Can't wait for that.
Q: You've been doing some traveling lately. Stumbled onto any great restaurant finds in other cities?
A: Absolutely. I was crazy about Niche in St. Louis (www.nichestlouis.com), such smart and innovative cooking. I had a marvelous meal at Sorella in New York City (www.sorellanyc.com) last weekend, a definite must-visit. Oh, and if you find yourself in Denver, get out to Vert Kitchen (www.vertkitchen.com) for lunch. The chef is Noah Stephens, a Minneapolis native, and he's specializing in creative and delicious sandwiches.
Q If we receive very poor service, how should we tip?
A I thought it was interesting that both Twin Cities etiquette experts I spoke with (for a recent story on tipping) said virtually the same thing: If the service is poor, tip 10 percent, and ask to speak to the manager. Stiffing the server isn't the answer: It could be misconstrued as having forgotten to tip, or the poor service you received could have been the fault of the kitchen. Read the story at www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/138952829.html
Q We got a $100 gift certificate to any Parasole restaurant, and missed a chance to use it at Il Gatto. We're not big Salut Bar Americain (5034 France Av. S., Mpls., and 917 Grand Av., St. Paul, www.salutbaramericain.com) fans, and don't want to deal with parking at Chino Latino (2916 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www.chinolatino.com). Should we nosh at Manny's, (825 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., www.mannyssteakhouse.com), have a full meal at Muffuletta (2260 Como Av., St. Paul, muffuletta.com), drink (a little) at Manny's, or use it some other way?
A I think you missed something special at Il Gatto. Chef Jim Christiansen was cooking up a storm there. Here's what I'd do: I'd use it for movie night at the Edina theaters at 50th and France, and run over to Mozza Mia (3910 W. 50th St., Edina, www.mozzamia.com) for a delicious pizza and some of the hand-pulled mozzarella.
Q What would be a good alternative to an Oceanaire type menu if someone does not want to spend that much?
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