Q With all of our good weather now, many of us will be jumping in the car for short trips simply to enjoy the drive. Any restaurant destinations we should consider?
A Plenty. I've always been a fan of Nosh (3101/2 S. Washington St., Lake City, Minn., 1-651-345-2425, www.noshrestaurant.com) and the breakfast-lunch bakery/cafe next door, Rabbit's Bakery (304 S. Washington St., Lake City, 1-651-345-3199). If you're headed to Rochester, I'd definitely recommend a dinner at Söntés (4 3rd St. SW., Rochester, 1-507-292-1628, www.sontes.com). It's one of my favorite restaurants in Minnesota. And I don't know about you, but I'm dying to get up to Duluth, if only for a bison pastrami sandwich and a cream soda at Northern Waters Smokehaus (394 Lake Av. S., Duluth, 1-218-724-7307, www.northernwaterssmokehaus.com) in the DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace.
Q The City of Lakes is now awash in new brew pubs, which is great. Can you recommend a family-friendly place with interesting food that isn't overrun by hipsters straight out of Portlandia?
A You've sat next to one too many handlebar mustaches, eh? I enjoyed Pat's Tap (3510 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8216, www.patstap.com), most especially for chef Charlie Schwandt's surehanded way with burgers, and its impressive beer selection. One caveat: When it gets going full tilt, the room is ear-poundingly loud.
Q Where can I find the best ribs in the Cities?
A I've said it before and I'll say it again: 128 Cafe (128 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, 651-645-4128 www.128cafe.net), which isn't a rib joint but turns out a killer baby-back rib plate. Be on the lookout for their food truck, too.
Q Any good spots for corned beef sandwiches?
A I'm partial to the corned beef at the Brothers Deli (50 S. 6th St., skyway level, Mpls., 612-341-8007, www.thebrothersdeli.com).
Q Anything you have been to recently that you haven't been to before and won't make the column and/or recommendations?
A Yes. On a reader's suggestion -- and keep them coming, thank you -- I dug out my passport and drove to White Bear Township the other night, to Orchid Restaurant (1190 County Rd. J, White Bear Township, 651-426-3558, www.orchid-restaurant.com). It had been billed as "better than Ngon" (799 W. University Av., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, www.ngonbistro.com). Um, no. It was fine for what it was -- a place you would patronize if you lived in the neighborhood (the attentive and friendly service was a standout) -- but I couldn't recommend its standard Asian-Minnesota menu for a crosstown trip.
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. Sorella in New York City (www.sorellanyc.com) is a definite must-visit. Philadelphia chef Jose Garces is lighting up the colorful Saguaro Hotel (www.jdvhotels.com) in Palm Springs, Calif., with Tinto, which is all about exciting Basque region tapas and small-producer wines; El Jefe, the casual, modern Mexican bar/cafe next door, is a similar find. Oh, and if you find yourself in Denver, get out to the cute Washington Park West neighborhood for lunch at Vert Kitchen (www.vertkitchen.com). The chef is Noah Stephens, a Minneapolis native, and he's specializing in creative and delicious sandwiches.
Q Is there any reason to venture too far from the food/drink options in the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas? We're staying there in May.
A Oh, yeah, plenty, but I think you'll find that you can dine very well without ever leaving the hotel. You could also explore the adjacent City Center complex, where there is plenty in the eating/drinking department. My favorite happy hour was at Todd English PUB (www.toddenglishpub.com), for example. And there's a branch of Sage (www.arialasvegas.com), the first-rate vegetarian/seafood restaurant from Chicago. Twist (www.mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas) is a totally remarkable (and awfully expensive) contemporary French restaurant in the nearby Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Q Another Las Vegas question. Do they still have that restaurant at Mandalay Bay where the collection of wines is stacked several stories in the air and the sommelier (or assistants) must scale the racks with carabiners and other mountain-climbing equipment to retrieve the customer's chosen bottle?
A Oh, yes, they do. It's Aureole (www.mandalaybay.com) and it has been years since I've dined there, but when I walked past it last year I thought, "Wow, that's the restaurant that launched a thousand wine-service gimmicks." There should be some kind of commemorative plaque at the door.
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