August 30, 2003

Dining Review: Fuji-Ya

Sometimes life serves up an experience that violates your expectations in all the right ways. Take Minneapolis, for example: snow, ice, domed stadiums, Lutherans who say “ohh, dat’s sooper, don’tcha know, honey,” and … sushi.

Yes, sushi. At Fuji-Ya, a Minneapolis tradition for locals and a surprising find for out-of-towners. The sushi is fantastic, fresh, and extremely well prepared by the best fish-cutters the Twin Cities have to offer. (As my guest for the dinner said, there are only so many places in Minneapolis one can get paid to cut fish, and the best of the best invariably end up at Fuji-Ya.) The beer quotient is top-notch, as are the sake and wine selections, although if you order the “Mountain Man’ sake expect a pour that not only fills the glass, but the saucer as well. (One of these, tops, fair traveler, unless you’re taking a cab back to the hotel.)

The setting exceeds expectations as well: In the sushi bar the Rolling Stones are on the house PA and the trans-gender waitress who, though clearly a he that prefers to be called “she,” offers prompt service, as do the chefs at the sushi bar. Don’t spend all your time inside, though: the Uptown district of Minneapolis has changed a lot since I was last there (11 years ago or so) … it now has sort of a “Greenwich Village Meets Garrison Keillor” vibe, and it’s a district of bars, restaurants, galleries and shops in which you can easily invest an entire afternoon.

Final rating: Three out of four stolen crab forks.

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August 08, 2003

Dining Review: The Cotton Bottom Inn

The Cotton Bottom Inn is a dark, relatively gritty hovel in the Salt Lake City suburbs that’s been around so long that many patrons’ parents used to drink there. It's small, with only a handful of tables, but there is a jukebox and pool table to serve as entertainment for those who can’t appreciate watching the bikers, skiers/hikers, college students, high school students with fake IDs, construction workers, models, baby boomers, and 70-year-old geezers who come and go at the bar. If the dark, smoky and dive-like interior isn’t for you, sit outside and enjoy the sun or stars (it’s first come, first serve on seating, and there are no reservations).

There are always a few beers on tap: the Bud standards, and two or three local microbrews (the favorite of the regulars is the Wasatch Beers Hefe-Weizen). I’m certain there’s a menu, but I’ve never seen it, and neither have 90% of the locals who eat here. This is because in reality there’s only one thing to order at the Cotton Bottom Inn: The Garlic Burger (yes, that’s a proper noun, as The Garlic Burger is so fantastic as to warrant the grammatical plumage a proper noun brings). It comes with a side of chips, and paired with one (or two, or three) beers, it’s a full meal. It's the best burger I've ever had, and I never come to Salt Lake without eating at least one.

And yes, you are supposed to enter through the kitchen.

Final rating: Four out of four stolen crab forks, unless you hate dives, can’t appreciate a place with character, or need the trappings of sophistication. If so, the food and beer are still four-for-four, but you’d hate the place anyway, so don’t bother going.

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August 02, 2003

Dining Review: The Bluebird Cafe

Wife and I are in Logan, UT for this year's paternal family reunion. Roots for us here, deep and wide, and many traditions … one of which is capping the night's dinner with ice cream at the Bluebird Cafe.

Some say Utah is locked in the 1950s; the Bluebird nests happily in 1924. A Logan landmark since the 1920s, The Bluebird retains every trapping of the old-style American cafe: mosaic floors, murals on the walls, high ceilings, and a marble soda counter. The ice cream: local, rich, scoops served deep. Also worth the visit are the hand-made chocolates, in the bottoms of which my sweet, Swedish grandmother notoriously poked holes with her pinky to sneak a peek at the flavor.

Three out of four crab forks, four if you’re a sentimentalist.

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July 29, 2003

Dining Review: Fishbones

Located in downtown Detroit adjacent to the Atheneum Hotel and near Greektown. New Orleans / Cajun style. About as good as you can get when looking for the Big Easy this far north. Nothing is as hot as I like, but you can spice it up. Fans of catfish and oysters will be disappointed, but the Creole / jambalaya / etoufee standards are good enough. They also serve several of the Dixie Brewing Company beers, including the great-but-hard-to-find Blackened Voodoo.

Again, nothing spectacular when compared to the real thing. When compared to the rest of the dining in downtown Detroit, however, Fishbones is a must-eat.

Final rating: Three out of four stolen crab forks.

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