Return to a Midwest jewel

Minneapolis is an interesting city. Less population than of the Westside in Los Angeles, but has a big city feel with a strong urban core. So I’m happy I got a 2nd chance to visit.

The streets between the skyscrapers feel dead, but if you venture up to the 2nd floor, a network of sky bridges connects nearly every building in a continuous mall, much like Hong Kong.

This Skyway network means a lot of local eateries that get overwhelmed by office workers at lunch. But if you venture back down to street level, you can find one of the town’s best-known diners, the Hen House.

This place is full of mashups, including the drinks menu which has a Kombucha Mimosa! I’m torn between two mashup menu entries, Cinnamon Roll Pancakes vs Mac & Cheese Melt. The waiter’s description of the pancakes didn’t help either: “it’s exactly what it sounds like”.

Not knowing what to expect, I go with the waiter’s suggestion of the pancakes instead of the melt. When it arrived, it’s hard to put into words other than “it’s exactly what it sounds like”

The plate comes with two pancakes topped with a generous drizzle of cinnamon roll glazing. I would have preferred a cream-cheese glaze, but the sugar glaze gets the job done. The pancakes themselves are made from cinnamon roll dough and rolled up with sugar and cinnamon before being sliced to cook on the griddle as pancakes.

It’s a buzzard combination, but it works. The pancakes are fluffy and airy like a good buttermilk pancake. It’s all sweet and cinnamon, and you get the occasional toffee-like chewy and crunchy bits where the cinnamon sugar mixture leaked out and caramelized.

The best part is that since this is a diner, the breakfast menu is available all day. Which means you don’t have to feel guilty washing it down at lunch with a Grain Belt Premium lager.

Grilled on a Mileage Run

I’m finishing the year 545 miles short of the next frequent flier status tier, which means searching for the cheapest flight I can find to do a mileage run.

Flying out of LAX that means something in in California or Nevada, and the cheapest same-day turnaround I find is a Wednesday trip to Las Vegas. Because of the timing, it’s going to mean early dinner in the airport rushed in the 45 minutes between landing and return. But if I pay $4 more, I can pick flights that give me a few hours at lunch time in Vegas… which means as a foodie there’s only one thing to do, book reservations at one of the many well-known chef’s establishments scattered throughout this town. Dinner is out of the question due to flight schedules, so I settle for lunch at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s establishment.

I wander through Caesar’s Palace to kill the time before my reservation, comparing the fake plastics with the real stones of my recent Italy trip.

Entering the restaurant smells intoxicating, that mix of grilled meats, melted cheese, and corn tortillas makes an almost overpowering aroma that thankfully blocks out the casino cigarette smoke outside.

I place my order and enjoy a tequila while I wait. Minero, a single-village tequila from Don Maguey is buttery smooth, clear as water, with a heavy smoke overlaying a crisp citrus with hints of mint. I decide I like it, and that’s not the in-flight scotch talking.

A bread basket appears with jalapeño cornbread, and a raisins and walnuts sourdough. Knowing I won’t be able to eat it all, I try the cornbread which has distinct marbling of blue corn and yellow cornmeal with a nice crispy fried outer texture. Inside is plenty of fresh corn, and two different types of peppers, the sweet Italian canned ones, and smoked green Hatch chiles.

My double-smoked bacon quesadilla arrives:

The bacon is juicy and salty on top of the gooey mild white cheese. The tortillas are crisp and slightly delaminating. Topping it is a slightly melted cotija (how did they get it to melt?) a perfectly fried egg, and of course being a Bobby Flay restaurant, a slather of house-made hot sauce. The sauce has a nice kick, and rich vinegary flavors not unlike siracha, but with smokey notes that probably came from grilling the peppers. Overall combination of salt, fat, and smoke pairs fantastically with the tequila, suppressing the alcohol to bring out the citrus.

For the main course, I went with the pork sandwich. The grill marks on the oiled bread don’t add much flavor, but they look pretty and reinforce the theme. So let’s start with the pork.

It’s beautifully tender and juicy with a rich spicy red chile dry rub that has as much herbal flavors as it does heat. The smoke has penetrated nicely into the pink meat, blending with the brining that has the distinct flavor of sweet potatoes. Some arugula adds a hint of bitterness, and chargrilled red onions and sweetness. Dressed with a chipotle mayo, the whole sandwich comes together in an explosion of flavors that would rival any steak sandwich I’ve had in the past. Again, the dish pairs nicely with the tequila, this time brining out caramels and spice, but I don’t think it’s as great a match as the quesadilla. On the side is a generous helping of seasoned fries, which are good, but still fries and not the star of the show.

I know how jealous my wife gets, so when I ask the waiter to box up the second half of my sandwich, I also put in an order of the shrimp tamale to go.

And with that, this short trip comes to an end as I turn around and catch a taxi back to the airport for my return home.

Hotel Milano Scala

Morning has arrived and as expected, we were still hungry from last night.

One of the reasons we were staying at the Hotel Milano Scala was that they are a green hotel. Another one? Their breakfast spread!

We sat down by the library and while we were serenaded by Sunday morning music, we feasted on meats and cheeses, fruits and pastries, the yellow-est eggs we have ever seen and cappuccino.

What a way to start our day in Milan!

First Meal in Milan

We landed in Milan pretty late so by the time we cleared passport control, struggled to get train tickets on the Malpensa Express, and walked over to the hotel on the cobblestones, we were ready for some dinner.

Room service was already closed and the google results were incorrect about what was still open due to summer vacation hours, so we asked the front desk where we can find some late night eats.

They sent us down a cute street and our first official meal here was GELATO!

Amorino had the typical selections we have in LA. It was definitely pretty as they scooped it like a flower and the quality was pretty great too. Not sure if it was also because we were starving.

Anthony got the blueberry cheesecake with black cherry and I got the pistachio with a chocolate macaron.

We were still hungry when we left but it will tide us over until breakfast.

Birthday Bar

It’s a rainy summer morning in Hong Kong, and after the redeye from Bangalore I don’t know if it’s still my birthday or not. I think it isn’t here, but will be when I get home. The international date line is weird like that.

After texting my wife and making my way through security, I head to Cathay Pacific’s Wing Lounge and grab a scotch to sip (don’t judge, it’s 5pm somewhere) as I watch the planes and ground crews navigate their polkas on the slick tarmac.

Then I remember that this lounge has a feature to explore.

Tucked away upstairs behind the coffee lounge and the bar is a uniquely Hing Kong amenity, a noodle bar.

In an elegantly modern space lined with black marble and bamboo, two women tireless churn out local noodle dishes prepared to order. The top of the short 4-item menu is the star, the Dan Dan noodles.

A black bowl on a black tray quickly arrived on the black counter. Simple thin noodles swim in a thick, creamy broth made with coconut milk and peanut. When you slide on over to the edge of the counter to grab a spoon and chopsticks, don’t forget to dress it up with a dash of chili oil, toasted garlic, green onions, and to cut the fatty broth, some Chinese red vinegar and pickled vegetables.

Slurping up the rich warm broth contrasted with the cool refreshing vinegar and pickles makes a delectable experience. A palate of familiar flavors wrapped up in a new package.

This is comfort food.