Eating Week #1: 128 Café
To begin the Eating segment of the blog, we decided to visit an old favorite: 128 Café in Saint Paul. 128 Café is a small restaurant housed in the basement of an apartment building. Their menu can be described as comfort food with a dash of elegance. I’ve eaten there more than a dozen times, and never been disappointed. The prices are a bit more than we can afford to spend regularly, but just right for a special dinner out.
We had an early reservation, and the restaurant wasn’t crowded when we arrived. The menu changes periodically, but there are a few items that are always available. One of those is my favorite appetizer – the Roasted Garlic platter, which comes with apple chutney, goat cheese, and crisp grilled baguettes to put everything on. Everyone in the dinner party needs to agree to get this appetizer, as the garlic can be quite intense, but I’ve never eaten with anyone who wasn’t delighted with it. We also decided to try the Saffron Risotto appetizer, which comes with harissa seasoned grilled shrimp, and red pepper coulis and herb pistou (made from garlic, basil and olive oil). It was quite tasty, but the Roasted Garlic is still my favorite.
For dinner we each agreed to get something different. Kira had the fish special – an almond-encrusted red snapper – while Mike ordered the Braised Pork with Potato Gnocchi. Catherine added Tiger Shrimp to the Grilled Vegetable entree, which also came with saffron couscous. I tried the Pan-roasted Amish Chicken. It was cooked to perfection, and topped with a bacon-chipotle pan sauce that added a wonderful flavor to the chicken (bacon! yum!). The side dish for the chicken, a masa cake, was new to me, and sparked a conversation about tamales. I enjoyed the masa cake, and it’s something I’m going to have to experiment with in my home kitchen. It soaked up the bacon-chipotle sauce nicely while adding a distinctive note of its own. Everyone enjoyed their entree, and the portion size was about perfect – I finished mine just as I was beginning to be full, but soon enough that I had room for dessert.
The desserts were all a treat for the eyes. Catherine had a bread pudding, which I’m usually not terribly fond of, but it had Izzy’s ice cream on top, which can go a long way towards making anything taste great. I couldn’t resist the Brownie, which is served warm with a dollop of Izzy’s also. Although I happily finished it all, in retrospect I probably should have split it with someone, as it’s on the large side for one person. Mike had the Crème Brûlée, which was made with expresso this time. It looked amazing, and I’m definitely going to have to try that next time it’s on the menu. Kira went with the Brownie also, and it disappeared quickly.
The dinner was very leisurely, taking about two and a half hours, but the staff never rushed anything, and service was spot-on. Excellent food, wonderful conversation, and time to relax made for a great evening.
128 Café – 128 Cleveland Avenue, Saint Paul MN 55104 – 651.645.4128