Category: Mall of America

You Should Totally Drink At The Rainforest Cafe: Just Another MOA Adventure

You should totally drink at the Rainforest Cafe.

The Rainforest Cafe inside the Mall of America is always a place I’ve wanted to go. I’ve walked by it countless times but have never ventured inside.

There’s always a crowd of people waiting outside. It’s tacky and loud. Animatronic animals shriek. The food is expensive and I’ve never heard anyone say it’s good.

The very first Rainforest Cafe opened in the Mall of America two years after the mall opened.

Back in 1994, Nickelodeon Universe was Camp Snoopy. Snoopy’s big, red dog bowl was an easy place to meet your friends. Sometimes my folks would take us to the Knott’s Berry Farm restaurant where I remember eating the best fried chicken ever. And inside the Rainforest Cafe, it didn’t just thunder and lightning, it also rained.

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A Mall Date & "Bachelorette" Party: Tucci Benucch & Amstardam Bar

Jake and I are getting married.

Not too long ago, we spontaneously picked a date and made it official.

In less than a week, we’re going to have a small ceremony with just our immediate family, with a reception later the spring.  What was supposed to be bare bones has become more complicated and large source of stress.  I can’t remember the last time I spent a whole weekend at our home in Fargo.  My weekends are spent driving to and from the Twin Cities after busy weeks of school, work, and writing.

Despite my most earnest intentions, I am wearing something white, shiny, and uncomfortable. I made the seamstress loosen my dress, twice, before I deemed it tolerable.  She commented, “But it’s your wedding. You won’t feel like eating much anyway, right?”  I wanted to punch her.

This weekend, I cracked into tears as we exited the car after our three and a half hour drive following a hectic workweek.  I felt dangerously close to a Jungian mental break.  Should this occur within the next six days, I hope I’ll at least have a Red Book to show.

Saturday afternoon, Jake and I grabbed some alone time.  The rare kind where we weren’t driving somewhere or watching 30 Rock on our couch.  Some may call this a date.  We completed errands at the Mall of America and had lunch at Tucci Benucch before our respective bachelor and bachelorette parties.  Before we moved to Fargo, we lived near to the Mall of America and occasionally went on mall dates.  We ate at Tucci Benucch a couple of times before they hired Asher Miller as their new Executive Chef (I’m not sure if he is still in this position).

Knowing that I did not plan to drink much that evening, I started with a mimosa, $6.99 while Jake ordered coffee which arrived freshly brewed, $2.99.

Our server brought us warm bread and garlic-flecked olive oil.

We ordered a starter of calamari, $9 to share.  For an entree, I ordered a half serving of Scottish salmon with lemon risotto and arugula salad, $13, while Jake ordered a half serving of spaghetti carbonara, $9. 

Upon delivery, the calamari smelled strongly of seafood but tasted fresh.
The texture of the calamari was very tender and was salted to the point of being almost too salty.  The breading remained on the seafood, though it seemed to have absorbed a little more oil than I would have found ideal.  Overall, we enjoyed nibbling at the calamari, but left some on the plate when the combination of the seafood and the aoli felt too oily.  

The half portion entrees were more than enough for lunch.  
The lemon risotto was, thankfully, subtly lemon-scented.  It was creamy and rich, though, it, like the calamari, bordered on almost too salty.  Since the small fillet was skinless, some of the salmon flesh was a little crispy-chewy where it was seared but the inside was moist.  The salmon, like the calamari, tasted fresh.  The arugula salad provided a needed bite and acidity.  I doused the dish with more lemon juice since the richness and saltiness of the risotto was making me dive for my mimosa. 
Jake’s carbonara was not what I had envisioned.  He said he enjoyed the dish. Even the runny egg yolk, which he has typically been wary of.  I liked the flavor of the rendered bacon chunks. While I didn’t feel the sauce tasted bad, I thought the dish was over-sauced and wondered what made it brown.  
Overall, we had decent meal, though the combination of the calamari and our entree selections were very rich.  Our server seemed overwhelmed with tables but was very pleasant.  
In the evening, the boys hit The Strip Club Meat & Fish while the girls met at Amsterdam Bar & Hall.

Jake raved about the meal and limoncello he shared at The Strip Club. 

We shared orders of Amsterdam Frites and dipped them in herb garlic mayo and curry ketchup. 
The skin-on fries were crispy and salted just right.  We enjoyed both dipping sauces, though the curry ketchup was my favorite.  I also enjoyed that the fries were topped with raw onion.  The others left most of the onions behind, while I awkwardly clamped bits of onion onto each bite of fry. 
I also ordered a small house salad with croutons, shaved Gouda, and house vinaigrette, $4, plus a petite dutch sandwich (broodje) with curried calamari and shrimp, $5.

All of the salad greens were pristine, the homemade croutons were full of umami, and the vinaigrette was lovely.  Tart in a well-balanced way, and flavorful.

The curried seafood sandwich was truly one of the best things I’ve eaten for a while.  It induced a moment where I just paused and reflect on how good it tasted. The bun was toasted and buttered. The calamari was tender, the shrimp were firm, and both tasted fresh. The creamy curry sauce was surprisingly spicy enough to induce a a sweat.  I couldn’t tell you what type of curry I tasted, my only clue being that the sauce was rosy-hued.  I used the bun to scrape every bit of sauce from the flimsy cardboard boat and am plotting a way. . . any way. . .to return for another sandwich, soon.

The rest of the evening matched my introverted style. Chill and conversation-centric.  In search of evening dessert, we bypassed Meritage’s hour long wait for Kincaid’s where a table of women applauded my bachelorette party hat.  I can’t describe the hat further than mentioning that the girls made me remove it when we inquired about tables at Meritage.  The evening ended over leftover smears of a fried waffle sundae and bread pudding with pear soaked in bourbon sauce.

Despite the stress, I remind myself as often as I can that our family and friends are doing everything they can to make this experience special.  It’s also hard to think my mom won’t be here, as she passed away in 2008.  For now, I’ll take one day at a time and enjoy the well wishes from friends and family.  

Crave at MOA: Lunch redemption

I will stop hating on Crave.  At least, during lunch time.

My dad treated me to lunch at Crave this week since he had a gift card to the Mall of America and was curious about Crave.  I remembered seeing mention of a $9.95 sushi bento box lunch special during my last visit and looked forward to ordering it.

We were seated immedietly in my favorite people-watching section and I ordered green tea to start.  Our waiter brought a perfectly steeped pot of fruity green tea.  With success, I quickly yanked the steeping container from the teapot to avoid bitterness.  I ordered the bento special while my dad ordered chicken stir fry.

After a short wait I recieved my heaping bento box that contained three pieces each of plain cucumber, tuna, salmon, and yellowtail sushi, fresh fruit including red grapes, orange, and pineapple, two birdnests of vegetable tempura, and a mixed green salad.  
The sushi was plain, but I liked the texture of the rice and the fish tasted fresh.  Nothing tasted fishy and none of the fish contained fiberous or mushy textures.  The fruit tasted firm and fresh.  I really enjoyed the green salad which included a few slices of red onion and a sesame dressing.  Often, I find Asian-inspired dressings to be too cloyingly sweet or seasoned with sesame oil.  I liked the balance of this dressing and found it addictive.  
The tempura vegetables reminded me of the old Trader Joe tempura birdnests.  However, they were like larger, denser, torpedo versions.  A little greasy and unwieldy, and the insides were less crunchy than the outside, but still tasty.  I wished the bento included some mild tempura dipping sauce like the versions found at other Japanese restaurants.  Overall, I was surprised at how much food I recieved for $9.95 and was satisfied with the flavors and freshness of ingredients.   
My dad was pleased with his Chicken Stir Fry, $13.95, so much so that he finished his meal.  I was able to try a few bites.  The vegetables were fresh, not overcooked, and had some nice caramelization.  The sauce was pretty balanced as in not cloyingly sweet, not too much sesame oil, not too salty, just a tad bit spicy.  There were many slices of boneless, skinless chicken breast.  The chicken tasted fine, but was a tad bit dry.  All in all though, I felt Crave made a decent chicken stir fry.  
On the way home, I stopped by Swensen’s ice cream for a small Yogen Fruz topped with soft pieces of mochi and fresh raspberries.  I noticed another Korean-style frozen yogurt shop.  Has anyone tried it yet? 

Date night: MOA Theater disillusionment and Crave. I’m on Team Ape-Pretzeldog.

Jake and I viewed The Rise of the Planet of the Apes at the VIP theater in the Mall of America.

This was both of our first times attending an “adult” theater where you can consume adult beverages while watching a movie on the big screen.

The VIP theater mostly indistinguishable from any other movie theater except that each seat seemed designed to custom fit the worlds largest man and there were individuals who scurried down the isles serving alcohol.  The tickets were affordable and cost $8 apiece for the 5 p.m. showing while beer was $5/bottle.  Not bad.

As an individual who would never choose to see this move on my own free will, I actually enjoyed Planet of the Apes even though it made me cry twice.  May I be on Team Ape?

On the way to a restroom break, I was busy checking phone messages.  On my way out, I noticed drops of blood.  In absolute horror, I froze, staring at the floor and the sink.  It literally looked like there was a sword fight in the bathroom.  Or that humans had, in fact, been infected with the T-13 virus.

I washed my hands about 10 times, ran out from the restroom, and grilled the nearest theater attendant, exclaiming that there was blood all over the restroom.

The theater attendant’s response was nonchalant as he explained they already knew and were sending staff to clean up the blood bath.  They continued to keep what looked like a crime scene, in use.  Open to the public.

When I asked what happened, the attendant reported someone had a bloody nose.

I would have rather soiled my own pants while attempting to run to a different restroom than walk into such a mess.  This week, I watched clips from TLC’s “Strange Addiction” where one woman was addicted to eating laundry detergent and another addicted to bathing in bleach.  Until this evening, I can’t think of a moment where bathing in bleach or consuming Kaboom crystals sounded more appealing.

Crave: 
For dinner, we ate at Crave.  The only other time I’d been to Crave was during a happy hour which I rather enjoyed.  Part of me was curious to find out of I thought Crave deserved the foodie loathing.

I forgot to grab my camera and so we are stuck with blurry phone pictures.

I kept it simple and ordered a spicy tuna roll, $7.25 and a pickled daikon roll, $4.

I was generally satisfied with the spicy tuna roll, pictured to the left.  I tried an isolated bite of the tuna mixture and it tasted slightly fishy and not all that spicy.  When eaten as a whole, with soy and wasabi, it did not taste fishy.  The tuna was plentiful and its texture was like a pulverized paste.  The spicy tuna roll is $5 during happy hour which is a better value.

The pickled radish roll, pictured above to the right, was simple and decent.  A few pieces of the radish were difficult to chew.

What I did like was the texture and temperature of the sushi rice.  The wasabi was also especially pungent.

Jake ordered the Tuna Tataki appetizer, $13.95, described as “seared sushi grade ahi tuna, orange soy reduction, and togarashi salt, wasabi cream” and mussels steamed in a “ginger and miso broth” with baguette for $12.95.


To the left is the Tuna Tataki.  I found the seared tuna to be fresh and of high quality.  The frizzled, raw carrots were bland and unseasoned.  The cream dollops a top each slice of tuna tasted like unflavored whipped cream.  I did not detect even a wisp of wasabi and felt it tasted too sweet, almost like a dessert whipped cream.  I smeared the tuna slice around in the “orange soy reduction” sauce and found it be watery and bland.

As a beverage, I ordered hot tea which arrived over-steeped and bitter.

Crave mussel rant
I was annoyed by Jake’s mussels.  Although the picture above to the right is nearly invisibly blurry, you will notice that the mussels were completely covered with raw vegetables.

Jake was satisfied with the quality and flavor of the mussels.  He also complimented the three slices of toasted bread.  I did not taste a mussel, but tasted the rest of the dish.  One of the best parts of steamed mussels is the broth.  I was generally OK with the miso mussel broth which was mildly rich and garlicky, and tasted slightly of fish sauce.  However, I was puzzled by the addition of soft tofu cubes and annoyed by the overabundance of raw bean sprouts and julienned pea pods.  Some of the pea pod strips were hard to chew and I wonder if they were not de-stringed properly.  All of the cold, raw vegetables and large chunks of tofu distracted from the comforting experience of eating steaming mussels, dominating the seafood and the broth.  I yearned for Meritage’s Moules et Frites.

After dinner, we felt kind of unfulfilled.  The meal was certainly not terrible, but we felt it was over-priced for what was actually delivered.  As we stood up to leave, we looked at each other with eyes that said “Let’s not come back to Crave. Unless it’s during Happy Hour.”

Pretzel Dog saves the day

Jake and I soothed our confused and still-longing stomachs with Auntie Anne’s Pretzeldogs, 2 for $5.  Salty, sweet, and snappy.  I’ve always been a sucker for fake orange cheese sauce.  The salsa cheese actually contained a slight sensation of heat and the hot dog was firm and of a higher quality than expected.

Summary:
I was surprised to feel very engaged by The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  I still feel traumatized by my experience at the MOA Theater so next time, we may try St. Louis Park’s fancy theater.  The dinner menu at Crave seemed generally mediocre and over-priced, however, our server was fantastic.

I have joined both “Team Ape” and “Team Pretzeldog.”  Maybe if they work together, apes and Pretzeldogs will curb the obnoxiously-expanding Crave empire.  

My short guide to cheapo Mall of America food dates

Mall food dates rock.

Mall food dates
Once in a while, Jake and I will go on Mall of America dates.  And when we do, we rely on our favorites.  Growing up, I have fond memories of family mall dates at the Burnsville Center where I would always order from Panda Express or one of those places that aggressively hawks bites of bourbon chicken on toothpicks.  My brother always ordered from Sbarro.  My dad who was always watching his weight, ordered a teryaki chicken and pineapple baked potato from One Potato Two, and my mom always ordered a cheesesteak from the cheesesteak place that may have been since renamed/bought.

I have a fond, mall food date-related memory of my mom during the stretch when she was nearing hospice.  One evening, she had spent time preparing some kind of casserole, when a conversation sparked her interest in Burnsville Center cheesesteaks.  My normally frugal and sensible parents abandoned the casserole already baking in the oven, and we spent a lovely evening chatting around cheesesteaks at the Burnsville Center food court.


Ruby Thai
Jake and I have eaten Asian mall food our whole lives and, to date, we both feel that Ruby Thai does it best.  Their fried chicken-bits are crispier and their spicy dishes are actually spicy.

Jake ordered the pad thai, ruby chicken, and spicy chicken.  I really liked the spicy chicken.  Not only did it cause us to break into a mild sweat, but it contained kimchi-like cabbage and sweet bits of onions.

I ordered mango chicken, black pepper chicken, and stir fried noodles.

The pepper chicken was intensely black peppery. The zucchini and bell peppers were fresh and the whole lot was covered in a light brown sauce.  The mango chicken bits remained crispy beneath the sticky mango sauce.  The mango sauce was also on the cloyingly sweet side, however, I enjoyed dipping the sticky chicken into chili sauce or Jake’s spicy chicken sauce.

Although the noodles look boring, they are actually well-seasoned and have a springy chew.  The noodles are accented by bits of vegetables such as carrot, fresh scallion bits, and tender cabbage.

The next morning, I found that nothing in my leftovers congealed.  I am going to make the bold statement that I would rather order takeout from Ruby Thai than Grand Szechuan, Crystal Garden, Leann Chin’s or Big Bowl Express compared with recent, meh-dismal experiences.

Best combination ever.
Order one of the spicy chicken entrees from Ruby Thai.

Order a freshly fried batch of cheese curds from Long John Silvers.  Jake swears these cheese curds are better than A & W’s.

Dip the greasy cheese curds in Ruby Thai’s spicy sauce.  Or any other sauce, for that matter.  If I ever win a lottery or inherit gobs of money, I am promptly purchasing a food truck and offering freshly battered cheese curds tossed in a variety of Asian sauces.  Think Panda Express orange chicken or pork bulgogi, except with curds, baby.

If you steal my idea, I will find you. . .and despite my anger, I will buy your curds.

Jen’s other favorite MOA treats


Yogen Fruz
In Chicago, I fell in love with Korean-style frozen yogurt at Berry Chill.  I loved that it was tart, melted into thin air once it hit my tongue, and was carefully topped with uniformly cut fruit.  Unlike ice cream or more ubiquitous versions of frozen yogurt, this style is much lighter and leaves no filmy residue in my mouth.

Yogen Fruz’s version is not quite as tart as Berry Chill’s, but it is still tarter than your standard, gloppy frozen yogurt and has a wonderful lightness.  For toppings, you have choices ranging from fresh fruits to mochi.  I am always amused by how carefully and deliberately toppings are scooped onto my yogurt at this style of vendor.

Mall pretzels 
My first mall food love goes back to elementary school where I always bought a buttery and salty pretzel from Pretzelmaker with a side of spicy nacho cheese at the Burnsville Mall.

At the Mall of America, I prefer Pretzel Time’s version to Auntie Anne’s.  However, I recently ate a spontaneous “pretzel dog” dipped in nacho cheese sauce from Auntie Anne’s and it was disgustingly delicious.  I was most surprised by the quality of the hot dog.

Tea Garden
Here and there, I may enjoy a blended taro-flavored beverage with lychee jellies or pearls.

Go forth and cheaply mall date.  That is all.

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