Ciao Chow

Italian food is. so. good. Here’s a synopsis of two Italian(ish) eating experiences I’ve had in the recent past.

The first was at Scusi in St Paul.

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I went to Scusi with a group of co-workers early in the week. I haven’t been to nearly as many St. Paul restaurants as Minneapolis ones, and I love being reminded that there’s a whole other city of good grub waiting to be discovered just across the river. Scusi’s menu is fairly traditionally Italian (although I was disappointed to find that they don’t make many homemade pastas). The table started with some appetizers of fried artichokes, bruschetta, arancini (crispy risotto balls), and beet/blue cheese salad:

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The meal also came with some nice looking bread:

the lighting was bad, so most of the pictures are dark!

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For my meal, I ordered the eggplant parmesan with gnocchi instead of pasta (the gnocchi is homemade):

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Others ordered pizza and gnocchi with a san marzano sauce:

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The meal was great! After the meal, the table also ordered some desserts including an ice cream sundae and a particularly impressive dish of sugared donut holes with caramel sauce.

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This was an extravagant meal and not for the faint of heart. If you are looking for a celebratory restaurant and like Italian food, this might be a good location.

My second encounter with Italian food was at Pizzeria Lola

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Pizzeria Lola is a wood-fired pizza place in southwest Minneapolis. It’s not your traditional pizza joint though. First, it is exceptionally delicious. Second, it has a unique fusion menu created by its Korean owner (and the restaurant is named after her dog, Lola).

The place was packed (generally an indication that the food is good), so we took a seat at the bar to avoid a long wait. The bar seating turned out to be great because we had a top-notch view of the kitchen and pizza oven:

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We started off with one of the vegetable specials: a kale salad with watermelon radish and feta:

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We ordered two pizzas. Le Creme which came with Italian red sauce, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, cream, olive oil and basil:

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And the Korean BBQ which was beef short ribs, mozzarella, scallions, arugula, sesame and soy-chili vinaigrette:

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Wow! The Korean BBQ pizza was amazing. It was super filling because of the meat, but it the sesame/soy sauce made it very flavorful.

More than just a pizza place, Lola’s is also acclaimed for their soft serve frozen yogurt (not what you would expect, right?). After the meal, we shared the dessert special: a swirl of Crispin apple cider sorbet and vanilla frozen yogurt topped with caramel sauce:

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If you like pizza, go here now! The only thing to note is that Pizzeria Lola doesn’t have any pizza by the slice options, and if you want a table at a normal meal time, you need to be prepared to wait. If you want a quick slice, you could check out Hello Pizza near 40th and France, Lola’s sister restaurant from the same owner.

Oh, and the trip to Lola’s was especially fun since our waiter turned out to be from Vermont and went to same college as us! Small world.

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Highland Grill

This morning I had eggs again for breakfast. Instead of making eggs plain though, I cooked them into some Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal. I got the idea from my roommate who made savory oats a couple weeks ago. For this breakfast, I cooked 1/4 cup of 10-grain cereal with slightly less than 1 cup of water. After cooking for a couple minutes, I added in one egg, one mini-babybel cheese wedge, a roasted tomato, and 1 tablespoon of pesto. I served it with a sliced banana.

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This breakfast was very good and I will definitely make again. The savory cereal was very satisfying, and the eggs really thickened the whole dish.

For lunch, I met a couple friends at the Highland Grill in St. Paul – which seems to be a favorite eats spot for almost everyone I know in St. Paul. Highland Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they have a nice combination of creative meals and comfort food dishes.

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The atmosphere inside is casual and comfy – as evidenced by the fact that all of their coffee mugs are unique and similar to something you might find in your own cupboard:

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Every day there are featured dishes. Today it included buckwheat pancakes, a fried chicken sandwich, cajun pork chop with risotto, and chili prawns:

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In addition to featured dishes, there is also a daily deal. Tuesday’s deal is half price on all bottles of wine. Obviously, too good a deal to pass up:

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After much deliberation (and by that I mean wondering if I should maybe order something ‘healthier’)*, I decided to order Peter’s burger. The burger came with sweet-mustard pickle relish, a fried egg, ketchup, grilled onions, and sourdough bread. I ordered it with sweet potato fries:
*see below for further explanation

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One of my lunch companions ordered the fried chicken sandwich special with a side salad:

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The other ordered buckwheat pancakes with a side of fruit:

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Everything was delicious! This is a great spot for any meal of the day.

Going back to my wondering if I should order a ‘healthier’ option…
Often when I go out to eat, I feel a slight sense of anxiety regarding the calories and fat in the meal. When I was struggling a lot with my eating disorder, I would often try to get out of eating meals I didn’t prepare for myself. Or, if I did eat out, I would try to stick with salads or things that didn’t include extra sauces or oils. I would stress out about butter or oil being added to bread or meat, and would try to alter my orders to make them as low-caloric as possible.

Now, I realize that eating out should be something enjoyable. Yes, a meal at a restaurant will almost always have more calories and fat than one that I prepare for myself at home, but I will also have the added enjoyment of dining with friends, testing out a new restaurant, and trying a meal that I would not ordinarily eat or prepare for myself.

When selecting what to order at a restaurant now, my primary goal is not to determine what will be the ‘healthiest’ but, rather, what sounds the best to me and what will be unique. I know that if I choose the ‘healthiest’ item for its calorie count and lack of added fats, I am not truly being healthy but am instead letting unhealthy rules and restrictions make decisions for me. When I was in recovery from my eating disorder, one of the most important things I learned was that health is about lifestyle – not about one meal or one day or one workout. Real health is understanding that it’s okay to have sweet potato fries and a burger once in a while, and it’s okay to enjoy that meal while dining with great friends and not feel guilty afterwards. Hallelujah, amen. 🙂

Muscle Massage and Everest on Grand

This is my new best friend, Mr. Shark:

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Mr. Shark was given to me by my physical therapist. It works like this:
1) Butter up your IT band, hamstring, knee, (problem area of your choice) with baby oil
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You could also use cocoa butter or any other sort of lubricant that won’t absorb.

2) Rub Mr. Shark down the length of the muscle you are focusing on, applying enough pressure that you can feel where the sore areas are.

3) When you feel one of the said sore areas, focus on it by applying moving pressure multiple times.

4) Marvel at how much better that sore spot feels the next day.

Seriously, Mr. Shark is a wonder tool. I ran 9 miles on Tuesday as part of my last-ditch effort to still try to run a half-marathon I’m registered for at the end of April. My hamstring was really bothering me after the run and throughout the day. I used Mr. Shark that night, and immediately afterwards my hammie felt better. It was incredible!

In other news….
I finally tried a restaurant in St. Paul that I’ve been meaning to get to for literally months. I went to Everest on Grand, a Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian restaurant. Several months ago, I had a friend tell me that they had a good lunch buffet, and I’d been interested to try it for myself since then.

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The restaurant was a lot smaller than I was imagining. There was one room with about 12 tables or so, and the buffet was served on two carts:

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One of the carts had hot food and the other was a salad bar. Here’s a close up of the hot food:

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There were a few vegetarian dishes, one type of bread, basmati rise, one goat dish, and one chicken dish. On my plate, I had a sampling of the vegetable dishes, some rice, and some chicken. Afterwards I had a few bites of kheer:

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The food was fairly spicy and my stomach was not the most appreciative after. I’m glad I finally can cross this restaurant off of my ‘go to’ list, but it sort of reminded me about my love-hate relationship with Indian food. I don’t think I actually like it that much. Weirdly, every several months I get an Indian food craving and really want it, but then when I eat it, I remember why I don’t like it very much.

Next time I want to go to Indian, someone remind me that I don’t really like it, okay? Thanks. 🙂

Speaking of love-hate foods…I have that same relationship with cinnamon rolls. Do you have any love-hate foods?

Cafe Latte

This morning I was up and straight to the gym for a pyramid treadmill workout. I’d been looking forward to another run in my new shoes, and I wanted to get in a refreshing 3 miles (still my limit these days) before work. The pyramid workout went like this:

set treadmill at 1% incline
5 minutes warm-up (I ran set the speed at 6.0)
1 minute hard, 1 minute recovery
2 minutes hard, 1 minute recovery
3 minutes hard, 1 minute recovery
4 minutes hard, 1 minute recovery
And then back down the pyramid ending with a few minutes cool down.

All in all, I went 3.3 miles in 30 minutes – with my hard speed at 7.0-7.2 and my recovery at 6.0. It felt like a good workout but not too intense. If you increased speed more, then you could really amp it up.

After the gym, I replicated the couscous breakfast bake and caramelized bananas breakfast from the other day. I am happy to report that it was equally delicious this time around.

For lunch, I had a meeting at Cafe Latte in St. Paul. If you’ve never been to Cafe Latte before, all I can say is that you should probably go tomorrow. They have salads, soups, sandwiches, pizza, wine, coffee, and – best for last – dessert.

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Cafe Latte serves beyond dessert really – it’s more like heaven on a plate. If you have been there, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t been there, you will know tomorrow when you go. 🙂 Their most popular desserts are turtle cake, cheesecake, and german chocolate. I am a hardcore proponent of the turtle cake – you won’t ever lose with it. Promise.

Although dessert is definitely the highlight, the regular food menu is also great. Here’s my lunch of tuscan white bean soup with a whole wheat roll and turtle cake (obviously).

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Other glimpses around the table…salad combo plate of black rice salad/chicken and cheese salad with a mini baguette.

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As was to be expected, no one left disappointed. It’s probably a good thing this place is located in St. Paul and not Minneapolis, otherwise there might be a little too much turtle cake in my future.