New Bermuda
I don't buy in to any of the critique/dialogue/commentary/consensus surrounding Deafheaven. To me it boils down to, yeah, Deafheaven does some different stuff for a "black metal" band, but calm down everybody. Metal fans and writers get so concerned about this shit. Sunbather had so much damn baggage that came with it, but I found the record itself to be pretty dull. By-the-numbers post rock doing battle with by-the-numbers black metal, recorded well and performed well enough. But otherwise it bored me. New Bermuda on the other hand. This is exciting! It's not perfect, and it's not going to compete with my all time favorite works of metal, but it's good. Italic good! Because in between the flashes of black metal blastbeats and that nonsense (which I honestly quite dislike), they actually perform here as a thoughtful-yet-tight metal band. And yeah, there's some post rock in there. There's some indie rock in there. There's some goddamn Yo La Tengo in there! But as a whole it's simply powerful, moving, organically-inclined heavy metal. If they go ahead and shred any worries about "black" in their next release, they'll truly be onto something.

The Mountain Goats
The Sunset Tree
It took me until I was 33 years old to fully appreciate the teenage discontent of the Mountain Goats. I love it. I mean, I've been a huge fan of The Life of the World to Come, and was more or less appreciative of his other work, but that was it. But the more I dig into it, the more it all makes sense. Tallahassee is quite good, All Hail West Texas is better still, but I think The Sunset Tree is perhaps the purest example of what it is John Darnielle can do.
Allas Sak
Exactly no better or no worse than the last three Dungen albums. But contains way more saxophone than the last three Dungen albums, so I'll give it the slight edge. Totally listenable, but kinda sad that they have seemingly lost the absolute precision melodic thrust of Ta Det Lugnt. I mean, that album's an unimpeachable classic at this point, so they'll never top it, but it would be nice if they could swing for the fences again.
Julia Holter
Have You In My Wilderness
I've been intrigued by the last two Julia Holter records, enough that I bought them and listened to them a few times each, and was generally impressed by their mood and intricacy; Holter has a knack for making avant garde pop music that's more avant garde than pop, but still remains listenable and pleasant, mysterious and comforting. But neither of them managed to stick with me. They float nicely, but right past your grasp, gaseous clouds of tunes. This new one moves the dial back the other way, adding some pop back into the avant garde, adding some solid ground below the clouds. And it all works, though it occasionally treads worryingly close to some sort of Regina Spector-ish 89.3-ready liberal-arts pop. In fact, one of the analogues I hear in the poppier moments is (the regretfully underrated) Laura Mvula. And while I think Mvula pulls off this sort of light-on-its-feet, handsomely orchestrated art pop better, Holter still has some sublime weirdo moments of haze and ether, and not many singers do that better.

Sun Coming Down
I really ought to dislike should dislike Ought. Especially for a band so obviously influenced by a handful of 70s post punk slash art punk groups like The Fall and Wire and Television that I admittedly and disgracefully have a hard time listening to. Basically anything that revolves around dissonance and sloppy hollered sing-talking turns me right off. No offense to those groups; I appreciate their place in the canon, but they just bring me zero pleasure. Ought, on the other hand, and for reasons I can't even pinpoint, are enjoyable to me. They just make tasteful choices. The singer—well, shout sing talker—has a unique and instrumental voice, and like a great rapper, or actor, or the guy from Future Islands, he knows how to make his projection and tenor work for the betterment of the song, even if he's not actually "singing" any particular melodies. Or if he's just trying to sound like Mark E Smith. Anyhow, this record is a better one front to back than their debut, though it's missing the one killer single which that album had in "Habit," one of my favorite songs of that year. Still, it's a good one, and this is a good group. And no I'm not going to go back and try to "get into" Wire. I've tried. It's not happening.
Broken Social Scene
You Forgot It In People
You Forgot It in People finally makes sense to me. It finally clicked. It's an echo, a remnant. It's the memory of a rock album. I enjoyed it enough back in 2002 or whenever it came out, but it never felt quite right. It felt empty. I think I'm just now realizing it's not supposed to be some beautifully rendered painting—it's the ghostly residual of that painting created by ink seeping through the back side of the canvas; the shapes and colors are there, but the details aren't as important, and it's way more beautiful than some dumb painting of a tree anyway.

Ones and Sixes
Easily the best Low album since The Great Destroyer. "I should be sleeping by your lonely side / instead of working on this song all night." /song ends. Damn.
Tender Buttons
I've been listening to Tender Buttons on and off for the last two weeks, and while I don't think it can supplant Haha Sound as my favorite of their releases, it's still so good. They're so good. And I'm as bummed as ever that Trish Keenan died. Sucks. A lot. But dammit, she left behind this amazing little collection of Broadcast records that are just getting better in time, demolishing whatever "electro pop" classification you want to put on them, running circles around the nonsense that would be their competition today. Damn near flawless. And yeah, fine, "they" are still around, without Trish, but her voice and melodic sense was key to this whole thing, and it was great.
Beach House
Depression Cherry
My relationship with Beach House is complicated. I like them. But I want them to do better. I know they can do better. Even though what they do is good. Depression Cherry is maybe building up to be my favorite of their records—I think? It's hard to draw a line between them sometimes. Their whole catalogue is basically one big gradient, from orange to salmon to pink; they're clearly in a different place now than they were 7 years ago, but I couldn't tell you how or when they got here. But it's all equally pretty and lovely and lovely and pretty. They really understand progressions and arrangement, and are slowly getting a handle on using vocal harmonies for movement rather than simply atmosphere. But what bugs me about this album in particular is Victoria Legrand's unwillingness to truly unleash her voice. It's a powerful instrument she has when she belts in her lower register, like Nico (or someone better than Nico). But she's constantly keeping it in check here, choosing instead to use a quieter, breathier head voice that just doesn't have the same weight. A shame, yeah, but they've still made a(nother) totally listenable album with melodies that hook you out of nowhere, and just enough surprises to keep from lulling you to sleep.

Poison Season
Look, baseline Destroyer is total quality. Dude has some mystic aptitude that just makes everything he throws at the wall work. But after Kaputt, he's moved the baseline. And Poison Season is sitting right on it. Not a leap forward. Not a step backward. Not even a lateral tweak. Still. Total quality.
We're getting closer now. Real close. Whatever it is I've been searching for, I can almost reach it. It's not jazz, it's not electronica, it's not post-rock, but it's all of that. And no, it's not Tortoise. Though I'm sure these guys have probably played at least one show with Tortoise ten years ago. Ooh, this is so close. But it's not quite. Maybe 8 or 10 will be the miracle I'm hoping for.
Radiance and Submission
I don't much care for electronic music. The dance stuff is usually too dumb, the avant-garde stuff is too jerk-offy, and even the highly-regarded "smart" stuff generally leaves me expecting more. I've tried and tried over the years, and have never really found my sweet spot. In another recent plunge, however, I came upon this album by CFCF. And I like it—though I'd say it barely even qualifies as electronic music. CFCF himself is definitely an electronic artist—his previous records all have a bit of a minimalist dance vibe, a driving 4/4, all the usual hallmarks of whatever sub-sub-genre a music writer might prescribe to it—but Radiance and Submission is something different. It's pastoral and romantic, open and patient. It's closer in spirit to late-era Talk Talk or the quiet moments of Peter Gabriel's solo records than it is to something like Scrillo or Diplex or whoever the kids like this week.It's mostly instrumental (except for maybe 2-3 vocal tracks), and there are plenty of electronic elements (both digital and analogue), but it also incorporates plenty of acoustic guitar and piano and percussion elements. I'm not saying it's a great or perfect album, not at all. It feels almost like a stepping stone to something great, though. This guy behind CFCF gets it, and this record is full of mature choices, both in composition and production. The sad part, though, is that most of the reviews I've seen for it are pretty lukewarm. And that gets deep into my issue with music writing when it comes to the electronic music world: it's this ridiculously insular set of genres and subgenres and trends and rules, and it seems like albums and artists (sorry... "producers") get judged not on the quality of their music, but by how well they played by the specific rules of their chosen sub-genre, and if they maybe tweaked one little aspect of it (but not too many aspects!) to put them in the position of tastemaker rather than follower. Looking at it as an outsider, it strikes me as this horrible fashion contest. So then suddenly you get all of these people reviewing Radiance and Submission under the guidelines of some genre called "Night Bus" (not even kidding), and guess what? They don't like it! Well they're wrong. It's good. I'll be keeping my eye on CFCF for a little while, and hoping I can find at least one more "electronic" artist to add to my meager resume in the near future.
Chelsea Wolfe
You didn't even know you wanted to hear what it would sound like if Sharon Van Etten fronted a doom metal band, did you? (And then you heard "Iron Moon" and were like, Holy shit! And then you bought the album and were like, Oh, well at least "Iron Moon" is good.)
The Go! Team
The Scene Between
I think I gave this a positive review earlier this summer. But I want to make it positiver. This is a kickass album. It's so super. Top to bottom. It's what Top 40 radio would sound like if the world was much cooler—still as maximalist as previous Go! Team records, but somehow completely streamlined into its most important parts. Put it on at pizza parties. Turn it up too loud on your headphones on the bus so everyone else can hear it. Melt it into a paste and cover your disgusting body in it. Love it.

10.06.2015 - by Steve
King & I Thai - Mendota Heights
34 with beef
The King and I is back! And while it isn't necessarily "better than ever," it is farther away than ever, with shorter hours than ever, smaller than ever, and harder to get to than ever. But I'm not complaining, because they still have the 34—which is still #34 on the menu!—and the recipe hasn't changed. The particular batch I got was a little more liquid than usual, and perhaps less spicy than it's been, but those are minor quibbles, and likely more a result of the particular kitchen crew at the time I was there than any harbinger of suburban down-dumbing. It's seriously one of my favorite dishes in the whole world. I'm so glad it's back.
10.03.2015 - by Steve
Z's Smokin Bonez - Maple Grove
Barbecue ribs
On the Great Minnesota Barbecue Continuum, Z's Smokin Bonez doezn't really factor. On the less-challenging junior circuit of the Suburban Barbecue Continuum, it lands somewhere in the middle. Maybe the upper-middle, even, because they're doing some good things, in theory at least. Whatever rub/wood combination they're using did give their meat (okay, stop laughing!) a nice layered flavor, so that's nice, but they were super fatty and greasy. That'z not nice. They have 10 (!) different flavors of sauces, some remarkably experimental for a Maple Grove barbecue joint—wasabi, peanut butter, and bacon for instance. But the wilder saucez didn't really add much. They tasted a little too much like what they were. The wasabi, for instance, just kinda tasted like somebody put wasabi in barbecue sauce. The mustard sauce just tasted like someone put a little barbecue sauce in mustard. Their bazic sauces, though, were totally decent. Above average even! And like the current kings of suburban barbecue, Q Fanatic, they're trying to go nuts on the sides. Their baked beanz were totally solid, but their bacon & blue cheese mac and cheeze was greasy and mushy and not very satizfying. So what we've got here is a suburban barbecue joint aiming high, going for that big difficulty score from the Russian judge, but landing awkwardly off the mat and breaking a bone or two. Meanwhile the aforementioned Q Fanatic and Eagan's Rack Shack are watching from the sidelines and feeling pretty good about their chancez.
09.30.2015 - by Steve
6Smith - Wayzata
Lobster sliders, short rib sliders
6Smith's grandfather made a fortune in the asbestos removal business. 6Smith's dad made an even larger fortune in real estate. 6Smith's parents gave him a Maserati on his 16th birthday. 6Smith got to move in to the guest house on his 17th. 6Smith got lucky when his college roommate scored big selling a targeted advertising algorithm and made a percentage from his role as venture capitalist. 6Smith likes to take girls out on his boat and has a Bastian Schweinsteiger haircut and fuckin kills it at the crossfit gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. 6Smith likes to hit up downtown on weekends and loves the local food scene there. 6Smith scored a deal on some kickass Lake Minnetonka real estate and got some buds to help put a half mil into renovating it and making Wayzata's newest lakeside spot. And yet 6Smith can't afford to serve name-brand cola or get the cable sports tier that shows the Gopher game. 6Smith is a douchebag.

09.22.2015 - by Steve
Naf Naf Grill - Downtown Minneapolis
Chicken shawarma
It's hard to get too excited about new "good" fast food chains when places like Smashburger and Rusty Taco and Which Which (gross) consistently tend to underwhelm upon their big splashy entry into the cities. Even more so when the new restaurant can so quickly be described as "Chipotle for _____." Chipotle for pizza. Chipotle for sushi. Chipotle for mac and cheese. Or that guy who won the NBC reality show and started a Chipotle for soul food in the Mall of America which shut down within 2 months, leaving this guy and his newly uprooted family to fend for themselves in Minneapolis. But that has zero to do with this. This, in fact, is about Naf Naf Grill, the brand new Chipotle for shawarma joint that just opened downtown after hitting it big in Chicago. And this, also, is where I totally eat my hat. Because, the thing is, Naf Naf is the real deal!. I say that as a lover of shawarma. And a guy with a food blog. So you can trust me. But as much as I love and appreciate places like Shish and Aida and the random bodega-style deli, Naf Naf has managed to out-shawarma them. I'm so sorry. I want those little guys to win, but the Chicago chain beat them fair and square. This shit is delicious, and it's so much more than meat and rice on a pita. They've got pickled stuff. They've got oniony salad stuff. They've got sauces that the employees could barely pronounce. It's honestly the best shawarma sandwich I've had since the Oasis of Williamsburg on my trip to Brooklyn a few years ago (yes, I'm rolling my eyes too). That was actually the closest analogue I can find to Naf Naf, with some of the same types of fixings that nobody else in Minneapolis seems to bother with. Top it all off with the fact that they bake all their pita bread in house, and that the shawarma itself was juicy and tender and flavorful, I can't wait for these guys to open up more stores. And three years from now, when you hear me complaining about how there are Naf Nafs opening everywhere, slap me in the face and make me read this review again.
09.10.2015 - by Steve
Mattie's on Main - Northeast Minneapolis
Mac and cheese, chicken wings
I think it's clear at this point that the restaurant situation at St. Anthony Main is hopeless. People like the Aster Cafe I guess, but otherwise, yikes! I was kind of half-hoping that Mattie's might be the first to break the trend, but I was quite wrong. Sad, because St. Anthony Main is such a nice, fun, neat-o little area. But I guess every city has their comparable strip, that's just too pretty and convenient to actually waste on decent things when it's so easy to sell junk to business travelers and North Dakotans on a romantic weekend in The Cities. But I still like that movie theater a lot though.

09.10.2015 - by Steve
The Meet Market - White Bear Lake
Philly cheesesteak
Here's an interesting one. The Meet Market, on the outskirts of downtown White Bear Lake (which, by the way, can we talk about downtown White Bear Lake for a second? What is going on there? Is it charming or sad? Did it peak in the 80s, or is it peaking now? Are all of these new independent restaurants actually good, or are they just as futile as they look? I've never seen a small town downtown that seems to be doing so much right, and yet makes me feel so wrong). But the Meet Market, which looks like an almost-hip sandwich joint that's ready-made to franchise around the "good suburbs," is actually a one-off, independent deli/butcher/cafe, and I want to love it. Because they almost nailed it. But not quite. Their menu is pretty standard hot-sandwich fare—Philly cheesesteak, ruebens, pulled pork, Cubans, you get it. Nothing mindblowing there. But what's actually impressive here is that they really are a butcher shop. They have super fresh meat that they're portioning and cutting themselves. So when you get a Philly, you see them making the things fresh with good quality meat. You can see them smoking and pulling the pork. Great! But then you see them pouring frozen fries out of a plastic bag into the fryer. And pouring chicken fingers from a plastic bag into a fryer. And pouring weird melted provolone onto your Philly instead of just laying a slice atop the meat on the grill. And cutting all these other corners that don't need to be cut! Very frustrating for a place that is so close to being really extraordinary (well, at least White Bear Lake extraordinary). Still, if I'm ever up there again for whatever reason, I want to try one or two more things. Because they really, really seem to want to be doing something great. And while they pale in comparison to the butcher shop sandwiches at Clancy's—not even exaggerating, the best sandwich I've ever eaten—they're doing okay.

08.31.2015 - by Steve
Bump's - Glencoe
Hot Beef Commercial
Down around the Mankato area of southern Minnesota, in any number of mediocre diners and family restaurants, you'll suddenly start seeing a regional oddity appear on menus: the Hot Beef Commercial. "Wow, a rare local delicacy!" you'll say to yourself. And then you'll realize it's just roast beef on white bread covered in gravy. But, like, that sounds pretty good though, right? Yeah, it does.

So while I was on a fun little field trip down south to see the Jeffers Petroglyphs, my road home took me through charming (?) Glencoe, MN. A quick gauntlet-run through Yelp drew my attention to this place called Bump's, and their WCCO-appointed Best Hot Beef Commercial In Minnesota! Who am I to argue with the tastemakers at WCCO? So I found the place—not the old-school downtown diner I was hoping for, more like the early 80's cookie-cutter highwayside family restaurant where dreams and elderly bachelor farmers go to die. Of course it was packed at 5pm on a Saturday, and seemingly everyone was ordering some form of a gravy soaked Commercial, me included.

I'll give them this: Bump's seems to really make classic comfort food from scratch. That's sadly more than most places like this can offer. The photos in their menu all looked legitimately tasty, especially the breakfasts. And for the most part, this famous Commercial delivered on that. Particularly the gravy—and as you can see in the photo above, gravy makes up about 70% of this monstrosity. And it was tasty gravy, with little former beef chunks floating here and there. It was a little tame and 'traditional,' and heavy on the flour, whereas a good beef gravy at a fancy rest-a-raunt like the Modern (RIP) might lean towards a more rich, savory umami base. The mashed potatoes were also homemade, not from dried mix, but could've used a little more chunk. I like some chunk in my mashers. Quote me on that.

My only real complaint, although minor, comes with the beef itself. For claiming to be slow roasted in-house, the beef felt uncomfortably Aramark. I could be wrong. I'm not even saying for sure that it was. But I've had some good grandma-recipe roast beef in my day, and this was not it. It was a little dry, in thin slices, seemed to have been frozen at some point. It didn't have the mouth melting perfection of a great roast beef. And if your entire enterprise is based on roast beef, gravy, and bread, you better nail the roast beef.

Despite that nitpicking, I can't argue that this big plate of crud wasn't super fucking satisfying. I ate every bit of it. Could've licked the plate. No regrets. I don't think Bump's is necessarily some secret diamond in the rough, small town miracle. It's certainly a lot better than much of its competition, but that's not saying much. It's a solid step up from Country Kitchen. But you'll have to join me in in the coming months, through 2016, as I go on a new journey to find the true Best Hot Beef Commercial in Minnesota.

08.31.2015 - by Steve
McCoy's - St. Louis Park
Reuben, chili
Uh. Well. I don't know. Whatever.
08.31.2015 - by Steve
Skinners Pub - St. Paul
Steak sandwich
Skinner's Pub isn't great. Its food is probably just above average for a little corner dive. They don't seem to be "famous" for any particular menu item, like Matt's jucy lucy, or the 1029's lobster rolls. They've got pizza, because they seem to have merged with a pizza parlour at some point. They've got fried chicken, which is probably no worse than a decent grocery store deli fried chicken. But I love this place nonetheless, simply for its pure unhipness. It's a true neighborhood bar, in a quiet little corner of St. Paul, filled with true neighborhood bar types, a pinball machine, and a mediocre folk singer performing on the patio. It was even charming that 4 employees were battling to keep a river rat from coming in the back door. It was a real hoot. And I've had worse steak sandwiches.
08.07.2015 - by Steve
La Ceiba - South Minneapolis
Pollo Jamaiquino
And here, finally, we have a restaurant. A real honest-to-god restaurant. Not a "public house." Not a "eatery." Not a "hard cider brewpub and bacon room." It's a restaurant. (Okay, fine, it's a "bistro!") But look around, and there's no reclaimed barnwood. There's no antique meat grinders doubling as lighting fixtures. There's no white subway tile anywhere. They're not growing their own wild rice on the roof or pairing hot dogs with bourbon flights. It's just an honest neighborhood restaurant with a welcoming atmosphere, attentive staff, and delicious Caribbean food.

And now is the part where I tell you about how La Ceiba is a rebirth of what used to be El Mason, a locally-beloved establishment that I unfortunately never made it to before it closed. But I know that everybody loved El Mason, and were sad to see it go. But now everyone seems to love La Ceiba, and I totally get it. Funny thing is, the two items I had weren't even the best of their class; my little fried pastelillos, spicy beef and stuff in a green plantain batter, weren't quite as amazing as Sonora Grill's kinkhali. Their Jamaican chicken curry (pollo Jamaiquino) wasn't as good as a similar Caribbean curry from Harry Singh's. But both were absolutely respectable, and I ate every bite and had to stop myself from licking the plate and crying. To be honest, I think every menu item is maybe about $2 too expensive, but at this point I don't care. I'm so glad La Ceiba exists, and I hope it lasts as long as El Mason did, and I hope I get there for lunch at some point next week.

07.30.2015 - by Steve
Red Wagon Pizza Co. - South Minneapolis
Banh mi pizza, beet pizza, sausage pizza
As pointed out by one member of last night's pizza party, "Red Wagon Pizza" sounds like the name of some terrible family restaurant, with clowns and free popcorn and birthday parties and awful pizza. But it is not. It's a fancy-pants grown-up pizza establishment—it's "Red Wagon Pizza Co., you see—much like Pizzeria Lola. In fact, it's a lot like Pizzeria Lola; wood-fired, funky ingredients, modern/rustic interior. And oddly enough, the two are only six or seven blocks away from each other. Maybe the Red Wagon people assumed Lola was so popular that they could reap the overflow crowd? Weird. And the problem is, now that they've all but forced us to compare them to Lola, it's clear that their's is the inferior product. It's not bad. It's fine enough. But none of it touches the (near) perfection of Lola. Their banh mi pizza pales in comparison to Lola's Korean barbecue pizza. Their beet pizza, as interesting as it might sound, pales in comparison to Lola's potato pizza. Their sausage and fig-balsamic pizza—blah blah blah. You get it. Point is, this would probably be a great addition to some other neighborhood. Or it would probably do a killing one of the more urbane suburbs (other than Robbinsdale, which already has the far superior Pig Ate My Pizza). It's just not good enough for where it's at.

07.24.2015 - by Steve
Prairie Dogs - Uptown Minneapolis
Duck fat and foie gras dog, chili dog
I'll get this out of the way first. Prairie Dogs should be a counter-service eatery. Period. For what they serve (all sorts of fancy hot dogs and sausages), they don't need to be full service. Drives me crazy. This city needs more counter service places. Oh, and also their interior decoration is completely wrong. It's the generic hipster/Pinterest/reclaimed-barn-wood/architectural-antique-lighting-fixture-chic that every fucking restaurant does these days. I'm tired of it. They need to be more like Chicago's (now sadly but maybe mercifully defunct) Hot Doug's. Just make a fun, easy, un-fussy little counter-service joint, and blow people's minds with your crazy hot dog inventions. And about those hot dog inventions... they seem to be on the right track with what I had, even if I didn't exactly love it. The chili dog was fine, though it had a cheddar sauce which was a bit overpowering. Good cheddar, at least, not just crappy Velveeta. A little too rich. The other dog though, seemingly the crown-jewel of their menu, was a dog fried in duck fat (psst, Hot Doug's!), and topped with a currant-and-apple relish, and some foie gras-based concoction. I have to say, the relish was great, but there was some flavor I was catching between the foie gras and the duck fat that I actually found really gross. Like, almost gag-reflex gross. This is probably my fault. I'm not blaming Prairie Dogs. It was a flavor I've experienced before, and didn't like it then, and don't like it now. Yuck. But anyway, the owner was working the bar, and seemed really decent and nice, and patient with his 20-year-old hipster employees, and we had a pleasant conversation about Robin Trower. And they had the Twins game on the TV. So I'll be back. Just, like, counter service. Please.