Fall swings in with sweeterfare and dueling buffets
Have restaurants taken to gas-station tactics -- launching price wars to lure customers? Take a midday stroll to the end of Nicollet Mall and the beginning of Nicollet Avenue, and you'll find yourself in a buffet face-off: sidewalk signs advertise $6.95 lunch buffets on opposite sides of the street.
Ping's Szechuan Bar and Grill, 1401 Nicollet Ave., offers its buffet Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Offerings include conventional Chinese fare, such as chicken wings, cream cheese puffs, fried rice, beef with vegetables, sweet-and-sour chicken or pork, egg rolls, salads and Szechuan potatoes.
Directly across the street, New Delhi Bar and Restaurant, 1400 Nicollet Ave., offers both vegetarian and meat dishes on its lunch buffet, seven days per week. The weekday buffet runs 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; weekend hours are slightly extended, but the price increases slightly to $8.95. The spread includes salads, appetizers, fruit, desserts, chicken curry, tandoori chicken, and beef and vegetarian dishes.
On the other end of Downtown, Conga Latin Bistro, 501 Hennepin Ave. E., recently inaugurated its own lunchtime buffet. The Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., buffet runs $8.95 and includes Caribbean and American specialties, such as Jamaican jerk chicken, baby back ribs, noodle dishes, salads, soups and desserts, with the line-up changing daily.
For lighter lunch fare, there is a new Au Bon Pain bakery caf/ in Baker Center, 109 S. 7th St. This is the third Au Bon Pain Downtown (the other two are at 225 S. 6th St. and in the IDS' Crystal Court, 80 S. 8th St.).
The Boston-based chain is now pitching its artisan breads, featuring a chocolate-cherry bread, made with organic flour, as well as baguettes, multigrain and others. More types of artisan breads will be introduced throughout the rest of 2004.
Hot chocolate - Cosmos-style
Cosmos, 600 1st Ave. N. in the Le Meridien hotel, has recently announced a slew of changes.
The upscale club and restaurant hired a new executive pastry chef, Jonathon Saliba, formerly of the Ritz Carlton in Beaver Creek, Colo. And Saliba has introduced a few new desserts to the Cosmos menu, which will have you clamoring for your fork and spoon.
In late August, he launched his latest decadent morsel: a chocolate sphere, a substantive ball of chocolate filled with nougatine, pastry cream and fruit. The chocolate lover's marvel is then topped with a dose of hot chocolate sauce, causing the sphere to start to dissolve and expose its contents as it arrives at your table. Ooh la la!
The restaurant has also recently introduced some new menus, as well as a Saturday-Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
"It's something we thought Downtown residents would like. We'd like to become known as a Downtown brunch location," says Executive Chef, Seth Bixby Daugherty.
Brunch is "prix fixe," you pick three courses for $25. You can choose from eight first courses (featuring sweet corn soup, lobster salad, a fruit plate and scallop carpaccio), eight entr/e courses (including eggs benedict, crab cakes and fillet of beef) and, of course, dessert. (Follow the wisdom of the chocolate lover to the aforementioned sphere.)
In addition to the new brunch, Cosmos is also featuring a new caviar menu at night, with three types available daily at a market price and a complementary list of sparkling wines and champagnes. Also available now is a daily tasting menu. The menu includes five courses for $50; add $25 if you want to sample wine paired with each course.
Charity and chocolate
Mark your calendars! The Twin Cities Chocolate Extravaganza will make its debut Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 13-14 at International Market Square, 275 Market St. The show will feature two days of exhibits wherein spectators can sample chocolates and desserts prepared by local chocolatiers and chefs.
In addition to the exhibitors, the show will house a demo room outfitted with a gourmet kitchen, courtesy of Dacor. The demo room will keep chocolate lovers entertained with demonstrations by local chefs, wine tastings, lectures, and amateur and professional competitions.
Some event proceeds will go to the Make-a-Wish foundation to help make the wishes of seriously ill children come true.
Tickets are on sale at ticketworks.com or 343-3390, and at Maud Borup locations, including 651 Nicollet Mall. Entry is $15 for adults and $10 for children (ages 6-12), but tickets purchased in advance are $5 off.
Send food-related tips and Downtown restaurant news to Tammy Sproule Kaplan at email@example.com.