Jihye Chang

April 2009

My Favorite Restaurants in Bloomington, IN

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I spent a good deal of my 20s in Bloomington, Indiana, where I got my graduate degrees and met my husband.

Our main activity while we were dating was eating out in various little restaurants in downtown Bloomington. Bloomington has a huge selection of ethnic restaurants (especially along the 4th street), and many of them are very lovely and still in business. The last time I was in Bloomington was January 2008 when I visited for a solo recital. Here are some of my (and Ben, my husband’s) favorite places.

Downtown/4th street area/ Square

•    Le Petite Café – owned and operated by real French people! A charming, lovely place with great home-style French food. Weird hours, though. 308 West 6th St. ****

•    Runcible Spoon – very friendly yet strange deco. Really nice breakfast and coffee. Good place to just hang out. This one is a bit difficult to find…can’t explain. 412 E 6th St. ***+1/2
•    The Bakehouse on the Downtown Square – great baguette (Especially when it’s just baked in the morning!!) and good sandwiches. It’s a pricey place but baguette is priced nicely, and their breads are very good. But they have lost their quality ever since they opened the second store on the 3rd street. ***+1/2
•    Samira on the downtown square– OK lunch buffet. Rare Afghanistan cuisine with elegant atmosphere. The food is awesome but it’s a bit pricey during the dinner time. ***
•    Malibu Grill on the square – very good contemporary American food (good steak and brick-oven pizza). A bit pricey. ***+1/2
•    Michael’s Uptown Café – Great breakfast/ good lunch deal/ OK Creole food. Make sure you try their Cottage Cheese Pancakes! Expect a very long wait for breakfasts, especially during weekends. *** (A lot of people really like “Village Deli” for the breakfast, but I did not care for it that much.)
•    Soma café – very good espresso and smoothies. Operates La Marzzoco machine. This place smells funny, though. ***

Drinks and pub
•    Upland brewery 350 W 11th St. – very nice dinner menu and good beer. Good place to hang out! 350 W. 11th Street ***
•    Irish Lion – great appetizers! (fried potato balls with Irsh name and soda breads are awesome. Also they have nice buffalo wings – get the sauce on the side!) Nice beer selection/ great hang-out, post-concert place.  ***
•    Lennie’s on 10th St. – good beer/ good and large sandwiches. Their food in general is decent, although it could be too huge and bland. ***
Splurge
Restaurant Tallent’s – this one is very famous (even featured on Bon Appetite magazine) and is a unique restaurant. It’s really pricey, and some people have complained about not-great food, but we loved it. Worth visiting for special occasions. ****
Truffle’s – near Kroger. Nice atmosphere, contemporary American cuisine. I really like their soup and appetizers as well as creme brulee! If you see a side item named “Truffle Potato Crocket,” you must try it! ****
Limestone Grill – good steak and seafood place. A bit “old” people atmosphere, though. ***1/2
Scholar’s Inn – very nice atmosphere, but their food is more pretentious than delicious. Still it’s a nice place for a good mood. **1/2 (this placed is owned by Bakehouse people)

Others – not my favorite, but good enough places

•    Soban on the 10th St. – OK Korean food at reasonable prices. Self service. No BBQ here. I used to go here to get “Tokpokki,” spicy rice cake snack, and “Budae Chigae,” spicy stew with sausages, ham and kimchi. ***
•    Mama’s Korean Restaurant – Drive along the 10th street, and go until you see a square mall on your left side, near a grocery store. Very good BBQ stuff! Also grilled mackarel is very good. *** (There are quite a few new Asian restaurants near Eigenman that I have not checked out.)

Dagwood on Indiana Ave. – good sandwich place. Locally owned, and better than Jimmy Johns. Huge portion. ***+1/2
•    Casa Blanca on the 4th St.– a bit pricey, but great food. The owner is a bit greedy, which was a big drawback. The food seems to have dropped the quality a bit recently. Sad thing… ***
•    Little Tibet on the 4th St.– a very popular place, but the food quality is uneven. Lunch is pretty cheap, though. Their Pad Thai, Momo (Tibetan dumplings), and Ping Sha (Thibetan glass noodle dish) are good enough to try. ***
•    Anatolia Turkish Restaurant
on 4th street is very good. Great bread and grilled stuff. ***
•    Esan Thai near the public library, on Lincoln – this restaurant used to be my favorite, but the food quality seemd a bit lowered when I ate there in 2008. Still serves really good Thai food. Service can be very frustrating. People seem to still like Siam House and the service is better there. Siam House Thai food is OK, but it’s on the salty side and it just feels like it comes from not-so-clean kitchen.  ***+1/2

Indianapolis Area

•    Capri’s Italian Restaurant near Keystone Shopping mall area– The best Bolognese sauce in the world! And the Bolognese is around $15. Also their lunch deal is pretty good. This is where Ben proposed to me, near the wine cellar!

•    Bando restaurant – on Pendleton Pike. Very good Korean food!

My favorite restaurants in Fargo-Moorhead area

Tuna Appetizer at Monk's Pub

Tuna Appetizer at Monk’s Pub

I have lived in Fargo-Moorhead area for about 1.65 years, and there are a few really good places for dining and having fun. One of my favorite restaurant is Sushi Time, and I found this place through someone’s blog. So I thought I would share my thoughts so that someone else can visit a great place in this area.

Silver Moon on Robert St – very well executed fine dining experience. It’s been open for less than a year (today is April 10 2009), but it seems to be thriving. Dessert menu was a bit disappointing but the duck dish (with campari infused sweet potato) my husband ordered was amazing. Great salad, great atmosphere, and great service. A bit loud, though. (no section or walls inside the restaurant, high ceiling, live performance. Hence lots of noise)

Update (January 25, 2010) – visited a few more times after posting this, including tonight. Still wonderful, some dishes are a bit too salty. My husband’s braised sort rib with gnocchi was wonderful. Still not happy with their dessert..

Update (April 2016) – Closed a while ago, and has been successfully turned over as “Mezzluna.” My friends (especially the Fargo Moorhead Symphony friends) seem to like it very much, and I would love to visit it sometime soon.

Stella’s (formerly Isabella’s)  – my favorite Italian place in town. Their food has a lot of garlic and a lot of tomato so some people may find it a bit strong, but I love it! Their appetizer tray, lasagna, seafood spaghetti, zuppa di pesce, and grilled sausages with peppers are fantastic. I also like their bread, especially when it comes fresh and warm from the oven. Nothing special, but good basic loaf to soak up oil, vinegar and lots of sauce from your plate. Nice chocolate cake and cheesecake for desserts. (Their tiramisu is a bit heavy on the alcohol side.) Service can be slow. Toscana is also an OK Italian restaurant in downtown, but they have very weird hours and their food tend to be really salty. I like their gnocchi and pea and ham spaghetti for a quick lunch. (Lunch pasta dishes are usually $7-8)

Update (April 2016): CLOSED! 

Usher’s/ Monk’s Bar – Best sashimi-grade tuna dish in town. (I tried sashimi tuna dishes in all the restaurants that I visited in this area.) They serve Tuna napoleon as an appetizer, and it’s $16 -But it comes with 6 big chunks of really good-quality tuna, slightly seared, with some spicy aioli and fried wonton wrappers. It’s better to order it from the Monk’s bar, not from Usher’s. You can have it as a main dish and add a soup or something, instead of ordering a main dish.  Good beer selection. Good atmosphere. Other dishes are OK. I love the atmosphere in the Usher’s dining room – nice wood interior with big windows.

Update: Monk’s Bar has Happy Hour from 3-6pm, and all the appetizers are half price. The garnish and presentation was different during this summer from the winter, but still delicious.

Maxwell’s – the best Creme Brulee in town. (And one of the bests I have had – creme brulee is one of my favorite desserts!) Main dish can be on the salty side. But they have great service and atmosphere. Special occasion pre-fix menu is fun, but maybe not that special. (And good things run out – we could not get the fried banana dessert on Valentine’s day.) Nice to place to try/ very good wine list.

John Alexander’s on Main Ave., Moorhead – right next door to the Juano’s. Nice atmosphere, nicely written menu. Their best meal and best deal is Sunday Brunch, not their lunch or dinner. (Hamburger and fish & chips are good, but other items may bring you a big disappointment.) I always have hard time deciding what to eat for brunch, and buffet is a bit too much for me. Here you can choose one from yogurt, granola and fruit sort of thing and then select your main dishes such as omelet and pancake.

HoDo – this place has a really nice feel to it, but their food is not my favorite. (It always seems to be trying too hard to be cool and the flavor of dishes is always off a little bit or lacking something.) I like their mini-desserts because of their fun size. Sorbet is the best choice. (Meyer Lemon sorbet was good.) Cool place to hang out and drink, although the bar area is a bit too loud for my taste.

Sarello’s in Moorhead, near the mall – I have been there only once, but it seemed to be popular and it was good. To me this restaurant was a bit over-priced, but the service was really nice and food was very well prepared. I had a seabass with cornmeal crust which was nice enough but not memorable like some of the dishes I had at the Silver Moon. I don’t even remember what my husband ordered here..! Nice bread and butter. It feels a bit boxy and crowded. (Probably because the space used to be an office.)

When you want to have good ribs or rotisserie chicken, Spitfire is a very nice place to visit. It’s locally owned and has a very pleasant, sporty, and comfortable atmosphere. Very good ribs and good desserts. Salad greens sometimes appear very sad and not-fresh, though. Doolittle is also nice for rotisserie stuff or other simple burgers and salads (Tuna nicoise salad is very good.) It’s spacious, friendly, and clean. Best of all, Doolittle’s kitchen is open until 11pm, which is rare in this area.

I also like Nichole’s pastry shop on 8th St. (off the Main Ave.) very much. It has really nice croissants and scones. Lunch sandwiches and salad are also reasonably priced and tasty. Nice tea selection and gelatos as well as beautiful chocolates (cocoa truffles!), but I don’t like their coffee too much. (They serve French pressed coffee. So it’s almost always fresh, but it’s just not my favorite type of coffee. Their espresso drinks are OK.) Their fruit pie during the spring-summer season is also nice. During the winter, check out the banana-cream pie and chocolate-sea salt-caramel tart -they are so yummy! Chocolate feuillentine is very good as well as chocolate caramel torte. I don’t like their cakes (vanilla cake, carrot cake, lemon curd cake, black forest cake are all OK but not great) or cookies that much, though. But it’s still one of the places in Fargo-Moorhead area that makes me happy. Very nice clerks, too.

Update (January 25. 2010) – Nichole’s is expanding!

One sad thing about being so far away from the ocean is that it’s really hard to get good sushi. Yuki Hana seems to be popular, but it is a mediocre place (or below mediocre) with overpriced items. Ingredients do not seem fresh (especially the teriyaki stuff – both meat and veggies) After a few visits, my husband and I decided not to go back.

Update (March 10, 2010): Yuki Hana has been closed for a while, but it will be open soon again. (Chef Sheng from Sushi Time got a job offer there.) Newly open Kobe’s is very popular, but I don’t like their sushi. It seems that the sushi rice quality is very poor, and the rolls are covered with too much sweet tasting sauce/ not enough fish in the rolls. My husband never wanted to go back after the first try, and I dragged him 3-4 more times. But now I know that I will probably not go back ever again.)

Another sad thing is that there is no decent Chinese restaurant in town, and there is no Korean restaurant. For Chinese food-cravings, I go to Little Szechuan in St. Paul. (My husband and I would make an excuse to go there!)

For Thai food, Leela on the 25th Ave. is nice, although it can be too sweet sometimes. Black and white slices are good as well as angel wings (pretty spicy). My husband’s favorite is their mango-duck curry and my favorite is basil stir-fry with tofu and eggplant. Fresh spring rolls and Pad Thai are better at Thai Orchid in Moorhead. I also like their Spicy Catfish, House Special Noodles and Thai fried rice.

Update (December 2009): Thai Orchid has changed their recipes for a lot of things. I like the old flavors of the Tom Yum and Yum Nua better. Also the fresh chili sauce is a lot more spicy. Still the Spicy Catfish is good as well as the fresh spring rolls are good.

I find it interesting that there are not many McDonalds or Wendy’s in town and there is no donut joint.  (Krispy Kreme went out of business last year!) But I suppose that’s a good thing.

I just wish someone will open a nice Korean restaurant or a noodle shop soon! The best location would be the Bison Block on the 12th..