Minneapolis Staycation Project ’08 – Part IV

At 10:30 the next morning, I was still full. In 38 years of enthusiastic binge-eating, that has never happened. Beware Fogo de Chão.

Despite the absence of the usual morning void in my stomach, I was looking forward to my 11 o’clock brunch date at Cosmos inside the Graves 601 Hotel. I’d already absorbed the online weekend brunch menu and was mentally sick with desire for the three course meal, including a mimosa pick-me-up. At $30 per person, it’s probably not something you want to indulge in every weekend, but occasional brunches like this should be an essential, restorative part of life. Indeed, go ahead and call it a ‘mental health brunch’, that way you can charge it back to your insurance company.

Cosmos is only seven blocks from my building, but the walk was a demoralizing challenge what with acute Paintball-itis radiating out of my quadriceps. I assumed a pitiable stiff-walk the entire way that appeared as if I’d just eaten a handful of laxatives and they were hitting their mark.

Though I was assured over the phone that weekend brunch at Cosmos would be a madhouse and I should make reservations, we when arrived we were only one of about four tables. All the better for us, because we got our mimosas chop-chop and were never left wanting for attention from our doting server.

Though it had been over 14 hours since I’d left my plate at Fogo de Chão, if I closed my eyes tight I could still see red meat and garlic mashed potatoes. My body was crying out for some kind of neutralizer. I started with the fresh berry fruit smoothie, which came in a heaping glass, all purple and chunkily delicious. My companion opted for the fruit plate with a gorgeous variety of vibrant and juicy sliced fruit.

True to form, I chose the fluffy omelet for the main course, filled with salmon, onions, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of fried potato chunks on the side. My companion got the picture-perfect eggs benedict. Had I not ingested the equivalent mass of a prize-winning buffalo in the previous 24 hours, I might have questioned the size of the portions, but as it was I viewed these dainty dishes as blessings.

We finished with the precariously rich chocolate gateau. My companion couldn’t finish hers, so I did the gentlemanly thing, to save her honor, and gobbled it down. I’d make the best Secret Service agent ever – for the First Lady of Chocolate Island. We left over two hours later, sated and at peace with the universe.

At this stage, the pace and injuries sustained on my so-called staycation were starting to show. It felt as if I had spent the entire time either wreaking heavy damage or recovering from it. Moderation has always eluded me, but this was getting ridiculous. It was time to consult my staycation schedule and move some stuff around. Things like the wholesome ride I’d planned with my biking-obsessed father had to be nixed entirely since I was too shattered to even lift my bike down from its hook, much less ride it anywhere. Showing organizational efficiency that I only have in my wildest dreams while writing guidebooks, seconds later I had a new schedule that conveniently allowed me to sit on my couch for the remainder of the day.

The next, and last, day of my staycation revolved entirely around a simple event: dinner. I was doing it Southern Euro-style, where one spends half the day puttering from shop to market to shop, with their two-wheeled grocery cart, picking up just the right ingredients, performing exploratory prods and sniffs, resolutely putting back any items that did not meet approval, shooting an accusatory look at the merchant for trying to sell unsatisfactory products… Actually, my shopping was far less exacting and Italian granny-like, but there were indeed precise items to buy at singular shops in anticipation of a glorious dinner that would go down in the pages of history of my condo.

All in due time of course. First there was an omelet to be eaten, TV to be watched and internet to be surfed. Somewhere around the crack of 2pm, I reluctantly put on some clothes and departed for my first objective, Legacy Chocolates in St Paul. I’d been hearing about this place for over a year, and how they were known for an obsessive-compulsive devotion to chocolate that would shame an autistic stamp collector. I’d been putting off a visit here due to my busy schedule, the prohibitive price and the legitimate fear that I’d never be able to eat normal chocolate again. But dammit I was on staycation – my new favorite, exonerating rationale for getting away with decadent behavior – so what better time to spoil myself and risk never again giving my business to Nestlé?

The shop was small, manned by a single guy who you could tell at first glance was one of the happiest minimum wage earners since beach trash collectors in Saint Tropez when women started going topless. And for good reason. It smelled like God’s hot chocolate mug in there. Walking in the front door, I had to stifle the impulse to break out in “Ode to Joy”.

I informed the chocolate man that it was my first time at Legacy and the lively lecture began. First you must decide on the flavor of truffle you want, choosing between port, chipotle, champagne, mint, espresso, coconut, bourbon, raspberry, caramel, caramel pecan, almond, double, classic and more. Then you have to choose between four cocoa intensities for each flavor: 41, 68, 85 or 99 percent. Oh the heart-wrenching decisions. I eventually just asked the chocolate man to grab a couple of each and cram them into a 24 count box. While that was going on, I munched on a sample ‘classic’ truffle with a heart-stopping 99% cocoa intensity. It tasted exactly like the kind of overpowering sin that could compel Saint Peter to clothesline Jesus and kick him in the kidneys.

With one last deep snort of chocolate fumes, I left Legacy to catch the bus down Marshal/Lake to get more supplies. Time has never moved as slowly as when I stood at that bus stop, under a brutal sun, waiting for a very overdue bus with $43 worth of exceptionally meltable chocolate in my backpack.

After a quick visit to Cub Foods, I had to walk six blocks, carefully keeping my truffles in the shade provided by my own body to protect them from the sun’s continuing punishment, to my final destination, Coastal Seafoods. Again, everything I knew about Coastal Seafoods was via reverent second-hand stories and write-ups on local Best Of lists. I knew they had the city’s best selection of fresh seafood (which is no small task in Minneapolis) and other dazzling extravagances like Kobe beef. For some reason I got it in my head that it would be like the seafood markets you see in Mediterranean countries: a giant warehouse of tiny stalls, each specializing in a few items, some of them manned by guys that had been fishing since 3am, with rows of crab, shrimp, giant squid, sea monkeys and the odd Coelacanth.

Disappointingly, Coastal Seafoods was just a tiny shop, manned by totally sober guys that never once yelled out their specials or cursed at the soccer game on TV, but all the important stuff was there and I immediately homed in on the tuna steak that I wanted. After a short conversation with the guy behind the counter on preparation and the age-old debate on sauces versus marinades, I was on my way, another four, hurried sun-soaked blocks to the light rail station.

Once home, I checked that all my expensive food had survived the relentless sun. Of course the only way to check that the chocolate was OK was to eat several of them. There are really no words to describe these truffles. While eating them, your shoulders slump, your pupils dilate and dreamy visuals begin to wash over you. With perfect clarity, you see the room full of naked angels, saints and virgins sitting along an assembly line, painstakingly preparing the truffles. After carefully rolling them by hand over their supple breasts and using their bellybuttons to round out the tops, they’re sent to the end of the line where Shawn Johnson lovingly kisses each truffle before individually sealing them. Mmm.

In fact these truffles are only slightly less divinely prepared. Legacy Chocolates slips a manifesto into all its boxes called “The Truth about Real Chocolate” adapted from “Real Chocolate” by Chantal Coady. It goes into great detail about the strict ingredients and how chocolate is actually startlingly healthy for you. Of course, I’m talking about proper chocolate, not the M&Ms and Hershey bars that are half full of vegetable fats, artificial flavorings and earwax.

Chocolate with high cocoa content, like above 50% (though 70% is better), is proven to actually lower blood-cholesterol levels, unlike ‘fast chocolate’ which only has about 5% cocoa and is loaded with nasty trans-fats. It has the naturally occurring antidepressant phenyl ethylamine which boosts energy levels, mental alertness and even relieves pain. Real cocoa butter is rich in antioxidants, which destroy unhealthy free radicals and boosts the immune system, verily preventing cancer! And chocolate can actually help with weight loss and diabetes! Sweet mother of God, you can’t afford to not eat this chocolate. Think about your health, people!

Having exhaustively basked in the glory of being a prudent and wise truffle eater, I began to prepare for dinner. My companion arrived shortly and we (mostly she) prepared a delectable mango chutney for the tuna steaks. A mango marinade or sauce would have been better, but there was no time for that business. I’d built up a hankering for tuna during all that errand running. As is often the case when I’m starving, it was prepare and eat or strip naked and freak. I coated a pan with extra virgin olive oil, heated it up and seared each side of my tuna slab for 60 seconds. That was it. Wine was poured, dinner was served, arias were sung, and for the 3,575th time since I hatched the cockamamie plan to become a travel writer, I toasted my staggering genius.

I belatedly realized what I should have been doing for my entire staycation: buying pricey food, having a kindly friend come over and prepare most of it and then languidly consuming the products of that labor. It was the perfect way to end the weekend and I managed to pull it all off without injuring myself (further) or passing out on the toilet.

The occasional mock-warfare melee notwithstanding, staycationing is about simplicity, leisure and pure joy. There’s no jet lag to endure, impertinent airline employees to rage against, or culture to shock you. The allure of zapping off to Paris will never die, but with only a quarter of the money and one tenth the effort, one can conceivably develop a staycation that will bring about the same, if not more, satisfaction and lasting memories. I don’t care what kind of hijinks you get yourself into in Paris, you’ll never wake up with a 200 mile radius restraining order from Alicia Sacramone’s attorney taped to your door. Priceless.

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