Down the Garden Path

Christoforides readily admits that when she and her husband opened Gardens of Salonica nearly eight years ago they chose to create a populist restaurant, not a gourmet one: "If we charged $15 a plate, we could do all organic, all local, but we charge $9 a plate--which makes us one of the best meal deals in the Cities." True enough: A leisurely, gimme-all-you-got, belt-busting three-hour meal--boughatsa, a dip or three with bread, soup or salad, an entrée, dessert, wine, and coffee--might only run $25 a person.

As a critic, I feel torn between my expectations and real life. On one hand I've had to accept that certain cuisines--Greek, Spanish, and Mexican spring to mind--aren't represented locally with any visionary magnificence, and on the other hand a goodhearted place like Gardens of Salonica doles out soup pots of hospitality, platters of goodwill, and heaping banquets of gracious generosity. Especially when I consider the many, many rotten restaurants I've been to lately--the ones where the guest is nothing but a cog in someone's money-making scheme, where one fights to get a table, does battle with stubborn staffers and in return gets only cost-cutting lowest-common-denominator food--Gardens of Salonica inspires me. It makes me want to take a megaphone and march up and down the avenues hooting: This is not rocket science, people! Be gracious, give the people some food, and they will adore you! It's not that hard.

 

TABLEHOPPING

CATCH THE NOODLE: And you thought yo-yos were impressive. Flying through the air, zing zing, loop-de-loop, walk the dog. Whatever. Let's see what you think after watching noodle master Tseing Wang swing and toss dough into 1,000-strand Chinese dragon's beard noodles (long xu main). Chef Wang, owner of San Francisco's San Wang and a native of Shandong in northern China, is in town for Big Bowl's Noodle Festival this Monday and Tuesday May 3 and 4, and he will be noodle-throwing at the Galleria'sBig Bowl restaurant on those days at 12:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. My advice? Gather a party of six or more as soon as possible and make reservations at the ultrapopular spot; call (612) 928-7888. And hey, if you're too cool to be wowed by thousand-strand noodles, you can always throw down in the kids' "Doodle the Noodle" contest.

ESCARGOTS OPTIONAL:This Tuesday, May 4, also sees the monthly meeting of an informal wine club at Caffé Solo. These tastings--which cost $25, start at 6:30, and feature a tapas or antipasti menu to go along with the wines--are the brainchild of Solo owner Dave King, who loves wine, but hates the pretense and expense that accompany many oenophilic gatherings. "The idea," says King, "is to have a wine club for people who want to know more about wine but don't want to spend $75 to $100 to have some Frenchman lecture them while slugging snails out of the escargot shells." Themes for the Solo dinners vary: Sometimes it's as simple as exploring the wines of a varietal or a geographic region, other times it's a playful premise like comparing wines grown at similar elevations. King's coup de grâce: "I keep the last wine of the evening in a bag, and everybody tastes it, and everybody has to take a guess as to what that wine is--sometimes it's related to the previous wines I've been talking about, sometimes it's not." To get on the informal e-mail list that alerts interested parties to upcoming gatherings, send a note to Caffé Solo (123 N. Third St., Minneapolis, MN 55401; solo@bitstream.net). If you want to go to the one this Tuesday just call the restaurant, (612) 332-7108, so they know how many to cook for. Or don't: "We appreciate an RSVP, but it's not critical," says King, no doubt causing a lecturing Frenchman somewhere to fling away his escargot in disgust.

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