The Answer Man stole my thunder Monday with his column item on the new steakhouse planned at Treasure Island casino. I had that one in the bag and ready to go, but as usual, he’s one step ahead of me.
Nonetheless, it’s big news in the area restaurant world. I’ve never understood why Treasure Island doesn’t have a first-rate dining room, considering the quality and size of the hotel (500 rooms) and all the people with disposable income who are playing games in the casino. Iowa’s Diamond Jo casino, just south of Albert Lea, is much smaller, but it has one of the best restaurants in the area.
At Treasure Island, I like the Tradewinds Buffet a lot — no one goes away hungry or dissatisfied, and it’s reasonably priced — and there are a few cafes and bars, but none match up with what you expect of a top-notch resort.
Cindy Taube, TI’s public relations manager, said that’s what Tado aims to do. Tado is the Dakota word for meat, and it’ll have plenty of it — top prime and choice certified beef, locally sourced. It’ll also have bison and seafood on the menu, and watch the wine list. That’ll be a good indication of how serious they are with Tado.
The ribbon-cutting is at 3 p.m. Feb. 12, and I’ll let you know soon after how it goes.
Tasting rooms are open
Speaking of wine, don’t give up on area wineries just because the vineyards are buried in snow.
At Villa Bellezza, the Italian-styled winery in Pepin, Wis., about 10 miles from Wabasha, the tasting room is open daily year-round except for Christmas and Easter. We stopped by a few weekends ago, and there were about a dozen people sampling wines and nibbling on oyster crackers.
An employee told me the winery was recently named one of the top 10 wedding reception venues in the U.S. for 2015. I checked that out, and in fact, it was named a Best Wedding Venue by Brides magazine. Villa Bellezza’s digital marketing manager, Cicci Laffey, said that puts them in the top 50 in the nation and top 10 in the Midwest.
It’s the second year running for that award, and they’ve also notched the WeddingWire’s Couples’ Choice Award for the second year in a row. That one’s based on being in the top 5 percent of reviews posted online at WeddingWire.com.
If you’ve been to Villa Bellezza, you know why it gets top reviews as a romantic event center — it’s like a hilltop winery in Tuscany dropped into the fields just east of Lake Pepin. The architecture is picturesque and well-crafted, the courtyard is a luxurious place to sip wine in summer, and they’re serious about wine-making.
Tastings are inexpensive and a nice diversion on a winter day. Three modest samples cost $5. For the record, I like the 2011 Terra best of all. It’s a medium-bodied dry red, complex and peppery, more like a Syrah than a Zin. It’s a blend of Foch, Marquette and Frontenac grapes and it spends time in French oak barrels. The Terra won a silver medal in the Monterey International Wine Competition.
Shelling out for clam chowder
Next week, it’s time to honor the Four Stars of clam chowder in the seven-county Rochester area. I’ve tried some of the best around, though it’s mostly a Friday soup du jour around here — not many restaurants aside from Red Lobster have it as a regular attraction on the menu. At the Loop in Rochester, I was lucky enough to find it Sunday night when my wife and I went out to drown our sorrows after the Green Bay Packers’ devastating loss.
I haven’t given up hope on finding a bowl of Manhattan clam chowder before I write the review next week. So far, all the chowders are white like a Minnesota winter but delicious.