Dracula, Paella and Drinking Organically

Where would Count Dracula dine if he visited the Twin Cities? We don’t have any Romanian restaurants, but if he misses the cooking of his native Transylvania (now a part of Romania), he’ll have a once-a-year opportunity on Saturday, July 26, when Saint Stephen Romanian Orthodox Church, Saint Paul, sponsors its annual Twin Cities Romanian Festival. The menu will feature Romanian sausage, grilled chicken, salad, Romanian pastries, beer and more. A Romanian music ensemble will perform in traditional costumes, and tours of the church will be offered.

On second thought, this probably isn’t a good bet for the Count: the festival will be held only during daylight hours (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.), and the tour of the church is sure to include an abundance of crosses.

July Special At Saffron: I’ve never really understood why the 112 eatery always seems to be jam-packed, and the terrific Saffron, right across the street at 123 N. 3rd Street is often half-empty. Don’t get me wrong – Isaac Becker is a great chef, and I love the food at 112 Eatery, but the decibel level can be awfully high, and the last couple of times I have tried to dine there, the wait for a table was longer than I could handle.

I have never had to wait for a table at Saffron, which, for my money, ranks as one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities — and offers a much quieter and more relaxing setting. Some of the entrĂ©es are a bit pricy, but there are also a couple of options for under $20, and sometimes we just share a few of the mezze (Middle Eastern tapas, $4-$6) or small plates (mostly $8-$10).

The owners call the cuisine "Mediterranean and Middle Eastern," but that doesn’t really convey the sophistication of chef-owner Sameh Wadi’s cooking. They’re offering a three-course tasting menu again this month, but this time it’s a dinner for two, for $55 — or $50 for a vegetarian version. The July menu starts with a selection of mezze, followed by paella for two — made with chicken, seafood and saffron-flavored rice, with assorted ice creams and sorbet for dessert. Call 612-746-5533 for reservations.

Drinking Organically at Agri: The cuisine at Cafe Agri, 4300 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis, may be a little too healthy for my tastes, but I would gladly go back, grab a sidewalk table and try some of their extensive list of organic and sustainably produced wines and beers, especially at these prices: lots of choices wines from Argentina, Chile and Italy, priced at $4.50 a glass or $18 a bottle, plus an interesting selection of organic and gluten-free beers, both domestic ($4) and imported ($7).