Piccolo X

Piccolo: Beef Tartare with Mushroom Puree
Will this be an account of our last meal at Piccolo? I hope not but they seem to be entirely booked up from now through their closing on March 11. I’m hoping we can get in one more time but if not, at least our last meal there will have been excellent. After eating there in mid-December and again over the New Year’s weekend, we went back again in late-January with another set of friends who are also big fans and we were all well pleased.

This review and, if we can indeed get in one more time, that of our next meal there will be the exceptions to my recent shift of emphasis to smaller immigrant-run restaurants. Piccolo was our favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities and I wanted to say farewell. Next week we’ll be back to Somali food.  Continue reading

My Application to Become Mall of America’s Writer-in-Residence

Mall of America
As you may have heard
,  Mall of America is marking its 25th anniversary. Just imagine: there was a time before Mall of America! Or maybe don’t imagine it: the horrible thought may drive you mad! As part of their celebrations, Mall of America is looking for a Writer-in-Residence, a “special scribe” who will receive the wondrous chance “to spend five days deeply immersed in the Mall atmosphere while writing on-the-fly impressions in their own words”. There are other prizes for the person who is chosen as this “special scribe” but isn’t the opportunity to spend five days in Mall of America prize enough? I think it is, and if you disagree then you have no business being alive! Anyway, I am applying and I am very confident that I will be selected. My submission will be an entirely original poem that I am calling “The Love Song of Mall of America”. I’m not going to give it all away here, of course, but for my loyal readers here is a little sample of the first draft. Enjoy as you would five days at Mall of America!  Continue reading

Glen Grant 23, 1985 (Whisky Import Nederland)

Glen Grant 23, 1985, WIN

Those who are disappointed that I am not reviewing very many whiskies these days will be thrilled to see that this week’s review is of a Glen Grant that was released in the Netherlands almost nine years ago. I will have some more recently released Glen Grants in the weeks to come—I recently hosted a vertical tasting of Glen Grant for members of my local tasting group—but I’m starting with this bottle which I’ve been dipping into regularly since I opened it.

For a lot of people Glen Grant is associated with sherry maturation but it’s a spirit that seems to do very well in bourbon casks as well. It’s not a distillery with a sexy reputation these days, and few people seem to get excited about bourbon cask whisky, especially unpeated bourbon cask whisky, but bourbon cask Glen Grant is well worth a look.  Continue reading

“A World Where Everything was Foreign?”: Stories by Fouad Laroui

Fouad Laroui
The stories in The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, the first English translation (by Emma Ramadan from the French) of the work of the Moroccan writer Fouad Laroui, are not united by setting: they take place in Casablanca, in Brussels, in Paris, in Utrecht. Nor are they united by form: in “Dislocation”, a repetitive, cumulative structure takes the reader into the mind of a man on the verge of psychic collapse; “What’s Not Said in Brussels” presents the same event from the point of view of two characters; “Fifteen Minutes as Philosophers” takes the form of a play; “The Night Before” recounts a nightmare; only the title story, perhaps, closely resembles what most people expect a short story to look like. What unites them is a comic sensibility. They don’t easily yield meaning or answers to the questions they pose but each makes you want to keep reading, both for the intellectual play and for the sheer verve of the storytelling.  Continue reading

Spice (Savage, MN)

Spice Thai: Satay
Spice is located in Savage, one of Minneapolis’ southern suburbs. And if the prosaic town of Savage can’t quite live up to its name, Spice also fails to deliver on its promise of “[T]he…only authentic Thai Cuisine South of the River”. (I’m not sure, by the way, if the restaurant’s name is just Spice or Spice Thai.) Once upon a time I would not have bothered to eat at a Thai restaurant in the suburbs, but having been pleasantly surprised by Thai Curry House we were optimistic. Well, if recent history has taught us anything it is that optimism leads naturally to dull disappointment. So it was for us at Spice. Our lunch here a few weeks ago was very disappointing. I know I said I’d be changing the focus of my restaurant reviews with a view towards supporting immigrant-run places but I can’t bring myself to say that a place like Spice is better than it is.  Continue reading

Glenburgie 19, 1995 (Signatory for Binny’s)

Glenburgie 19, 1995, Signatory for Binny's
I was not a big fan of the last Glenburgie I reviewed. That one, a 21 yo and also bottled by Signatory, was part of K&L’s uninspiring lot of single casks from late 2016. This one was bottled for Binny’s in Chicago—in 2014, I believe—and is in fact a sibling of another K&L cask, also 19 years old and from 1995 (K&L got cask 6449 and Binny’s got 6450). Well, I always say that when it comes to bourbon cask whisky I trust the Binny’s selection process far more than that of any other store in the US, and when first opened this bottle bore that out in spades: it was a perfect mix of oak and big fruit with tropical accents. I’d opened it for one of my local group’s tastings and it handily thumped the competition that night. Alas, with time and air in the bottle the fruit seems to have subsided somewhat on the palate—my last couple of small pours did not feature that explosion of fruit. Well, who knows, maybe it will come back again as the bottle sits [foreshadowing].  Continue reading

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes
It has been a while since I last posted a recipe for beans. It’s been almost a year, in fact; I don’t know how you’ve all coped. That recipe was for North Indian style rajma or red beans, cooked, in a bit of a twist, with cauliflower. Cauliflower aside, that was a simpler variation on the very first recipe I posted on the blog, for a more classic rajma preparation. This one is simpler still: there are no esoteric ingredients here (depending on how often you use powdered turmeric) and it’s not a very fussy prep. The result, however, is very tasty. It would probably be less tasty if you were to use beans from a source other than Rancho Gordo (full disclosure: the proprietor, Steve Sando, is one of my proteges). Their vaquero bean is what I used here—the colour and markings make for a striking presentation. And its texture and ability to hold its shape makes it perfect for the pressure cooker (which I deployed here as I was a bit pressed for time). You’re probably more modern than I am and have an Instant Pot; it should be easy enough for you to figure out how to adapt this recipe for it. But if you have time, the results will be even better if you just cook it long and slow on the stove. Continue reading

Moroccan Flavors (Minneapolis)

Moroccan Flavors
As I said last week, the focus of my restaurant reviews is going to shift for the foreseeable future to smaller, immigrant-run restaurants. I also said that I would be making more of an effort to get to restaurants serving the cuisines of countries and regions and peoples that have been targeted by the rhetoric and policies of the new administration in the United States, and in particular to Somali, North African and Middle Eastern restaurants. I had a review of a Somali restaurant last week (Nawal in Burnsville) and this week I have a review of Moroccan Flavors in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities do not have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to North African cuisines (and the well-regarded Saffron shut down last year) but I am happy to say that in Moroccan Flavors the region has a worthy representative.  Continue reading

Bowmore 2001, “Wanted: Rabbit Franky The Mohre” (Jack Wieber)

Bowmore 2001, Wanted: Rabbit Franky the Mohre
Here is another bizarrely named release of Bowmore from Jack Wieber’s “Wanted” series. This was distilled in 2001 and was released in 2012. I have so far reviewed two others in this series (see here and here); those had odd names too but not quite as odd as this one, which I think I would, on the whole, rather not have explained. Well, I did like both of those a fair bit, so if oddness of name maps on to quality of whisky then I should be in for a treat. Let’s see how it goes.

Bowmore 2001, “Wanted: Rabbit Franky The Mohre” (53.4%; Jack Wieber; bourbon cask; from a purchased sample)

Nose: A little blank at first but then it starts getting both fruity (melon, a bit of guava) and coastal (seashells, brine). On the second sniff it’s also quite custardy and there’s some sweet and prickly peat too now. Fruitier with time. With water it gets a little mentholated but the custardy fruit is still to the fore.  Continue reading

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb
As I’ve mentioned before, it is hard to imagine Indian food without some ingredients that came with European colonizers and traders from the Americas: chillies, tomatoes, potatoes. Cumin, however, is not one of those ingredients. Like pepper, it has been grown and used in South Asia for a very long time. And also like pepper, it is not in fact native to South Asia: it has been grown in many parts of Asia for a long time now and probably originates in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Traders on the spice/silk roads may have taken it to China, where it is an ingredient in the cuisines of the Northwestern regions and also in certain Sichuan dishes. For travelers across the Levant, North Africa and Asia in earlier eras, the aroma and flavour of cumin must have been a sign of the familiar in otherwise foreign lands. It has also gone West, of course, and is now a staple ingredient in a number of South and Central American cuisines. Indeed, it is hard to say now what cumin’s nationality is.  Continue reading

Coming Soon: A Shift in Focus

The Enigma of Arrival
[This post started out as the (overly-long) introduction to a review I posted yesterday of Nawal, a Somali restaurant in Burnsville, MN. So as to let that review stand on its own, I’ve split the part about my current shift in focus on the blog to this separate post.]

In the days after the US General Election I published a post titled “Lifestyle Blogging in Trump’s America?“. In it I noted the incongruity of blogging about whisky and food in a time when the confirmation and acceleration of political and social crisis seemed to be all around us. I concluded by saying that while it was necessary to move (further) into political action, it was also important to not let these dark developments make us foreclose on the possibility of pleasure. Well, two and a half months later I’m still refusing to foreclose on pleasure but, especially after the events of the last 10 days,  I am not feeling terribly motivated these days to sit down every night and write tasting notes on whisky (or brandy or rum).  Continue reading

Nawal (Burnsville, MN)

nawal

[This post originally had a very long introduction in which I laid out a short/medium-term shift in the focus of my blog: fewer whisky and fine dining reviews and a greater emphasis on smaller, immigrant-run restaurants and on books and films from the non-Western world. So as to let this review of Nawal stand on its own, I’ve split that stuff into its own post here.]

Nawal is a Somali restaurant in Burnsville, one of the southern suburbs of Minneapolis. Burnsville appears to have a large Somali population (Minnesota, as you may know, has the largest Somali population in the United States). I’ve not looked up census data for Burnsville but there’s a mosque/Islamic Center very close to Nawal, as well as a number of Halal markets and other Somali restaurants in the vicinity. It is a casual and relaxed restaurant; it is a gathering place for local Somalis but it’s also a good place to get an introduction to Somali comfort food. We’d already eaten there a few times in the last month or so (after noticing it en route to the nearby Thai Curry House) and I’d been planning to eventually write it up after we’d tried a big chunk of the menu. But after the events of Saturday we got a large group of friends together to go eat lunch there as a (very) small statement of solidarity and no time seemed better than the present for a review. Continue reading

Enmore 25, 1989, Demerara Rum (Faultline)

Enmore 25, 1989, Demerara Rum
As I made clear in my review of the Hampden 6 yo, I know nothing about Jamaican rum. I know even less about Demerara rum. And so I have nothing to say by way of introduction to this 25 yo rum from the Enmore distillery in Guyana except that it was bottled by K&L in California for their Faultline label and is long sold out. If you know more, please write in below.

Enmore 25, 1989, Demerara Rum (51.3%; Faultline; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Overripe bananas with brown sugar and caramel. Spicier on the second sniff with cinnamon and clove. Gets a little varnishy as it sits and there’s some dried paint in there too. Caramel is the top note with time and there’s a mildly smoky/leafy note too now. A little sweeter with water.  Continue reading

Zeera-Alu (Fried Potatoes with Cumin)

Zeera-Alu
This recipe is a variation on one I posted last year for sweet potatoes with cumin. I said of that one at the time that it might have been the simplest recipe I’d yet posted. This one is both a bit more and a bit less involved. A bit less because it has even fewer ingredients; a bit more because it has one extra, fussier step: it calls for the potatoes to be first boiled and then peeled and fried. For this reason this is unlikely to be a recipe you might make on a weeknight (when two pots for one dish might be one pot too many) but it makes a mean side dish for when you have more time to cook. It’s great right out of the pan and it’s also quite good when it’s cooled—so it’s also a good option for picnics and potlucks. The recipe calls for small, waxy potatoes but would work just as well with larger potatoes cut in half or thirds (just make sure they’re not too starchy).  Continue reading