Pork and Squash with Roasted Cumin


Many years ago the top Sichuan restaurant in Los Angeles—which is to say in the San Gabriel Valley, which is to say in the US—was Chung King in Monterey Park. In the early 2000s we ate there almost as often as we now do at Grand Szechuan here in the Twin Cities metro. Indeed, when we left Los Angeles for Boulder in 2003 there was a period when if one of us had to go back to L.A for a few days they were tasked with picking up an order of our favourite dishes the evening before their return, freezing it and bringing it back in their suitcase. We’re not as insane anymore—and, of course, Chung King’s heyday faded long ago, as they moved, lost their chef and closed; and as newer and, let’s face it, even better Sichuan restaurants opened in the SGV (your Chengdu Tastes and your Szechuan Impressions). Why am I going on about Chung King? Well, because on one occasion we saw a special come out of the kitchen and head to another table: it looked like a kabocha squash stuffed with meat. We managed to order one too and it did indeed turn out to be kabocha stuffed with highly spiced ground pork and cooked together. The only other thing I remember clearly is that it was dynamite and that we never had any luck finding it again. Continue reading

Hazelburn 12, 2009 Release


Springbank week began with the 2019 release in the Local Barley series. It continues with a Hazelburn 12 released a decade before that. This is one of many bottles that I purchased in the 2008-2012 timeframe—also known as The End of the Golden Age of Single Malt Whisky—and never got around to opening (on account of having purchased too many bottles of whisky at the time). Well, I’m opening them up now one by one and the time of this Hazelburn has come.

As you doubtless know, Hazelburn is the triple-distilled, nominally unpeated whisky produced at Springbank. I say “nominally unpeated” because among the Hazelburns I’ve reviewed (not very many) is one that had fairly palpable peat. That was an 8 yo from a bourbon cask. I’ve also reviewed another 8 yo doubled matured in a Sauternes cask and more recently a 14 yo from an oloroso sherry cask. I liked them all fine but none got me very excited (I scored them all in the 84-86 point window). This one also clearly has a heavy sherry component—let’s see where it falls. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 54: Aroma Indian Cuisine (Bloomington, MN)


I’m going to keep a promise for a change. I said last week that this week’s pandemic report would be of either a return to Peninsula or a first outing at a new(er) Indian restaurant in Bloomington and I keep my word. This is a review of Aroma, a new(er) Indian restaurant in Bloomington. They opened in April 2020—talk about perfect timing—in the exact same location as the erstwhile Surabhi—a place whose lunch buffet I’d liked more than I’d expected to in 2019 even as I worried about their prospects given the desolate feel of the restaurant when I ate there. Of course, in 2021, many restaurants have no one in them. And even though Aroma is open for dining-in, when I arrived at 11.45 on a Saturday to pick up a large order there was nobody eating there. There were, however, clearly doing a brisk takeout business, which I was glad to see. Here’s what we thought of what we ate. Continue reading

Springbank 10, 2009, Local Barley


Having done a week of reviews of highland malts, let’s go all the way down south from Tain to Campbeltown for a week of reviews of whiskies from the Springbank distillery: two Springbanks and a Hazelburn.

Let’s begin with a Springbank 10. This is part of the vaunted Local Barley series; it was distilled in 2009 and bottled in 2019. Another 10 yo was released in 2020 in the same series but that one was, I believe, matured entirely in oloroso casks. This one is put together in a complicated manner, involving 77% bourbon cask whisky, 20% sherry cask whisky and 3% port cask whisky. I’m sure there are people who swear by that 3% of port casks but I’ll be shocked if I’ll be able to find any trace of it here. I won’t be shocked, however, if I like this a lot. I’ve liked all the others I’ve had in the Local Barley series a lot: I’ve previously reviewed a 16 yo, an 11 yo and a 9 yo. That 9 yo was also from the 2009 vintage but I think it was made in altogether more conventional way. At any rate, if this is as good as that one was I’ll be very happy indeed. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading

Housekeeping: Restaurant Map


Just a short note to say that having had lots of better things to do last evening I instead spent some time updating the Google map of my restaurant reviews. It turns out I hadn’t done so for almost two years. All the places I’ve reviewed in the Twin Cities metro are now on the map along with links to my reviews of them. This map can be found at the bottom of the Minnesota restaurant reviews page. There are currently 127 restaurants in the metro listed there—not included are some places that had closed by the time I first made the map. I continue to recommend the big cluster on University Avenue in St. Paul as the area most worth your time. At some point I might explore making some layers that allow sorting of the restaurants by cuisine etc. Though I don’t know if I want to do quite so much work for my friend Chad, who is, as far as I know, the only person who uses this map. Continue reading

Glenmorangie 16, 1993 (SMWS 125.22)


Highlands week started at Dalwhinnie and then moved up north to Dalmore. Let’s go a bit further north today, to Tain and the Glenmorangie distillery. I noted on Wednesday that independent Dalmore is a pretty rare commodity; the same is true of Glenmorangie, indeed, even more so. As per Whiskybase, Dalmore has been bottled by a number of indie outfits; for Glenmorangie, on the other hand, Whiskybase lists very little. It’s a rare distillery that doesn’t have any releases from either Gordon & MacPhail or Cadenhead but Glenmorangie is one of them. Whiskybase shows only one mini from James MacArthur and then a fairly large number of releases from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The fact that Glenmorangie now owns the SMWS doubtless has something to do with the fact that that is the one indie bottler that gets a number of their casks. As a result it’s also the place to go to try Glenmorangie’s whisky outside of the wine-finished high-concept format that rules their official lineup beyond the 10 and 18 yo. This whisky is one of those: a 16 yo from a first-fill bourbon barrel that the Society saw fit to dub “Vibrant and exotic”. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Sour Fish Curry with Coconut Milk and Kokum


I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions that pompano is one of our very favourite fish in the US. Perhaps because it’s not a fish that lends itself to being sold in fillet form, it’s not available in mainstream grocery stores—not that I’ve seen anyway. But if you have Vietnamese or other stores catering to Southeast Asian customers in your area chances are good that you will find frozen or thawed pompano there. Frozen is, of course, better as that way you won’t need to cook it up right away—unless you live right by where pompano is brought to shore it’s coming to your store frozen so if you buy it thawed and bung it in your freezer when you get home you’ll be freezing and then thawing it a second time. So if it’s not frozen when you buy it I recommend cooking it up the same day or the next. And I highly recommend this recipe when you do. Don’t have pompano? Fillets of a mild white fish such as mahi mahi or even orange roughy will do. In a pinch, so will salmon. If you have access to pomfret that would work just as well in place of the pompano. Continue reading

Cromarty’s Firth/Dalmore 13, 2007 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)

Cromarty's Firth:Dalmore 13, 2007, Hepburn's Choice
Let’s stay in the highlands but go 75 miles or so up the A9 from Dalwhinnie to Dalmore.

Dalmore sits on Cromarty Firth, hence presumably the name of this release—though why the possessive has been added to the name I do not know. I haven’t had official Dalmore in ages—not since the prices for their regular releases rose sharply, though not as sharply as the rate of release of bullshit from the distillery, whether in bottled or marketing form. Still, independently bottled Dalmore is very rare on the ground and just as rare is bourbon cask Dalmore and so this is very intriguing on the face of it. As with a number of K&L’s recent round of cask exclusives, this one is teaspooned. I assume that is the distillery’s way of making sure that no independent whisky appears with the name Dalmore on the label. My experience so far of these teaspooned K&L casks has been middling. I was not overly impressed by either the 28 yo John McCrae/Balvenie or the 23 yo Hector Macbeth/Glenfiddich. Will this Dalmore set a new trend? I hope so as I have a few more of these teaspooned casks left to review. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 53: Back to On’s Kitchen (St. Paul, MN)


Back in the winter we went 3 months between Thai meals, going after a very good lunch from On’s Kitchen in November on a long, unplanned and unfortunate fast that we only broke with takeout from Bangkok Thai Deli in February. We haven’t made a mistake like that since, having been back a month later in March to Thai Cafe. And, less than a month past that meal, we went back this past weekend to On’s Kitchen to pick up another large order to eat on our deck with friends. The weather this weekend was nowhere as warm as on the previous but as long as it isn’t snowy or icy or raining we’re eating outside with vaccinated and cautious friends every chance we get. This too was a good meal, if falling a bit short, on the whole, of November’s. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Dalwhinnie 15


Here’s an old standby that I have never reviewed and which I last tasted so long ago that I do not remember when it was. Dalwhinnie is one of those distilleries that Diageo plucked out of obscurity by including it in its Classic Malts lineup in days of yore but—like Glenkinchie from the same lineup—it has never really had much of a profile. Very little Dalwhinnie has ever been released—indeed, until the recent NAS “Winter’s Gold” release this 15 yo was the only regular release from the distillery. It was also included in Diageo’s random Game of Thrones money grab and that’s the only Dalwhinnie I’ve reviewed on the blog until now. An older Dalwhinnie was in Diageo’s Special Release lineup last year; it got good reviews but I’m never going to be tasting that. Given the paucity of independent releases my count of Dalwhinnie reviews is not likely to rise dramatically any time soon—though I should try to track down a sample of the Winter’s Gold at some point. I am nonetheless glad to double my current count with this review. Continue reading

Kim’s Asian Market (St. Paul, MN)


We were back in St. Paul on Saturday for a pandemic takeout run—this time from On’s Kitchen (review coming on Tuesday)—and combined it with some quick Korean grocery shopping from Kim’s on Snelling. Despite the fact that we’ve been shopping here since pretty much our first month in Minnesota back in 2007 I’ve somehow never done one of my grocery store reports on them. And so here now is a quick look at what you can expect to find at one of the Twin Cities’ Korean mainstays, which sits across Snelling Avenue from both Pho Pasteur and Sole Cafe and only a few blocks away from the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street, University Avenue. Continue reading

Loch Lomond 12 “Perfectly Balanced”


Let’s close out Loch Lomond week with the new Loch Lomond 12. Well, I’m not actually sure if there is anything new about this version of the 12 yo beyond the packaging and the “Perfectly Balanced” epithet it now bears. The Inchmurrin 12 and Inchmoan 12, you may recall, go by “Fruity & Sweet” and “Smoke & Spice” respectively. As to whether this Loch Lomond 12 is meant to be the perfect balance between those two or represent some more Platonic perfect balance of malt whisky character, I don’t know. I do know that I liked the last Loch Lomond 12 I tried and if this is at least as good I will be happy. I’ll be happier still if the distillery knocks off its dubious marketing claims re its origins—which decidedly do not go back to 1814 no matter what their packaging may claim. Why they insist on selling this bogus claim when they make interesting and rather unique whisky that can stand on its own merits I really can’t say. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Dum Alu with Sesame and Peanut


Is there a term in India now for home cooking that wanders over the map and isn’t strictly regional? Whatever that term might be, it would describe this recipe (and also most of my cooking these days). I’m calling this dum alu but it looks and tastes nothing like the Bengali alur dom or broadly North Indian dum alu I am most familiar with. It looks like it could be Kashmiri dum alu but really the flavours are borrowed from a range of South Indian preparations. Its most immediate relative or inspiration is probably the Hyderabadi baghare baingan. That’s where the sesame seeds and peanuts probably come from, but there’s no coconut here and also no onions or garlic. If there is indeed a regional version of dum alu or some other potato curry that is made like this, please let me know. It is almost impossible to come up with anything new in the Indian context, given the vastness of the country’s foodways. What I can tell you for sure is that this is a very tasty dish, one that works very well as a side or a main. Give it a go. Continue reading

Inchmoan 12 “Smoke & Spice”


Here is another whisky from the distillery that has for some reason decided to mislead people about its history/origins even though they make whisky that can stand on its own merits.

Actually, Loch Lomond makes a number of different styles of whisky. On Monday I reviewed the new Inchmurrin 12 and today I have a review of the new 12 yo version of  Inchmoan aka the whisky with the most unintentionally and comically dirty name in all of Scotland. My understanding is that Inchmoan is essentially peated Inchmurrin, made the same way except with peated malt. Like Inchmurrin, and a few of the other Loch Lomond variants, Inchmoan is named for an island in Loch Lomond—the loch not the distillery. How exactly it differs from Loch Lomond’s other peated whiskies—Inchfad and Croftengea among them—I don’t know but someone else can doubtless tell us. Unlike the Inchmurrin, I don’t believe there’s ever been a regular release of Inchmoan and so this 12 yo—which bears the epithet “Smoke & Spice”—may be a newcomer to the stable. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 52: Back to Homi (St. Paul, MN)


Those who read my pandemic takeout posts regularly know that we’ve been wanting and planning to get back to Homi for a while now. Something or the other has been getting in the way. We could have hit them up a week ago but the weather that weekend was not going to be conducive to outdoor dining and so we decided to do a Vietnamese meal (from Trieu Chau) by ourselves. This past weekend, however, was a different story. It was warm and sunny which meant we could return to pandemic deck lunching with friends—which in turn meant we could get a very large order from Homi, with most of our favourite dishes on it. And so we did. And it was good. Continue reading

Inchmurrin 12 “Fruity & Sweet”

At some point recently the Loch Lomond distillery revamped their slate of official releases. At the entry-level now are three 12 yo malts, all very fairly priced: an Inchmurrin, an Inchmoan (basically peated Inchmurrin) and a Loch Lomond. The Inchmurrin is billed as “Fruity & Sweet”, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has had malts from this label or any malts really produced in the last decade or so at Loch Lomond: they all tend to be fairly fruity, Inchmurrin in particular. Also at some point recently—more regrettably—the Loch Lomond distillery decided to engage in some pretty dishonest marketing about their history. I’ve gone over this in a separate post last month: essentially, despite only having been founded in 1965 or 1966 they are now claiming a history going back to the early 1800s. This is really regrettable as the whisky they’re making can stand on its own merits. I will admit that it’s been a bit of a quandary for me whether to review these whiskies from the distillery or not, given their dishonest marketing. I decided finally to go ahead but to foreground that dishonest marketing each time. I do hope they’ll knock it off soon. Continue reading

Favourite Dishes Eaten in the Twin Cities Metro: Jan 1-March 31, 2021


In the Before Times I used to post a quarterly round-up of the top 5 dishes we’d eaten in the Twin Cities metro in the previous three months. I don’t think I posted any of those last year—it’s hard to remember through the pandemic fog. But here is a new edition that covers the first quarter of 2021. Through the pandemic I have damped down my normal critical impulses and have focused on the positives of all the meals we’ve eaten. This hasn’t actually required any fudging of the facts—all the meals we’ve eaten over the last year and change have been very tasty and very much appreciated. And so to continue to show our appreciation for these meals, this edition of the list is not simply restricted to the top 5 dishes but includes my two favourite dishes from each of our pandemic takeout runs so far this year. Continue reading

Glen Moray 25, 1994 (SMWS 35.275)


Following Monday’s Tamdhu and Wednesday’s Balvenie, let’s make it a whole week of 20+ yo Speyside whiskies. This Glen Moray was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and they gave it the relatively restrained—by their standards—nickname “Desert Island Dr(e)am”. It was bottled from a first-fill toasted hogshead. I assume this means a relatively tired hogshead was reconditioned via toasting and then filled. Was this done at origin in 1994 or is this merely the cask in which this whisky spent some time prior to bottling? I do not know. If you know more about this please write in below. In the meantime, I will note that I have previously reviewed a SMWS-issued Glen Moray 24, 1994 and that too was from a first-fill toasted hogshead. I wasn’t overly enthused by that one, which I found to be far too oak-driven for my taste. Let’s hope this one puts on a better, less woody show—though given the dark colour, I am a little nervous. Continue reading