Top 5 Twin Cities Dishes, Oct-Dec 2019 + The Year in Food

After spending a lot of the summer out of the Twin Cities, I was here for the rest of the year. We ate out on our regular schedule—roughly once a week—and I posted my accounts of most those meals in due course (a few will be reported on this month). Here now is my list of the top five dishes eaten in the Twin Cities in that period. My rules, as always for these lists, are: no more than one dish listed per restaurant; and, as far as possible, only those dishes listed that are reliably on the menu of the restaurant in question. This means that I will not be listing anything from the excellent lunch thalis I’ve eaten at Kabob’s in Bloomington, as the dishes on the thalis vary from day to day. I would, however, recommend that you go eat one of those thalis soon, perhaps even today. As a bonus, in this recap of the last quarter of the year, I throw in for free a list of my best meals of the year in the Twin Cities and also my best meals of the year, period.

First up, the top five dishes from the Twin Cities in the quarter. In reverse chronological order these are:

  1. The fried eggplant curry at Kabob’s in Bloomington. This was at an as yet unreported on lunch this past weekend. A wonderful mix of sour, spicy and mildly smoky flavours. I’ll have the review of the meal in a couple of weeks.
  2. The khao soi at Krungthep Thai in St. Paul. Another dish from a meal in December that I’ve not yet reported on. It kicked the ass of Lat14‘s khao soi up and down the street and I quite liked the khao soi at Lat14.
  3. The squash crostini at Hyacinth in St. Paul. The version I ate featured delicata; the current version has butternut. I’d guess it’s just as good.
  4. The citrus custard at Tenant. We had it with lemon earlier in the year, November’s version was with orange. The core dish remains the same, however, which means I am not cheating. This is tied for the best dessert I had all year (see below).
  5. The mapo tofu at Cook, St. Paul. We continue to mourn the earlier than expected closure of the Golden Horseshoe residency at Cook, St. Paul this summer—not least because of how good their take on this Sichuan classic was. The good news is that the secret of the dish did not leave town with Golden Horseshoe. I thoroughly enjoyed this rice bowl in October.

There were many other contenders, including some excellent classics at Grand Szechuan (but I’ve saved those for my annual Grand Szechuan round-up, which is coming soon). The pork belly at Revival Smoked Meats was also excellent as were the costillitas de puerco en adobo at Homi.

[pictures of the dishes are at the bottom of the post along with pictures from my best meals of the year.]

And now the best meals of the year.

In the Twin Cities at the high(er) end this would be our dinner at Tenant in July. We’ve enjoyed all our meals there but this one was almost flawless. Also very enjoyable on the whole was our dinner at Hai Hai in April. Our first dinner at In Bloom in March was excellent. We also really enjoyed dinner at Popol Vuh in May. Twin Cities high(er) end meals that fell short of the mark: Joan’s in the Park, Saint Dinette, Young Joni, our second dinner at In Bloom. Some elements of our dinner at Grand Cafe were excellent but the meal on the whole was uneven, as was the service.

Some of our most enjoyable meals, however, were eaten at the lower end. I’ve gone on already about the weekday lunch thalis at Kabob’s. Our lunches at Grand Szechuan (round-up coming soon) always hit the mark; and our two dinners at Golden Horseshoe were major highlights. House of Curry and Cheng Heng were as reliable as always.

The most momentous event in the Twin Cities food scene in 2019 was without a doubt the retirement of Chef On from On’s Kitchen. The restaurant continues under people she trained—we are hopeful that they will be able to maintain her standards. In a happier vein, the Golden Age of Indian Food in the Twin Cities is my pick for the most exciting development in the local food scene.

My best restaurant meal of the year, anywhere and in any genre, was one I ate by myself in Toronto: at Canis. Creative and just excellent from top to bottom; the cucumber sorbet was one of the best desserts I ate all year (well, technically a pre-dessert). I ate a few more excellent meals in Canada in June: at Joe Beef, at Damas, at L’Express, all in Montreal; the Cantonese banquet dinner at Crown Princess in Toronto was also a highlight. All of these would be on my top 10 list for the year, joined from the Twin Cities by the aforementioned dinner at Tenant, our second dinner at Golden Horseshoe, a recent blow-out lunch at Grand Szechuan. Our dinner at Crown Shy in New York was also up there. Eating oysters at Jean-Talon with friends was another highlight.

Lots of other excellent dishes here and there, including some in meals we did not think were very good on the whole, but it would take too long to list them all. Suffice it to say we were lucky to eat very well this year. And this does not include the pleasures of dinners at home with friends or of watching our kids begin to eat more adventurously than before (the sushi at Sushi of Gari in New York was nothing so great but it was a memorable meal as both boys made their first serious forays into eating proper sushi there). And, oh, the donuts at World’s Best Donuts in Grand Marais were truly great. If you asked the boys, they’d probably say the meal of the year was barbecue at Hill Country in DC.

Here is a slideshow of pictures from most of these meals with the most recent Twin Cities Top 5 dishes leading the way. Scroll down to see where I’m looking forward to eating in 2020.

What am I looking forward to and what can you expect on the food front on the blog in 2020? Well, I am most immediately looking forward to meals at home and out in Delhi, Goa and Calcutta in January. In the Twin Cities we’d like to go back to Spoon and Stable, Alma and Meritage for sure this year. Odds are good we will again eat at Tenant a few times. We will also continue our surveys of humbler immigrant restaurants and of the Indian/South Asian scene—there’s a Pakistani place in North Minneapolis I want to get to. (I don’t really follow p.r announcements so if you hear of any interesting openings please let me know.) Our travels in the summer will almost certainly take us to Los Angeles and a return to either New York or London is not out of the question either. Good food awaits in all those places.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough. I wish you all good eating in 2020!

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