Pandemic Takeout 19: Thai Cafe (St. Paul)


We are big fans of Thai Cafe, which was recently named the Twin Cities’ “Best Thai Restaurant” by City Pages. These awards, like all such in the genre, should not be taken too seriously—they name Magic Noodle the “Best Restaurant in St. Paul”, for example—but Thai Cafe is indeed a deserving contender: we’ve consistently ranked them third behind Bangkok Thai Deli and On’s Kitchen, and with On’s retirement they may have moved up a spot (though Krungthep Thai, Bangkok Thai Deli’s satellite location is also a contender). They’ve been closed for most of the pandemic and have not reopened now either for in-person dining. The restaurant is just too small for social distancing. As of a week ago, Monday, however, they are open for curbside/parking lot takeout. We’ve been missing their sour pork rib a lot and so Saturday found us in their parking lot waiting for our order. Continue reading

Lous Pibous 22, 1996 (L’Encantada)


Okay, it’s not clear if more than three people are still reading my whisky reviews so let’s do a week of brandy. First up, a Lous Pibous from armagnac indie darlings, L’Encantada. I’m no armagnac maven—and nor do I follow these releases closely—but Lous Pibous seems to be the big name among actual armagnac mavens. A number of casks of Pibous have made it to the US in recent years, showing up as exclusives at various stores around the country. And since they’re all (?) single casks they inspire the kind of devotional comparative assessment that you can only expect from whisky geeks—which is basically what all the new brandy mavens in the US started out as. What’s the point of drinking something, they seem to say, if you can’t do a line-up of 12 sibling casks and rank them vis a vis one another? This particular single cask was not bottled by a store but was a personal selection by a member of a brandy club, I think. Or at least so Sku—who is the source of the sample with an uncharacteristically legible label—told me. I believe it has a very strong reputation. I’ve previously reviewed a few other L’Encantada Pibous—including two more 1996s (here and here)—and if this is as good as those I’ll be pleased. Let’s see if it is. Continue reading

Cucumber-Radish-Onion Raita


I made alu parathas for lunch today and obviously had to make a bowl of raita to go with it. Raita is not a recipe but a canvas. You take yogurt and beat it, add whatever you want to flavour it, mix it all in and you’re done. You can make salty raitas, sweet raitas, salty-sweet raitas. You can make raitas that incorporate cooked ingredients and you can make raitas that are entirely raw. The only thing I haven’t come across is non-veg raitas but I would not be at all surprised to discover they exist. As always, my knowledge of Indian food extends to only a small sliver of it. Anyway, as variegated as raitas can be, my own preference—usually—is for simple raitas with a few chopped veg (I’ve previously posted my recipe for raita made with grated watermelon radish). I like my raita to emphasize the yogurt and not be crunchy with too much veg and toppings. In fact, I sometimes think that in the era of Instagram a lot of people overload their raitas because otherwise it doesn’t make for a very interesting photograph. It’s a simple dish; in my opinion, best when simply made and is a perfect summer side to all kinds of dishes. Continue reading

Springbank 1997, Batch 2


On Wednesday I had a review of the Springbank 1997, Batch 1, released in 2007. Here now is a review of Batch 2, released a year later. This one I did purchase a whole bottle of. I liked Batch 1 a lot and so am hoping that Batch 2 will be comparable. Let’s see if it in fact is.

Springbank 1997, Batch 2 (54.9%; from my own bottle)

Nose: Typical Springbank notes of damp earth and sackcloth with some dried orange peel and some coastal notes (kelp, brine, seashells) running through them. With time there’s more salt and some red fruit—plum?—along with the orange peel. Sweeter and softer with water (cream, malt) at first and then some pencil lead. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Yogurt and Tomatoes


I am tempted to name this recipe “Better Than Butter Chicken” in a shameless attempt to go viral. This would be generically appropriate—it too is a creamy chicken curry involving tomatoes and dairy. It would also be accurate—it is better than butter chicken. Big talk? In a world that identifies Indian food with butter chicken, yes. But make it and apologize for doubting me.

As I noted on Twitter a few days ago, this was the first dish I learned to make really well when I started cooking in earnest in the early-mid 1990s after starting graduate school in the US. The original dish is a chicken curry that was part of my mother’s dinner party repertoire. She’d packed me off to the US with a collection of hand-written recipes and sent me many more over the years but this was never one of them. I recreated the first versions of this from memory before finally arriving at the broad contours within which it now resides. By which I mean that home cooking is never exact or nailed down. Recipes, when written down, seem more fixed than they usually are in practice but there’s always at least a bit of variation when you make dishes over and over again. My own version of this curry is now different from both my first iterations in the 1990s and from my mother’s but it’s very much in the same family (in fact, when she visits she always asks me to make it for her and my father). I encourage you to add your own twists to it after first trying it as outlined below. Continue reading

Springbank 1997, Batch 1


Springbank released two batches of the 1997 vintage, one in 2007 and one in 2008. I bought a bottle of the second batch not too long after its release and have been sitting on it now for about a decade for some reason. Well, I think the reason might have been that I’d hoped to find a bottle of the first batch and open them together. That never happened but a few years ago I did acquire 8 ounces of Batch 1 via a bottle split; not sure why I didn’t do that paired tasting then but better late than never.

The bottle was acquired by Florin—the man who brought the good news from Ghent to Aix—at a store in Berlin in 2014. Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls and I then split it with him. Michael, being a young hasty type, only waited four years to review a part of his share. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 18: More Ramen from Bull’s Horn (Minneapolis)


It’s hard to talk about positive things coming out of the last few months, especially in the context of the restaurant industry. As you all know, restaurants have been hit very hard by the (necessary) restrictions on dining-in and it remains an open question as to how many of them will make it to whenever it is we return to whatever normal will be when this is over, or at least when this is better.. We’ve managed to eat well so far via takeout and support many of our favourite places in this difficult time. The only new thing we’ve encountered was Doug Flicker’s foray into ramen via “take home and prepare” kits back in May. I previously reported on our very first Bull’s Horn ramen experience right after that first week in May. We got another set of kits the following week but then the ramen thing went on hiatus for a while. It’s now back again. Takeout ramen kits are available every day they’re open and since they’re now also open for dining-in on their parking lot patio they also have special ramens available on Wednesday’s only for people eating on the patio. I can report that no matter which way you go, the ramen will be excellent. Continue reading

Littlemill 20, 1992 (Archives)


Let’s start the month with a closed distillery—that seems appropriate for the pandemic. Earlier this year I reviewed a 29 yo Littlemill that was distilled in 1988 and bottled in 2018. This one was distilled a few years later but also bottled near the very start of the Littlemill renaissance when several excellent casks from the late 1980s through the early 1990s suddenly became available in Europe. The distillery’s low reputation—well earned by official releases—rebounded dramatically and prices for these releases started going up before they eventually all but dried up. This particular cask was bottled by the Whiskybase store in Rotterdam under their Archives label. Menno of Whiskybase is a Littlemill collector and that always seemed like a good guarantor of quality for their Littlemill releases. They’ve put out eight or so of these casks, of which I think this was the second. I’ve previously reviewed the first one, which was from a refill sherry hogshead. I quite liked it. This is from a bourbon hogshead. I’ve had it open for more than a month now and have been dipping into it on the regular. Here now before I finish the bottle before remembering to take notes (which has happened on some occasions), is my review. Continue reading

Mocambo (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Here, finally, almost exactly six months to the day we left the city, is my last meal report from Calcutta. It’s not a meal I’d thought we’d have before the evening of but it’s a meal I’m glad we had and a meal we enjoyed—none of which is to say that the food was anything special. That probably sounds enigmatic but don’t worry I’m about to tell you what I mean. Mocambo is one of a few establishments located on or near snazzy Park Street that have been around since near the middle of the 20th century and which have together formed a locus of a particular kind of wealthy Calcutta cosmopolitanism. Names like Peter Cat, Bar-B-Q, Trincas and Mocambo have both evoked nostalgia for a long time for the city’s elite and maintained their popularity even as a new generation of restaurants and, in particular, restaurants serving Bengali cuisine, have sprung up around them. These were aspirational places in the 1970s and 1980s—before the rise of 5-star hotel restaurants—and Mocambo, the place that more than any other defines Calcutta Continental food, continues to be packed on weekends in early February well into the 21st century. Continue reading

Coming Soon…


I think it might be August. There will once again be a number of booze reviews, three a week, mostly whisky. I do have a few more rums and brandies listed than usual so if you’re looking for a malternative month on My Annoying Opinions this is your opportunity to get at least half a month out of it. (As always, I invite your nominations from things to promote from the long list of potential reviews below to the shortlist). There will also continue to be a couple of food posts per week. My pandemic takeout reviews from the Twin Cities metro will continue (we’re not eating in anywhere till at least the end of the year, probably) and I’ll post a recipe most every week. I hope to also finally post my last report from our Calcutta trip and my last report from Delhi from the winter. And I may also have a fresh annoyance for the food media in the form of yet another piece on writing about Indian food. On the non booze and food front, I’m also planning to start a regular series of capsule reviews of Bombay films; and I’d like to revive my literary posts from the spring. Let’s see how these big plans go. Continue reading

Stolen Overproof Rum (Hampden)

Despite our greater proximity to the Caribbean, the US gets far less interesting rums from the region than does Europe. The rum revolution (well, sort of) that took portions of the single malt enthusiast market by storm in the last half decade was centered almost entirely on releases from European bottlers. Well, here finally is one that was released exclusively in the US. It’s got one of those silly names that makes you think Diageo might be involved but the word on the street is that this is a 6 yo Hampden. The bottles are 375 ml and still available and very reasonably priced (<$25/bottle in many markets). That means there’s a good chance this will be the best value of any booze I’ve reviewed this year: I’ve not had many Hampdens but all the ones I’ve had have been great. Hampden rum, with its dunder-fueled, high ester spirit, had also until recently been the funkiest spirit I’d willingly put in my mouth but that crown has since been passed to the two marcs I tried in the last month and a half (especially this Jacoulot). Will this seem tame now? Continue reading

Black (Caviar) Dal


Black caviar lentils look very similar to the whole, unpeeled urad dal used in the making of the classic Punjabi kali or black dal—the kind that is used in the ever-popular dal makhani. They are, however, an entirely different kind of lentil. They’re also a bit smaller than kali urad dal and they cook much faster; at least the Rancho Gordo black caviar lentils cook much faster than whole kali urad dal, even when the latter has been soaked and the former has not. The Rancho Gordo site recommends cooking for just 20-25 minutes but for this recipe I would recommend going quite a bit longer. That’s because this recipe cooks them in much the same way as kali urad dal would be cooked and the goal there—as in most Indian dal recipes I am familiar with—is not to have the dal firm or completely holding its shape. I can say that despite not being identical to kali urad dal it produces an excellent result when cooked in more or less the same way. Which is not to say that this recipe is identical to that of the kali dal I posted a recipe for more than five years ago. Continue reading

Cartron 15, Marc de Bourgogne

I reviewed my first marc in June and here now, less than two months later, is my second. Soon I will be the #1 marc blogger in semi-rural southern Minnesota. Like the Jacoulot I reviewed last month, this is a marc from Burgundy but it’s twice the age. The Jacoulot was a bizarrely winning rotting garbage heap of a brandy. I’m curious to see what eight more years of age does with this strange profile.

Cartron 15, Marc de Bourgogne (43%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: A more elegant heap of rotting garbage than the Jacoulot. Quite a bit of apple in here with some definite older calvados crossovers. A lot of aniseed and then a plastic-rubber-vinyl combine emerges strong. Softer and less garbagey and plasticky with water.

Palate: Hmm this is almost normal. Far less brutal than the Jacoulot with the apple and the aniseed the main event. The garbage and the synthetic notes are palpable in the background but are not very assertive. Nice texture and bite at 43%. On the second sip there’s some citrus (lime peel and bitter zest). Gets quite herbal with time (sage, dill, a touch of mint). Okay, let’s add water. Water emphasizes the herbs and pulls out some spice to go with it beyond just the aniseed (there’s some pepper, some clove). Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 17: Beirut (St. Paul)


It took the pandemic but I finally made it to Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant in West St. Paul that people have been telling me we should eat at for years. They’ve been open since 1983 (in the same spot? I’m not sure). That makes them older than Babani’s but a few years younger than the original Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, which opened in 1979 in Eagan (though the current location in Burnsville is of a later vintage as is the spin-off Ansari’s in Eagan).  As per this write-up in City Pages from a few years ago, in their early years they served a largely American menu with a few Lebanese dishes that got few takers. Now, it’s all Lebanese food all the time, and as far as I can make out, they are a neighbourhood fixture—still run by the same family though I believe the interior has gone through some changes. They are open for socially distanced dining-in but I was there this on Saturday to pick up take-out dinner. Here’s a brief report on what we got. Continue reading

Glenrothes 1972-2005


When I first started drinking single malt whisky I was really into Glenrothes for a while. Some of this, truth be told, was due to the funky bottle shape of official releases (which are by far the majority of Glenrothes); but a large part of it was due to the fact that the vintage releases I first tried were very pleasant, very accessible whiskies. Such were the1991-2006, 1994-2009 and 1985-2005. I finished my last bottles of all of those before I started the blog and hence no reviews—though I should really check if I have reference samples of those saved (in those days I used to routinely save 6 oz of each bottle I opened for future reference). Anyway, as a result, all the Glenrothes I’ve reviewed on the blog have been independent releases and most are above the age of 20. This one, however, is both an official release and the oldest Glenrothes I’ve yet had in terms of either age or vintage. It was distilled in 1972 and bottled in 2005. I found it a few years ago in the locked liquor room of a Korean grocery store in Los Angeles, listed for the long-ago price. I couldn’t find any reviews of it online but given the reasonable price to age ratio decided to take a chance on it. I’d saved the bottle for one of my whisky group’s premium tastings; but as it’s not clear when the pandemic will ever allow us to get together to drink again, I decided to open it by myself earlier this month. I’ve been drinking the bottle down at a rapid clip. Here before it dips too far below the halfway mark are my notes. Continue reading

Mushoor Dal (No Tadka)


This recipe is technically a repost. I’d hidden a quick version of it in the notes to one of the very first dal recipes I posted on the blog, way back in January 2015. That was a recipe for split, peeled mushoor dal—or red lentils, as they’re prosaically known in the US—made in a classic Bengali style. The dal there is boiled with water and turmeric and salt and then a phoron or tadka of cumin seeds/panch phoron + onion, garlic and green chillies is added to it. That’s a very nice dal and if you haven’t made it yet you should. But this version is both more nourishing and far less fussy: everything is cooked together and there is no tadka/phoron at the end. Instead there’s a lot of whole garlic and a bit of tomato. It makes for a deeply flavoured, richly textured dal that can be eaten with rice or chapatis or just slurped out of a bowl. Continue reading

Inchmurrin 14, 2004 (SMWS)


On Tuesday I had a review of a bourbon cask Inchmurrin bottled by the SMWS in 2018. Here now is another. This one is a few years older. By the way, despite what the label on the sample bottle might lead you to think, I did not get this from Sku.

Inchmurrin 14, 2004 (60%; SMWS 112.39; 2nd-fill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: The usual mix of bright acid and mineral notes to start; then lime peel and salt expand along with more tropical notes of tart mango and dragonfruit and just a hint of passionfruit. With time the lime peel is still the top note and the mineral quality is right there with it along with a whiff of paraffin. A few drops of water push back the paraffin, bring out some sweeter notes (vanilla) and make the whole bigger. A bit more water and there’s more fruit still: sweeter (berries) and richer. Continue reading