Sakura II (St. Paul, MN)


Sakura was the last restaurant I ate at before the pandemic closures began in March 2020. I stopped in for lunch by myself, sat at the bar and had an enjoyable meal of not-exceptional but entirely acceptable sushi. That may sound like damning with faint praise but in Minnesota it’s actually saying a lot. Thanks to the pandemic, it took a little over two years for me to go back and this time I went with the family. In the interim they’ve stopped lunch service and are now only open for dinner. Our plan had actually been to eat dinner that Sunday at Kyatchi’s St. Paul location but they closed unexpectedly for a few days for Covid-related reasons. Our kids had been promised Japanese food and so we pivoted to Sakura. I am glad to report that it didn’t disappoint on this occasion either. Continue reading

Highland Park Cask Strength, First Release


Highland Park was once one of my very favourite distilleries but it’s been a while since I cared to keep up with what they were up to. Of course, this is not a reflection on the distillery itself but on the owners but they’ve gone down an increasingly silly path of premiumization over the last half decade, with prices increasing and NAS releases proliferating. As I’ve stopped following them, I had no idea they’d launched a new cask strength edition until the chance came up to go in on a bottle split on the first release from 2020. Though as I say that I’m not sure that it is in fact the first release—or rather, what that means. As per Whiskybase, this is the first release of this particular Highland Park Cask Strength (subtitled, “Robust and Intense”). But Whiskybase also lists four other cask strength distillery releases, the last of which came out in 2019—all of those were 350 ml bottles for the Swedish market. So, it may be more appropriate to say that this is the first general release of a cask strength line under the “Robust & Intense” moniker. There’s been a second release in 2021 as per Whiskybase. Unlike the Swedish casks, which don’t specify, this first release is listed as having been matured in “sherry seasoned American oak casks”; the second added sherry seasoned European oak casks to the mix. That one seems to have come to the US too—I’ll keep an eye out for a possible bottle split of that as well. Continue reading

Mortlach 20, 2000 (G&M)


A week of Mortlach reviews began on Monday with a 10 yo bourbon cask bottled by Signatory and continued on Wednesday with a 12 yo sherry cask bottled by Sovereign for K&L. It concludes today with a 20 yo bottled by Gordon & MacPhail from a refill sherry hogshead. As I’ve said before, Mortlach usually shows its best side in the context of sherry maturation and this week’s reviews bear that out. Will a refill sherry cask be as good of a frame for Mortlach’s spirit as the darker 12 yo sherry cask was? If the cask was relatively spent then the extra eight years of maturation may not mean much in terms of imparting sherry character. In any event, I think the point I would make is that what we think of when we think of Mortlach’s “distillery character” is not just the character of the spirit as produced through distillation but also the character of that spirit as transformed through sherry cask maturation—see here for a post from several years ago that goes into this idea of “distillery character” at more length. At any rate, it’s interesting to try a distillery’s spirit from three different types of oak in close juxtaposition. Let’s see how this goes. Continue reading

Roast Chicken with Indian Spices


My go-to roast chicken preparation is Judy Rodgers’ blast furnace method from the almighty Zuni Cafe Cookbook [affiliate link]. There are other roast chickens I like very much—Marcella Hazan’s still-life with two lemons, Samin Nosrat’s buttermilk-brined chicken—but the Zuni Cafe roast chicken reigns supreme in our house: my family would not complain if that was the only one I made for the rest of our days together. But I am an asshole and forever given to tinkering and experimentation and so I cannot resist sneaking in the occasional departure from our family favourite. This is one such recent departure—though the fingerprints of the Zuni Cafe method will be visible to anyone who knows it. I don’t turn the oven up as high as I don’t want the spices to burn—both for the sake of the chicken and for the sake of not filling the kitchen with smoke. I start out at 400º and raise the temperature 425º halfway in. It works very well with the Costco chickens we’ve been cooking of late, yielding a very juicy bird with crisp, spicy skin at just about the 55 minute mark. Your actual oven time will obviously vary depending on your oven and the size of your bird. Continue reading

Mortlach 12, 2008 (Sovereign for K&L)


As you may remember from Monday’s review, this week is a Mortlach week. This in order to try to redress the weak impression people who don’t know the distillery’s spirit well may have received from last Friday’s review of the official 14 yo for travel retail. Well, while Monday’s 10 yo release from Signatory was better, it didn’t exactly light my hair on fire either. Will that happen with today’s 12 yo? On the plus side, it is a sherry butt and Mortlach generally shows its best side with heavy sherry maturation. On the less than plus side, this was bottled for K&L and sold for just about $60. A seeming good deal at K&L can often/sometimes (depending on your point of view) be too good to be true. Hopefully this is not one of those cases. Certainly, I was not overly impressed by the last cask of K&L Mortlach I reviewed—which, like Monday’s Signatory, was also a bourbon cask. Was this one leftover in my stash from that same round of casks or did I acquire it in a separate bottle split? I can’t remember. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

The Return of the Weekday Lunch Thali at Kabob’s Indian Grill (Bloomington, MN)


Let joy be unconfined: the Twin Cities metro’s greatest lunch deal is back! Yes, I refer to the weekday lunch thali at Kabob’s Indian Grill in Bloomington. I have reported previously on these excellent thalis that I first ate in 2019 (see here and here). In late 2020 it was still available in to-go format (which I duly took advantage of). But then it went away. And even when in-person dining returned to Kabob’s last year, the weekday thali did not—though it was replaced by a new weekend thali served on banana leaves. I don’t mean to suggest that this was the worst restaurant-related development during the pandemic but it certainly was the one that impacted my life the most. Imagine my excitement then on seeing the restaurant announce on its Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that the weekday lunch thali was returning. I showed up as soon as I could to eat one and then again a week later. Here is my brief report on those meals. Continue reading

Mortlach 10, 2008 (Signatory for Spec’s)


Friday’s Mortlach, an official release for travel retail, didn’t impress very much. As I have some readers who are not very familiar with Mortlach I feel I must try to not leave them with a ho-hum impression of the distillery. Accordingly, I’m following that review with a full slate of Mortlach reviews this week. I’ve not tasted any of these bottles before but am hopeful that at least one of them will give a better idea of what Mortlach whisky’s appeal can be than that Alexander’s Way did. First up, is a 10 yo bottled by Signatory in its Un-Chillfiltered Collection series for Spec’s in Texas. As per Whiskybase a number of these 10 yos from 2008 were bottled by Signatory for stores in the EU as well, all matured in bourbon barrels just as this one was. Indeed, this one is a vatting of four bourbon barrels for a total release of 964 bottles. I believe barrels generally yield a little over 200 bottles. Dilution down to 46% brings the number up. I’ve always had a soft spot for Signatory’s UCF collection—when I first started out buying indie releases this was one of the lines I bought a lot of bottles from. It used to be pretty ubiquitous in the US and pretty reasonably priced. As to whether this Mortlach was reasonably priced on release in 2018, I don’t know—but I do hope it’s a good one. Continue reading

Mortlach 14, Alexander’s Way


And so a week of reviews of official distillery releases comes to an end. It started on Monday with an outstanding Springbank 10 (the 2021 release) and continued on Wednesday with a typically solid Clynelish 14 (from 2018). I have another 14 year old to end the week, this one from the Speyside. This Mortlach is not from the distillery’s core range; it is rather a travel retail exclusive. It bears the name “Alexander’s Way”. This refers to a prior owner of the distillery who apparently came up with their unique so-called 2.81 distillation regime—which along with their use of worm tubs as condensers—creates the idiosyncratic character of Mortlach’s spirit. You have to hand it to Diageo: these days when a distillery release has the name of someone like that on its label it usually does not bear an age statement. But Diageo have gone ahead and given us a 14 yo. Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to give it to us at 46%, leave alone at cask strength. This is bottled at 43.4%. That extra .4% of abv above the bog standard 43% must be doing a lot of work. And nor have they offered any guarantee that the spirit in the bottle comes by its dark amber colour honestly. But if it tastes good that’s all that matters. Let’s see. Continue reading

Smoky White Bean Stew


We split a pig from a local farm with friends a couple of times a year. While the meat is processed into cuts we specify there always seems to be one big package of smoked ham hock that makes it into our order from the processor (the excellent Dennison Meat Locker in, well, Dennison). These tend to hang out in our massive chest freezer for a while till I remember that I can use them when cooking dried beans. And I remembered I had a pack just last month while looking at my last packet of Large White Lima beans from Rancho Gordo. Their Royal Corona beans get all the love, but I quite like the Large White Limas too. I improvized a simple stew in an Indian style. By which I mean not that this is a traditional Indian dish per se but that I approached it the way I would if making a more traditional Indian bean curry: I cooked the beans till almost done, made a rich masala base while the beans were cooking, mixed the two and simmered it all till they were done. The few spices I used were Indian as well—zeera/cumin, methi/fenugeek, tez patta/dried cassia leaves, Byadgi chillies [affiliate link] and haldi/turmeric powder. There’s no reason really that you couldn’t call the finished dish a curry but as I mostly ate it out of bowls by itself I’m calling it a stew. Continue reading

Clynelish 14, 2018 Release


The week and month got off to a great start on Monday with the 2021 release of the Springbank 10. Here now is another official distillery release, the Clynelish 14, once one of only two releases from the distillery (along with the rarely seen Distiller’s edition). When I first started drinking single malt whisky this was one of my very favourite whiskies. I remember purchasing a bottle along with one of the Lagavulin 16 from Astor  in New York in the mid-2000s. Thanks to Astor’s then seemingly permanent Lagavulin sale I got both for $100. Anyway, though I liked it very much in those days, I’ve lost track of the Clynelish 14 in the last several years. Indeed, I haven’t reviewed it since 2014 and that was of a bottle purchased before 2010. And so I was very happy to take the opportunity to reacquaint myself with a recent release (this is from 2018). Let’s see what it’s like.
Continue reading

Khâluna (Minneapolis)


In December 2019—just a few months before you-know-what happened—we ate dinner at Lat14 in Golden Valley and rather enjoyed it. We’d planned to go back but then ended up spending most of the next 2 years at home. By the time we began to get back into the dining out groove in Minnesota, the chef/owner of Lat14, Ann Ahmed, had a new restaurant in South Minneapolis: Khâluna. We had quite enjoyed our meal at Lat14 and so were looking forward to eating her food at Khâluna as well. Reservations, however, were hard to come by until I managed to score one for mid-January. And then the omicron spike happened in a big way and we had to cancel. It took another three months for me to finally make it there. I ate dinner there for the first time in early April along with some colleagues. I liked it so much that I immediately made another reservation to go back with the missus and some of our regular dining crew. We ate that meal this past weekend. I’d originally thought I’d post an account of both meals at the same time but after resizing 45+ photographs from the first meal, I gave that up. So what follows is an account of my first meal there. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the second. Continue reading

Springbank 10, 2021 Release


Let’s start the month with the closest thing there is to a sure thing in the world of Scotch whisky: a malt from the Springbank distillery. It’ll also kick off a week of reviews of official distillery releases.

This is the 2021 release of Springbank’s 10 yo, which is still their entry-level malt. The price has gone up quite a lot in just the last couple of years. I purchased two bottles in 2019 for $55 each; now the cheapest price I can see in the US appears to be about $85. Which is still a bargain compared to the prices asked for the now annual Local Barley releases, which have been of the same general age. I’ve liked all of those a lot and am curious to see how the regular 10 yo compares. The last of these that I reviewed was from the 2017 release (that was all the way back in 2018). I thought that was very good indeed and if this is as good I will be pleased. Let’s see. Continue reading

Coming Soon…

Yesterday I posted the poll to select recipes for May—that’ll be up for a few days if you haven’t yet voted. Here now is the usual look ahead to the month in whisky reviews and restaurant reports. It’s a mixed bunch of potential booze reviews this month—all single malt Scotch but otherwise pretty varied. Unusually for me, there’s not much peat—and no heavy peat—in the list (there was a fair bit of that in April); and also unusually, there are quite a few official distillery releases, some of fairly recent provenance. Lots of potential themed weeks here: single distillery runs for Ben Nevis, Craigellachie, Highland Park and Mortlach; a week or two of offical releases; a week or two of Glens; a week of whiskies in their 20s; a week of young whiskies; etc. As always please make your nominations to the shortlist in the comments below. On the Twin Cities restaurant front you can expect reports on meals at Khaluna, and 112 Eatery. St. Paul will probably be represented by Kyatchi and possibly Mryriel. There’ll also be a report on the return of my favourite lunch deal in Minnesota. And I’ll try to finally finish up my Delhi reports from March as well. Continue reading

May’s Recipes: A Poll


Yes, it’s time to help me select recipes to post next month (on Thursdays, as always). I have eight candidates this month and I’m afraid that as written none of them are vegetarian. Two, however, can be made vegetarian—one by omitting the small shrimp I threw in on a whim, the other by replacing smoked ham hock with smoked tofu or tempeh or similar. And I know it’s a long shot but I hope a bunch of you will vote for the gurda-kapoora masala even though it features goat testicles. The recipe will work even if you leave out the testicles (assuming you can find some to buy) and use only kidneys or a mix or kidneys and liver or kidneys and liver and keema. The rest I think should not be such hard sells. But who knows, maybe you’ll surprise me and the goat balls will be the runaway winner of the poll. Continue reading

Ballechin 10, 2010 (Signatory)


This week of reviews of peated whiskies began on Monday with an indie Port Charlotte that is said to have some sherry involvement. It continued on Wednesday with the 2018 release of the official Ledaig 10 that may or may not have sherry casks in the vatting. Here to close out the week is another indie that is unambiguously sherried. Indeed it’s from a single sherry butt and a first-fill butt at that. It’s a 10 yo Ballechin—or peated Edradour—from Signatory, who’ve bottled a number of sherried Ballechins of this general age in the last few years. I’ve liked the ones I’ve tried and so have high hopes for this one. Let’s see if they’re borne out.

It just struck me, by the way, that this week ended up having a secondary theme: not only were these all peated whiskies but they’re all the heavily peated variants from distilleries that are at least nominally known for unpeated/lightly peated malt. Continue reading

Mooli Parathas


As I said a couple of weeks ago, I spent a fair bit of time in the kitchen on my trip to Delhi in March. I learned some new things and also improved my skills with some others. These masoor dal pakodas fall in the former category and mooli parathas fall in the latter. I will be the first to admit that I am not the most adept maker of chapatis and parathas in the world. I don’t have the best skills with a rolling pin. But what I lack in natural ability I almost make up for in perseverance and so at this point I turn out pretty good chapatis and parathas—plain ones as well as anda/egg parathas and alu/potato parathas. I’ve always been wary of mooli/radish parathas though, even though they are a close second to alu parathas in my personal stuffed paratha rankings. (It’s hip to say that alu parathas are boring compared to mooli or gobi/cauliflower parathas but I didn’t get where I am today—nowhere—by being hip.) This because mooli parathas are a lot more fiddly. For one thing, unlike potatoes, the mooli/radish is shredded not mashed which makes for a more uneven filling. For another, the shredded mooli gives off a lot of water and moist paratha stuffing is not easy to deal with. This can make rolling the stuffed dough a challenge for those of us who are not naturals with a rolling pin. I did get some hands-on lessons from my parents’ cook on this trip though and I am glad to report that the results have been very good. Being a generous guy I will share my success with you. Continue reading

Ledaig 10, 2018 Release


It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed a distillery release of Ledaig. Almost 7 years, in fact: I reviewed the Ledaig 15 in 2015, which was not exactly a current release at the time. In fact, I’ve only ever reviewed one other official Ledaig and that was the 2014 release of the Ledaig 10 which was then already the version in the new updated lineup from the distillery, bottled at 46.3% and not chill-filtered and so forth. I liked the palate on that one but found too much rubbery smoke on the nose. Since then I’ve reviewed a lot of independent releases of Ledaigs of that general age—there have been a lot of them about, especially from sherry casks and especially from Signatory. Some of those indie releases have been rather good indeed. I can’t say I had an active curiosity about the official releases—which now also include an 18 yo and an inevitable NAS bottle—but when the opportunity presented itself to try a relatively recent release (this is from 2018) I went for it anyway. Let’s see if I like it more than the previous. Continue reading

Las Islas (South St. Paul, MN)


I have lived in southern Minnesota for almost 15 years now but I’m only just beginning to really get a sense of the suburban geography of the Twin Cities metro. For example, for many years when I’d hear names like West St. Paul or South St. Paul I assumed people were referring to the western or southern bits of St. Paul. Now I know they’re actually referring to what are officially separate towns—both of these towns, by the way, have populations close to that of the town I live in, about 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And the demographics of these suburbs can vary quite a bit. South St. Paul, for example, has a large Hispanic population. Indeed, people of Hispanic descent are the second largest group in the city at nearly 15% of the population. I bring this up because it might explain why a Mexican seafood restaurant opened here, just about two years ago, during the pandemic and has managed to weather it so far. I’m not sure if there’s been much coverage of it elsewhere but I saw a reference to Las Islas on the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook group a couple of weeks ago and my interest was piqued by their seafood-centered menu, heavy on ceviches and the like. And so this past weekend we descended on them with a couple of friends. Here is what we found. Continue reading