India Palace (Burnsville, MN)


It was our older son’s birthday this Sunday and as part of his special day he requested tandoori chicken. Given the snowfall on Saturday and the indeterminate status of the local highways and roads I was wary about going too far to get it. The options within easy range were Kumar’s in Apple Valley—a sound choice based on past experience—or a place we’d never eaten at or gotten food from before: the Burnsville outpost of the India Palace chain. I opted for novelty—and also, I admit, the chance to expand my survey of older North Indian places in the Twin Cities metro. A good decision? A bad decision? Read on. Continue reading

Benrinnes 23, 1997, OMC for K&L


Let’s do another week of reviews of whiskies from Speyside distilleries and also another week of single casks bottled for K&L in California. We’ll continue the trajectory of rising age followed in this month’s first week of Speyside reviews—which included a 10 yo Dailuaine, an 18 yo Linkwood and a 20 yo Tamdhu. First up is a 23 yo Benrinnes. I believe it sold for $120 which seems like a blockbuster price for a 23 yo single malt. But as I’ve had occasion to note before, a good deal is not merely the ratio of price to age but more appropriately of price to quality. Will this Benrinnes fit the bill on both counts? Let’s see.

Benrinnes 23, 1997 (58.4%; OMC for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split) 

Nose: Sweet, slightly citrussy notes with a mineral, almost sooty edge. As it sits there’s a fair bit of malt and some vanilla. Sweeter as it sits with some honey joining the malt and then the citrus expands as well. Alas, with water the astringent notes begin to show up here as well. Continue reading

Jidaiya Ramen (Los Angeles, December 2021)


With this report I come to the end of our first week of eating in Los Angeles. No, there wasn’t an entire second week of eating: only three more restaurant meals after this one. This, our seventh meal out, took us back to the scene of the first. Jidaiya Ramen is, you see, located in the same strip mall in Gardena as Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori. Indeed, while leaving Shin-Sen-Gumi after lunch that Monday we’d noticed people eating outside Jidaiya as well and that is a big reason why we picked it as the scene of an early lunch on our way to wander around the Manhattan Beach pier. Things didn’t go quite according to plan. Despite it being a bright, sunny day they told us they weren’t going to be setting the outside tables up as they were expecting to be too busy to be able to staff both the inside and the outside. But we’d got there right after opening and there was no one else there yet and so we decided to make a quick lunch of it indoors anyway even though they too were not checking vaccination confirmations. Continue reading

Studio Distilling, Masala Chai Flavored Whiskey


My week of reviews of things that are not single malt whiskies began with a blended rum on Monday and continued with a bourbon on Wednesday. It closes today, quite naturally, with a masala chai flavoured whisky.

This is a product of a Minnesota distillery: Studio Distilling in St. Paul. They seem to make a range of products—at least I think they distill all their own stuff—but I’ve not had any of the others: rye malt whiskey, bourbon, gin and, yes, three other flavoured whiskies. Another of these flavoured whiskies also involves tea, Earl Grey in that case. The masala chai variant is made not, as I had feared, by infusing grain alcohol with flavourings, but by steeping tea and spices in their rye malt base (which I assume means the wash from which the rye malt is normally distilled) and then distilling that. (The Earl Grey process is the same except it involves their bourbon base and bergamot and vanilla in addition to tea.) An unspecified period of aging then follows. I purchased a 375 ml bottle impulsively in 2020 but have not since been able to bring myself to actually try it. Until now. Continue reading

Indo-Thai Fish Curry


If you follow my cooking posts you’ve probably cottoned on to the fact that I really like pompano. I’ve already posted a number of recipes featuring it that are all generally variations on a central delicious theme. The recipe I have for you today can also be placed in that framework but it has some elements that take it more directly into the borderlands between South Indian and Thai flavours. This came about because when we came back from Los Angeles at the start of the month I had pompano in the freezer that I had a hankering to eat but I did not have curry leaves or green chillies—both of which are important in the South Indian’ish preparations I usually make with it. I decided instead to just marinate and fry the pompano whole and serve it that way along with dal and rice. But then once I’d marinated the fish and coated it with sooji/rava/cream of wheat to crisp it up I began to think of the lovely whole, fried fish we’ve had in Thai restaurants, served on rich curries or sauces; and as I did have lime leaves in the freezer I was soon on my way to improvizing a hybrid dish that came out rather well. I’m calling it Indo-Thai fish curry. Continue reading

Oldfangled Knotter Bourbon 10 (Blaum Bros. for LLUA)


This week I am reviewing things that are not single malt whisky. On Monday I had a rum; today I have a bourbon.

Monday’s rum was a blend of rums from two unnamed distilleries, one Jamaican and one Guyanese. Today’s bourbon also has some mystery attached to it but in this case I can dispel all of it. Blaum Bros. is a craft distillery in Galena, Illinois, but they did not distill this bourbon. Hence the name: Knotter Bourbon (say it slowly). In an industry rife with brands that tell tall tales about what they do or don’t do, Blaum Bros. are refreshingly transparent. This bourbon is from a barrel acquired from the great MGP factory in Indiana; a barrel that contained 10 yo bourbon. It was bottled for a group of online ne’er do wells, the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers (or LLUA), a group of which I may or may not also be a member. This was, if I remember correctly, the group’s first private barrel selection (both Blaum brothers are also members). I’m a little hazy now on how long ago this was bottled: 2018? 2017? In fact, I thought I’d reviewed it right after I’d opened the bottle whenever it was I received it—and only recently realized that I had never gotten around to it. Now the bottle is past the halfway mark and so it seems like time to put some notes down. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 72: El Triunfo To Start the Year (Northfield, MN)


Yes, I’ve posted quite a few restaurant meal reports already in 2022—but those are all of meals eaten in 2021 in Los Angeles. Today’s report is the first from 2022 proper. And I’m kicking the year in restaurant reviews off in hyper-local style with another look at some things eaten at our favourite restaurant in Northfield, Minnesota: El Triunfo.

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit here. This report encompasses food from three separate outings, two of which were in the summer of 2021—and one of which was eaten at the restaurant when the pandemic was briefly looking less concerning. But the largest report is of the most recent meal, which we picked up and ate just this past weekend. Continue reading

Golden Devil Dark Overproof Rum


This week’s theme: things that aren’t single malt whiskies. First up, a rum.

I haven’t reviewed very many rums on the blog; rarely going over 1 review per year. And all the rums I have reviewed have been from single distilleries. This one’s the exception. It is a blend of Jamaican pot still and Guyanese column still rums. The age and identities of the constituent rums are unknown to me. This was bottled for K&L in California a few years ago and went for the low, low price of $20. I have a horrible feeling that I am going to deeply regret having waited more than three years since receiving this sample from Sku to review it.

Golden Devil Dark Overproof Rum (57%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Molasses and (over-ripe) plantains and a slight rubbery note off the top and then the funk begins to come through bringing some diesel with it. Burnt caramel as it sits and a slight mossy note emerges as well. The funk recedes as it sits and it’s the plantains and caramel that dominate. A few drops of water push the funk back further and pull out some vanilla and aniseed. Continue reading

Chennai Dosa Corner (Los Angeles, December 2021)


Yesterday I reported on a brief stop at Surati Farsan Mart in Artesia to eat paani puri and chaat. After that tasty start I made my second stop: at Chennai Dosa Corner for, well, a dosa.

Chennai Dosa Corner has been open for about eight years (so the gent at the counter told me). It is now one of several South Indian specialists open on and off Pioneer Boulevard. Back in the day if you wanted a good dosa in L.A County you had to go to Udupi Palace further up Pioneer Blvd. (Well, Paru’s in Hollywood was also quite good but didn’t have quite the same ambience for the immigrant nostalgist; nor did Sunset Blvd. have a branch of the State Bank of India right at the freeway exit.) My local informants tell me that Udupi Palace is still the gold standard in Artesia, and as an immigrant nostalgist of the old school it would have been my first choice except for one problem: yes, no outdoor seating. Thus Chennai Dosa Corner just a little bit up the road. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Surati Farsan Mart (Los Angeles, December 2021)


I noted in my review of dinner at Mo Ran Gak earlier this week that my mother-in-law’s move to Seal Beach a couple of years ago has meant the loss of Koreatown as our base of operations on our trips back to Los Angeles. But as an unfortunate bearded bloke once said, what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts. For us this has meant greater proximity to the Japanese restaurants of Gardena and Torrance. And it has also meant even greater proximity to Artesia whence is located Southern California’s premier Indian enclave. Back when I lived in Los Angeles in the 1990s and early 2000s, trips to Artesia to eat on the long drag of Pioneer Blvd. were always special—there not being very good Indian food in Los Angeles proper (a situation that is still probably true). But it was also a major pain in the ass to get there from the Westside. Now, it’s a short 15 minute drive from my mother-in-law’s door to Pioneer Blvd. And so on a day when the boys demanded burgers from In-N-Out I abandoned the family and sallied forth in search of chaat and dosas. My first port of call: Surati Farsan Mart. Continue reading

Tamdhu 20, 2000 (OMC for K&L)


Speyside week comes to a close with another refill hogshead bottled for K&L in California. This is a Tamdhu and it is two years older than Wednesday’s Linkwood. You may recall that I quite liked that Linkwood and also Monday’s 10 year old Dailuaine (that one from a sherry cask). Will the oldest of the trio be at least as good as the one half its age? There are no guarantees but I did like the last Tamdhu 20 I reviewed—that one was also bottled by Old Malt Cask (for their own 20th anniversary). And I did also like the last K&L Tamdhu of similar age that I reviewed, that one a 19 yo. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Tamdhu 20, 2000 (52%; OMC for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Cereals, toasted oak and some sweet fruit—citrus at first but then some cherry joins in as well. As it sits the oak expands quite a bit, making me a bit apprehensive about the palate…On the plus side the cereals get more malted and the fruit turns a bit muskier (somewhere between apple and pear). With more time still the oak recedes again. Water pushes the oak back further and pulls out some cream. Continue reading

Baingan Masala with Pork Keema


I improvised this recipe late last summer as part of my desperate campaign to hold at bay the endless flood of eggplant from my vegetable garden. It came out rather well and I’ve been trying to share it on the blog ever since. But you bastards shot it down in the recipes poll in November and December. I was tempted to just declare that it would be posted in January but I kept faith in the democratic process and it finally limped into the top four this month. (Now if we can only get justice in February’s poll for the masala spare ribs which have been shot down in the poll for four months straight.) Anyway, if you like pork and if you like eggplant you will like this. I guarantee it or your money back. Indeed, I may have to go get some long eggplant from the desi store and make it again for us. If you don’t have access to long eggplant, don’t fret: it’ll be good with regular globe eggplant as well. The only real controversy here is whether this should be named Baingan Masala with  Pork Keema or Pork Keema Masala with Baingan. It’ll taste as good either way. Continue reading

Linkwood 18, 2002 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)


Let’s make it a week of not just Speyside whiskies but Speyside whiskies bottled for/by K&L in California. The week started with a 10 yo Dailuaine that I dubbed a very good value at the price. Here now is an 18 yo Linkwood. The Dailuaine is a sherry cask; the Linkwood a refill hogshead. The Dailuaine was still available as of Monday; this Linkwood is sold out. Like Dailuaine, Linkwood is a workhorse distillery in Diageo’s stable that predominantly produces malt for the group’s blends. Which of course means that they are as capable as any other distillery of producing casks that are rather excellent indeed. Monday’s Dailuaine stopped a bit short of sheer excellence; will this Linkwood make it all the way? Let’s see.

Linkwood 18, 2002 (53.9%; Hepburn’s Choice for K&L; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: A lovely mix of fruit—apples, pears, a bit of lemon. There’s some honey in there too and a mild grassiness. Gets maltier on the nose too with time and air. Some floral sweetness emerges with more time still. With water those sweet notes move in the direction of vanilla and it gets maltier still. Continue reading

Mo Ran Gak (Los Angeles, December 2021)


When my mother-in-law first told us in 2019 that she considering moving to Seal Beach we thought this was going to be a rather dramatic shift for her. This because she was leaving Koreatown where she had been based for 30 odd years, in the embrace of what is probably the most hardcore Korean enclave outside the two Koreas. It turned out, however, that the retirement community she moved to has a large population of Korean seniors; and that just 10-15 minutes down the freeway there is another Korean enclave in Garden Grove. Now this is not news to anyone in the South Bay but back when we lived in Los Angeles—or when we visited Koreatown every year—places south of the Orange County border weren’t really on our radar. But Garden Grove has a significant Korean population too, along with major grocery stores and lots of restaurants. It’s not Koreatown but there’s enough there to not make us mourn the loss of our Irolo/James M. Wood base too much either on our trips back. For example: Mo Ran Gak. Continue reading

Dailuaine 10, 2010 (Sovereign for K&L)


From a week of reviews of heavily peated whiskies from the highlands let’s go to a week of milder fare from the Speyside. The last lot of Speysides I reviewed at the end of December were all fairly old—two 28 yo Glenfarclas (here and here) and a 33 yo Longmorn (here). We’ll start this week with a much younger whisky from a far less storied distillery: Dailuaine. This is from a sherry butt that was also part of K&L’s 2021 cask selections. I am now almost at the end of my reviews of that large batch; it would be good to get them done before the 2022 casks show up.

Dailuaine 10, 2010 (59.4%; Sovereign for K&L; sherry butt; from a bottle split)

Nose: A nice mix of sweet malt, light caramel and fruit (orange, apricot). Somewhat waxy on the second sniff with some honey in the mix too now. The citrus gets a little brighter as it goes and some cream emerges. The fruit gets richer as it sits and mixes nicely with the malt and the wax. With a lot more time it gets quite sweet. A few drops of water and the lemon wakes back up and picks up a biscuity note. Continue reading

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori (Los Angeles, December 2021)


We got back from Los Angeles about 10 days ago. Given how maniacally we ate out while there, we’ve been taking a break from eating out since we go back. We’ll probably get back on the horse next weekend. Until then I’ll be posting more meal reports from the Los Angeles trip. Unlike from trips past—where I have posted reports 6 months to a year after the meals were eaten—I’m hoping that this time I’ll be done with all of them before we get too far into February. Here now is the 4th report of the 10 meals we ate out. It is, as it happens, an account of our very first restaurant meal on the trip: at Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori in Gardena. Continue reading

Ballechin 15, 2005, Second-Fill Sherry (WhiskySponge)


Three Ballechins bottled by Whisky Sponge to start the month and year, I said. On Monday I reviewed a 17 yo distilled in 2004 and matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel. On Wednesday another 17 yo from 2004, this time matured in a refill fino butt. Here now to close the week is another sherry cask but this one was distilled a year later and is two years younger. It’s from a second-fill sherry hogshead—what kind of sherry does not appear to have been specified in this case.

As I said on Monday, I only recently learned that Angus MacRaild (the Whisky Sponge) was bottling whisky. I don’t know what reputation his releases have at this point or where they fall price-wise in the market. I will say that I liked the other two fine but did not find them to be anything particularly extraordinary. Will this one be a departure in either direction? Let’s see. Continue reading

Sweet Potato Curry with Tamarind and Peanuts


Almost all of my cooking is not only improvisatory in nature but also often a hodgepodge of ingredients and approaches from different parts of India. I do sometimes cook from cookbooks that features dishes/cuisines of regions of India other than my own and when I do I follow those recipes closely—at least the first time. But invariably aspects of those recipes—be they combinations of ingredients or broad flavour profiles—enter unpredictably into the improvised dishes I make far more often. Not every bit of hybridization works or has particularly striking results but when one does it feels very satisfying. This improvised sweet potato curry, which draws on ingredients and flavours in dishes from Marathi and various South Indian cuisines, is one of my recent hits. For all I know it ends up close to some community or the other’s traditional preparation of sweet potato. If so, please don’t give me a hard time for departing in some crucial way from a canonical preparation you’re familiar with; this is not trying to be whatever that might be. What I can tell you is that—sour and hot and sweet and thickened with ground peanuts—it makes for a hearty winter meal with rice. Give it a go and see what you think. Continue reading