Smelt Fry at Ranchero Supper Club (Webster, MN)

We moved to Minnesota in 2007. It took us eight years to finally get around to eating lutefisk and only another four to finally go to not only our first fish fry but also to our first smelt fry. “What is a smelt fry?,” you might ask—particularly if you don’t live in Minnesota. Well, it’s a Minnesota tradition, albeit one that doesn’t stretch back further than the middle of the 20th century. Smelt are not native to the Great Lakes region and were not found here till 1946. (The story of the rise and fall of smelt in Lake Superior is a neat little allegory of human impact on nature.) The population is now far reduced from its peak but the smelt fry tradition remains and the catch in March/April is one of the harbingers of spring in Minnesota. Smelt are gathered up by the bucketful, fried and eaten by the handful. The major schisms seem to be between those who behead the fish and those who cook and eat ’em whole, and between those who batter and those who bread. For those without direct access to the tiny fish, smelt fries spring up in church basements and clubs and also in some restaurants. And it was to a restaurant we went, to Ettlin’s Ranchero Supper Club in Webster. Continue reading

Springbank 19, 1995 (for Dr. Jekyll’s Bar)


The last Springbank I reviewed was from a bourbon cask—the 11 yo Local Barley—and I liked it a lot. Here now is another official Springbank from a bourbon cask but one that’s almost twice the age of the previous. This was bottled in 2014 from a refill bourbon cask for Dr. Jekyll’s, a whisky bar in Oslo. I got this sample in a bottle split. I’m not sure how the person who had the bottle laid his hands on it, though I assume it was at auction. Only 100 bottles were apparently released for general sale and disappeared in a matter of hours. I do not know what the price charged for it then was; I’m pretty sure it would have been much lower than the current going rate for cask strength Springbanks. The prices asked for recent independent Springbanks have been eye-watering indeed and official cask strength releases of a lower age in the US are no less aggressively priced these days. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading

Bowmore 22, 1996 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


Here’s another Old Malt Cask bottle but don’t panic, it’s not another from their 20th Anniversary release. No, this is a single cask of Bowmore, a refill hogshead, bottled for K&L in California. Somewhat unusually, it is bottled not at the standard 50% abv of the Old Malt Cask line but at 53.9%. Not that I follow K&L’s announcements very closely anymore—after Driscoll’s departure it’s a bit like going to the circus after they’ve got rid of all the clowns—but I didn’t recall much noise having been made about it. Thus when I asked Sku in January—when I was in Los Angeles—if there were any K&L exclusives he’d recommend I was surprised when he mentioned this. But I always do what Sku says and so I purchased a bottle. At about $150 it was not cheap but that’s pretty good these days for a Bowmore of this age. When I got back to Minnesota I opened it right away, and man, Sku was right. Which leads me to think that the lack of noise about this from K&L must mean either that they really don’t know what they have or that the way to separate the crap from the quality in what they bring in is to ignore the ones they shout about and get the ones they trust to sell themselves (though this did hang around for a good while). If K&L were still shipping out of state I would have purchased a few more bottles within minutes of tasting this, but they don’t and then they finally sold out anyway a few days later. Here at any rate are my notes. Continue reading

Hyacinth (St. Paul, MN)


Hyacinth opened on Grand Avenue in St. Paul last autumn and quickly made a name for itself. This was partly/largely—depending on your point of view—because the owner/executive chef had previously worked in the kitchens at Corton and Franny’s in New York. Twin Cities food writers, you see, manage to both scoff at coastal inattention to/disdain for our local fine dining scene and fall over themselves with excitement when a chef from New York comes (back) to town or a local chef goes on to great success in San Francisco. Such are the contradictions of being a food critic in a third-tier food town. Continue reading

Coming Soon…


Be careful, people: today is April 1, the day every year that comedy goes to whisky blogs to die. It’s also the day when I tell you what might be coming on the blog in April and ask you to nominate booze reviews you’d particularly like to see from the long list to the shortlist. I got to almost everything that was requested in March and will get to to the leftover requests for sure this month. As you may recall, I lied terribly in last month’s version of this post. I said there’d be a lot of brandy reviews and then I reviewed only one. I’ll probably have another couple this month and maybe some rum too. But I will definitely have some Game of Thrones whisky reviews. I went in on a bottle split of the entire lineup and am planning to review one each week, starting with the premiere of the final season. While it’s a given therefore that there’ll be three Game of Thrones whisky reviews this month you can still help me decide which three I should do first. On the food front, I will get done with my reviews of my December meals in Delhi month and make a big dent in the Los Angeles reports as well. Continue reading

Samridhi (Delhi, December 2018)


I have mentioned before that one of the great open secrets of Delhi’s food scene is that some of the best food from other regions of the country is available in the canteens or dining halls of the various state bhawans. Now, you may be wondering what a state bhawan is. Delhi, as you know, is the capital of India, and all the state governments have headquarters in the city that combine office space as well as lodging for state bureaucrats visiting the capital or attached to the central government. They also have staff canteens that feed the employees of the bhawans—drawn from the state—the food of home. Many of these canteens—though not all—are open to the public; at some—as at Samridhi, it’s more the case that nobody stops the general public from eating there. These canteens run the gamut in aesthetic. The Bihar Bhawan, for example, has a full-on restaurant, a branch of the popular Potbelly; Goa Niwas also has a restaurant (Viva O Viva) but it’s decidedly less fancy. At the far end of the continuum is Samridhi, the canteen of Kerala House, as basic a dining establishment as you can imagine. It is functional and cheap but serves very delicious food. Continue reading

Top 10 Twin Cities Dishes, Oct. 2018-March 2019


Being out of the country in December I failed to post the last quarterly edition of my Top 5 Twin Cities dishes list. To make up for it here is an extra-long list to cover the last two quarters. We’ve not eaten very many high-end meals in the last six months and so this list is going to be more dominated than usual by the more affordable restaurants we eat out at far more often. Same rules as always: only one dish per restaurant and only dishes that seem to be mainstays on their menus. In a development I would not have predicted, a dish from an Indian restaurant actually appears on this list. I’m hopeful that another will appear on the next version of the list as well, as I’m hoping to continue my survey of a possibly improved local Indian restaurant scene. Continue reading

Blair Athol 22, 1995 (First Editions)


I haven’t reviewed very many Blair Athols—it’s been almost a year since my last review in fact. That one was a single sherry cask, distilled in 1988 and bottled in 2014 or 2015 by Signatory. This one is not quite as old but is also from a single sherry cask. This is from the 1995 vintage and was bottled last year by First Editions, another of Hunter Laing’s lines. The arithmetic on this one is a little wonky though. The label says it’s a single sherry butt but also says only 234 bottles came from it. That seems about 50% too low for a sherry butt. Compounding the mystery is the fact that there was a Blair Athol 21, 1995 bottled in the same series in 2017 from a sherry butt with the exact same abv but that one apparently yielded 492 bottles and 492+234 is headed into Glendronach territory for a single sherry butt after 22 years. Now there’s also a First Editions release of Blair Athol 22, 1995 from 2017 with a slightly lower abv that’s listed as having yielded only 210 bottles. 210+234 is not an implausible number for a single sherry butt either. It’s also possible, of course, that the cask was split with a completely different bottler or that despite being listed on the label as a sherry butt it was actually a sherry hogshead. Either way, it’s obviously the case that independent bottlers can’t always be relied upon for very much more accuracy/transparency on labels than the distilleries themselves. If anyone has any light to shed on this please write in below. Continue reading

Handiwala (Delhi, December 2018)


I’m not a big fan of North Indian restaurant food in the US—to put it mildly—and to be frank going to North Indian restaurants is not a big priority when I’m back in Delhi either—eating that food in Punjabi friends’ homes is though (shout out to my friends Mohan and Neetu and especially Neetu’s mother for yet another fantastic dinner). But I do usually do it at least once. This is largely because naans and rotis and kababs at even the mid-tier places in Delhi are far superior to those available almost anywhere in the US and not being very good at making it myself, I really miss that stuff. And so when an opportunity arose to take my nephews to lunch in Noida, we decided to give Handiwala a try. It is yet another restaurant in the large and highly unattractive Sector-18 market. One of my nephews was insistent we go to Punjabi By Nature instead (it’s very close) but I overruled him out of desire to try something new. Was this a mistake? Read on. Continue reading

Ghebre’s (St. Paul, MN)


I’ve been meaning to eat at Ghebre’s for a while now, just as I’ve been meaning to expand my survey of the Ethiopian food scene in the Twin Cities. Alas, the terrible winter we had this year made it hard to get up to the Cities much for our usual weekend lunching. But now that the snow is melting and filling the potholes—and the rivers are flooding—there is nothing keeping us from escaping our small town once a week. And so it was that we left home on Sunday to have lunch at Ghebre’s with friends and then go to the theater with them (while dumping our brats on their teenaged son). And it was good. Here are the details. Continue reading

Ledaig 10, 2007 (Chieftain’s)


As long-time readers (the few, the imaginary) know, I am not generally a fan of wine-finished whiskies. But I am a fan of giving things a chance if they don’t cost too much. Here therefore is a young Ledaig distilled in 2007 and finished in Pomerol casks. How many Pomerol casks, I’m not sure. The bottle label lists three cask numbers with a total outturn of 689 bottles. That would seem like three bourbon hogsheads worth. So either three bourbon casks got emptied into a large Pomerol cask or each ended up in a separate Pomerol cask before being vatted for bottling. I’d guess the latter as I think only the cask(s) that last held the spirit can be listed on the label. However it was made, I got two ounces from a bottle split last year. I’ve recently had a number of high quality young Ledaigs from around this period and it seemed like a decent bet. It’s still available, by the way. Continue reading

Talisker 8, Old Release


Having posted a review of a release of the Bowmore 30, Sea Dragon on the occasion of the 6th anniversary of the blog yesterday, I may as well continue to further the illusion that I am the kind of whisky blogger who spends all his time drinking bottles of whisky from bygone eras. Here accordingly is a Talisker 8. Not the one that was part of Diageo’s Special Release slate for 2018 (did that one even come to the US?) but one that was released at some point in the 1970s. That would make it a late 1960s or early 1970s distillation and I don’t believe I’d previously had any Talisker from the 1960s or early 1970s. My friend Nick S. brought it to one of our mutual friend Rich H.’s tastings in St. Paul last November—a tasting that featured a number of other excellent whiskies including this Caol Ila 34, 1982, this Ben Nevis 27, 1990 and this “Speyside Region” 43, 1973, plus some others I haven’t written up yet. Nick was also kind enough to pour me a 1.5 oz sample at the end of the evening to spend a little more time with later. I was very excited to taste it at the initial gathering—the O.W.I (Online Whisky Illuminati) have trained us well to prize any and all whisky released in the 1970s—and I’m even more appreciative of the opportunity to taste it again when I can spend more time with it. Here now are my thoughts after spending more time with it. Continue reading

Bowmore 30, Sea Dragon


The blog turns six today and so here is the customary Bowmore review. My first ever review was of the lowly Bowmore Legend and since then I’ve posted a Bowmore review on every anniversary. In 2014 I reviewed the Bowmore 12 and in 2015 the Bowmore 18—but that’s as high as the age statements have gone on these anniversary reviews. Well, this year’s review is of a much older Bowmore—indeed, the oldest I’ve ever tasted—and it’s from a series with a very strong reputation: the Sea Dragon. A number of batches of these were released from the late 1990s through the early 2000s, all in ceramic bottles with striking art on them and it’s not always easy to know which release a given bottle is from. I got this sample from Matt G. and he couldn’t find a bottle code anywhere on his black ceramic bottle. Assuming this was not actually from a 2000s release, this will be both my first-ever 30 yo Bowmore and my first-ever 60s Bowmore. Continue reading

Khyen Chyen (Delhi, December 2018)


Given the vexed status of Kashmir in Indian politics (to put it mildly) perhaps it is not surprising that Kashmiri food should be so little represented in the Delhi restaurant scene. Back in the early 1990s there was but the one major Kashmiri restaurant—Chor Bizarre in Daryaganj; and in the late 2010s the situation is not very different, with only a few places having joined Chor Bizarre. Chor Bizarre had in between spawned various satellite locations of variable quality but those seem to have all closed now. I do not mourn this as the meal I had a few trips back at the Noida location was not very good at all. Anyway, Khyen Chyen doesn’t have anything to do with Chor Bizarre. They have two locations of their own, one at the Select City Walk mall in Saket and the other at the Cross Point mall in Gurgaon. I met old friends at the Gurgaon location early on my trip in December. Herewith the report. Continue reading