Grand Cafe II (Minneapolis)


I ate dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis almost 3 years ago and reviewed it then. I liked that meal fine—especially at the price—even though I noted that the restaurant had no particular identity. Not too long after that the identity of the restaurant changed entirely. The owners sold it and under new chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson the restaurant moved in a haute and French direction. Not too long after that Anderson moved to the Bay Area to head the kitchen at Coi, leaving Malone solely in charge. The local reviews were strong when they were both involved and continued to be so after his departure. However, local reviews in the Twin Cities are always strong for high-end openings, especially from local darlings like Malone and Anderson—the local media had seemingly been waiting breathlessly for them to open a restaurant for a few years before their Grand Cafe debuts. Between our skepticism of local hype, the high prices and the fact that we’d not been particularly impressed by our meals at Sea Change when Malone was there, we weren’t in a huge hurry to go take the measure of the changes at the current incarnation of Grand Cafe. We did finally get there this past weekend, however, and I am now kicking myself for having waited that long. Yes, it was a very good dinner, probably the best high-end meal we’ve had in the Cities recently. Continue reading

Night+Market Sahm (Los Angeles, December 2018)


The original Night + Market opened in West Hollywood in 2010 (I think). I think it first flashed on our consciousness a few years later. We’d been planning on eating there ever since but somehow never got around to it—don’t feel too bad for us: we were mostly feeding our Thai food desires at Jitlada at the time. Somewhere in there they opened a second location in Silverlake (NIght + Market Song) but between menus that did not seem particularly kid-friendly and a no-reservations policy at Song, we never got around to it—it didn’t help that Luv2Eat opened in that period. Last year they opened their third location, Sahm, in Venice, and despite the fact that it’s the furthest of their outposts from our usual base of operations in Koreatown, that ended up being our first-ever Night+Market meal. We ate it as our last meal of 2018, in the early evening after a day spent with the kids on the beach and at the Santa Monica pier. I would love to say that our first Night+Market experience and our last meal of 2018 was great but, alas, it was not. That is not to say that it was bad; it was not bad, but it was, in our opinion, far from the quality of the best in Thai Town. Continue reading

Viva O Viva (Delhi, December 2018)


Nobody expects Delhi to have better Goan food than Bombay and you don’t have to look further than geography and demographics to see why. And I’m certainly not going to make that counter-intuitive and provocative claim here. The fact is Delhi barely has any Goan restaurants. However, on this trip to Bombay and Delhi I ate better Goan food in Delhi than I did in Bombay. I hasten to add here that when I speak of Goan food I am doing so in the stereotypical sense of the Christian food most associated with Goa. After all, Highway Gomantak is also a Goan restaurant and I’m not making any comparison with my meal there. No, it is to my meals at O Pedro that I am comparing my lunch at Viva O Viva and ruling in favour of the Delhi establishment. And this too should probably not be a surprise as Viva O Viva is the restaurant at Goa Niwas in Chanakyapuri, the official (very large) guesthouse of the Goa state government in Delhi. Continue reading

House of Curry III (Rosemount, MN)


The nice thing about reviewing restaurants on your own blog is that you can re-review places as you desire. Unlike the professionals, who never seem to go back to places already reviewed, we amateurs can return to check in on places, and we can do our (very) small part to continue to promote very deserving restaurants that remain under the radar or which, past initial, passing recognition, don’t get any push on social media from the usual boosters of the local scene. One such is House of Curry, the small but excellent Sri Lankan restaurant in Rosemount. I first reviewed them in 2014 and again last year.  And I am happy to report that in 2019 they are still around and still putting out excellent food. Though I am Indian (and Bengali) and they are Sri Lankan, their cooking is as close as I can get to the flavour of Indian home cooking in the Twin Cities and I enjoy their food more than that of any Indian restaurant in the metro—including Persis in Eagan, who I’d recently anointed the best Indian restaurant I’d eaten at in the area. Continue reading

Holbox (Los Angeles, December 2018)


Well, I’m certainly not done with my reviews of meals in Delhi in December but thought I’d get started anyway with my reports from Los Angeles, where I met up with the missus and the brats after the end of my Delhi sojourn. As always, we ate out at least once a day. This was not our first meal out together on this trip but I want to start with it as I am writing this on a cloudy, damp Saturday in April and it feels good to recapture a bit of a much nicer Saturday morning in L.A in late December. And this meal at Holbox was one of our very favourite food outings.We spent the morning at the California Science Center—where you pay for all-day parking—popped out for lunch at Holbox, and then returned to spend the rest of the afternoon back at the Science Center and the African American Museum. A very good day. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

Mangal Bazar (Delhi, December 2018)


In Minnesota, in Montreal, in London, in Hong Kong I’ve taken pictures of green markets and posted them in slideshows on the blog. But though I’d been back home to Delhi three times between starting the blog and my most recent trip in December, I had not done the same from there. In some places you’re a traveler and in some places you’re just at home. Going to the market when I’m back home is no more remarkable an affair than going to Cub Foods here. But on this trip, perhaps because I’d made two market reports from Hong Kong, I took my camera with me on a visit to the weekly haat (or open-air market) by my parents’ neighbourhood of Sector 25, NOIDA (a suburb of Delhi). Here are most of the photos I took. Continue reading

Kramarczuk’s (Minneapolis)


Kramarczuk’s is a Minneapolis institution. They’ve been around for more than half a century—more than 60 years in fact. It was established by a Ukrainian couple but is essentially a pan-Eastern European market and deli. To quote my friend George from a recent conversation about Kramarczuk’s, “they are ecumenical in their Eastern Europeanness: everything east of the Rhine qualifies”. They’re located on Hennepin and I find it hard to not stop in for a sausage when I go up to Surdyk’s spring and summer booze sales (they’re a hop, skip and jump away). I don’t always remember to take pictures though and so this report covers two meals, one eaten last summer, and one eaten this past Friday. Very different weather on the two visits but it’s always the same warm season inside Kramarczuk’s. Continue reading