On’s Kitchen III (St. Paul)


After an iffy report from Minneapolis (of dinner at Kado no Mise), I have a very positive report from St. Paul: of lunch at one of the most reliable restaurants in the Twin Cities, On’s Kitchen. This is my third review of the Twin Cities’s best Thai restaurant. We’ve eaten there several times since my previous review and somehow it’s been 2.5 years since I’ve got to writing them up again. We were there for lunch last weekend with a small subset of our usual dining out crew and we ordered a number of old favourite dishes plus some we haven’t eaten so often. It was all very good.  Continue reading

Tenno Sushi (Los Angeles, December 2017)


My Twin Cities readers who are sick of my criticisms of sushi in Minnesota and my constant praise of sushi in Los Angeles will be pleased to read this review of Tenno Sushi, a restaurant in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo that is no better than the places I’ve found lacking here (though also no worse). How did we end up here despite our commitment to eating high quality sushi in Los Angeles? Well, due to the intersection of two reasons:  we needed to be at the Natural History Museum after lunch; and our older brat decided on this trip that he wanted to finally try sushi and we needed to find a place that was relatively kid-friendly. Continue reading

Kado no Mise (Minneapolis)


Well, it has been two and a half years since my last foray into a sushi bar proclaimed excellent by the local media. Since that less than inspiring meal a new contender has emerged on the scene: Kado no Mise. Unpromisingly, it features the same chef from Origami, Shige Furukawa, who presided over our disastrous lunch there in 2014, and it’s in the same space. At this point you would think that I would know better than to fall for praise that’s so easily dished out in this area but hope of good raw fish springs eternal in my cold, cold heart. And so when an old friend from our Colorado days blew into town on work I made a reservation at Kado no Mise’s bar and met her there for dinner on a Wednesday night. I’m pleased to say that the meal was not a disaster. I’m less pleased to say that it was, nonetheless, passable at best and that a few things were not very good at all.  Continue reading

Hansol Noodle & Korean Food (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Back to Koreatown, Los Angeles. The night after the Oo-Kook outing with elders, we ate dinner with younger members of the missus’ extended family—two nieces and a boyfriend. They chose the restaurant and just as my nephews would in Delhi, they chose a trendy-looking restaurant in a shiny mall (the Madang Plaza at the corner of Western and 6th): Hansol Noodle & Korean Food. However, this may be the lowest-utility review I have ever posted—whether of a whisky or a restaurant. This because in the month or so between our eating there and this post, Hansol Noodle has closed. I’m going to post the review anyway, if only because I’d already resized, uploaded and captioned all the photographs. This will remain as a monument to yet another casualty of the Koreatown dining scene, where no amount of shine will keep open a place that doesn’t deliver on its food.  Continue reading

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour, Again (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Thanks to a less than indifferent meal at Yangtze in October I’ve had recent cause to once again deplore the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities. Fortunately, thanks to our recent trip to Los Angeles I’ve also been able to erase the memory of that meal courtesy a dim sum outing to one of the San Gabriel Valley’s finest: Sea Harbour. Along with Elite—or just above it, depending on who you ask—Sea Harbour remains at the top of the San Gabriel Valley dim sum scene. There have been some new challengers who’ve opened relatively recently—Longo Seafood is the latest in the San Gabriel Valley—but nothing I’ve read led me to want to go anywhere else for our one dim sum meal on our trip. And Sea Harbour rewarded my confidence: it was a very good meal.  Continue reading

Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant (St. Paul, MN)


Babani’s claims to be the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States. I say “claims” not because I have any reason to doubt them but because their origin story starts with the wonderful first sentence, “There was, there wasn’t…” This origin story, which is plastered on their website and on their menu (you can read it below) may be—despite some poor proofreading—the most original in the admittedly not-very studied genre of restaurant origin stories: charming despite presenting some rather old-fashioned views of the relationship between men and women; substituting for desultory listings of kitchen antecedents and wealthy backers, a playful tale of immigrant movement and desire that is as touching as it is tall.

A Kurdish restaurant in Minnesota? Why not? There are plenty of us here who never expected to end up in a place like this, so different from the climates—emotional and physical—we grew up in. The story of what it means to be Minnesotan is still being written. Continue reading

Jitlada II (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Last October brought the terrible news of the passing of Chef Tui Sungkamee. Along with his sister Jazz Singsanong, Chef Sungkamee ran what has probably been the greatest Thai restaurant in the United States for the last decade. She runs the front of the house and remains the face of Jitlada; he was the unassuming presence in the kitchen whose cooking introduced so many of us to the flavours and ingredients of southern Thai cooking; and even through its intense heat, made us understand how nuanced and subtle Thai food can be. A major loss but our meal there in December—intended as a paying of respects—allows us to believe that his legacy and the restaurant will survive. It was another excellent meal and made us kick ourselves for having waited four years since our last visit to go back.  Continue reading

Shiki: Lunch Omakase (Los Angeles, December 2017)


On our last two trips to Los Angeles we’ve done a big, expensive sushi omakase at Mori. On this trip we decided not to spend most of our sushi money on one meal and instead spread it around a bit more. Accordingly, we hit up Osawa a couple of days after we arrived; the plan after that was to go back for Kiriko’s lunch omakase and then see if we could find an acceptable budget place somewhere between Koreatown and downtown. The latter plan came to a bad end—more on this in a couple of weeks—and as it happens, we didn’t end up going to Kiriko either. Instead, we ended up at Shiki in Beverly Hills. I’d read accounts of their lunch omakase that sounded quite appealing and we decided we’d give a new place a go. And we were very glad we did. In the process I also ended up with my first and probably last ever bit of restaurant breaking news: the return of one of Los Angeles’ sushi legends to the sushi bar.  Continue reading

Cheng Heng: Cambodian Cuisine in St. Paul


Cambodian cuisine does not have a very high profile in the US. I’m not aware of any city that is reputed to have a significant Cambodian population, leave alone a significant Cambodian restaurant presence. Well, the greater L.A. metro area, probably, but even there there isn’t much talk of South East Asian cuisines beyond Vietnamese. While Minnesota’s Cambodian population is quite a bit lower than its Hmong and Vietnamese populations, we do have the fifth highest Cambodian population in the US outside California. As far as I know, this population is only represented by one major Cambodian restaurant: the venerable Cheng Heng on University Avenue in St. Paul. A Cambodian island in a sea of Thai, Vietnamese and Lao eateries, Cheng Heng has been around longer than most of them—about 21 years now. I’m embarrassed to say that even though this is our 11th year in Minnesota, we only just got around to eating there this past weekend. And I’m very sorry we waited this long as we really enjoyed the meal.  Continue reading

101 Noodle Express (Los Angeles, December 2017)


It is a tradition for us—as it is for many others—to eat lunch on Christmas at a Chinese restaurant. When we’re in Minnesota on Christmas this always means lunch at Grand Szechuan. In Los Angeles, however, we have a wide range of excellent options to choose from. I’d originally thought to go to Sea Harbour for dim sum this Christmas—especially after being thwarted the previous weekend by various of the missus’ elderly aunts and uncles (we ended up at Oo-Kook instead); but then I recalled again the massive crowds we’d seen while driving past it to Chang’s Garden on Christmas a few years ago. And so we punted our Sea Harbour meal to a regular weekday and ended up instead at 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra. Thankfully, there was only a short wait. Continue reading

Oo-Kook (Los Angeles, December 2017)


As I’ve said in reports from previous trips, we don’t really plan Korean meals in L.A. We’re based in Koreatown when there and when the missus’ extended family decides to get together to go out to eat it’s usually to a Korean place, and always one of their choice. This lunch was actually supposed to be dim sum at Sea Harbour. I’d been trying to get a group >8 together so we could make a reservation and it backfired on me. We ended up being a group of 10 but mostly elders and they rebelled and said, why go to the San Gabriel Valley to eat Chinese food when we can go eat galbi-tang right here in Koreatown? If I’ve learned anything in 48 years, I’ve learned to not argue with large numbers of your partner’s older relatives with whom you don’t have a language in common. And so it was that we ended up at Oo-Kook.  Continue reading

Chichen Itza (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Chichen Itza, located in the Mercado La Paloma building in the Figueroa Corridor, right by USC and the Exposition Park museums, is one of the most celebrated Mexican restaurants in the city. This despite the fact that it’s not a restaurant per se but a counter in a food hall within a community center. It specializes in the food of the Yucatán (it is named for the Mayan city site there), which even in Los Angeles is not very widely available. A mainstay on Jonathan Gold’s annual lists of the best restaurants in the greater L.A. area, it doesn’t lack for publicity. As always with cuisines of which there are not very many exemplars available, it is hard to know to what extent enthusiasm is driven by relative uniqueness. As someone who has not been to the Yucatán (or any other part of Mexico), I can’t really evaluate this. I can tell you though that we liked the food a lot, even though it was not as revelatory as the talk had perhaps led me to expect it would be. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2017 (Bloomington, MN)


Grand Szechuan is the Twin Cities area restaurant we eat at most often. Rather than report on every meal, for the last few years I’ve been posting yearly roundups instead. This year we weren’t there as often as usual. This is largely because we were gone for a chunk of the year, and given how much we ate out in the UK, and the fact that it was good to be back in our own kitchen, we didn’t eat out very much for the first few months after our return either. This roundup therefore includes a few dishes eaten at meals in the mid and late summer but mostly comprises a blowout meal we ate there this last Sunday with what has become our regular eating-out crew. As last restaurant meals of the year go, it was a very good one. And we ate so much that it also ended up being our last meal of the year—we passed on dinner.  Continue reading

Osawa (Los Angeles, December 2017)


As I’ve said a number of times before, sushi is the one thing we no longer eat in Minnesota. Rather than be disappointed (at not insignificant cost) over and over again, we save our sushi dollars and get our fill on our annual trips to Los Angeles. On the last few trips this has involved a blow out dinner at Mori (see here and here). On this trip, however, going out to dinner sans the brats turned out to be a no-no and so we’ve had to pass on Mori (they stopped opening for lunch a couple of years ago). We decided instead to turn the cost of an omakase at Mori into a few more meals at mid-tier places. This is where Osawa comes in.  Continue reading