Ottolenghi, Islington (London, June 2018)


If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
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Persis Biryani Indian Grill (Eagan, MN)


As those who’ve known me a while know, I am not very high on Indian food in the US. Yes, there are some very good restaurants (Rasika in DC, for example) but the cuisine as a whole still seems trapped in the cream and nut paste-laden chicken tikka masala/dal makhni/korma rut that it was in when I arrived in the US in 1993. This is certainly true of the vast majority of curry houses, most of which essentially have the same standardized menu. I don’t fault the restaurants—they serve what the market wants and in most American markets there aren’t enough Indians or other South Asians to ask for very much more. But I rarely want that stuff even when it’s done well.  Continue reading

At the SMWS Members’ Room in London (June 2018)


Back to London in June, this time not to a restaurant (though I did eat some tasty food there). No, this is a brief account of an evening spent in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Members’ Room in London. I am not a member of the Society. It never seems to make sense to join in the US, but if I lived in London or Edinburgh I would be all over it. This is because while in the US we only have a few “Partner Bars” where SMWS whiskies may be sampled, London and Edinburgh have Members’ Rooms where you can try whiskies from current and recent outturns and even get a taste of things about to be bottled. And the Members’ Room at 19 Greville St. in London is very nice indeed. How did I get in even though I am not a member? Well, a member can bring a guest and I was the guest of someone who is a member not just of the SMWS but also of the OWI (Online Whisky Illuminati): Billy Abbott.  Continue reading

Soam (Bombay, December 2018)


Okay, I’m back in Bombay and back at another iconic Gujarati vegetarian restaurant, and depending on who you talk to, perhaps the iconic Gujarati restaurant in the city. Soam opened about a decade and a half ago and quickly established itself as the main challenger to Swati Snacks‘ crown as the purveyor of the finest Gujarati food, traditional and contemporary. My Bombay friends—those who live there and those who visit often—are pretty evenly divided. Some say Soam, with its larger menu and size and its less spartan aesthetic, is the clear front-runner; others acknowledge that Soam is good but wonder why anyone would ever go there over Swati Snacks. As one who is not from Bombay, knows little about Gujarati food, and has not eaten enough at both restaurants (three times at Swati Snacks, just this one time at Soam), I am not qualified to have an opinion. I can, however, tell you what my lunch there on this trip was like.  Continue reading

Mantra Bazaar (Apple Valley, MN)


We enjoyed our dinner at Darbar India Grill in Apple Valley fine a week ago but far more exciting than that dinner—well, other than the drive up and back through foggy roads—was the discovery of Mantra Bazaar, an Indian grocery located a few doors down, both in the massive shopping complex alongside County Road 42 between Cedar Avenue and Pennock. This is exciting because this is now the closest Indian grocery to us and because it stocks all the essentials I need for cooking; thus making it a viable option to the much larger TBS Mart in Bloomington, which is 10-15 minutes further away, which is even more significant in bad weather—which as you may have heard, we get some of in Minnesota. I stopped in after our dinner last week to buy a few staples and check them out; and I went back again today for a larger grocery run in the wake of last week’s snowcalypse. And I took the opportunity to take some pictures so I could add them to my survey of grocery stores in the Twin Cities metro that serve immigrant populations.  Continue reading

Laksamania (London, June 2018)


There are many things that make living in London superior to living in Minnesota—better theatre, museums full of colonial loot, amazing parks, great cheese, proper public transportation, the lack of polar vortexes (and 18 months of winter more generally) etc. etc.. It should be said though that while the food scene is generally far superior it is not consistently so: the Twin Cities metro has better Mexican and Thai food and our Sichuan is not far behind either. However, when it comes to Malaysian food, London is in a different league; to be fair it’s far ahead of any city in the US in that regard.

In one of my reviews from 2017 I noted why this should be so: the Malaysian diasporic population in the UK is far larger than that of the US and is concentrated in a much smaller area. As with South Asian cuisines and populations, these disparities—of demographics and food quality—have to do with colonialism. You can basically tell which first world countries (neo)-colonized which third world countries by looking to see which immigrant cuisines are the best there. As unfortunate as the historical reasons are, it does mean that London has very good Malaysian food compared to anywhere in the US, and as we love Malaysian food and get very few opportunities to enjoy it here we eat it in London every chance we get.  Continue reading

Highway Gomantak (Bombay, December 2018)


This was actually the last proper meal I ate in Bombay on this trip but I am writing it up out of order now as I am a little pressed for time and it involves resizing fewer pictures than all my remaining Bombay meals.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bombay food scene—as I imagine most of my readers are—the name of this restaurant is probably a big mystery to you. It is actually very simple: the restaurant serves Gomantak food—a subset of Goan/Konkani food—and this is a branch of the original Gomantak restaurant that is located by a highway in Bandra. Thus Highway Gomantak: mystery solved. As with many restaurants in this genre in Bombay, it is an unassuming restaurant that serves Goan food of a kind completely unknown in North India, leave alone in the US. This is not the Goa of vindaloos and sorpotels but of fish curries and rava (semolina)-crusted fried fish and shellfish. All these restaurants serve an array of seafood dishes that are basically iterations of a few preparations with a range of fish and shellfish. Add some thalis and some side dishes and that’s your menu. As with many restaurants in the genre, the price is on the low side and the quality is on the high side.  Continue reading

Tandoor Chop House (London, June 2018)


Having managed to post all my Hong Kong meal reports a mere month after my return from that trip, I am now going to try to finish up with restaurant meals from our trip to London in June (!). I have previously written up a Sichuan meal in Earl’s Court and a Korean meal in New Malden; here now is an Indian meal in Covent Garden. Tandoor Chop House, which vaguely marries the concept of a steak house with a menu heavy on meats cooked in a tandoor, had flashed on my radar when we were living in London for three months in 2017 but a poor review from Jay Rayner in the The Guardian had made me wary. He’d compared it unfavourably to Tayyab’s and while I liked our lunch at Tayyabs fine, I was not particularly impressed by it either. Since then, however, I’d read more encouraging reports and so decided to give it a go on this trip. With us were three Indian friends—two friends from my Delhi University days who were coincidentally visiting from the US at the same time as us, and one visiting from Delhi. All of us liked the meal very, very much. Continue reading

Darbar India Grill (Apple Valley, MN)


As recently mentioned, one of my food goals for 2019 is to explore more of the Twin Cities metro’s Indian food scene. I’d tried to do this a few years ago but gave up after not terribly encouraging results (we had a decent meal at Bawarchi in Plymouth and a rather disastrous meal at Dosa King in Spring Lake Park). Since then we’ve restricted our South Asian food outings to House of Curry in Rosemount. However, in the last couple of years I’ve begun to suspect that there’s a chance that there may have been some improvement in the scene. For one thing, it appears to me that the Indian population in the area may have grown—I guess the census will confirm or contradict this next year—and that there’s been an uptick in a younger South Indian population. This seemed borne out at the 2018 India Fest in St. Paul in August where the food vendors were predominantly Hyderabadi, and the food was pretty good too. However, having been burned before by long drives for unremarkable food, I decided to start closer to home in the south metro. And so when Mike McGuinness of the excellent Twin Cities East Metro Foodies Facebook group mentioned that there was now a branch in Apple Valley of his favourite Indian restaurant in the Cities, Darbar India Grill, we decided to start there.  Continue reading

Drinking Whisky at Ginger (Hong Kong, December 2018)


Here finally is my last report from my Hong Kong trip. Don’t worry, whisky people, it’s not another restaurant report; instead, it’s a brief account of a whisky bar I spent a bit of time in on my first night in Hong Kong: Ginger. I found it by asking for whisky bar recommendations on the Malt Maniacs and Friends Facebook page. It was one of a few that were recommended. I didn’t choose it for any particular reason other than it was all but right next to Kau Kee, where I had dinner that first night, and a quick walk from my hotel on Wellington in Central. Accordingly, after my bowl of tendon and noodles in curry soup I repaired to Ginger. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong, December 2018)


Here finally is my last food report from my Hong Kong trip in December. As on our previous visit in 2016, I inaugurated my eating at Crystal Jade at the airport not too long after landing; but on this occasion I did not eat my last meal there as well. Instead, I took the opportunity offered by traveling alone to eat at Tim Ho Wan’s Hong Kong station outlet. We’d tried to do this on the last trip too but the line was very long on every occasion that we passed it and our kids were in no mood to stand in it. The line was quite long this time too but I stood in it and it moved fast enough to not be a trial. Was the food worth it? Yes, it was.  Continue reading

Pho Everest, Again (Lakeville, MN)


We have a long history of making poor decisions when it comes to bad weather and driving long distances for food; and so the morning snow on Saturday did not keep us from sticking to our plan to drive to St. Paul for lunch at iPho followed by a trip to the Science Museum. There wasn’t much snow falling from the sky and the friends we were planning to caravan with said roads were clear in town and we figured the highway would be fine too. It didn’t take too long to discover, however, that the highway was not fine. Slick conditions meant a bunch of cars spun out and in the ditch and a mile or so from the exit for Lakeville traffic was slowed to a crawl. We called our friends in their car and we all decided it was a good idea to not drive to St. Paul even if traffic opened up by the time we got to the exit. Well, it didn’t and so we got off and decided to go to Pho Everest in Lakeville instead.  Continue reading

Dumplings etc. (Hong Kong, December 2018)


A quick roundup of small meals/bites that even I don’t have the energy to blow up into individual posts of their own. First, breakfast on arrival at Crystal Jade’s branch in the Hong Kong airport. This is where we had our first and last meals of our trip in 2016 and there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to eat there again right after landing. A bit of disappointment here as I was looking forward to a bowl of their excellent congee—what could be more restorative after a 15 hours flight?—but discovered they’d recently taken congee off their menu at the airport. It’s just a small selection of noodle dishes and dumplings now. Well, the dumplings themselves were not disappointing at all. I got an order of the pan-friend dumplings and an order of their XLB. A pretty good first meal in Hong Kong.  Continue reading

TeaWood (Hong Kong, December 2018)


I’d said I had only two food reports left to come from my Hong Kong trip but I lied. I’d planned to post a single compendium of my smaller meals and quick bites but there were just too many pictures to resize. And so I’ve split them into two posts. This one will give you a brief look at TeaWood, a Taiwanese restaurant; the next will cover my random dumpling eating etc.

Like pretty much every successful restaurant in Hong Kong, TeaWood is a chain. The majority of their branches are in Kowloon. As it happens, I had spent the entire morning in Kowloon that day but the branch I ate at is in Central, very close to my hotel. I’d had a very large breakfast—or rather three of them, beginning at Law Fu Kee, going on to the dumpling restaurant next to them and then finishing with an egg tart across the street. This is why I did not eat lunch in Kowloon. But after walking for almost 8 miles I was ready for a bite when I got back to Central; and as that branch of TeaWood is right next to where I got off the Mid-Levels escalator at Wellington St. I felt it was futile to resist.  Continue reading