Piccolo X

Piccolo: Beef Tartare with Mushroom Puree
Will this be an account of our last meal at Piccolo? I hope not but they seem to be entirely booked up from now through their closing on March 11. I’m hoping we can get in one more time but if not, at least our last meal there will have been excellent. After eating there in mid-December and again over the New Year’s weekend, we went back again in late-January with another set of friends who are also big fans and we were all well pleased.

This review and, if we can indeed get in one more time, that of our next meal there will be the exceptions to my recent shift of emphasis to smaller immigrant-run restaurants. Piccolo was our favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities and I wanted to say farewell. Next week we’ll be back to Somali food.  Continue reading

Spice (Savage, MN)

Spice Thai: Satay
Spice is located in Savage, one of Minneapolis’ southern suburbs. And if the prosaic town of Savage can’t quite live up to its name, Spice also fails to deliver on its promise of “[T]he…only authentic Thai Cuisine South of the River”. (I’m not sure, by the way, if the restaurant’s name is just Spice or Spice Thai.) Once upon a time I would not have bothered to eat at a Thai restaurant in the suburbs, but having been pleasantly surprised by Thai Curry House we were optimistic. Well, if recent history has taught us anything it is that optimism leads naturally to dull disappointment. So it was for us at Spice. Our lunch here a few weeks ago was very disappointing. I know I said I’d be changing the focus of my restaurant reviews with a view towards supporting immigrant-run places but I can’t bring myself to say that a place like Spice is better than it is.  Continue reading

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes

Black Bean Curry with Potatoes
It has been a while since I last posted a recipe for beans. It’s been almost a year, in fact; I don’t know how you’ve all coped. That recipe was for North Indian style rajma or red beans, cooked, in a bit of a twist, with cauliflower. Cauliflower aside, that was a simpler variation on the very first recipe I posted on the blog, for a more classic rajma preparation. This one is simpler still: there are no esoteric ingredients here (depending on how often you use powdered turmeric) and it’s not a very fussy prep. The result, however, is very tasty. It would probably be less tasty if you were to use beans from a source other than Rancho Gordo (full disclosure: the proprietor, Steve Sando, is one of my proteges). Their vaquero bean is what I used here—the colour and markings make for a striking presentation. And its texture and ability to hold its shape makes it perfect for the pressure cooker (which I deployed here as I was a bit pressed for time). You’re probably more modern than I am and have an Instant Pot; it should be easy enough for you to figure out how to adapt this recipe for it. But if you have time, the results will be even better if you just cook it long and slow on the stove. Continue reading

Moroccan Flavors (Minneapolis)

Moroccan Flavors
As I said last week, the focus of my restaurant reviews is going to shift for the foreseeable future to smaller, immigrant-run restaurants. I also said that I would be making more of an effort to get to restaurants serving the cuisines of countries and regions and peoples that have been targeted by the rhetoric and policies of the new administration in the United States, and in particular to Somali, North African and Middle Eastern restaurants. I had a review of a Somali restaurant last week (Nawal in Burnsville) and this week I have a review of Moroccan Flavors in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities do not have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to North African cuisines (and the well-regarded Saffron shut down last year) but I am happy to say that in Moroccan Flavors the region has a worthy representative.  Continue reading

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb

Cumin-Laced Leg of Lamb
As I’ve mentioned before, it is hard to imagine Indian food without some ingredients that came with European colonizers and traders from the Americas: chillies, tomatoes, potatoes. Cumin, however, is not one of those ingredients. Like pepper, it has been grown and used in South Asia for a very long time. And also like pepper, it is not in fact native to South Asia: it has been grown in many parts of Asia for a long time now and probably originates in the eastern part of the Mediterranean. Traders on the spice/silk roads may have taken it to China, where it is an ingredient in the cuisines of the Northwestern regions and also in certain Sichuan dishes. For travelers across the Levant, North Africa and Asia in earlier eras, the aroma and flavour of cumin must have been a sign of the familiar in otherwise foreign lands. It has also gone West, of course, and is now a staple ingredient in a number of South and Central American cuisines. Indeed, it is hard to say now what cumin’s nationality is.  Continue reading

Nawal (Burnsville, MN)

nawal

[This post originally had a very long introduction in which I laid out a short/medium-term shift in the focus of my blog: fewer whisky and fine dining reviews and a greater emphasis on smaller, immigrant-run restaurants and on books and films from the non-Western world. So as to let this review of Nawal stand on its own, I’ve split that stuff into its own post here.]

Nawal is a Somali restaurant in Burnsville, one of the southern suburbs of Minneapolis. Burnsville appears to have a large Somali population (Minnesota, as you may know, has the largest Somali population in the United States). I’ve not looked up census data for Burnsville but there’s a mosque/Islamic Center very close to Nawal, as well as a number of Halal markets and other Somali restaurants in the vicinity. It is a casual and relaxed restaurant; it is a gathering place for local Somalis but it’s also a good place to get an introduction to Somali comfort food. We’d already eaten there a few times in the last month or so (after noticing it en route to the nearby Thai Curry House) and I’d been planning to eventually write it up after we’d tried a big chunk of the menu. But after the events of Saturday we got a large group of friends together to go eat lunch there as a (very) small statement of solidarity and no time seemed better than the present for a review. Continue reading

Zeera-Alu (Fried Potatoes with Cumin)

Zeera-Alu
This recipe is a variation on one I posted last year for sweet potatoes with cumin. I said of that one at the time that it might have been the simplest recipe I’d yet posted. This one is both a bit more and a bit less involved. A bit less because it has even fewer ingredients; a bit more because it has one extra, fussier step: it calls for the potatoes to be first boiled and then peeled and fried. For this reason this is unlikely to be a recipe you might make on a weeknight (when two pots for one dish might be one pot too many) but it makes a mean side dish for when you have more time to cook. It’s great right out of the pan and it’s also quite good when it’s cooled—so it’s also a good option for picnics and potlucks. The recipe calls for small, waxy potatoes but would work just as well with larger potatoes cut in half or thirds (just make sure they’re not too starchy).  Continue reading

Au Kouign-Amann (Montreal)

Au Kouign-Amann: Kouign Amann
This is the very last of my reports from our trip to Montreal in late October. While I’ve presented the rest of those meals in chronological order, this one is a break in the sequence. You see, we stopped in at this wonderful bakery on the way back to our hotel from a day of gorging at the Jean-Talon market—having finished there with a large order of poutine covered in foie gras-laced gravy—and a few hours before our dinner at Joe Beef. Don’t judge. Or if you do, consider that we walked all the way back from Au Kouign-Amann to our hotel downtown. At any rate, to go to Montreal and not eat at a boulangerie/patisserie would be both stupid and impossible to resist doing: there are literally seventeen of them on every street; and Au Kouign-Amann was one that was recommended by almost everyone who knows Montreal.  Continue reading

Braised Lamb Shanks with Potatoes

Braised Lamb Shanks
Holy Land, a Middle Eastern store that is a bit of a Minneapolis institution, is one of my regular sources of goat meat. From time to time I also purchase lamb shanks from them. Always very fairly priced, these shanks call out to be braised. Usually, I cook them slowly in a vaguely Italian style, with tomatoes and red wine and olives, and we eat them over polenta. Every once in a while I cook them the way I would cook goat in a North Indian style, cooked down slowly, with the meat falling off the bone in a rich, velvety gravy. This recipe, however, is not one from my regular repertoire. I improvised it last week, and as it came out rather well I am sharing it with you. It is a fairly simple preparation, not calling for overly esoteric ingredients for the non-South Asian cook, and after some initial fussiness it all but cooks itself. Continue reading

Piccolo IX

Piccolo: Sunchoke Consommé
I don’t have a whole lot left to say about Piccolo except that this is my ninth review of a meal there in the last few years and that I still am depressed about the fact that they will be open for less than two more months. We last ate there in the second week of December and when we found out at that meal that they were going to have a special New Year’s weekend menu, and that Doug Flicker would be in the kitchen cooking it, it took about 3 seconds for us to decide that we’d be back soon to eat it. This is a brief account of that meal. We were joined by friends we’ve eaten there with before, and who are also big fans. It turned out to be one of the best meals any of us had eaten there—which is saying something, as the last meal we ate there together was pretty amazing too.  Continue reading

Hotel Herman (Montreal)

Hotel Herman: Buckwheat, chocolate, thyme
This is the final big meal report from our trip to Montreal in late October, though not the final Montreal report per se—I’ll have another very brief report next week, probably, on some pastry eating. This dinner at Hotel Herman was the last meal of our trip (unless, you count the terrible food we ate at the airport for breakfast and lunch the next day after missing our early morning flight to Minneapolis). It followed dinner at Joe Beef the night before (and brunch that morning at Olive et Gourmando). I wasn’t expecting to say that I might have liked this meal even more than our dinner at Joe Beef but that might possibly be true.  Continue reading

Radish Raita

Radish Raita
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe; the last one was back in late October and coincidentally had the same featured ingredient as this one: radish, or to be more specific, watermelon radish. But whereas that October recipe was essentially for thinly sliced and dressed watermelon radish, in this one the watermelon radish does not form the base of the dish; that role is played by yogurt. No one needs me to explain what raita is. I can tell you, however, one thing it isn’t, and that is a dish made with any sort of fixed recipe. The necessary ingredient is yogurt and it needs to be beaten; beyond that it’s a free world. From texture to flavourings, you can do pretty much whatever you want (though it should stay vegetarian and you should remember that the primary function of raita is to act as a supporting, cooling agent during a meal). Continue reading

Olive et Gourmando (Montreal)

Olive + Gourmando: Oeuf Coquette
Back to Montreal, and this time we’re in Old Montreal. Our meal previous to this on our trip in late October was dinner at Joe Beef. The plan had been to have a lazy morning to recover from that dinner and then go to the Museum of Fine Arts in the afternoon before dinner at Hotel Herman (review coming soon). But our Montrealer friends that we dined with at Joe Beef recommended that we spend time wandering around Old Montreal instead and that we begin the day with brunch at Olive et Gourmando. I’m very glad we listened to them. The food was very good indeed and was excellent fuel for a few hours of walking around the old city. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2016

Grand Szechuan: Szechuan Cool Noodle
Grand Szechuan is the restaurant we eat at most in the Twin Cities area. I stopped posting regularly about our meals there a couple of years ago, as otherwise things would get pretty monotonous. As I did last year, I instead have for you an end of the year round-up drawn from a number of meals eaten this year. It highlights mostly dishes that have not been featured before, as well as a few old favourites. A few new things entered our rotation this year and we also got around to eating for the first time a few things that have always been on the menu. Whether it’s to eat old or new things, we’re always glad to walk in their door. Continue reading