Estelle (St. Paul)


Estelle opened a couple of years ago in St. Paul in whatever that neighbourhood right by Macalester is called. It got rave reviews from the local press and despite my suspicion of the local press—whose excitement often seems to me to have as much to do with the idea of a place as with the food itself—we’d planned to eat there in early 2020. But you know what happened next. I don’t know if they had a takeout pivot through the pandemic but with the exception of one occasion with Tenant our pandemic takeout meals skipped the high end. But we finally made the return to dining-in last month (yes, at Tenant) and Estelle was the next place we made reservations at. We were joined by friends we eat out with regularly—and with whom we ate a number of takeout meals in the last year and a half. This is how it went. Continue reading

August’s Recipes: A Poll

As in July, the poll to select recipe posts for August will be conducted here on the blog instead of Twitter. The poll function on the blog allows for more choices and also allows multiple selections. This month’s poll includes three of the dishes that didn’t make the cut in July plus five new ones. (I replaced the crab curry in July’s poll with a crabmeat poriyal in this one.) You can vote for up to three dishes. The poll will be open till noon Minnesota time on Tuesday.The top four vote-getters will be posted in order on Thursdays this month, starting on Aug 5—the others will enter the poll for September. Photographs of the dishes are included to give you a better sense of what you are voting for. Continue reading

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Kansas City)


Okay, let’s get the Kansas City meat-a-thon going. As I said at the end of last week, we drove down to Kansas City for three days for a trip that was largely built around the eating of barbecue. As you doubtless know, Kansas City is one of the four traditional centers of barbecue in the United States—Texas, Memphis and the Carolinas being the others. The major differences between Kansas City barbecue and the others is first of all a more catholic approach to meat: there is no meat that is given emphasis over others in Kansas City. Anything that can be barbecued is. The other is the deployment of a tomato-based sauce with more than a little sweetness to it. Our main desire with the eating of barbecue was to eat at places with historical/cultural significance rather than places that top “Best of” lists. To this end I looked up reviews and articles online and canvassed recommendations on social media. We settled on Arthur Bryant’s and Gates for the historical/cultural significance. But we began our eating at the relatively much-newer Joe’s Kansas City which does often land at or near the top of those “Best of” lists. We had dinner there just a few hours after arriving in Kansas City. Continue reading

Braised Pork with Coconut Milk


We split a whole pig or two with friends every year. This is one of the perks of living in the semi-rural midwest. There are a large number of small farms all over Minnesota, many/most of which raise animals in a “humane” manner without the use of hormones and antibiotics and so on. You make contact with a farmer—or you can approach a meat locker/butcher that processes animals for small farmers and see if they know of any coming in—and when the time comes you get to specify your own cuts and sizes. It works out well for everyone involved. You get to support small farmers who raise their animals well and respect the land; and you get a lot of good meat at very good prices for the quality. This, at least, has been our experience. Of course it helps that we have a very massive freezer in the basement. Our cuts from the last pig we split included a couple of fresh ham roasts (basically hams that have not been cured or smoked). These can be cooked up just as you would a loin or shoulder roast and that is what I did here in an improvized recipe that is very loosely inspired by some combinations in Malayali cooking. It makes for an elegant dish with complex flavour that can be enjoyed equally with steamed rice or mopped up with some nice bread. Continue reading

Tenant V (Minneapolis)


It took till mid-July but we finally ate a meal inside a restaurant for the first time since March 2020. Sakura was the last time I ate inside a restaurant. That was not planned. We could tell restrictions were looming but we didn’t know when they would come or how long it would be before in-person dining would again become viable. Of course, in-person indoor dining’s been back in Minnesota for a few months—but we didn’t start to get comfortable with the idea until the end of June. Once we were ready to take the plunge there was not much doubt where we would go first. Tenant has become our favourite fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities—as their predecessor, Piccolo was before them—and it was only appropriate that our return to dining in happen there. (Grand Szechuan would have been even more appropriate for the whole family but it’s only on our recent outing to Kansas City that we’ve finally taken the boys indoors to eat.) I’m happy to report that our first fine dining meal since the pandemic began was a very good one. Herewith the details. Continue reading

How to Cook and Eat Food From a Culture That Is Not Your Own

I am informed that in the year 2021 there is still a great deal of confusion about how to cook and eat food from a culture other than one’s own. But don’t worry, I—the prophet who brought you the Food Commandments—am here to help you. Read this short guide and you too will know how to cook and eat food from a culture that is not your own. Continue reading

Three Days in Kansas City


What is this now, a tourism blog? Well, why not.

On more or less a whim we went down to Kansas City for a few days earlier this week. We hadn’t been outside southern Minnesota as a family since February 2020 and were itching to go somewhere. With the younger boy not yet vaccinated we were not comfortable getting on a plane and nor were we into the idea of a much longer drive, which would also mean a much longer stay away for it to make sense and would need more planning than a trip made on a whim. Chicago was the obvious choice but we’d been there a few years ago and didn’t really want to deal with the hectic traffic. Kansas City, located exactly six hours from our door, seemed like a great alternative: get on Highway 35, drive six hours south and get off; Des Moines located almost exactly halfway for a lunch stop. Lots and lots of great barbecue to eat once we got there. What could go wrong? Well, a few things did but it was a nice visit overall. Accordingly, here are some tips for anyone else looking to make a quick jaunt to Kansas City and also a request for a list of things we should have seen/done but didn’t. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Ground Peanuts


This recipe is basically the byproduct of having made my friends Anjali and Pradnya’s recipes for bharli vangi a number of times this summer. It also owes something to the baghare baingan recipe from the The Essential Andhra Cookbook that I’d posted late last year. I really enjoy the mix of sweet, sour and spicy in all those dishes and the richness that comes from the use of peanuts and/or sesame seeds. In this recipe I use both peanuts and sesame seeds (though no coconut) and instead of tamarind I use sweet black vinegar. The heat comes mostly from black pepper—the byadgi chilies are used mostly for colour and for a light smoky flavour. If you don’t have byadgi chillies you could substitute Kashmiri or even ancho chiles. If the latter strikes you as too fusiony a choice keep in mind that this recipe—in addition to Chinkiang vinegar—also uses Sichuan peppercorn. I never have its southwestern Indian cousin tirphal on hand and it’s a more than plausible substitute. But it’s best not to think too much about these things and just roll with it. The results, I can promise you, are delicious. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 65: Matt’s Bar (Minneapolis)


I have a confession to make. Despite living in Minnesota—and in the greater Twin Cities metro area—for almost exactly 14 years now, I’ve never had a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, or for that matter at any other restaurant in the area. Yes, I’ve made my own versions at home but I’ve never eaten it at Matt’s Bar or at any of the other places that claim to make the ur version. If you’re not from Minnesota and not up on your Twin Cities cliches you may not know what a Jucy Lucy is: it’s a cheeseburger where the cheese is in a hollow inside the beef patty, where it melts as the patty cooks and comes oozing out when you bite into it. Sounds a bit repulsive, yes, and it is but there are contexts in which it makes sense. And at any rate the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics states that one must not enter one’s 15th year in a region without having eaten all of its iconic, if occasionally dubious, culinary specialties. Having now eaten a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s, I believe I have all the local iconic specialties covered but long time Minnesotans and Twin Citizens should feel free to test me. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi with Ajwain


This is my fourth recipe for alu-gobi. As I’ve said before, alu-gobi is a category rather than a specific dish. My previous versions have included recipes for a rich version with a lot of gravy, a dry version with a lot of spices, and a lightly-spiced version with no tomatoes. In this version there is some tomato and a light hand with spices. The crucial variation here is the presence of ajwain among the spices. (You can find ajwain easily at your nearest South Asian store or your online retailer of choice.) More commonly used in dough—for samosas, pooris, parathas etc.—ajwain can also be used to flavour vegetable dishes. A little goes a long way as it is rather assertive, its herbal aroma and flavour a bit like a lovechild of cumin and aniseed. Here a couple of pinches are deployed early in the process and its flavour and aroma build and suffuse the dish as it cooks without completely dominating it. The dish comes together very easily and served with rice or chapatis/parathas/pooris with dal and a pickle is the very epitome of comfort food. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 64: Karen Thai (St. Paul)


It had been more than two months since our last Thai meal (at Basil Cafe on—where else?—University Ave. in St. Paul) and that seemed like a dangerous situation to be in. Accordingly, on Saturday I drove up to Exit 110A on Highway 35E to Karen Thai in St. Paul for our latest pandemic takeout meal, bringing food back to eat on our deck with friends just as we had been doing last summer. The restaurant has been open for three or four years and I first heard about them about two years ago. I’m not sure why it took us so long to get there but multiple nudges from people online finally saw us fixing that oversight. Here is how it went. Continue reading

Surya India Foods (Arden Hills, MN)


A week ago Saturday we drove up to Arden Hills to pick up takeout from Namaste India Grill & Brewhouse (the report on that meal is here). On the way up we stopped at Surya India Foods, an Indian grocery that is located just a few blocks south in another strip mall off Lexington. I don’t really have a handle on the South Asian population in the suburbs in that part of the Twin Cities metro—I am eagerly looking forward to reading the census data when it is available. I assume the opening of this store and Namaste India—both in the last 2-3 years, if I remember correctly what I was told by staff at both places—is an indication that the population is growing. Then again there may be more South Asian restaurants and stores in the general vicinity than I am aware of—I also don’t have a handle on the northern part of the metro more generally. Anyway, here is what you can expect to find if you visit Surya looking for Indian/South Asian groceries. Continue reading

Begun Bhaja


Begun bhaja literally means “fried brinjal/eggplant” in Bengali. It is one of the simplest preparations in the Bengali repertoire and one of the most quintessential. A meal comprising just dal and rice and a few slices of begun bhaja is an excellent meal indeed. Well, I say that now. As I’ve noted before, I did not actually eat brinjal/eggplant till just a few years ago. But it is also true that even in my most baingan-phobic youth I always liked the taste of begun bhaja and would eat small bits of the non-seedy parts of the flesh along with the crispy, almost smoky peel. Now I am older and wiser and enjoy all of it.

In its simplest form, all this dish requires is baingan, salt, haldi, red chilli powder and oil. The version I make most often adds only one ingredient to the above, probably making it less quintessentially Bengali in the process. That ingredient is amchur or dried mango powder. Some people add some sugar to the mix as well (the love of sugar is a sickness among us Bengalis); some also add flour; I’ve sometimes sprinkled some rava/sooji/semolina over right before frying. I like these fine as variations but most often come back to the simple version in this recipe. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 63: Namaste India Grill (Arden Hills, MN)


The Zeroth Law of Ordering at Indian restaurants in North America says that if the person taking your order asks you if you want your dal makhani “mild, medium or spicy” you should give up hope and head for the exit. I have to confess that when the person taking my takeout order on the phone on Saturday mornign at 11 asked me this question I was tempted to hang up. But the boys had been promised tandoori chicken for weeks now, and I’d also committed to reviewing more North Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro this year—and so I said a little prayer to my many-armed gods and placed the rest of the order. This is how it went. Continue reading

Favourite Dishes Eaten in the Twin Cities Metro: Apr 1-Jun 30, 2021


Here is my second quarterly report of some of the best dishes we’ve eaten in 2021. The first report, which covered meals from January 1 to March 31, is here. This one covers meals between April 1 and June 30. As with those represented on the January list, these were almost all takeout meals (with one meal eaten at outdoor seating). With our first dine-in meal scheduled in less than two weeks it seems likely that the next version of this list will not be quite as takeout-heavy. As with the first list I am including here every restaurant we got food from in this period. Depending on the restaurant 1-3 dishes are featured in the slideshow. The list features some of our old favourites—Grand Szechuan, On’s Kitchen and Homi; it also includes some places we went to for the first time but which will likely join our regular rotation going forward—El Cubano, Firebox, Basil’s Cafe. Some of the others we’re less likely to go back to but there were things we liked at pretty much every meal and so they are all represented here. Continue reading

July’s Recipes: A Poll

For a while now I’ve been doing polls on Twitter at the start of each month to figure out the sequence of the month’s recipes. Twitter’s poll function is very limited, however, and so I’ve decided to do these polls on the blog going forward. If you are among those who are interested in my recipes please respond to this poll in the next 48 hours. You can vote for up to three options. The top four vote getters will be posted on the remaining Thursdays in July. The others will enter the pool for August’s poll. Continue reading

Peach Panna


I was at the municipal pool with the boys last afternoon armed with a novel (my friend Ben Percy’s The Ninth Metalavailable from Content Books and everywhere else) and a large container of aam panna. As anyone who has had it knows, aam panna is one of the best things about life and especially about life in the summer. If you haven’t had it and don’t know what it is, aam panna is a tart-sweet drink made with boiled unripe mangos whose flesh is pulped and mixed with sugar, rock salt and a few ground spices to form a thick concentrate. A few tablespoons of this concentrate per 8 oz glass of water + ice = refreshing bliss. Between sips of my supersized serving of refreshing bliss, sprawled very elegantly on an unclean and uncomfortable plastic deckchair, I wondered idly on Twitter if some Indian-American food influencer or the other had yet presented a recipe for an “elevated” aam panna or made it with peaches in place of the mangos  (re elevated aam panna see Commandment 2). Naturally, this led in less than 24 hours to my making peach panna. And it was good. Here now before I forget what I did is the recipe. You are welcome. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 62: Coco’s Place (Northfield, MN)


The food plan for this weekend was a takeout run to Namaste India Grill all the way up in Arden Hills. But the crappy weather on Saturday (though my vegetable garden plot appreciated it greatly) put paid to that. So instead of picking up Indian food from the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities to take to our pod friends’ home for dinner we picked up Mexican food right here in our own town. And for a change we did not pick it up from El Triunfo. No, we got it instead from Coco’s Place, a new restaurant located on the town’s main drag, Division Street. This is the spot previously occupied by another Mexican restauant, Kahlo, which I never got around to reviewing before they moved to a less settled situation down the street. Kahlo, by the way, is the venture of the chef/owner who had operated Maria’s at the same location that now houses El Triunfo. Coco’s Place meanwhile is the first official retail location of a food business that has been in operation for a few years now but not previously from a storefront. Well, despite my ongoing loyalty to El Triunfo (for food and extra-food reasons) I am very glad to also have Coco’s Place in town now. Their menu is not identical to that at El Triunfo but the food we got from them was very tasty as well. Herewith the details. Continue reading