Sakura II (St. Paul, MN)


Sakura was the last restaurant I ate at before the pandemic closures began in March 2020. I stopped in for lunch by myself, sat at the bar and had an enjoyable meal of not-exceptional but entirely acceptable sushi. That may sound like damning with faint praise but in Minnesota it’s actually saying a lot. Thanks to the pandemic, it took a little over two years for me to go back and this time I went with the family. In the interim they’ve stopped lunch service and are now only open for dinner. Our plan had actually been to eat dinner that Sunday at Kyatchi’s St. Paul location but they closed unexpectedly for a few days for Covid-related reasons. Our kids had been promised Japanese food and so we pivoted to Sakura. I am glad to report that it didn’t disappoint on this occasion either. Continue reading

Roast Chicken with Indian Spices


My go-to roast chicken preparation is Judy Rodgers’ blast furnace method from the almighty Zuni Cafe Cookbook [affiliate link]. There are other roast chickens I like very much—Marcella Hazan’s still-life with two lemons, Samin Nosrat’s buttermilk-brined chicken—but the Zuni Cafe roast chicken reigns supreme in our house: my family would not complain if that was the only one I made for the rest of our days together. But I am an asshole and forever given to tinkering and experimentation and so I cannot resist sneaking in the occasional departure from our family favourite. This is one such recent departure—though the fingerprints of the Zuni Cafe method will be visible to anyone who knows it. I don’t turn the oven up as high as I don’t want the spices to burn—both for the sake of the chicken and for the sake of not filling the kitchen with smoke. I start out at 400º and raise the temperature 425º halfway in. It works very well with the Costco chickens we’ve been cooking of late, yielding a very juicy bird with crisp, spicy skin at just about the 55 minute mark. Your actual oven time will obviously vary depending on your oven and the size of your bird. Continue reading

The Return of the Weekday Lunch Thali at Kabob’s Indian Grill (Bloomington, MN)


Let joy be unconfined: the Twin Cities metro’s greatest lunch deal is back! Yes, I refer to the weekday lunch thali at Kabob’s Indian Grill in Bloomington. I have reported previously on these excellent thalis that I first ate in 2019 (see here and here). In late 2020 it was still available in to-go format (which I duly took advantage of). But then it went away. And even when in-person dining returned to Kabob’s last year, the weekday thali did not—though it was replaced by a new weekend thali served on banana leaves. I don’t mean to suggest that this was the worst restaurant-related development during the pandemic but it certainly was the one that impacted my life the most. Imagine my excitement then on seeing the restaurant announce on its Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that the weekday lunch thali was returning. I showed up as soon as I could to eat one and then again a week later. Here is my brief report on those meals. Continue reading

Smoky White Bean Stew


We split a pig from a local farm with friends a couple of times a year. While the meat is processed into cuts we specify there always seems to be one big package of smoked ham hock that makes it into our order from the processor (the excellent Dennison Meat Locker in, well, Dennison). These tend to hang out in our massive chest freezer for a while till I remember that I can use them when cooking dried beans. And I remembered I had a pack just last month while looking at my last packet of Large White Lima beans from Rancho Gordo. Their Royal Corona beans get all the love, but I quite like the Large White Limas too. I improvized a simple stew in an Indian style. By which I mean not that this is a traditional Indian dish per se but that I approached it the way I would if making a more traditional Indian bean curry: I cooked the beans till almost done, made a rich masala base while the beans were cooking, mixed the two and simmered it all till they were done. The few spices I used were Indian as well—zeera/cumin, methi/fenugeek, tez patta/dried cassia leaves, Byadgi chillies [affiliate link] and haldi/turmeric powder. There’s no reason really that you couldn’t call the finished dish a curry but as I mostly ate it out of bowls by itself I’m calling it a stew. Continue reading

Khâluna (Minneapolis)


In December 2019—just a few months before you-know-what happened—we ate dinner at Lat14 in Golden Valley and rather enjoyed it. We’d planned to go back but then ended up spending most of the next 2 years at home. By the time we began to get back into the dining out groove in Minnesota, the chef/owner of Lat14, Ann Ahmed, had a new restaurant in South Minneapolis: Khâluna. We had quite enjoyed our meal at Lat14 and so were looking forward to eating her food at Khâluna as well. Reservations, however, were hard to come by until I managed to score one for mid-January. And then the omicron spike happened in a big way and we had to cancel. It took another three months for me to finally make it there. I ate dinner there for the first time in early April along with some colleagues. I liked it so much that I immediately made another reservation to go back with the missus and some of our regular dining crew. We ate that meal this past weekend. I’d originally thought I’d post an account of both meals at the same time but after resizing 45+ photographs from the first meal, I gave that up. So what follows is an account of my first meal there. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for the second. Continue reading

May’s Recipes: A Poll


Yes, it’s time to help me select recipes to post next month (on Thursdays, as always). I have eight candidates this month and I’m afraid that as written none of them are vegetarian. Two, however, can be made vegetarian—one by omitting the small shrimp I threw in on a whim, the other by replacing smoked ham hock with smoked tofu or tempeh or similar. And I know it’s a long shot but I hope a bunch of you will vote for the gurda-kapoora masala even though it features goat testicles. The recipe will work even if you leave out the testicles (assuming you can find some to buy) and use only kidneys or a mix or kidneys and liver or kidneys and liver and keema. The rest I think should not be such hard sells. But who knows, maybe you’ll surprise me and the goat balls will be the runaway winner of the poll. Continue reading

Mooli Parathas


As I said a couple of weeks ago, I spent a fair bit of time in the kitchen on my trip to Delhi in March. I learned some new things and also improved my skills with some others. These masoor dal pakodas fall in the former category and mooli parathas fall in the latter. I will be the first to admit that I am not the most adept maker of chapatis and parathas in the world. I don’t have the best skills with a rolling pin. But what I lack in natural ability I almost make up for in perseverance and so at this point I turn out pretty good chapatis and parathas—plain ones as well as anda/egg parathas and alu/potato parathas. I’ve always been wary of mooli/radish parathas though, even though they are a close second to alu parathas in my personal stuffed paratha rankings. (It’s hip to say that alu parathas are boring compared to mooli or gobi/cauliflower parathas but I didn’t get where I am today—nowhere—by being hip.) This because mooli parathas are a lot more fiddly. For one thing, unlike potatoes, the mooli/radish is shredded not mashed which makes for a more uneven filling. For another, the shredded mooli gives off a lot of water and moist paratha stuffing is not easy to deal with. This can make rolling the stuffed dough a challenge for those of us who are not naturals with a rolling pin. I did get some hands-on lessons from my parents’ cook on this trip though and I am glad to report that the results have been very good. Being a generous guy I will share my success with you. Continue reading

Las Islas (South St. Paul, MN)


I have lived in southern Minnesota for almost 15 years now but I’m only just beginning to really get a sense of the suburban geography of the Twin Cities metro. For example, for many years when I’d hear names like West St. Paul or South St. Paul I assumed people were referring to the western or southern bits of St. Paul. Now I know they’re actually referring to what are officially separate towns—both of these towns, by the way, have populations close to that of the town I live in, about 50 minutes south of the Twin Cities. And the demographics of these suburbs can vary quite a bit. South St. Paul, for example, has a large Hispanic population. Indeed, people of Hispanic descent are the second largest group in the city at nearly 15% of the population. I bring this up because it might explain why a Mexican seafood restaurant opened here, just about two years ago, during the pandemic and has managed to weather it so far. I’m not sure if there’s been much coverage of it elsewhere but I saw a reference to Las Islas on the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook group a couple of weeks ago and my interest was piqued by their seafood-centered menu, heavy on ceviches and the like. And so this past weekend we descended on them with a couple of friends. Here is what we found. Continue reading

Bukhara (Delhi, March 2022)


After a break last weekend it’s back to my restaurant reports from my two-week visit to Delhi in March. I’ve previously reported on meals eaten out at Comorin, Cafe Lota and Carnatic Cafe—and also on a takeout biryani blowout. I now have three reports to go and the first of them is of what was once the most celebrated high-end restaurant in Delhi: Bukhara at the ITC Maurya hotel. I last ate there more than 20 years ago. There was a time when eating there (or at its Awadhi sibling, Dum Pukht) was a highly aspirational thing for me but as the Delhi restaurant scene has exploded in the intervening period it hasn’t really felt like a return to Bukhara (and its very high tarifffs) was very urgent. However, when we were in Calcutta in January 2020 we ate at Peshawri at one of the ITC hotels there and it was truly a fabulous meal. (In case you’re wondering, to preserve the Bukhara branding, names like Peshawri are used for restaurants at ITC’s other properties that present that menu.) And so when I reminded my strapping young nephews that despite having become working professionals they were yet to buy me a fancy meal, it was at Bukhara we ended up. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Keema Curry with Broccoli


Growing up, keema was always minced mutton or goat meat. It was cooked in our house both as loose keema and as kofta (meatball) curry and it’s hard to say which I preferred. When I first came to the US goat keema was not easy to find. Indeed, it’s not easy even now without going to the few desi stores that sell meat or to stores catering to other goat eating cultures. But beef keema/ground beef is pretty good too in these preps. If you can find grass-fed beef keema then all the better—that gamy tang takes it pretty close to goat/mutton. And while I don’t have much use for turkey meat in Indian preps, I find ground turkey works well for keema—as long as it isn’t all white meat. And it works particularly well In a robustly spiced dish like this one where broccoli additionally adds an earthy quality. Still, in the absence of goat/mutton keema, beef would be my top choice. The point is that you can use whatever you have at hand. What you will end up with will be comfort food of the highest order and the broccoli will help you feel virtuous. Continue reading

Mucci’s Italian (St. Paul, MN)


As those who read my restaurant reports regularly know, our kids eat out with us whenever we go out to lunch. It’s rare though that they accompany us to dinner (unless we’re traveling). A big part of this is that it’s nice to have adult time away from your children; a not insignificant part of it is also that at fancier restaurants it’s harder to find dishes that young children will eat wholeheartedly without performing surgery on plates to remove unwelcome components. Our boys are more adventurous eaters than the average upper midwestern kids of their age but vegetables—for example—remain a hard sell for them; and so the question of taking them to places where they would discard 50% of what’s on their plate just doesn’t arise. At the same time, however, they are more aware each year of how much their parents enjoy eating out and with every year their desire to participate more fully in this grows stronger. And so we’ve come to the slightly reluctant conclusion that the money we’ve been saving on babysitting since the older boy became a teenager will have to begin to be spent on initiating them more fully, if slowly, into the world of fine(r) dining. Which is how we ended up eating as a family at Mucci’s Italian in St. Paul this past weekend. Continue reading

Masoor Dal Pakodas


Perhaps because I was visiting sans the family, I spent far more time in the kitchen on my recent trip to Delhi than I usually do. My mother doesn’t cook so very much anymore but her cook is an ace—and I spent quite a lot of time watching and bugging him in the kitchen. I refined some techniques; I finally jotted down rough estimates of ingredients and steps of some family favourites (for example, this lau); I learned some new variations on dishes I already make; and I also learned to make some new dishes. Today’s recipe is in that last class and it is for pakodas made not in the way most familiar to non-Indians—i.e sliced vegetables coated in a besan/chickpea flour batter and fried—but with masoor dal or red lentils. The recipe is simplicity itself. You soak the dal (with some rice if you’re so inclined), drain and grind it to a thick batter, mix a few spices in and then drop spoonfuls of the spiced batter into hot oil for a few minutes till crisped to a golden brown. (You can see my teacher making it here.) It comes together very easily for an evening’s snack with tea and also makes a good passed snack for gatherings. For your first try you might want to start out small as with the proportions of the recipe below. Once you get the technique down (and if you like the results) you can easily scale the recipe up. Continue reading

Restaurant Alma, Spring 2022 (Minneapolis, MN)

Continue reading

Biryani and Kababs (Delhi, March 2022)


I ate out a fair bit in Delhi in March but I ate at home more. One of those meals eaten at home, however, also featured restaurant food. Or to be more precise it featured food from a number of different restaurants. You see, my sister’s birthday fell during my trip and it was the first time in more than 30 years that I was in the same city as her (and my parents) on the day. And as one of her absolute favourite foods is biryani, we decided to do an extended family gathering at my parents’ place centered on biryani. My nephews were tasked with ordering the biryani. Their first thought was the popular chain, Biryani By Kilo, but they readily admitted that they had not tried a whole lot of alternatives in Gurgaon. Accordingly, I put the question to Twitter and when a large number of other places received votes it seemed only right to order from as many of them as possible. And that is how we ended up with seven different biryanis from five different restaurants. And to be safe I also ordered a bunch of kababs from the closest location of the venerable Al Kauser. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Tongue, Two Ways


Keep calm: all I’m offering you is two ways of preparing beef or ox tongue, one as a lightly-dressed warm salad and the other masala-coated and crisply fried. The second is an extension of the first and given the size of the average ox tongue you’d be a fool to not make both. Now, you might say to yourself, “tongue—how Indian is that?” Well, tongue is indeed eaten in many parts of India; indeed, one of our kids’ absolute favourite dishes on our trip to India in 2020 was fried tongue, which we ate at a couple of restaurants in Goa. And the fried version I present here is my attempt to recreate those preps from taste memory. The first preparation—as a dressed warm salad—may not strike you as obviously Indian; and it is true, I’m not aware of any traditional preparation in this general vein (which is not to say that one might not exist). But as far as I’m concerned it’s an Indian dish through and through. The tongue is prepared by simmering it with whole garam masala and then sliced thinly and dressed with a vinaigrette in which roasted cumin has been steeped. Both versions go very well with dal and rice. Continue reading

Basil Cafe, In Person (St. Paul, MN)


We first happened upon Basil Cafe during the height of the pandemic, almost exactly one year ago. They’d only opened in 2019 and we hadn’t had a chance to eat there before everything closed to in-person dining in 2020. Thankfully, they survived not only that first year but also the next and seem to be going strong now as things slowly return to something approaching normalcy. We too have been eating out more often this year—and so while our 2021 meal had been takeout, this past weekend we finally made it in to eat there in person. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Cafe Lota V (Delhi, March 2022)


Cafe Lota may be my favourite restaurant in Delhi. I’ve eaten there on every trip since we first ate there in 2014—in some cases more than once. Part of our affection for it is that it is attached to the Crafts Museum, one of Delhi’s less visited treasures—and the restaurant itself is beautiful. Part of is that we’ve eaten there with so many good friends over the years. And a large part of it is the food, which is always excellent, always interesting and always an object lesson in the fact that a restaurant specializing in contemporary Indian food does not have to run away from “tradition”. One of the still remarkable things about Lota is how easily and seamlessly they present traditional dishes from different parts of India—sometimes in traditional guises, sometimes in updated presentations—alongside more mod’ish takes. As I noted at the end of my review of my meals at Comorin on this trip, the kind of thing Comorin is doing was really pioneered by Lota, and I think I prefer Lota’s version of it. You can go eat a Himachali thali and you can go eat bhapa doi cheesecake or apple jalebis—all of which I ate on this trip with some of my closest friends and fellow Lota aficionados. Between the laughter and the food, it was a wonderful meal and I can’t wait to do it again in January. Continue reading

April’s Recipes: A Poll


The recipes poll is back, baby! I didn’t post one for March, largely because I wanted to clear some of my backlog and partly because, headed to Delhi, I knew there’d be at least one recipe I’d post from the trip (that turned out to be this one). I now enter April with no backlog at all, no recipes already jotted down. Which is not to say that the recipes in the poll are things I’ve never cooked before. Well, one was learned in Delhi just over a week ago and my approach to another was overhauled then as well. The other four are things that I have made before but have not written down ingredients or steps for. I won’t be recreating them in April so much as riffing in the spirit/taste memory of the originals. Most of the pictures in the slideshow below are therefore indications rather than promises of what the new versions of these dishes will look and be like. Continue reading