Pho Tau Bay (Minneapolis)


In the last year I’ve posted a number of reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the Twin Cities and environs. There are two major thoroughfares in the area where the best of these can be found. One is University Avenue in St. Paul (home to Trieu Chau); the other is Nicollet “Eat Street” Avenue in Minneapolis. I’m yet to cover University Avenue in any detail but have already posted write-ups of two Vietnamese restaurants at the north end of Eat Street (Pho Hoa and Pho 79). Close to the middle of the street is the one that’s the most popular one of them all, Quang. This is not a review of Quang but of the restaurant that is at the very south end, the very end of Eat Street: Pho Tau Bay. It’s not exactly unknown but it’s also not talked about as much as it should be when it comes to Vietnamese food in the Twin Cities. Here’s a brief write-up.  Continue reading

Joy’s Pattaya Thai (Richfield, MN)


There is no Thai food of any kind in our little town, decent or otherwise. This has meant going all the way up to University Avenue in St. Paul anytime we have a big Thai craving. Our attempts to find plausible alternatives to these long drives to On’s Kitchen or Bangkok Thai Deli have so far led us to Thai Curry House in Burnsville (decent), Spice in Savage (not good) and Taste of Thai Yai in Apple Valley (somewhere in between). Accordingly, when Joy’s Pattaya Thai in Richfield was recommended in February by an occasional reader as a good option for Thai food in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis, I filed it away. My mental filing system being what it is, we only just ended up going there for the first time this past weekend. Here is an account of what we found.  Continue reading

Fasika (St. Paul)


That Minnesota has a large Somali population is well known. Less well known is the fact that there are immigrants here from a number of other African nations as well—as per this article, in 2015 Minnesota had the 9th largest African population in the US and experts believe the number of immigrants—taking foreign and US born populations together—may be twice the reported number . Of this population the Twin Cities metro area was home to almost 25,000 Ethiopians in 2015—a dramatic rise since 2000 when the population was just above 6000. This is reflected in a sizable number of Ethiopian restaurants, many of which—and some would say, the best of which—can be found on or off University Avenue in St. Paul. The University/Snelling area in particular—a key node of “Little Africa”—has a number of Ethiopian businesses. Of these businesses, Fasika is one of the most iconic. After our visit to the Little Africa festival in August we were inspired to eat more Ethiopian food and Fasika seemed like the best place to renew the acquaintance.  Continue reading

Trieu Chau (St. Paul)


Though you wouldn’t know it from my unending stream of reviews of restaurants in London and Scotland—interrupted only by a writeup of the Little Africa festival in St. Paul last month—we’ve been back in Minnesota for almost three months now. And though you wouldn’t also know this from the blog, we’ve been eating a lot of one of the cuisines that Minnesota has far better exemplars of than London: Vietnamese (the other is Mexican). Accordingly, I am taking the opportunity to resume the slow-motion survey of noodle soup purveyors in the Twin Cities metro area that I’d commenced last winter with reviews of Pho Hoa, Pho 79 and Cam Ranh Bay. And what better place to start than Trieu Chau, which has been around for almost 30 years on University Avenue in St. Paul and remains one of the local gold standards for pho and more. No one in the broader Twin Cities area who likes Vietnamese food needs to be told about Trieu Chau but it’s always good to confirm that the old reliables are still reliable. Continue reading

4th Annual Little Africa Fest, St. Paul


On Saturday we went up to St. Paul to take in some of the 4th Annual Little Africa Fest. It was held in Hamline Park, at the corner of Lafond and Snelling (free admission). There are quite a few African restaurants and businesses in the area and there’s also a sizable immigrant African population: Somalis and Ethiopians, in particular, but also Eritreans and immigrants from various west African nations. This is a part of the Twin Cities that we have not previously seen much of or interacted with and we’re eager to close that gap. Our town in semi-rural, southern Minnesota is not remarkably culturally diverse (though there’s more diversity here than most might imagine) and as our kids get older it becomes more and more urgent for us to get them to see Minnesota as not just a sea of whiteness. Fortunately, the Twin Cities offer plenty of opportunities to expand cultural horizons.  Continue reading

Piccolo XI (One Last Time with Feeling)


Piccolo serves their last dinner tomorrow. Here now is my writeup of our last dinner at Piccolo.

Ever since we found out about the impending closing back in December we’ve gone back with a number of friends who enjoy the restaurant as much as we do, and we did so again last Friday. We are going to miss this jewel of a restaurant dearly. Yes, there are some other excellent fine dining restaurants in the Twin Cities—and yes, we’ll go back more often to some of them now (Alma and Spoon and Stable especially)—but what Chef Flicker and his team have accomplished at Piccolo is something quite unique. Yes, his mark is on Esker Grove at the Walker and will doubtless be on Tenant, the new restaurant from two members of his Piccolo team which will take over the Piccolo space, but of all the major closings in recent years this is, in my view, the most irreplaceable. Chef Flicker himself will be moving on to something altogether more informal and while I’m sure it will be excellent it is not going to be Piccolo. God knows he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants but this is a big loss for our dining scene.  Continue reading

El Triunfo, Three Years On (Northfield, MN)


It was almost three years ago that I first wrote up El Triunfo, a small family-run Mexican eatery and market in Northfield, MN. We’ve been eating there at a regular clip since and the time seems right to post a quick update on the blog. It’s not that there have been major changes to the menu. In fact, not only are there are no new things on the menu since I last reviewed them but a few things have dropped off the menu. Tragically, they no longer have goat barbacoa on the weekends (I was told a while ago that not enough people were ordering it) and some of the things on the regular menu have also dropped off. Business on the whole, however, I am happy to say, seems to be going really well. Continue reading

Tawakal (Burnsville, MN)

Tawakal: Mush Mush
Back to Somali food, back to Burnsville. Tawakal is located a little further south from the Twin Cities than Nawal: going north or south on Highway 35, you take the Burnsville Parkway east, turn left on Nicollet and it’s almost immediately on the right in a strip mall anchored, as is the law in Minnesota, by a Caribou Coffee. It’s much more established than Nawal is: it’s been around a while, has been written up in various Twin Cities publications (the pieces are pasted to a wall) and abuts a grocery store and boutique of the same name. But what is the food like? Read on.  Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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