The Lunch Buffet at Surabhi (Bloomington, MN)


My renewed survey of the Twin Cities Metro’s Indian restaurant scene took an unexpected turn last week. I had an appointment in Minneapolis that ran a little longer than I’d expected and I found myself on the highway, approaching Bloomington and feeling too hungry to wait to get home to eat lunch. I remembered just in time that I’d been told that there was an Indian restaurant named Surabhi right off the exit at 98th street that was supposedly quite good. And so I did something I rarely choose to do: I stopped at an Indian restaurant for their lunch buffet. Did I regret this as soon as I started eating? Read on. Continue reading

Handsome Hog (St. Paul, MN)


Let me at the very outset reassure the people of the Lowertown, St. Paul Facebook group* that I did not have any trouble finding parking before our dinner at Handsome Hog this past Saturday. No trouble at all. Lowertown, St. Paul is the best! No one can have any complaints about any aspect of Lowertown, St. Paul! Alas, you will still have complaints about me though as there are many words in this review as well.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about said dinner. But first a bit about the restaurant which opened just about three years ago. They bill themselves as a contemporary Southern restaurant and are helmed by Justin Sutherland, a Top Chef alum who is also an alumnus of local kitchens, Meritage and the late, lamented Brasserie Zentral. Sutherland has since embarked on creating a local Southern mini-empire of his own and has a new place opening soon in Minneapolis. Handsome Hog remains, for now, at least, the center of his operations. It has received strong reviews locally and we were excited to finally go. Continue reading

Bay Leaf (Eagan, MN)


My renewed slow-motion survey of Indian restaurants in the Twin Cities metro continues. The last stop was at Persis Biryani Indian Grill in Eagan back in February (see that post to see why I started this survey back up after the disaster that was my previous attempt to explore the local Indian restaurant scene). At the time that I reviewed Persis a number of people online waxed rhapsodic as well about the branch of Bay Leaf in Eagan, about a mile or so from Persis (the original location is in Eden Prairie). It took us a while to get there but last night we finally got there. How was the meal? Read on. Continue reading

Saint Dinette (St. Paul, MN)


St. Dinette opened in St. Paul’s Lowertown almost exactly four years ago. They immediately got a lot of good local press. Rick Nelson of the Star Tribune gave them 3.5/4 stars and that was more or less representative of the local acclaim. The restaurant’s pedigree was established—-opened by the proprietor of St. Paul’s The Strip Club (now closed) and featuring a chef and general manager from local legend, La Belle Vie. Even though our own opinion of La Belle Vie diverged dramatically from those of many people in the area (our last meal there was eaten before I started the blog), we were intrigued by Saint Dinette. In the early going, however, they did not take reservations and this was a big problem for us as our children were (and still are) young and it’s hard to do the babysitter thing not knowing how long you’re going to be away (keep in mind that any Twin Cities meal includes a two hour round trip for us). At some point, however, Saint Dinette started taking reservations and so we put them back on our list. And last weekend we finally made it there with four friends who’ve joined us at a number of other meals. What did we find? Read on. Continue reading

Revival (St. Paul, MN)


Revival opened some years ago in Minneapolis. In a metro area devoid of much by the way of Southern cooking or barbecue it received strong reviews from the get-go. We wanted to go but between our then very young children and their no-reservations policy it never quite worked out—and then they dropped off our radar. But then friends suggested it for a pre-theater matinee lunch in St. Paul last weekend and I remembered that a year or three ago they’d opened a branch in St. Paul. (Since late last year there’s also the counter service Revival Smoked Meats at the Keg & Case complex.) Revival by the way is owned and run by Thomas Boemer and crew, who also operate Corner Table and In Bloom (the high-end anchor of Keg and Case). It’s quite the meaty mini-empire they have in the Cities. Continue reading

Popol Vuh (Minneapolis)


Popol Vuh, a high-end Mexican restaurant, opened in trendy Northeast Minneapolis—or Nordeast as the really trendy people refer to it—last autumn and we’ve been planning to eat there ever since. This even though they describe their cuisine in terms I deplore: “elevated Mexican cuisine”. Mexican cuisine does not need to be elevated. We don’t refer to high-end French or Italian or Japanese restaurants as serving “elevated” versions of those cuisines and there is really no need to justify higher prices for a high-end, cheffy iteration of Mexican cuisine by calling it “elevated”. And people who might be iffy about paying the big bucks for any form of Mexican food—alas, I am sure such people exist, and not just in the Twin Cities—are not, I think, very likely to go, “Oh, so it’s elevated Mexican food, that’s entirely different!” In other words, you’re not convincing anyone to come by billing your food as “elevated”, you’re only displaying anxiety about the status of what you do and inadvertently implying that the rest of the cuisine is down there somewhere near a gutter. Continue reading

Hai Hai (Minneapolis)


Hai Hai opened in Northeast Minneapolis in late 2017 or early 2018. It got a lot of buzz right away as the second restaurant from the chef/owners of the previously buzzy Hola Arepa, Christina Ngyuen and Birk Grudem. We have still not been to Hola Arepa and until last Saturday had not been to Hai Hai as well. The reasons for this will not be mysterious to anyone who knows my views on the Twin Cities dining scene or knows me personally. For one thing, I am always cautious about the local food media’s penchant for over-hyping any openings that might be seen as placing the Twin Cities scene in the coastal restaurant conversation; for another, they serve a pan-Asian menu and in my experience in the US that’s rarely a good thing; and for a third, restaurants like Hai Hai (and Hola Arepa) seem to me to be aimed at people (mostly white and bougie) who do not normally go out to eat at restaurants that serve more traditional iterations of their food. And experience has led me to be wary of this phenomenon. Continue reading

Grand Cafe II (Minneapolis)


I ate dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis almost 3 years ago and reviewed it then. I liked that meal fine—especially at the price—even though I noted that the restaurant had no particular identity. Not too long after that the identity of the restaurant changed entirely. The owners sold it and under new chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson the restaurant moved in a haute and French direction. Not too long after that Anderson moved to the Bay Area to head the kitchen at Coi, leaving Malone solely in charge. The local reviews were strong when they were both involved and continued to be so after his departure. However, local reviews in the Twin Cities are always strong for high-end openings, especially from local darlings like Malone and Anderson—the local media had seemingly been waiting breathlessly for them to open a restaurant for a few years before their Grand Cafe debuts. Between our skepticism of local hype, the high prices and the fact that we’d not been particularly impressed by our meals at Sea Change when Malone was there, we weren’t in a huge hurry to go take the measure of the changes at the current incarnation of Grand Cafe. We did finally get there this past weekend, however, and I am now kicking myself for having waited that long. Yes, it was a very good dinner, probably the best high-end meal we’ve had in the Cities recently. Continue reading

House of Curry III (Rosemount, MN)


The nice thing about reviewing restaurants on your own blog is that you can re-review places as you desire. Unlike the professionals, who never seem to go back to places already reviewed, we amateurs can return to check in on places, and we can do our (very) small part to continue to promote very deserving restaurants that remain under the radar or which, past initial, passing recognition, don’t get any push on social media from the usual boosters of the local scene. One such is House of Curry, the small but excellent Sri Lankan restaurant in Rosemount. I first reviewed them in 2014 and again last year.  And I am happy to report that in 2019 they are still around and still putting out excellent food. Though I am Indian (and Bengali) and they are Sri Lankan, their cooking is as close as I can get to the flavour of Indian home cooking in the Twin Cities and I enjoy their food more than that of any Indian restaurant in the metro—including Persis in Eagan, who I’d recently anointed the best Indian restaurant I’d eaten at in the area. Continue reading

Smelt Fry at Ranchero Supper Club (Webster, MN)

We moved to Minnesota in 2007. It took us eight years to finally get around to eating lutefisk and only another four to finally go to not only our first fish fry but also to our first smelt fry. “What is a smelt fry?,” you might ask—particularly if you don’t live in Minnesota. Well, it’s a Minnesota tradition, albeit one that doesn’t stretch back further than the middle of the 20th century. Smelt are not native to the Great Lakes region and were not found here till 1946. (The story of the rise and fall of smelt in Lake Superior is a neat little allegory of human impact on nature.) The population is now far reduced from its peak but the smelt fry tradition remains and the catch in March/April is one of the harbingers of spring in Minnesota. Smelt are gathered up by the bucketful, fried and eaten by the handful. The major schisms seem to be between those who behead the fish and those who cook and eat ’em whole, and between those who batter and those who bread. For those without direct access to the tiny fish, smelt fries spring up in church basements and clubs and also in some restaurants. And it was to a restaurant we went, to Ettlin’s Ranchero Supper Club in Webster. Continue reading

Hyacinth (St. Paul, MN)


Hyacinth opened on Grand Avenue in St. Paul last autumn and quickly made a name for itself. This was partly/largely—depending on your point of view—because the owner/executive chef had previously worked in the kitchens at Corton and Franny’s in New York. Twin Cities food writers, you see, manage to both scoff at coastal inattention to/disdain for our local fine dining scene and fall over themselves with excitement when a chef from New York comes (back) to town or a local chef goes on to great success in San Francisco. Such are the contradictions of being a food critic in a third-tier food town. Continue reading

Top 10 Twin Cities Dishes, Oct. 2018-March 2019


Being out of the country in December I failed to post the last quarterly edition of my Top 5 Twin Cities dishes list. To make up for it here is an extra-long list to cover the last two quarters. We’ve not eaten very many high-end meals in the last six months and so this list is going to be more dominated than usual by the more affordable restaurants we eat out at far more often. Same rules as always: only one dish per restaurant and only dishes that seem to be mainstays on their menus. In a development I would not have predicted, a dish from an Indian restaurant actually appears on this list. I’m hopeful that another will appear on the next version of the list as well, as I’m hoping to continue my survey of a possibly improved local Indian restaurant scene. Continue reading

Ghebre’s (St. Paul, MN)


I’ve been meaning to eat at Ghebre’s for a while now, just as I’ve been meaning to expand my survey of the Ethiopian food scene in the Twin Cities. Alas, the terrible winter we had this year made it hard to get up to the Cities much for our usual weekend lunching. But now that the snow is melting and filling the potholes—and the rivers are flooding—there is nothing keeping us from escaping our small town once a week. And so it was that we left home on Sunday to have lunch at Ghebre’s with friends and then go to the theater with them (while dumping our brats on their teenaged son). And it was good. Here are the details. Continue reading

Kramarczuk’s (Minneapolis)


Kramarczuk’s is a Minneapolis institution. They’ve been around for more than half a century—more than 60 years in fact. It was established by a Ukrainian couple but is essentially a pan-Eastern European market and deli. To quote my friend George from a recent conversation about Kramarczuk’s, “they are ecumenical in their Eastern Europeanness: everything east of the Rhine qualifies”. They’re located on Hennepin and I find it hard to not stop in for a sausage when I go up to Surdyk’s spring and summer booze sales (they’re a hop, skip and jump away). I don’t always remember to take pictures though and so this report covers two meals, one eaten last summer, and one eaten this past Friday. Very different weather on the two visits but it’s always the same warm season inside Kramarczuk’s. Continue reading