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

In Bloom (St. Paul, MN)


The opening of Keg and Case, a high-end food hall and market in the old Schmidt Brewery premises in St. Paul was one of the big events in the Twin Cities food scene last year. And the excitement ramped up when the space’s anchor restaurant, In Bloom finally opened towards the end of the year. A new venture by the team behind Corner Table and Revival, In Bloom features local produce and game, almost all of the menu being cooked over giant wood fires. Indeed, I believe the kitchen has no other source of cooking heat. We’d heard good reports of it from colleagues and had been looking forward to eating there. And this past weekend we finally got around to it. We descended upon them late on Saturday in a large group and ate rather a lot of the menu. Here is how it went. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2018 (Bloomington, MN)


A little later than usual, here is the 2018 edition of my annual roundup of meals eaten at Grand Szechuan in the past year. Those who follow my restaurant reports closely—if any such exist—know that I’ve said in the past that Grand Szechuan is, in sum, my family’s favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities metro area. I mean this across all genres. Yes, there are better ingredients being used and more elaborate techniques being deployed at some high-end restaurants in the area but when it comes to flavour and satisfaction and value, Grand Szechuan is it for us and it’s the one restaurant that we go back to month after month. For this reason as well I do not review every single meal we eat there. It would get too monotonous and there wouldn’t be enough variance from meal to meal to justify it. Hence these annual reports that give a snapshot from our year’s worth of meals. Continue reading

Persis Biryani Indian Grill (Eagan, MN)


As those who’ve known me a while know, I am not very high on Indian food in the US. Yes, there are some very good restaurants (Rasika in DC, for example) but the cuisine as a whole still seems trapped in the cream and nut paste-laden chicken tikka masala/dal makhni/korma rut that it was in when I arrived in the US in 1993. This is certainly true of the vast majority of curry houses, most of which essentially have the same standardized menu. I don’t fault the restaurants—they serve what the market wants and in most American markets there aren’t enough Indians or other South Asians to ask for very much more. But I rarely want that stuff even when it’s done well.  Continue reading

Mantra Bazaar (Apple Valley, MN)


We enjoyed our dinner at Darbar India Grill in Apple Valley fine a week ago but far more exciting than that dinner—well, other than the drive up and back through foggy roads—was the discovery of Mantra Bazaar, an Indian grocery located a few doors down, both in the massive shopping complex alongside County Road 42 between Cedar Avenue and Pennock. This is exciting because this is now the closest Indian grocery to us and because it stocks all the essentials I need for cooking; thus making it a viable option to the much larger TBS Mart in Bloomington, which is 10-15 minutes further away, which is even more significant in bad weather—which as you may have heard, we get some of in Minnesota. I stopped in after our dinner last week to buy a few staples and check them out; and I went back again today for a larger grocery run in the wake of last week’s snowcalypse. And I took the opportunity to take some pictures so I could add them to my survey of grocery stores in the Twin Cities metro that serve immigrant populations.  Continue reading

Darbar India Grill (Apple Valley, MN)


As recently mentioned, one of my food goals for 2019 is to explore more of the Twin Cities metro’s Indian food scene. I’d tried to do this a few years ago but gave up after not terribly encouraging results (we had a decent meal at Bawarchi in Plymouth and a rather disastrous meal at Dosa King in Spring Lake Park). Since then we’ve restricted our South Asian food outings to House of Curry in Rosemount. However, in the last couple of years I’ve begun to suspect that there’s a chance that there may have been some improvement in the scene. For one thing, it appears to me that the Indian population in the area may have grown—I guess the census will confirm or contradict this next year—and that there’s been an uptick in a younger South Indian population. This seemed borne out at the 2018 India Fest in St. Paul in August where the food vendors were predominantly Hyderabadi, and the food was pretty good too. However, having been burned before by long drives for unremarkable food, I decided to start closer to home in the south metro. And so when Mike McGuinness of the excellent Twin Cities East Metro Foodies Facebook group mentioned that there was now a branch in Apple Valley of his favourite Indian restaurant in the Cities, Darbar India Grill, we decided to start there.  Continue reading

Pho Everest, Again (Lakeville, MN)


We have a long history of making poor decisions when it comes to bad weather and driving long distances for food; and so the morning snow on Saturday did not keep us from sticking to our plan to drive to St. Paul for lunch at iPho followed by a trip to the Science Museum. There wasn’t much snow falling from the sky and the friends we were planning to caravan with said roads were clear in town and we figured the highway would be fine too. It didn’t take too long to discover, however, that the highway was not fine. Slick conditions meant a bunch of cars spun out and in the ditch and a mile or so from the exit for Lakeville traffic was slowed to a crawl. We called our friends in their car and we all decided it was a good idea to not drive to St. Paul even if traffic opened up by the time we got to the exit. Well, it didn’t and so we got off and decided to go to Pho Everest in Lakeville instead.  Continue reading

Sole Cafe (St. Paul, MN)


Here is a report on one of the last meals we ate out in the Twin Cities before I left for my current trip to Hong Kong and India (I’m now on the last leg, in Delhi after a week in Hong Kong and five days in Bombay). This was a rare Korean outing for us, at Sole Cafe. Sole Cafe is located on Snelling, a few blocks from University Avenue—which was, as you may recall, proclaimed by plebiscite the Twin Cities’s true eat street (or at least unilaterally by me). We have not been inclined to eat Korean out much since we got here. The reasons for this are two-fold: 1) the missus cooks it at home; 2) the places that were described to us as the Twin Cities’ best we found to be just about whelming—such were Hoban in Eagan and the food counter attached to Dong Yang in Columbia Heights. The less said about the erstwhile Rabbit Hole‘s Korean food the better. However, in recent months a number of people have recommended Sole Cafe to us and so we decided to finally give it a shot. We were very pleasantly surprised by the meal.  Continue reading