Coming Soon…


I think I got to almost everything that was requested from my long list last month. Of the whisky reviews I posted, the most popular were those of the Four Roses Al Young and the Kilkerran 8 CS. My review of the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017 was also read a lot yet again. However, the most popular posts, by far, were those of two Twin Cities restaurants: Babani’s and Cheng Heng. It appears that someone is linking to my Twin Cities restaurant reviews on Facebook but because of how Facebook links work it’s not possible for me to see where on Facebook that traffic is coming from (the same is true of Twitter). If you are one of the people who has come here from a link on Facebook not posted by me I’d really appreciate finding out where that link was posted and by whom.

In the meantime, here is the long list of potential reviews for February. If anything catches your eye, feel free to request promotion to the short list in the comments.  Continue reading

South Asian Writers, An Occasional Series: Amitav Ghosh


Here is my long-threatened post on books. I’ve written various versions of it over the last few months, junking each one. What I’d originally planned was a long post on contemporary South Asian fiction—taking in its history and development, surveying the scene in various languages, commenting on national and global market forces and international acclaim for a handful of writers, and ending with some recommendations of books by lesser-known writers. But each time I’d start to write it, it would begin to balloon in my head into something more suited for academic readers and I’d balk at basically bringing my work life into the blog (which is where I come to do do things I don’t do at work). And so, I’ve decided to instead break that proposed survey into an occasional series of posts highlighting (books by) South Asian authors and authors of South Asian origin that I think deserve more attention than they get.

This does not mean that I will be writing (only) about relatively obscure or hard-to-find authors—though there will be some of that. In fact, the author I am beginning with is someone who is reasonably well-known outside India and each of whose books for the last couple of decades have been published by major American houses: Amitav Ghosh.  Continue reading

Dim Sum at Sea Harbour, Again (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Thanks to a less than indifferent meal at Yangtze in October I’ve had recent cause to once again deplore the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities. Fortunately, thanks to our recent trip to Los Angeles I’ve also been able to erase the memory of that meal courtesy a dim sum outing to one of the San Gabriel Valley’s finest: Sea Harbour. Along with Elite—or just above it, depending on who you ask—Sea Harbour remains at the top of the San Gabriel Valley dim sum scene. There have been some new challengers who’ve opened relatively recently—Longo Seafood is the latest in the San Gabriel Valley—but nothing I’ve read led me to want to go anywhere else for our one dim sum meal on our trip. And Sea Harbour rewarded my confidence: it was a very good meal.  Continue reading

Dailuaine 29 (The Whisky Exchange)


No, I don’t know what’s going on in the background of this photograph either.

Here’s another whisky from a relatively obscure and unloved distillery: Dailuaine. It is located in the Speyside and is owned by (who else?) Diageo. It is one of Diageo’s workhorse distilleries, producing almost entirely for blends. As far as I know, it has only seen regular official single malt release in the Flora & Fauna series. There have been a few one-offs: for example, a Manager’s Dram release, a Rare Malts release, and then in 2015, out of the blue, a 34 yo version was included in Diageo’s Special Release slate. There haven’t been so very many indie releases either. The redoubtable Serge V. has only reviewed 52 Dailuaines. (I say “only” because he probably reviewed 52 rums this past weekend alone—I haven’t checked.)  Continue reading

Tamdhu 22, 1991 (Càrn Mòr)


After an Allt-a-Bhainne released in 2012 and an Old Pulteney released in 2014, let’s complete the trifecta of reviews of whiskies no one cares about with a Tamdhu released in 2013 or 2014. It’s also hard to know if anyone cares about Tamdhu in general. It’s certainly better known than Allt-a-Bhainne, having put out official single malts for some time now, and having relatively recently overhauled their branding in a premium direction; but I’m not sure when the last time was I heard or read anyone talking excitedly about Tamdhu. Of course, every distillery is capable of putting out great casks, and I have liked 75% of the Tamdhus I’ve reviewed a fair bit (the most recent I liked more after it “opened up” in the bottle after a few months. That was also—like this one—a first fill sherry cask, but about half the age and from a butt not a hogshead. 22 years in a sherry hogshead does seem a long time (unless it was only re-racked into the sherry hogshead for a shorter period at the end of the maturation period). Let’s hope this isn’t an oak bomb.  Continue reading

Babani’s Kurdish Restaurant (St. Paul, MN)


Babani’s claims to be the first Kurdish restaurant in the United States. I say “claims” not because I have any reason to doubt them but because their origin story starts with the wonderful first sentence, “There was, there wasn’t…” This origin story, which is plastered on their website and on their menu (you can read it below) may be—despite some poor proofreading—the most original in the admittedly not-very studied genre of restaurant origin stories: charming despite presenting some rather old-fashioned views of the relationship between men and women; substituting for desultory listings of kitchen antecedents and wealthy backers, a playful tale of immigrant movement and desire that is as touching as it is tall.

A Kurdish restaurant in Minnesota? Why not? There are plenty of us here who never expected to end up in a place like this, so different from the climates—emotional and physical—we grew up in. The story of what it means to be Minnesotan is still being written. Continue reading

Old Pulteney Clipper Commemorative


I’ve not reviewed very many Pulteneys. This is largely because there aren’t generally very many Pulteneys to be had from the independents (my last two reviews were of indie releases, however: here and here). The official lineup used to be small too but in recent years, like so many other distilleries, they’ve amped up the NAS engine and put out a number of high concept releases—though, to be fair, they’ve also done some (expensive) vintage releases. In the case of Pulteney the high concept often has to do with sailing. They’ve had a number of boat-themed releases in the last few years, though, thankfully, none of them involve maturation on boats (not yet anyway). I’ve previously reviewed one of these, the WK 217 Spectrum. This one is also boat-themed: it was released in 2014 to commemorate an around-the-world boat race. It’s put together from ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. Let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Jitlada II (Los Angeles, December 2017)


Last October brought the terrible news of the passing of Chef Tui Sungkamee. Along with his sister Jazz Singsanong, Chef Sungkamee ran what has probably been the greatest Thai restaurant in the United States for the last decade. She runs the front of the house and remains the face of Jitlada; he was the unassuming presence in the kitchen whose cooking introduced so many of us to the flavours and ingredients of southern Thai cooking; and even through its intense heat, made us understand how nuanced and subtle Thai food can be. A major loss but our meal there in December—intended as a paying of respects—allows us to believe that his legacy and the restaurant will survive. It was another excellent meal and made us kick ourselves for having waited four years since our last visit to go back.  Continue reading

Allt-a-Bhainne 16, 1995 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)


I’ve only had and reviewed one other Allt-a-Bhainne. I noted in that review that I knew nothing about Allt-a-Bhainne, not even how the name is pronounced. My knowledge has since increased just a little bit. I know now that it was only founded in 1975 and that the correct pronunciation of the name is closer to “autobahn” than you might expect. I do know, however, that I quite liked the other one. That was a 21 yo bottled by Cadenhead’s. This one is a 16 yo bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd. Both are from bourbon casks selected by two highly reliable bottlers: that bodes well for this one as well. Let’s see if reality cooperates.

Allt-a-Bhainne 16, 1995 (53.4%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask #125284; from a sample received in a swap)  Continue reading

Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2017, Al Young 50th Anniversary


Almost exactly a year after my review of the 2016 Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Edition, here is my review of their 2017 release. a limited edition small batch release from last year to honour the 50 years of service of brand ambassador Al Young. This is not the annual release Small Batch Ltd. Edition, which came out later that year. In that series I’ve previously reviewed the 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014 releases as well; if anyone wants to send me samples of the 2011, 2015 and 2016 releases so I can round out my reviews for the decade so far, please get in touch.

Since American distilleries tell us these things I can tell you that the Al Young release was composed in the following proportions from Four Roses’ various recipes: 5% 23 yo OBSV, 25%15 yo OBSK, 50% 13 yo OESV, and 20% 12 yo OBSF. In other words, 50% high and low rye recipes (the B and E parts), 55% from mashbills using light, fruity yeast (V), 25% from a mashbill using light, spicy yeast (K), and 20% from a mashbill using herbal yeast (F). And if it had an age statement it would be a 12 yo. What does it all add up to? Let’s find out.  Continue reading

Shiki: Lunch Omakase (Los Angeles, December 2017)


On our last two trips to Los Angeles we’ve done a big, expensive sushi omakase at Mori. On this trip we decided not to spend most of our sushi money on one meal and instead spread it around a bit more. Accordingly, we hit up Osawa a couple of days after we arrived; the plan after that was to go back for Kiriko’s lunch omakase and then see if we could find an acceptable budget place somewhere between Koreatown and downtown. The latter plan came to a bad end—more on this in a couple of weeks—and as it happens, we didn’t end up going to Kiriko either. Instead, we ended up at Shiki in Beverly Hills. I’d read accounts of their lunch omakase that sounded quite appealing and we decided we’d give a new place a go. And we were very glad we did. In the process I also ended up with my first and probably last ever bit of restaurant breaking news: the return of one of Los Angeles’ sushi legends to the sushi bar.  Continue reading

Clynelish 17, 1997 (C&S)


1997 is supposed to be the magic year for Clynelish. My last 1997 Clynelish lacked magic. It’s not the fault of that whisky: the whole magic vintage thing is a lot of bullshit. I will not bore you by going over all that again—if you’re interested you can read my views here and here. Let’s just get directly to this 17 yo from a bourbon hogshead, bottled a couple of years ago by C&S, a bottler based in Germany.

Clynelish 17, 1997 (47%;  C&S Dram Collection; bourbon hogshead #5730; from a purchased sample)

Nose: Citrus (lemon peel, orange), a faint grassiness, some brine and okay, I could be talked into a little wax. With more time there’s a biscuity/malty thing going on as well. Less grassy, more biscuity with water.  Continue reading

Cheng Heng: Cambodian Cuisine in St. Paul


Cambodian cuisine does not have a very high profile in the US. I’m not aware of any city that is reputed to have a significant Cambodian population, leave alone a significant Cambodian restaurant presence. Well, the greater L.A. metro area, probably, but even there there isn’t much talk of South East Asian cuisines beyond Vietnamese. While Minnesota’s Cambodian population is quite a bit lower than its Hmong and Vietnamese populations, we do have the fifth highest Cambodian population in the US outside California. As far as I know, this population is only represented by one major Cambodian restaurant: the venerable Cheng Heng on University Avenue in St. Paul. A Cambodian island in a sea of Thai, Vietnamese and Lao eateries, Cheng Heng has been around longer than most of them—about 21 years now. I’m embarrassed to say that even though this is our 11th year in Minnesota, we only just got around to eating there this past weekend. And I’m very sorry we waited this long as we really enjoyed the meal.  Continue reading

Tobermory 17, 1995 (Glen Fahrn)


I recently reviewed a bourbon cask Arran bottled by the German store Glen Fahrn. I was not a fan. In the hope that that was an aberration, I reached for another set of samples of Glen Fahrn. Now, you might say that Tobermory is not the best distillery on which to pin hopes of a turnaround, that maybe I should have picked the two 20 ml bottles of Miltonduff next to these instead. Unlike you, however, I choose to accentuate the  positive, and I will remind you that I quite liked the last Tobermory in its late teens—and from a proximate year—that I tried. But, you say, that was from a sherry cask and this is from a bourbon cask, and so more likely to flaunt Tobermory’s deviant character. All I can say in response is that you should be ashamed of yourself for throwing words like “deviant” around; it’s very judgmental of you and, frankly, suggests an alarmingly narrow view of the world. It’s people like you who make people like Florin (Tobermory Superfan #1) feel unwelcome and alone.  Continue reading