Pandemic Takeout 16: Smoke in the Pit (Minneapolis)


Smoke in the Pit is located at 3733 Chicago Avenue in S. Minneapolis, just a hundred feet or two from 38th St.. Even if you don’t know South Minneapolis you should know that intersection. It was right by it, in front of Cup Foods, that George Floyd was murdered on May 25 of this year. The protests and unrest that followed, coupled as they were with various revelations and confirmations of racism within the industry’s own precincts, led to an outpouring of declarations of affiliation with Black Lives Matter from most of American food media. Almost two months on, it’s not very clear what’s become of all those declarations, what their afterlife will be or what forms it will take. One hopes that there will be more to the statements than a few weeks or months of conspicuous coverage. We’ll see, I guess. Continue reading

Inchmurrin 11, 2007 (SMWS)


Okay, back to whisky. Here’s a young Inchmurrin from a bourbon cask. Inchumurrin, as you probably know, is one of the several lines of whisky produced at the Loch Lomond distillery. Its profile is typically very fruity and sans the peat that marks their Croftengea line. I confess I am never able to remember how Inchmurrin or Croftengea differ from the other lines made by Loch Lomond—Inchfad, Inchmoan and so on. I did really like my last young Inchmurrin from a bourbon cask. That one was an official 9 yo single cask selected by the Whisky Exchange last year to commemorate their 20th anniversary, and I was glad to have procured a full bottle of it. This one is a bit older at 11 years of age and was bottled by the SMWS. They gave it the fanciful name “A Piece of Paradise”. If it’s filled with tropical fruit I’ll forgive them. Let’s see if that turns out to be the case and if I regret only having a 2 oz sample. Continue reading

Villa Zarri 24, 1991, Italian Brandy


Here’s an Italian brandy. I have very little experience of Italian brandy—the few I’ve had have been grappas and I can’t say I’ve been the biggest fan of those. This, however, as far as I know, is an Italian brandy in the style of cognac, made by a producer in northern Italy. That is to say, distilled in a pot still and aged in Limousin oak. The grape I believe is Trebbiano, which is the same as the French Ugni Blanc commonly used for cognac. This particular release, a single cask, was a K&L exclusive in 2016. I think it went for $100. I don’t remember it from that time but $100 would have been a very good price in theory for a 20+ yo spirit even in 2016. Then again, K&L has a track record of bringing in great sounding deals which end up being great deals for the age but not so great in terms of what’s in the bottle. Was this another one of those or will I regret not having purchased a bottle of this when I could have?  Let’s see. Continue reading

The Twin Cities Food Scene (as Seen Through Where the Star Tribune’s Food Critics Have Been Eating)


We resubscribed to the Star-Tribune this year—we’ve had an on again/off again relationship with the newspaper over the years but decided to re-up for the pandemic coverage. As we have a digital subscription we receive emails daily with highlights from the paper and one of the features that’s been getting pushed regularly is a series called “5 best things our food critic ate in Twin Cities this week”. I think this was a new feature that debuted in February—at least I don’t remember it from the last time we had a subscription. The first entry featured only selections by the paper’s lead food critic, Rick Nelson, but he’s since been joined by another food writer, Sharyn Jackson. I’ve been reading it first with interest, then with increasing amusement and also a bit of exasperation. The series, you see, may provide an inadvertent window into how the Star Tribune sees the Twin Cities food scene. What do I mean? Read on! Continue reading

Clynelish 8, 2010 (SMWS)


Alas, I don’t have another Ardmore with which to make this a full week of Ardmore reviews to match last week’s Benromach trio. But I do have a sample of another SMWS malt with which to make it a week of SMWS review. Let’s go a bit to the west and then to the north, to Clynelish. After Wednesday’s red wine finish misadventure we’re back to a bourbon cask. Unlike Monday’s Ardmore, however, this is a barrel, not a hogshead and it’s a first-fill not refill cask; it’s also much younger. That combination of a smaller cask size and more active wood can be an overbearing one for a young whisky such as this; but in theory, at least, Clynelish’s spirit should be able to stand up to it. Let’s see if that’s been the case here.

Clynelish 8, 2010 (57.5%; SMWS 26.104; first-fill bourbon barrel; from a bottle split)

Nose: Toasted oak, ripe pear, apple cider, sweet malt. Very nice indeed. As it sits sweeter notes come to the fore—more apple along with the pear–but the oak and the cider are still here. With water and a few beats the fruit gets muskier: lemon peel, pineapple. Continue reading

Snap Peas and Potatoes with Panch Phoron


One of the highlights of the farm we have a CSA share with—the excellent Open Hands—is their U-Pick program which allows members to pick a number of crops for themselves over the course of the growing season. Strawberries, cherry tomatoes, tomatillos and herbs are some of the highlights, and early in the season so are peas. We get shelling peas as well as sugar snap peas. It’s a fleeting window but a tasty one. We recently picked a fair bit of sugar snaps and to use them up one of the things I made with them this week was this dish that falls in the general Bengali genre of the chenchki: a simple prep that involves at the least mustard oil, panch phoron (or just kalonji/nigella), turmeric, red chillies and a vegetable. You stir-fry the veg and then cover the pan and let it finish cooking either in its own moisture or with the help of a little bit of water. Ginger and green chillies are often added as well but I decided to leave them out so as to feature these lovely sweet pea pods more clearly. I did add some potatoes for contrast. Continue reading

Ardmore 13, 2006 (SMWS)


Okay, let’s make it two Ardmores in a row. I really liked the 20 yo I reviewed on Monday. Like this one, that was also bottled by the SMWS. Unlike this one, however, that was from a refill bourbon cask. This one very much is not. Well, it started out in bourbon cask but ended up in a red wine cask for some reason. I’m yet to come across any compelling reason to finish whisky in red wine casks. Will this change my mind? Let’s see.

Ardmore 13, 2006 (58.1%; SMWS 66.161; red wine finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: Fairly jumbled with some pickled/acidic notes, some char, some oak, some red fruit. On the second and third sniffs there’s quite a bit of lime. As it sits the smoke takes on a slightly plasticky/acryclic character. The nose settles down with time and air and the plastic/acrylic note recedes. Water brings out a cured meat note. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 15: Kabob’s Indian Grill


If you are so deviant as to read this blog on a regular basis then you know that I came across Kabob’s Indian Grill in Bloomington late last year and very quickly pronounced their food the best Indian food I’d yet eaten at a restaurant in Minnesota. This excitement was centered largely on their lunch thalis, with a revolving selection of small bowls of goodness, which are also simultaneously the best lunch deal in Minnesota. I did also like almost everything I ate at a non-thali weekend lunch meal in December. And you’ll get a sense of how much I like their food when I tell you that I chose to eat more of it just a month after returning from a trip home to India—I never wrote that meal—another thali lunch—up before the pandemic hit but it’s covered in this write-up. When the pandemic did hit, Kabob’s closed down rather than go to a takeout-only model. I was very worried that they might not re-open. And so when I was at TBS Mart a few weeks ago for a spot of shopping (they’re just a few doors apart in the same strip mall) I was excited to see that Kabob’s is open again. Continue reading

Ardmore 20, 1997 (SMWS)


Last week I reviewed a slew of Benromachs—well, three of them anyway. Let’s stay in the general vicinity and let’s stick with Highland peat. Ardmore is the other distillery in that general part of Scotland that is known for peated whisky. As at Benromach, Ardmore’s peat is not phenolic in the Islay style and nor is it as farmy/brutal as Ledaig’s can be. Instead it typically has a peppery, mineral character, with soot and coal in place of the phenols. It’s hard to find much indie Ardmore in the US—or even very much officially released Ardmore—but I am a big fan of the distillery and try their whisky every chance I get. And I usually like it a lot. Why, I even liked a 10 yo put out by K&L last year! More to the point and closer to the age of this one, I also really liked a 22 yo from 1996 released to mark the 20th anniversary of the OMC line in 2018. If this is as good as either of those I’ll be very happy. Let’s see if that proves to be the case. Continue reading

Oats Pongal with Dried Cranberries and Toasted Coconut


Late last year I posted a recipe for pongal made with oats. That recipe was a take on my friend Pradnya’s recipe, which was itself an adaptation of a rice-based pongal from the cookbook, Dakshin. I’ve been making various iterations of that pongal for breakfast ever since—it beats a bowl of oatmeal in the American style any day of the week as far as I’m concerned. A couple of months ago I randomly improvized a more savoury version for lunch. My description of it caused a Tamil friend to pretend to faint in mock horror—this because I made it with dried cranberries, which are certainly not a traditional ingredient. It may not in fact be the only complaint that people who actually have cultural ties to pongal—which as a Bengali I don’t—have with this recipe. To them I say, just call it porridge if you prefer; but do give it a go: you’ll probably like it. Then again, for all I know, it actually resembles a traditional preparation quite closely. Indian foodways are wide and varied and it’s very hard to come up with anything truly new. Continue reading

Benromach 8, 2011 (for The Whisky Exchange)


This is a Benromach blog now. All Benromach reviews all the time. Well, this week anyway. On Monday I reviewed a young bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. I really liked that one. Yesterday I had a review of the recent sherry cask edition of the distillery’s Peat Smoke release. That one seemed unpromising at first but then improved dramatically with water. Today another young Benromach from a sherry cask, another UK exclusive. This one was in fact exclusive to one particular store, The Whisky Exchange: it was one of several whiskies bottled to mark the store’s 20th anniversary. This is from a single sherry cask, a first-fill hogshead. Good friends were visiting London right when the pandemic hit and they were kind enough to bring me back a couple of bottles recommended by Billy Abbott at TWE (this Inchmurrin was the other). Billy recommended this one highly. When I first opened the bottle a couple of months ago I found it to be a bit too hot and indistinct but it’s mellowed nicely since. Here now are my notes. Continue reading

Benromach Peat Smoke 2010-2018, Sherry Cask


Typical: no Benromach reviews for two years and then two come at once. On Monday I had a review of a lovely young Benromach from a first-fill bourbon cask that was a UK exclusive. Today I have a review of a young Benromach from sherry casks (full-term maturation or finish? I don’t know). The Benromach Peat Smoke has been around for some time but has previously been an ex-bourbon whisky—and released without an age or vintage statement, I’m pretty sure. I’m not sure if this one—distilled in 2010 and released in 2018— was a special one-off or whether it’s an ongoing limited edition release or, for that matter, if it’s now a regular part of their lineup. I could look it up I suppose, but it’s late here in Minnesota—if you know, please write in below. At any rate, I suppose we should be glad they didn’t name it “Profit Maximizer”, or maybe it would have been more honest if they had. We whisky enthusiasts are a silly lot and very little induces us to shell out the big bucks more than the combination of sherry and peat. Well, with Monday’s bourbon cask I noted that the smoke and the old-school Highland peat character was not covered up by sherry. How overbearing is the sherry going to be here? Let’s see. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 14: Grand Szechuan Again


The pandemic may have fucked up all our lives but it’s not stopped us from eating the food of our favourite restaurant in Minnesota: Grand Szechuan. There are a few fine dining restaurants we like a lot but—as I’ve said before—no restaurant in the state makes us happier as a family than Grand Szechuan. Ironically, we’ve been eating their food more since the pandemic began than we otherwise would have been. We normally hit them up on a monthly basis but have been going to get their food almost every two weeks since dining out became first an impossible and now a dubious proposition. Grand Szechuan, by the way, has not yet opened up to dining in. I laud them for their good sense in not doing so; at the same time, I worry about a possible hit to their business now that others have in fact opened up. There were far fewer people there picking up food this past Sunday than I’ve seen on all our takeout trips previous. Then again, it was a holiday weekend and people may have been out on their boats or grilling at home. At any rate we had another excellent meal. Here is a report on that meal and the one previous, from just about two weeks ago. Continue reading

Benromach 2009/2018, UK Exclusive


I last reviewed malts from Benromach just over two years ago. That was a set of capsule reviews of two young wine-finished malts that I was just about whelmed by. Today I have for you a straight-up bourbon cask Benromach. It was bottled in 2018 as an exclusive for the UK markert and is either 8 or 9 years old. It is from a first-fill bourbon cask. I’ve previously reviewed another Benromach of similar age from first-fill bourbon but that was a vatting of a few casks. Still, I rather liked that one and take that as a positive portent for this one. I can’t help but be positive—it’s in my nature. You should try it sometime. Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to say that I generally really like Benromach’s old-school Highland peat profile—quite some distance from Islay peat’s phenolic wallop or the earthy, farmy peat of Campbeltown or Mull. And without heavy sherry covering things up this should be an opportunity to take a clear measure of what that profile is looking like in the whiskies the distillery is now putting out. Let’s get to it. Continue reading

Peshawri (Calcutta, Jan 2020)


Yes, we went to Calcutta from Delhi and ate North Indian food. Given the fact that in the last couple of decades there’s been an explosion of Bengali restaurants in Calcutta this may seem like a particularly silly thing to do. But we ate one meal a day at the home of one aunt or the other every day while we were there, and so we were not really hurting for the hardcore Bengali food experience. And then one of the events at the wedding we were in the city for had food catered by Peshawri, the North Indian restaurant at the ITC Sonar Bangla; and it was so goddamned good we decided we’d spend one. of our meals there rather than go to 6 Ballygunge Place or some other restaurant whose food would be excellent but couldn’t compete anyway with what we’d been eating at the homes of various aunts. And a good choice it was too. Continue reading

Amrut, Sherry Cask (Blackadder)


It’s been a year and a half since my last Amrut review—what kind of an Indian am I? It’s not my fault though: there just isn’t so much Amrut around in the US. The last one I reviewed—the Amaze, a single cask release for an Indian club—was bottled in late 2018. This one came out half a decade earlier. A NAS release (like most Amruts), I purchased it right after it was bottled in 2013. Like most Amruts it’s also been bottled at an eye-wateringly high proof. The bottler is Blackadder. They’ve put out a large number of Amruts, far more than any other bottler—Whiskybase only lists a handful of others and they only seem to have one or two each. I wonder what Blackadder’s connection is. The cask was first-fill sherry. I rather liked the last sherry cask Amrut I had—this PX cask—and their Intermediate Sherry is one of my favourites, if now a little too expensive for my wallet. And so I have high hopes for this one. Let’s see if they’re borne out. Continue reading

Toor Dal with Turnips


This recipe has its origins in one of my favourite recipes posted to the Another Subcontinent cooking forum, back in its heyday more than a decade ago. Most of my readers will not know what I am talking about. Another Subcontinent was a collection of forums on South Asian culture that a few friends and I started back in 2004 (a bit later we also added a features site). Well, technically both the features site and the forums still exist but both have been in suspended animation for a long time now. The cooking forum was the beating heart of Another Subcontinent and in my (not unbiased) view it was in its heyday the best resource on Indian cooking there has yet been on the internet. Populated by avid home cooks, both in India and the diaspora, the cooking forum brought together people who knew their own regional cuisines but not necessarily each others’ and we all learned a great deal from each other. And then the rise of first food blogs and then Facebook and, let’s face it, cliques and feuds among the membership killed it off. Nonetheless I still cook recipes I learnt on that forum pretty much every week. Continue reading