Sakura II (St. Paul, MN)


Sakura was the last restaurant I ate at before the pandemic closures began in March 2020. I stopped in for lunch by myself, sat at the bar and had an enjoyable meal of not-exceptional but entirely acceptable sushi. That may sound like damning with faint praise but in Minnesota it’s actually saying a lot. Thanks to the pandemic, it took a little over two years for me to go back and this time I went with the family. In the interim they’ve stopped lunch service and are now only open for dinner. Our plan had actually been to eat dinner that Sunday at Kyatchi’s St. Paul location but they closed unexpectedly for a few days for Covid-related reasons. Our kids had been promised Japanese food and so we pivoted to Sakura. I am glad to report that it didn’t disappoint on this occasion either. Continue reading

Sushi Takeda (Los Angeles, December 2021)


Here finally is my last meal report from our trip to Southern California in late-December. Somewhat improbably, I have wrapped up all these reports in less than two months from the end of the trip (you can find all the others here). We had a lot of good restaurant food on this trip but this dinner, eaten on our penultimate night, may have been the true highlight. In this I suppose it follows the pattern of most of our recent trips to Los Angeles: we typically eat one expensive sushi meal as the splurge on the trip. After this trip, however, I’m not sure that this will always be the norm for us going forward. This is not because our dinner at Sushi Takeda was bad; far from it—it was in fact excellent. But the rapidly intensifying price race in the high end of the sushi market in Los Angeles makes it unlikely we’ll be able to continue to partake of it. Continue reading

Jidaiya Ramen (Los Angeles, December 2021)


With this report I come to the end of our first week of eating in Los Angeles. No, there wasn’t an entire second week of eating: only three more restaurant meals after this one. This, our seventh meal out, took us back to the scene of the first. Jidaiya Ramen is, you see, located in the same strip mall in Gardena as Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori. Indeed, while leaving Shin-Sen-Gumi after lunch that Monday we’d noticed people eating outside Jidaiya as well and that is a big reason why we picked it as the scene of an early lunch on our way to wander around the Manhattan Beach pier. Things didn’t go quite according to plan. Despite it being a bright, sunny day they told us they weren’t going to be setting the outside tables up as they were expecting to be too busy to be able to staff both the inside and the outside. But we’d got there right after opening and there was no one else there yet and so we decided to make a quick lunch of it indoors anyway even though they too were not checking vaccination confirmations. Continue reading

Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori (Los Angeles, December 2021)


We got back from Los Angeles about 10 days ago. Given how maniacally we ate out while there, we’ve been taking a break from eating out since we go back. We’ll probably get back on the horse next weekend. Until then I’ll be posting more meal reports from the Los Angeles trip. Unlike from trips past—where I have posted reports 6 months to a year after the meals were eaten—I’m hoping that this time I’ll be done with all of them before we get too far into February. Here now is the 4th report of the 10 meals we ate out. It is, as it happens, an account of our very first restaurant meal on the trip: at Shin-Sen-Gumi Yakitori in Gardena. Continue reading

Sushi Nozomi II (Los Angeles, December 2021)


If dim sum is one of things we most look forward to eating in Los Angeles, so is sushi. My views on Minnesota sushi being just about as beloved as my views on Minnesota dim sum, I will say no more about that. I will instead only reiterate that it is very easy to find good sushi all over Los Angeles county—you don’t need to go to the temples of sushi in order to eat very good fish served atop very good rice. And if you’re in Torrance one of the best choices for that combination is Sushi Nozomi. I’ve previously reported on a meal eaten there six and a half years ago, a bit on the run on the way to the Long Beach Aquarium. We stopped in again on this trip—Torrance being much closer to our new base of operations in Seal Beach than to our previous in Koreatown—and this meal was even better. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Red (Madison, Wisconsin)


And so I finally come to the end of my meal reports from our trip to Madison in August. I know it will be hard for you all to face the coming weekends without the succour of these brief reviews but somehow you will have to manage.

As I’ve noted in my other reports, we experienced variable weather in our three days in Madison, ranging from the sunny and extremely hot to the extremely rainy. Somehow, this only impacted one of our meals (we ate breakfasts in our hotel room). We managed outdoor dinner on the first night (at Strings Ramen), outdoor lunch and dinner on the second day (at Bandung and Ian’s Pizza) and lunch on the third day (at Settle Down) but there was no hope of eating out on the third evening. The rain was torrential and it was unrelenting. As we were unwilling to eat in with an unvaccinated child in tow it had to be takeout then. How did it end up being sushi and what was it like? Read on. Continue reading

Saji-Ya (St. Paul, MN)


My last dine-in meal before the pandemic closures first hit Minnesota in March 2020 was eaten at the sushi bar at Sakura in St. Paul. That meal surprised me by being completely decent—my history with sushi in the Twin Cities, you see, has been less than inspiring (see my accounts of meals at places like Kado no Mise, Sushi Fix and Origami which have all been or are local critical darlings). It wasn’t the case that I found the sushi at Sakura to be of a very high quality but that it was all fine! Fine is good. At the time a number of people told me I needed to also get to Saji-Ya. And then the plague intervened. A year and a half later, I’ve finally made it there. We had a family dinner on their patio last Saturday and once again the experience was far better than I’d feared it would be. I know this sounds like damning with very faint praise but we enjoyed the meal on the whole. Continue reading

Strings Ramen (Madison, Wisconsin)


Here begins my series of reports on our meals in Madison a few weeks ago.

As I said last week, our trip to Madison was in many ways an inverse of our trip to Kansas City in July. The earlier trip was centered on the eating of barbecue and we didn’t find Kansas City to be so very compelling as a family destination beyond that. Madison on the other hand didn’t hold very particular food significance for us but there was a lot of outdoor stuff for us to do or there would have been (even more) if not for the weather. However, armed with recommendations from friends who know the city very well and some people who’ve lived there a while, we ate quite well anyway. That said, the list of places we ate at might possibly strike some people as surprising and perhaps not in line with what comes to mind when you think of food in Wisconsin. For example, our first meal there—a few hours after arrival—comprised ramen, at Strings Ramen, a hop, skip and a jump from our hotel. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 18: More Ramen from Bull’s Horn (Minneapolis)


It’s hard to talk about positive things coming out of the last few months, especially in the context of the restaurant industry. As you all know, restaurants have been hit very hard by the (necessary) restrictions on dining-in and it remains an open question as to how many of them will make it to whenever it is we return to whatever normal will be when this is over, or at least when this is better.. We’ve managed to eat well so far via takeout and support many of our favourite places in this difficult time. The only new thing we’ve encountered was Doug Flicker’s foray into ramen via “take home and prepare” kits back in May. I previously reported on our very first Bull’s Horn ramen experience right after that first week in May. We got another set of kits the following week but then the ramen thing went on hiatus for a while. It’s now back again. Takeout ramen kits are available every day they’re open and since they’re now also open for dining-in on their parking lot patio they also have special ramens available on Wednesday’s only for people eating on the patio. I can report that no matter which way you go, the ramen will be excellent. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 06: Flickeramen from Bull’s Horn (Minneapolis)


Okay, so it’s not actually called Flickeramen. But maybe it should be.

If you’d told me in 2017, when Doug Flicker closed Piccolo, our favourite restaurant in the Twin Ciites, that it would take us 3 years to finally make it out to his next spot, Bull’s Horn, I would not have believed you—even though I was ambivalent then about seeing Doug Flicker putting out diner food (like watching Michael Jordan play HORSE). And if you’d told me that when we did finally get around to Bull’s Horn it would be during a pandemic when takeout would be all they would be offering AND that what we’d get from them would be home assembly ramen kits I’d have thought you were crazy. But that is what we did, that is what we got and that is what we ate. And it was good. More than good: it was the best ramen we’ve yet had in Minnesota. That may seem like damning with faint praise but it’s not. Continue reading

Sakura (St. Paul, MN)


You’ll never believe it but I went and ate sushi again in the Twin Cities. What can I say, I didn’t make it to Los Angeles with the family in December and my last sushi meal was in New York last August (and that was no great shakes either). My raw fish longing therefore overcame the disappointment (and worse) that I’ve experienced in the past at lauded Twin Cities spots such as Origami, Sushi Fix, Kyatchi and even Kado no Mise (where I found more theater than substance). Where did I go in the desperate hope that I might find some decent fish? To Sakura in St. Paul. This is another place that I’ve been told for years is good; but thanks to my experience at the places listed above, my trust in recommendations of good sushi in the Twin Cities has dwindled. Did this experience bear out my old skepticism and suspicion? Read on. Continue reading

Sushi of Gari, UES (New York, August 2019)


My thoughts about sushi in Minnesota have been aired so often even I am sick of hearing about them. Suffice it to say that whenever we are in a city that presents the chance of eating actually decent sushi we take it. New York is such a city. We can’t afford Manhattan’s high-end sushi bars, so there was no question of a no-holds-barred omakase experience. In fact with our evenings pretty booked there was no chance of sushi dinner at all. And with the days dictated by things we were taking the boys to see and do the challenge was to find a decently rated but not extravagantly expensive place we could go for lunch without making it a destination in itself. The Sushi of Gari location on the Upper East Side fit that bill perfectly with its relative proximity to the Met. How did it pan out? Well, it was, as expected, much better than anything in the Twin Cities, but it wasn’t anything so very special either. Details follow. Continue reading

Ippudo Ramen (New York, August 2019)


As you ritually commit all my posts to memory you do not need me to remind you that we were rebuffed on our first attempt to eat at the 51st St. location of Ippudo Ramen. Well, not so much rebuffed as hit in the face by a minimum wait of an hour at 5.15 pm on a Saturday. On that occasion we decided not to chance the missus getting late for her theatre date and ended up eating a nice if expensive for what it was dinner at Empire Diner. And given the fact that Ippudo does not take reservations we resigned ourselves to probably not being able to eat there at all on this trip. One hour waits with young children are no fun for anyone and our weekday dinner plans for the next week were pretty set anyway. As it happened, though, we got in without any wait at all just the next day. Continue reading

Yakitori Totto (New York, August 2019)


If there is one thing our kids will reliably eat outside the home it is any kind of grilled meat. And ever since their first meal at Raku in Los Angeles they have been particularly enamoured of Japanese yakitori and related skewers. Accordingly, we’d planned to hit at least one yakitori specialist while in New York. We’d originally planned to do our skewering at Torishin but when I went to make a reservation I noted that they say that guests have to be above the age of 12. We fell back on another place not too far away from Torishin that had also been highly recommended: Yakitori Totto. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Bantam King (Washington D.C.)


My first report from our brief sojourn in DC last week was of our first meal: dinner at Baby Wale. I’d planned to go in order but instead here is a report of our last formal meal in DC: ramen at Bantam King. As with Baby Wale, Bantam King was a recommendation from the excellent community at DonRockwell.com. We’d originally planned to do our ramen eating at Daikaya but it turned out that they were participating in Restaurant Week and were only serving a Restaurant Week menu for dinner with a minimum spend of $35/head. We were only too happy to swap it out for Bantam King. And then we were quite happy with our meal. Continue reading

Raku, Again (Los Angeles, December 2018)


There’s a lot of eating out our boys look forward to when we plan trips to Los Angeles—dim sum, Korean barbecue and soups—but on this trip for the first time there was a specific restaurant they wanted us to return to: Raku. They didn’t remember its name from our lunch in late 2017 but they were clear that they wanted to go back to what the older brat remembered as “the Japanese place with the grilled stuff” and the younger one as “the awesome restaurant”. Luckily, it was near the top of our lists as well and we hit them up for our first family meal out after I got to L.A from Delhi, on our way to the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Continue reading

Shin Sushi (Los Angeles, December 2018)


A visit to Los Angeles for us always means a good sushi dinner. As my readers in the Twin Cities are sick of hearing—and as many are enraged to hear—we have a very low opinion of the sushi options here (including the much-lauded Kado no Mise) and prefer to not eat sushi at all in the Twin Cities. Of course, we have the advantage of being in Los Angeles once or twice a year to visit the missus’ family and so going without is easier with anticipation of much better sushi to come. We’d thought that on this trip we’d eat that much better sushi at Shiki in Beverly Hills. We’d eaten a very good lunch there in 2017 and had been surprised to discover Chef Mori Onodera was then working there. Though he was not working that lunch service he’d invited us to come back and sit with him at dinner on our next trip. This we had planned to do. Alas, in the intervening period Shiki raised their prices through the roof (omakase there is now even more expensive than at Mori, the restaurant that still bears Chef Onodera’s name). So, it was off our list*. We thought of going back to Mori again—always a treat, if a very expensive one. Then I read reports of a new place in Encino, started by a Mori alumnus: Shin Sushi. Almost as good as Mori, sources said, for much less money. That sounded like a good combination to us and so off we went on a Sunday evening in late December. Continue reading

Tokyo Grill (Northfield, MN)


There isn’t much worth reviewing, food-wise, in Northfield, the small Minnesota town in which we live, and so I haven’t reviewed much: only El Triunfo, a small, unpretentious Mexican restaurant and store. For a town with two colleges, we certainly don’t have the usual college town staples: there’s no Thai or Vietnamese; the two Chinese places are execrable and the one surviving Indian place is not much better, despite a welcome change in ownership. Beyond that is mostly sandwiches and the Ole Store, whose food falls quite a bit short of its pretensions and its local reputation and popularity. Which brings us to Tokyo Grill, a Japanese restaurant on Highway 3 that opened about five years ago (I want to say), and of which the best that can probably be said is that it is mostly inoffensive. I hadn’t planned to review it either—I’d only eaten there twice in the years since its opening—but a friend mock-criticized me for not reviewing more local places just a couple of days before I was scheduled to take a visiting guest there, and so here we are.  Continue reading