Dim Sum at Mandarin Kitchen (Bloomington, MN)


Oh boy, this post is going to win me even more friends and well-wishers in the Twin Cities food world.

My views on dim sum in the Twin Cities have never been popular. Many people here say that the dim sum scene in the Twin Cities is very good. In this they are supported by members of the local food media. Exhibit A for this position is Mandarin Kitchen in Bloomington, a restaurant whose dim sum selection has recently been described by one critic who dislikes me intensely as “dizzying, dazzling”. Alas, our opinion—the missus and mine—has always been that Mandarin Kitchen is in fact the worst of a ho-hum lot. We liked Jun Bo in Richfield better (before it closed) and still prefer Yangtze in St. Louis Park and the far less written about A&L Chinese in Inver Grove Heights. However, our last meal at Mandarin Kitchen was some years ago. That meal was so bad we’d sworn to never go back; but my parents are in town again and they always want to go to dim sum and Mandarin Kitchen is the most conveniently located of all dim sum houses for us. And so we decided to go back and see if things have improved. Here are our findings. Continue reading

The Lunch Buffet at Hyderabad Indian Grill (Bloomington, MN)


Another week, another Indian lunch buffet in Bloomington. I’ve been meaning to check out Hyderabad Indian Grill* in Bloomington since trying some of their food at India Fest, 2018 at the St. Paul Capitol last August (the next edition is on August 10). And on a trip up to Minneapolis this week I managed to stop in. They’re located further north than Surabhi and on the other side of the freeway (at the intersection of American and Penn, in the big strip that includes a Fresh Thyme market). They opened a year and a half or so ago—fitting well with my hypothesis that a new wave of South Indian-leaning restaurants have been opening in the Twin Ciites metro in recent years following an increase in the South Indian population in the area. Apart from the name of the restaurant there aren’t so very many nods to the South Indian connection in the lunch buffet (and even the a la carte menu seems less South Indian-leaning than at Persis) but they don’t put out the standard North Indian curry house spread. And on the strength of my meal today I’d recommend it for those looking for a good Indian lunch buffet in the area. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

Ansari’s (Eagan, MN)


Ansari’s has been around in Eagan for almost as long as we’ve been around in Minnesota and yet I was not aware of their existence until I saw them included a month or so ago on some website or the other’s list of “hidden gems” of the Twin Cities’ east metro. I was chagrined to discover that we’ve been driving past them on a near-weekly basis  for the last 10 years! They are located in a strip-mall right where Cliff Rd. hits the 35E. In our defense, they’re not visible from the freeway, and I don’t think too many people have ever driven to Eagan expecting to find a Middle Eastern restaurant there. Well, this one is there and—based on our recent lunch—while I would not drive to Eagan expressly to eat there, I am happy to add them to my list of south metro establishments to eat at on the way back from the airport or from Ikea or similar. That is to say, the food was not amazing but it was more than serviceable. Details follow.  Continue reading

Saigon Palace (Burnsville, MN)


After my review of Pho Valley a couple of weeks ago I thought I was done for the foreseeable future with reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the South Metro. The only other one I was aware of is a place in Eagan that is of interest only because Yelp reviews suggest you are more likely to be sworn at than to eat well if you go there. (I am actually tempted to go there for that reason.) Saigon Palace is not that restaurant. It is located in Burnsville, right off 35W (if going north on the highway, get off on Burnsville Parkway and go right and it’ll be in the first strip mall on the right). I discovered its existence while casting about for places to eat relatively close to the Works Museum (which the brats enjoy very much) and it seemed worth a try. As luck would have it, I had a number of reasons to be in that neighbourhood over the next couple of weeks and so went back a number of times, twice with the missus. Herewith, my report.  Continue reading

Pho Valley (Apple Valley, MN)


Following my reviews of Pho Everest in Lakeville, Cam Ranh Bay in Burnsville and Simplee Pho in Apple Valley, here is another report on a no-frills but solid Vietnamese place in the Twin Cities South Metro: Pho Valley in Apple Valley. They mostly sling pho and they’re in Apple Valley and hence the name, I assume. They’ve been open somewhere between one and two years and are located in the mega strip mall at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and 150th/County Road 42. It’s a larger restaurant than Simplee Pho but has a more limited menu. On the plus side, most of what I’ve had of what they put out has been mostly pretty solid.  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

Simplee Pho (Apple Valley, MN)


As I’ve noted before, of all (relatively) recently arrived immigrant cuisines, Vietnamese may be the most friendly to the stereotypical Midwestern palate. This is particularly true of pho-centered restaurants—which is pretty much what all Vietnamese restaurants in Minnesota are. Mild broth, rice noodles, lots of meat: it’s no surprise that Minnesotans have taken to pho in a big way—especially given our bastard winters. And in recent years, as new housing developments have popped up along Hwy 77/Cedar Avenue between where we live in the hamlets of Rice County and south Minneapolis, Vietnamese restaurants have also popped up to help feed them. I have already reviewed Pho Everest in Lakeville. Here now is a report on several meals eaten over the last few months at Apple Valley’s Simplee Pho.  Continue reading