Friday, February 17, 2006

Of Course the Yak was local (ya!)
The Twin Cities in February

Want to go to Minnesota in February? It will not cost too much money. With some clients in need of schmoozing and great deals—cars from $13/day on Priceline, the Condiment Queen and I took off for Minneapolis last week. We returned mostly well fed if dazed by the non-Euclidian street patterns of Minneapolis (and especially) St. Paul. These are vibrant cities with several pockets of activity, also (from the window of the rental car) seemingly well integrated communities of high and low, ethnic and student, commercial and residential. Minneapolis and St. Paul would not suggest places for repeat visits, but I feel we barely scratched the surface. I hope to return.

The trip started roughly. Of course, a good 2 or so hours of driving frustration on my part resulted from incorrect assumptions instead of standard map reading (abetted however by the failure of Budget Rental Car’s map that did not distinguish color-wise between Minneapolis and St. Paul). So, on Sunday, after taking the slow way into downtown Minneapolis from the airport, we decided to hit St. Paul—on the notion that we’d be in Minneapolis the rest of the trip. My intuition was that downtown St. Paul would be on the opposite side of the river from downtown Minneapolis or at least that the Mississippi divided these twins. Wrong. There is a good deal of Minneapolis east of the Mississippi, and there is no apparent physical boundary between St. Paul and Minneapolis (leaving one to wonder why they had to be two cities in the first place). This logical fallacy on my part kept me, for a long time, in placing us on our simple map. We had decided to visit Bread & Chocolate for a little pause gourmande, based on a nice caramel roll picture on the site. And we finally arrived after several twists. All this for an OK bun, good if in the neighborhood but not worth the schlep. It did keep us in St. Paul for dinner, where we tried the Everest based cuisine of Nepal and Tibet at Everest on Grand.

After dinner, we asked the pretty Nepalese woman where the yak came from, and we got in perfect and ideal Minnesota speak, “a farmer outside of St. Cloud, ya”. I wish I had a talent for mimicry because I so adored the sound of hearing about the local yak. Honestly, I enjoyed the yak repartee better than the yak meal. The Condiment Queen thinks it was because I was uptight and in a bad mood, a combination of worry over pending meetings and deep annoyance with getting lost. She liked Everest. New to the food of Nepal and Tibet, we ordered a ton (although our overall bill was not too high). We got two types of Tibetan dumplings: steamed (momo) and fried (kothe) with filling, respectively, of veggie and ground pork/ground turkey. They come with a thick green, pretty spicy sauce (achar). The wife and I differed on which dumplings we liked better. She preferred the fried, but I found those a bit greasy. I liked the cleaner flavor of the steamed dumplings. In addition to the dumplings, we ordered a Nepali daal-bhat, a combination of meat, vegetable, dhal, rice and condiments. You pick the meat and the vegetable, and emphasizing the exotic, we got keema yak and breadfruit. Given a choice of heat, we went for the penultimate. Too hot, by a lot, or the food just did not seem to have enough other stuff too balance the chili. I also thought the spices in the ground yak tasted burnt. I did not appreciate the breadfruit, but my wife loved it. Dessert was an iffy fresh cheese in sugar syrup.

I fantasize of owning my own restaurant; perhaps one day. When it does, it will be a lot like a merger between two restaurants in downtown Minneapolis: Hell’s Kitchen and Ike’s. Hell’s Kitchen got the local and the artesian, epitomized by house made jams and bison sausage. They also make an exceptional peanut butter that comes with your breakfast toast or as a side, and squeeze in some tummy room for an order of Mahnomin Porridge, a conglomeration of wild rice, nuts, and dried fruit all tied together with delicious local heavy cream. The house breakfast appears pricy at nearly $10, but the eggs, sausage, and especially the rosti potatoes, a crisp pancake made of shredded potatoes left me feeling not the least bit ripped off, and did I mention the toast and jam? The rest of the breakfast and lunch menu (no dinner) is filled with dishes in the same spirit. After reading about they fried walleye BLT, my wife could not wait to try, and it easily met her expectations. She liked it so much she had two meals there. Ike’s, next to Minneapolis’s hallowed silver-butter steak, Murray’s fooled the hell outta me. My wife first scoped it out, and she knew I’d love it. It seemed expertly preserved, a bit of old Minneapolis left in the land of skyways. Amazingly, this place of well-worn wooden booths, oak center bar and terrazzo tile is not that old, built only in 2003. It is nearly exactly the décor I imagine for my future restaurant. I cannot comment on the food, but we liked the drinks, including the Minnesota custom of serving a small beer chaser with a Bloody Mary. We would have sampled something from the nicely priced happy hour menu, but they estopped the deals because of a Timberwolves game that night. I can say that the burgers passing by smelled good.

Our other dinner was at a place called Barbette. We got to Barbette by accident, the result of some pretty awful preparation on my part. Yes, I remembered Minneapolis was known as the only place in the USA with an authentic Sri Lankan restaurant. Yes, I had read the thread on LTHForum where GAF mentioned its passing. No, I did not bother to think of this when planning our dinner. Moreover, there were red flags, including lack of mentions in guide books and local magazines. I meant to call…Oh well, our trip to the edge of Lake Calhoun and back brought us near the sexy, French looking Barbette—more well done terrazzo! It was like dining inside an Edith Piaf song. Unfortunately, the service matched the tempo of much of her singing. The combination of handling one price fixe dinner for her and just an entrée for me for the kitchen’s new chef was just too much. My wife’s courses came out intermittingly and my dinner arrived before her entrée. The double upside, some complaining got us a round of drinks on the house and a huge tray of ripe cheeses. On top of that, the food was very, very good. We wrapped up the night with ice cream at Minneapolis’s famed Sebastian Joe’s.

The advantage of getting lost is you run into things. If you look here you can see why I decided to stop for a burger at the Ideal Diner, a hand formed not too thin good diner burger to boot. I ran into Minneapolis’s house bakery Wuollet after picking up cheesecake at Muddy Paws, liked them both. Our final meal came from the Ukrainian combo deli-cafeteria, Kramarczuk, where we got assorted sausages and dumplings (varenyky) to eat on the plane. We passed a lot that seemed worthy of stopping with more time (and maybe strolling weather). Upper Central had a bit of Da’Bomb to it, including a Patel grocery store. University across Dinkytown well into St. Paul, I believe this area is called Frog Town, was block after block of things that appeal to me, from used book stores to (a lot of ) Vietnamese restaurants. Like I say, I’d like to return.

Bread & Chocolate
867 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105

Everest on Grand
1278 Grand Ave, St. Paul

Hell’s Kitchen
89 S. 10th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

50 S Sixth St, Mpls.

1600 W Lake St, Mpls.

Sebastian Joe's
1007 W Franklin Ave, Mpls.

Ideal Diner
1314 Central Ave NE, Minneapolis, 55413
(612) 789-7630

215 E Hennepin Ave, Mpls.

Muddy Paws Cheesecake and Wuollet
Assorted locations including Hennepin in the Prospect Hill area

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