Gentle Eater

Now, armed with just enough knowledge to be dangerous, I take to the library to research Punjabi cuisine. I learn that the Punjab, a region in northern India and eastern Pakistan, is an agricultural powerhouse threaded with irrigation canals. Farmers in the Punjab keep water buffalo who soak themselves in those canals, and these water buffalo give a milk richer and fattier than cow's milk. Punjabi cuisine is loaded with dairy products--with butter, yogurt, cheese (called paneer), and ghee (clarified butter); one should assume that every dish has dairy in it unless otherwise specified.

Certain items on India Palace's menu begin to make more sense in light of this knowledge, such as the dessert gulab jamun ("deep-fried milk balls" ($2.25))--tooth-achingly sweet milk-soaked pastries--and kheer (1.95), a tasty rice pudding that's more like a milk-based rice soup. Research also reveals that the traditional way to eat Punjabi cuisine is to take a bit of bread, pick up a spoonful of stew or meat with it, tuck in a bit of homemade pickle, and have a little sandwich.

Now I know as much as I'm going to know about India Palace--its cultural roots, attentive service, adequate wine and beer menu, and great hospitality. Now it's time for fear. A deep, bone-chilling fear. Because I have plenty of information but no story.

To answer your question, Mr. K., if I write a negative review, nothing much happens. Some people hate me, but you know, so what, who cares. Their arrows are but splinters in the steel hull of my hide.

But if I write a bad review, it haunts me forever. People at parties say, "I read your last piece," purse their lips and stare uncomfortably over my shoulder. The cursed page sits in my clip book, hooting: "You may be writing in the language of Shakespeare, but you ain't no Shakespeare." It mocks me with its dreary, witless paragraphs: "Hell, you ain't even Bret Easton Ellis." Those bad reviews shave years off my life. They really do.

So I rummage around the old cranium for anything, anything to make a story out of a newish, very nice, but not spectacular Indian restaurant in Roseville. I play with the idea of emphasizing the all-you-can-eat buffet. How about a play on "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité"? I conceive of a heraldic shield featuring a fork and knife piercing a thesaurus inscribed with the legend "Gluttony, Wantonly, Pastry..." But the syllables, the syllables! If the weak idea doesn't get you, the syllables will.

I reread the news item about the Russian satellite that aimed to light up that North Dakota town, and think I might get something going about a football-field-sized magnifying glass burning people like ants. Something about how you could pay off the Russians to block the sun so that an individual of your choice could be forced to live in perpetual darkness. But this, I think, has no doubt already been done, better, in talk-show monologues.

Desperately then, but gratefully, tears streaming down my face, I recall one of journalism's most tried and true conceits, the epistolary feint, also known as answering a reader's letter. If it weren't for you, Mr. K., I would have had to fall back on an even filthier gambit, the dreaded cab-driver conversation, or the even more loathsome dictionary definition: pal*ace (pal´is) n. 1. The official residence of a royal personage... Shudder.

It would be nice to hear from me, Mr. K.? My dear sir, it is not merely nice to hear from you, it is sweet deliverance.

 

TABLEHOPPING

MILDA'S LIVES: Milda's, the beloved North Minneapolis diner and pasty shop, has gotten a reprieve from what a few weeks ago seemed like a death sentence: The café, whose low-slung building is slated for demolition this spring, has extended its lease and looks to be open until the end of April. In addition, a group connected to Redeemer Lutheran Church is searching for a Harrison neighborhood location where Milda's could reopen. In the meantime, lovers of the authentic, the irreproducible, and the historic are strongly advised to slip into one of the old location's turquoise booths for a pasty. Pasties are served hot Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays ($4.50 with coleslaw; add 35 cents for extra gravy) and frozen Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Milda's Café is at 1825 Glenwood Ave. N., (612) 377-9460; hours are 6 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; closed Sundays and the last Saturday of every month.

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