Shortest Days of the Year

Of seals, Shakopee, and bittersweet recollections of dates gone by

 February, the cruelest month. Yeah, I know it's supposed to be April, but this is Minnesota, and our winter is so, so long that I've contacted the legislature about some updates. Let's call February the Cruelest Month, if only so we can call April "I'll Kill You, I Swear to God, If You Don't Give Me the Remote, I Am Not Even Kidding, You Are Just Like Your Mother, Just Give Me It, Quit, I Said, Quit It."

Was there anyone surprised last year when the coldest winter in human memory culminated in a flurry of domestic dismemberments? The woman sawing off her teen daughter's legs down in Madison Lake? The Russian guy with his wife's head in the trunk? The homecoming queen throwing garbage bags of body parts around her daddy's acreage? Watching all of last winter's mutilations turn into this winter's guilty pleas and convictions is certainly chilling, but who doesn't get a little whiff of "there but for the grace of God go I?"

About this time last year I was in a thrift shop outside of New Prague and it was like a child beat-a-thon. Houses get small. Personally, I think relationships should be tabulated on different scales of pain and suffering here, just like insurers' actuarial tables give out different amounts of cash for losing a toe versus losing a son. For example, a two-year marriage in International Falls equals a four-year marriage in Crocus Hill equals an eight-year marriage in Barbados. A two-year marriage in a one-bedroom apartment without cable equals an eight-year stint in a mansion with a fleet of SUVs. Of course, you could go outside. So, without further ado, a couple of food-related cabin-fever busters:

Break the ice with a late night skate: The downtown Depot rink is open until 1:00 a.m
Tony Nelson
Break the ice with a late night skate: The downtown Depot rink is open until 1:00 a.m

Location Info

Map

Cuzzy's Bar and Grill

507 Washington Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Bullwinkle's Saloon

1429 S. Washington Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

 

Flowers, Seals, and Saigon: Here's a shocker: The Como Park Conservatory just continues to exist, in all its white-iron-and-glass Victorian glory, through the winds of winter. Who knew? Pay your $1 admission, check your coat at the door, and you're immediately transported to the warmest, most fragrant, most pleasantly lush space ever to be pelted by cruel snows. There's something truly magical about sitting on a bench beneath soaring palms in winter, and if the orchids throughout the Palm Dome don't touch your heart, this week sees the debut of the Winter Flower Show, with lots of bright azaleas and cyclamen in the Sunken Garden.

Oh, the Sunken Garden. What could be prettier? Claim a bench and watch the carp in the fishpond follow every passerby. They are ever hopeful, those carp. I sat and watched them one day, and they nearly leapt out of the water, so happy were they to see every single toddler toddling by. No one fed them, but they never got discouraged. There's a lesson for us all in those carp about the gorgeous possibility of hope and faith. Or maybe it's about the persistent power of delusion. One of those.

Whatever you do, don't go to the Como Park Zoo, where I stood and watched a giraffe compulsively lick a pole for 20 minutes. That was so depressing I went and watched a polar bear. She was pacing and had turned in the same spot so many times she had worn a six-inch paw hole in the ice. Which was so sad I went and watched the sea lion--who's being trained to be the new Sparky--swim with extreme boredom in circles in the isolation tank that is her reward for being so bright, such a super-achiever. So I lay down next to the tank and sobbed inconsolably.

Whereupon I noticed the live trout, which look like dinner, so I hightailed it to St. Paul's best cheap restaurant, Saigon Café. This Vietnamese treasure is merely a few minutes from all things Como Park, on University just east of Dale. I think I've been going to this place for three years, and the outside just keeps getting dingier even as the food inside keeps getting better. Recently I had a bowl of meatball soup ($3) made with a beefy, delicately complex broth and filled with pretty balls of ground meat and crunchy onions, a make-your-own spring roll platter ($7.95, from the appetizer list) where you "cook" rice-paper wrappers in hot water at your table and fill them with cilantro, cucumbers, mint, shredded carrot, daikon, cold rice noodles, and sweet grilled pork-loaf strips. If you care a lot about spring rolls, come here immediately. I also tried salty hot-pot shrimp ($9.95), a sizzling combination of garlic, fish sauce, and chiles that I kept eating long after the pains of gluttony set in.

Saigon is a miracle, I think. It just keeps getting better and cheaper. Mark my words, some day this place is going to pull a Quang and expand into some kind of super-shiny spic-and-span acreage, and enormous bragging rights are going to accrue to anyone smart enough to get on in when it was a dive. I can't wait.

Como Park Conservatory & Zoo, North Lexington Parkway, St. Paul, 651.487.8200

Saigon Café, 601 University Ave. E., St. Paul, 651.225.8751

 

FantaSuite and Sabroso: I'm going to admit right off that this is a flimsy premise, but stick with me. I went to Sabroso, all the way the heck down in Shakopee, on the recommendation of a reader, and boy, the place is just great. It's the sister restaurant to Taco Morelos on 26th Street in Minneapolis, but it's in a space roughly six times the size of beloved Taco M. The walls are decorated with festive murals, there's a full bar with really good margaritas ($4.95), all the Mexican beers I know of, and lots more perks. I had a very nice whole red snapper in garlic sauce, the best fajitas in memory--just drenched with lime juice and onions--really thick, flavorful tamales, even some fantastic little carnitas tacos and delicious rice pudding.

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