Flurries of Curries

Reliable Malaysian favorite establishes new Hiawatha outpost, with Ethiopian accent

Personally, I would tend to skip the good but less accomplished Ethiopian dishes, such as the sweet and gamy Ethiopian honey wine chicken ($10.95)--though I will note that if these African preparations were presented anyplace but alongside Lee's masterpieces, they'd likely show better. And I also have to admit that, to my eternal regret, I only ordered off the visible menu.

Yes, you read that right--the visible menu. Because get this: Singapore! also has an invisible menu. Kin Lee sprung this fact on me when I talked to him on the phone for this story. Actually, there are two invisible menus, one for Ethiopian specialties from chef Belachew, and another of Malaysian specialties. Which of course brings up the question, Why is there an invisible menu?

According to Lee, it is because a woman down in city licensing looked at the Maplewood location's menu and decided that it was too long. They could never serve all those dishes and keep them fresh, she surmised. So Lee trimmed his menu to 25 items. No, said the woman, and sent him back to the drawing board. I actually heard this story once before, from the very sweet, amazingly energetic server who takes care of the entire restaurant single-handedly. The first time I heard it, I assumed the story spoke mostly to the difficulties immigrants encounter in a foreign land, having to file papers and forms without assistance, in a language not their own. I mean, I don't even know where to begin imagining a world in which the city would start enforcing 10-item maximums on restaurant menus. Grandé? Venti? Whaddaya need so many for? Crème brûlée or panna cotta--pick one, there, buddy, and quit your whining! Worse, Kin Lee told me, the woman from licensing has been in to check on him, sitting unsmiling in the dining room, making sure the menu doesn't get out of hand. "That's really weird," I marveled. "It's true!" Lee said, and pointed out that the invisible menu also has Ethiopian tea and Malaysian tapioca desserts, both of which I missed.

Mission invisible: Many of chef Tee Belachew's specialties are on menus you can't see
Trish Lease
Mission invisible: Many of chef Tee Belachew's specialties are on menus you can't see

I dwelt on that for a bit, all the things I've missed in life, the conversations I didn't have with people who are gone, the Malaysian desserts I never imagined ordering, the nine-tenths of life that lives outside of the commonly known rules, and I dwelt on it some more. Rules, they are governing by consent, now, aren't they? And so now, now, I have decided to believe in the unsmiling inspector, and her skulking, haunting visage, enforcing her own imaginary, draconian regulations. Because without the rules of the unsmiling inspector, how could we ever have the limitless possibility of the invisible menu?

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