Asian Stars Du Nord

Two fascinating Asian restaurants, one Korean, one Taiwanese, bloom in the northern suburbs

Dong Yang Oriental Food
735 45th Ave. NE, Hilltop
(Central Plaza Mall)
763.571.2009

E-Noodle Café
1711 Rice St., Roseville
(McCarron Hills Shopping Center)
651.488.1246

Ask the moms at the counter: Matthew Lee at Dong Yang
Jana Freiband
Ask the moms at the counter: Matthew Lee at Dong Yang

Location Info

Map

E Noodle Cafe

1711 Rice St.
Roseville, MN 55113

Category: Restaurant > Diner

Region: Roseville

You, you might say that the thing most likely to get you in trouble is that floozy in the rhododendrons, but for me, what nearly killed me last month was theories.

I wish you'd been there. Instead of me, I mean. I'd been hitting the highways and byways, pursuing a "theory." Namely, that in Minnesota Asian restaurants, the new wave of great food would be found in direct proportion to the utter ugliness of the architecture and to the absolute inconvenience of the location.

I don't want to get too dramatic here, but let's just say it was a month marked most memorably by police photos of myself on various highway median strips shotgunning ampoules of bicarbonate of soda, weeping.

But then the tide turned! It turned, and I found two exciting new spots, one Korean, one Taiwanese, in the far-flung strip malls of the north. And it made all those moments with the various Empress Princess Red Garden Palace Cottages well worth it.

Dong Yang is the one that almost killed me. It is just such a jaw-dropper of a great find. Dong Yang, you see, is a lovely little Korean grocery store up on 45th and Central avenues in Hilltop. (If you've never heard of Hilltop, that's because it's about the size of an anorexic ant, if such a thing were wedged in the brief space between Columbia Heights and Fridley.)

At first, Dong Yang struck me mostly as a great chef's resource. In addition to a copious noodle selection, they've got a butcher shop, all those addictive Korean bar snacks, and half a dozen unusual Asian sea salts, including a fire-roasted salt. Yet, the grocery is just the tip of the iceberg. In an unmarked back room, just past the vegetable cooler, with nothing to announce it but the noise of a Korean-language satellite TV station, Dong Yang shows its greatest asset: a fantastic Korean lunch room.

Admittedly, there's nothing much in this room, room-wise: A dozen tables, the television, walls made of cement blocks, a water cooler, and a tea-warmer surrounded by Styrofoam cups. It seems more like a workplace break room than a restaurant. Except this break room is stocked with food created by talented Korean moms and grandmas, and if you give them 10 bucks, they will give you all of the jewels a hard-working member of the family deserves.

Ask for the ka ji mee ($8.99) and you'll get two tender, salted, grilled fishes, golden as Bing Crosby, yet far, far more moist. I joke, but this ka ji mee was delectable, the flesh flaking from the bones like--well, like one of those things you would pray for from a fish dinner, if it was moral to pray for a fish dinner. You know how it is, with food-types making such a big deal about the ability of French chefs to get that thick, golden crisp crust on a piece of pan-fried fish? Well, another way to get it is just to show up at Dong Yang with nine bucks.

Another triumph, the gal bi, is thinly sliced pieces of beef short rib, as flavor-saturated as jerky, as chewy and luxurious as thick-cut bacon, grilled till they pop with beefy flavor.

I realize I don't say a lot in this column about where to dine solo: If you're a sportsy Northeast guy with a secret gourmet side, if you're a hipster chick with a carnivorous streak, there is no better place in town to splay out under a baseball cap in your glasses than Dong Yang.

Part of the charm is that everything at Dong Yang comes with a bowl of rice and five little dishes of pan chan--the Korean relishes, salads, and pickles that elevate the meal. Depending on the day, you yourself might get big chunks of potato dressed with chile, or sweet fried slices of tofu, or crisp marinated bean sprouts, garlic shoots in vinegar and chile, sweet dressed black beans, wilted spinach with sesame seeds, cucumbers in vinegar, pickled daikon, or simply house-made kimchi, that Korean chile-laced fresh sauerkraut. Whichever you get, the deal is, you decorate your main protein and your rice with alternating bites of the various garnishes to keep things interesting throughout.

Various kitchens and various families have various styles of handing out pan chan; some Korean chefs spend all day working on one little thing, and you're lucky that they give you a few of their hard-won morsels. Not so at Dong Yang, where things tend to be more in the soul food, have-more, you're-working-yourself-to-the-bone frame of mind. For all of those who never feel like you have enough pan chan: Achtung--now you will.

Another must-have is the man doo, those plump meat-and-noodle stuffed dumplings. Here, they're tender and sweet, vibrating with the light energy of carrots and other tender root vegetables. The seafood pancake ($8.99) feeds two and is bursting with octopus, bay shrimp, scallions, and the pillowy weight of eggs. The bul go gi, thinly sliced pork or beef (your choice) in chile sauce was pretty darn fiery for my taste, but, still, you'd have to have a hard heart not to officially name Dong Yang one of the hidden treasures of food-life in Minnesota.

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