By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
West Indies Soul
If I ever thought about the West Indies Soul name in connection with the St. Paul location of the restaurant and caterer, I would have assumed it referred to the soul of the West Indies, as the University Avenue restaurant excels in pan-Caribbean home cooking and comforts, like jerk chicken, red snapper stew, and such. Now I see that they were in fact craftily laying the groundwork for westward expansion: At their MGM location they mainly serve traditional African American soul food, with the Caribbean bits just the icing on the cake. I tried much of what the restaurant offers, in the classic form of a meat and two vegetables ($9.50), and found the catfish fillet to be as crisp and light as the sound of handclapping, the rib tips as sweet and rich as dessert, the jerk chicken as potent and meaty as it ever was, the sides of candied yams as deep as a sunset. I could go on.
Other highlights included light, crisp fried-okra bits; a savory, long-cooked succotash of corn, okra, and lima beans, united with a bit of stewed tomatoes; and homemade beverages such as ginger beer, sorrel drink, and peanut punch ($5). The restaurant also offers an after-church Sunday soul food spread for $11 a person, with mac and cheese, peach cobbler, greens, the works; as far as I know it's the only big soul-food spread available in the Twin Cities. Unless you get your sorry self to church, that is, and get adopted by a forgiving family. And then still there's no guaranteeing the yams will be this good. 612.870.2920
I could write a whole review of La Sirena Gorda. If you like Mexican seafood, be absolutely sure to try this place. In short, though, please know that the cheerful, blue-tile-bedecked stand is owned by one of the founders of downtown Minneapolis fine-dining and dance hotspot Babalu, and at La Sirena Gorda they cook fine-dining, restaurant-quality food. I particularly recommend the shrimp cocktail ($6.95 small, $9.95 large, served in takeout containers), which is the best rendition of the Mexican style of this dish that I've had in the Twin Cities: firm, bright shrimp swim in a sweet, intense tomato sauce enlivened with fresh chopped cilantro, onions, and such. Each bite tastes as if you're having it under a sun umbrella on the beach. (If you picked up a six-pack of Corona or Tecate across the street at Chicago Lake Liquors, you could have a spontaneous backyard barbecue to knock your sweetie's socks off.)
Another joy are the "mariscocillas," corn tortillas folded around a crab cake-like filling of seafood chopped and blended with corn, the slightly lemony herb epazote, and chipotle-touched mayonnaise. Once the tortillas are stuffed, they are fried briefly, then served with bright green guacamole on top of a bed of fresh lettuce. The pescadillas can be ordered filled with a white fish, octopus, or shrimp. I particularly like the fish one, it's both tender and richly flavored, and, at $4.95, rivals any appetizer at any Mexican restaurant in town. So impressed was I that I pushed my luck and tried the shrimp ceviche ($8.95), which was too long marinated, and kind of sour and sad. Oh well.
On to octopus tacos ($4.95), then, which were a joy. You get tortillas mounded high with tender marinated octopus cooked up with sautéed onions and a tiny hint of savory spice—delicious. One night I ordered a special of a whole giant, fried tilapia, its crosshatched flesh adorned with smoked, dried chili peppers and served with tortillas, rice, beans, guacamole—the works. As I walked across the room 10 people stopped to ask me where I had got the thing; for $13.95 it was dinner for two, as well as a brief dance with celebrity. 612.870.0037; lasirenagorda.com
If you don't know, United Noodles has long been the best pan-Asian market in the Twin Cities, the one with the most Japanese selections, the one with the hardest-to-find rarities, the most arcane regional soy sauces, the oddest flavored sodas, and so on. United Noodles has won countless "Best Asian Market" awards, and it's the one that the fiercest culinary purists make pilgrimages too. The mother ship is also, literally, down a hidden alley off a dead-end street in a quasi-industrial section of Seward, so if you don't make it there often, or ever, that's completely to be expected. While the MGM satellite doesn't carry as much as the main one, (no kidding, it's 1/20th the size), it does have much of the main stuff: the good soy sauces, the right noodles, the adorably packaged candies, and the dinner-party appropriate mochi, those Japanese ice cream bonbons wrapped in rice-flour dough. 612.721.6677; www.unitednoodles.com
Fiesta in America
Piñatas, chips, and crazy Mexican candy that all your friends want you to bring to the bar for their birthday, like the mad lollipop that looks just like an itty bitty dollhouse roast chicken. Seriously. A roast chicken. Candy. Lollipop. I'll let that sink in. While we consider how great it is to experience the wonder of other cultures and—roast chicken lollipop! I can't wait for Christmas; stockings are going to be stuffed memorably. 612.728.5429