Qoraxlow: enigmatic, but rewarding
Enter the word "Qoraxlow" into Google and all you get are a bunch of barebones listings, all referring to the enigmatic, windowless East African restaurant located at Lake Street and Cedar Avenue. It's right there on Lake, and yet—linguistically and gastronomically—it's totally off the grid.
Which makes it kind of irresistible.
Stepping across its threshold is more like traveling to another country than strolling into a Minneapolis eatery. Large illustrations of the Koran decorate the wall. One of the three main rooms is dominated by a maroon-and-gold brocade couch, and the place hums with conversation in a language unintelligible to white, American ears.
The menu is incomprehensible in the best sense of the word—you understand the general drift of the protein involved, but with no descriptions of the dishes' seasonings or sauces you have no reliable rationale for predicting what will arrive at the table. Before we can even get to the point of puzzling things out, our waiter arrives with a goat-stock vegetable soup. It's mild and pleasant, but adding the potently spicy green chutney that comes with it transforms the broth into a wickedly tasty concoction. For beverages we're offered a choice between "mango" and "guava," which you pour from small tableside plastic pitchers into Styrofoam cups. The mango is a pleasant, lightly flavored beverage; guava has a deeper, sweeter, fruitier flavor.
Sensing our predicament vis-à-vis the menu, our extremely mellow and welcoming waiter suggests that my wife and I order the "sports" platter ($16), a full-court, two-person meat extravaganza featuring beef, fish, chicken, gyro slices, something that was probably goat, an enormous platter of spiced and fruited rice, a salad, a tenaciously spicy green condiment of unknown derivation, and a couple of bananas.
The food, as it turns out, is almost Persian in style. Raisins in the rice; tender, deeply spiced, stewed meat; and a terrific balance of texture and flavor, with cardamom, orange peels, onions, and lime dominating a colorful banquet.
And then, just as we've begun to comprehend the sprawling enormity of the platter before us, it becomes clear why the spacious, couch-furnished "VIP room" we're dining in has so much open floor space, as three men enter and start rolling out prayer carpets. It's maghrib (sunset), one of the five times a day that Muslims pray. And one of the places they pray is in the empty part of the dining area, right under one of the restaurant's two massive flat-screen TVs.
My un-hijabed wife and I were grateful that Mecca turned out to be at a 45-degree angle to our table, not so much for our benefit but because there are probably few things less inspiring to spiritual reflection than watching nonbelievers awkwardly trying to snarf down discreet bites of a sports platter while you prostrate yourself before Allah.
All in all, Qoraxlow is among the most genuinely transporting dining experiences you'll have in the Twin Cities.
And the name? It means "handsome" or "beautiful."
QORAXLOW, 1821 East Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.822.4480
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