The Best of Both Worlds
2713 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
612.724.8868 • www.tsmpls.com
"Fusion" has become a dirty word among those who love good food, and not without reason. Pan-Asian restaurants deserve much of the blame; many seem to run on the philosophy of "If you can't do one thing well, add a sushi bar."
T's Place, by contrast, comes by its eclectic blend of Ethiopian and Singapore-inspired cuisine honestly. Its chef-owner, Tee Belachew, worked alongside partner Kin Lee at Singapore in south Minneapolis, and he's brought some of that Asian attitude along with him to his new venture, which sits on the former site of Dashen Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar, two doors down from Town Talk Diner.
Belechew cooks with conviction. Two varieties of sambusas ($3.75) pack an underlying heat that greatly augments the impact of the lentil or ground-beef-stuffed pastries. The Indian influence gets kicked into high gear with the roti prata ($7.95), a seared flatbread and curry appetizer that could easily please three hearty eaters. The bread is rich, tender, buttery, and made for dipping into the deeply flavored brown curry—a wondrous slurry of coconut cream and spices that evokes cumin, cinnamon, and turmeric.
The same sauce flavors the chicken and vegetable captain's curry ($11.95), which comes with rice but is equally delicious when eaten with injera (the spongy, tangy bread that traditionally accompanies many Ethiopian dishes).
Shiro ($8.50) is one of a number of vegetarian options at T's Place (in addition to being a bewildering cultural melting pot, the joint's menu is flexible enough to satisfy almost anyone without cutting any deliciousness corners). The shiro's chickpeas are seasoned with berbere, one of the cornerstones of Ethiopian/Eritrean cooking—its composition varies, but it often includes cloves, chile peppers, ginger, coriander, and other, more exotic components. It gives the dish a mellow, smoky depth that helps it transcend its humble appearance.
If you're up for something that's off the charts in terms of its cultural pedigree, the Ethio-Asian fried rice ($9.95) will fit the bill. There's surprisingly little rice in this hearty dish; a slow-burning spicy mix of chicken, eggs, and vegetables dominates the massive platter, much of it delicately charred.
So the next time you're considering waiting 30 minutes to join the throng clogging the excellent but brain-damagingly loud Town Talk Diner, consider passing up the haute cuisine cheese curds and stroll down the block for some sambusas, roti prati and tibs firfir ($11.99), a mix of lamb or beef, jalapeños, tomatoes, and pieces of injera. Just remember to order one or two entrées for every two or three people, because the platters are generously stacked.
There's a lot of expunging yet to be done before the filthy term "fusion" is fully scrubbed, but with T's Place on the case, there's hope for it yet.
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