If you just heard James Norton talking about the Green Line Checklist on MPR, you can view the complete archives, or follow the series installment by installment:
ALL 15 GREEN LINE INSTALLMENTS: 88 Oriental Foods to Thai Cafe, Ha Tien Deli to Hook Fish and Chicken, Family Lao Thai to Cheng Heng, iPho by Saigon to Los Ocampo, SugaRush to PaJai, Pinoy Fusion to The Best Steakhouse, Johnny Baby’s to Ngon Bistro, Flamingo to Trend Bar, Midway Pro Bowl to Big V’s, On’s Kitchen to Tracks Bar and Grill, Caspian Bistro to Playoffs Sports Lounge, Mesa Pizza to Stub and Herb’s, The Dubliner to Ippindo Ramen, Silhouette to Little Szechuan, and T-Rex to Campus Club (the end of the line).
Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.
Bali Bali Ramen at Tori Ramen
Bali Bali ramen takes the richness of its broth to a creamy and nutty level with the addition of tahini. Shiny globules of scallion and chili oil float on top of the broth. Szechuan pepper brings a numbing heat.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from a review by Ted Held]
The Tex Mex Burrito From Hi-Lo Diner
The Tex Mex burrito — stuffed with hash browns, sausage, and scrambled eggs — just rocketed to the top of our list for savory breakfasts. It features a great balance of ingredients, a perfect use of scallions, and a really tender tortilla.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]
Char Kway Teow from Peninsula
Peninsula’s Char Kway Teow is a cheerful, bold dish of mixed textures (tender flat noodles, chewy squid, crunchy bean sprouts) that pairs mild shrimp and chopped egg with a kicky chili paste that’s not hot enough to wipe out flavor, but keep your water glass filled. A perfect antidote to sludgy gray days.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]
Chocolate, Nutella, cinnamon-raisin — name a sweet filling, and this classic Eastern European / Jewish brioche-based dessert pairs beautifully with it. We made a couple of loaves stuffed with cinnamon and raisins, and the combined fat and joy content got us through the worst of the polar blast.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]
Candied Tangerine Peel
We always make candied citrus peel in December. We dip it in chocolate to serve with coffee at dinner parties, and we knead it into panettone. This year, I discovered a recipe from June Taylor, who makes extraordinary jam (and candied peel) out of a kitchen in Berkeley, Calif. Taylor made candied Meyer lemon peel on a Martha Steward episode, and the recipe and video are online (it will work for any citrus). She adds 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar per cup of sugar, something I’ve never seen before. It makes a difference: The peel becomes extra tender, and the sugar doesn’t crystallize at all.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Jane Rosemarin]
For a restaurant with only 10 items on the menu, Tori Ramen (161 Victoria St N, St. Paul) presents the diner with a delightful challenge. There is a 100 percent chance you will have ramen in a non-pork-based broth. There is a 90 percent chance your bowl will contain yu choy (a brassica), an 80 percent chance it will feature an egg, and a 70 percent chance it will have burdock (more on burdock later). But there is only a 10 percent chance it will have kimchi or tahini. The point is, the menu is brief, and though many of the offerings appear similar, the similarity is superficial. Each bowl is fundamentally different.
Tori Ramen’s single-room space is small and humid. On one visit, the windows were fogged up, as if we were about to enter a soup sauna. There are a handful of counter seats and only ten or so small tables, which are so close together that you have to walk sideways between them. The room is decorated in a subtly Japanese style, with none of the cartoonish flourishes found at many other Japanese restaurants. Everything from the scorched-looking wood paneling to the tabletops is eminently Instagram-worthy. We were seated right away on each of our three visits, but with little room for waiting diners, it is hard to imagine what it’s like when Tori Ramen is slammed.
The servers are knowledgeable about the food and happy to explain the restaurant’s pork-free philosophy and introduce the more exotic ingredients, a few of which are not generally found in other local ramen shops. For example, burdock, which sits in for bamboo shoots, is considered an invasive weed in Minnesota but is relatively common in Asian food.
Compared to the more traditional ramen at Obento-Ya, Zen Box, or Masu, where poultry plays a supporting role, if any at all, Tori Ramen’s delivers a flavor profile that stands out as unique locally. The bird appears not in a cameo, but as a character actor who can do some really interesting and diverse things. This is surely to the credit of Chef Jason Dorweiler, who worked at Unideli and was a key factor in their rise to prominence in the local ramen scene.
Let’s start with some overall observations. As we’ve said, there is no pork. There is also very little seaweed, and not a single pink-and-white fish cake. This in no way prevents Tori Ramen from putting out some superb food. All of the broth had umami to spare, and the bowls came together with balance and remarkable depth of flavor. In most bowls, yu choy brings the vegetal element, burdock tastes sweet and earthy, and eggs add richness. Most importantly, the noodles were outstanding — squiggly, chewy, and with a light alkalinity. You will finish these noodles, and fast.
The Chicken Noodle Soup ($12) is the basic bowl. The broth had a fresh onion taste in front of an underlying sweetness hinting at root vegetables. It makes a convincing mission statement for a ramen place that doesn’t use pork. If you are the kind of person who dutifully orders tonkatsu whenever you eat ramen, start here, and Tori Ramen will surprise you with its poultry prowess.
Fruit liqueurs — especially as made and marketed in the United States — have a tendency to veer toward sugar to the point of being unpalatable. No such trouble with the newly released Sevilla, by J. Carver of Waconia. This whiskey-based spirit is aged for a year in barrels along with fresh orange peel and vanilla beans, and it clocks in at a full 80 proof. The flavors added to the whiskey are clean and strong without tasting of chemicals or overwhelming the palate.
The addition of a tasteful amount of sugar brings this spirit into the realm of liqueurs, but not aggressively. The balance between vanilla, orange, whiskey, and sweetness is deft, and the liqueur could comfortably be served on the rocks or used as a base or complementary spirit in a craft cocktail. There are, no doubt, some fierce Champagne punches, vanilla margaritas, and Old Fashioneds waiting to be created with Sevilla in a meaningful supporting role.
Prairie Dogs, a place we’ve found to serve some of the best hot dog spots in the state, will be shutting its doors at the end of the month. It may reopen at a new location.
Details in the press release from Tobie Nidetz:
In November 2014 Prairie Dogs found a home on Lake Street. In the two years since, the restaurant has seen a lot of ups and downs…but a little too many downs. Even after the accolades of the patrons, food writers and a national television network, we found the curse of location to be too strong. There was something keeping people away from our door and we were never able to figure out why. As customer counts dropped our bills piled up. Now we see no way to stay in business at this location. Our last day of operation will be a whale of a party on New Year’s Eve.
From the beginning we knew we had something special and unique. We knew it would take a bit of a learning curve to get the marketplace to see hot dogs and sausages in a new light. That light however was either not strong enough or the place we had chosen to introduce this concept to the Twin Cities and shine that light was not a location our guests enjoyed to come.
So, on to better things. We are in the process of looking for a spot that will give us the opportunity to continue serving our great food and give Prairie Dogs the life it deserves. In the meantime, our products will still be available at U.S. Bank Stadium and we may even return to a pop up or two along the way.