Some of the spices and condiments in a Malaysian kitchen—ginger, shallots, chilies—are familiar to American diners. Others aren't as widely known, and it's these that give the seafood, meats, veggies, and curries at Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine their palate-expanding complexity. Belacan, for example, is a dried shrimp paste that provides a salty tang; pandan leaf is an aromatic plant used in desserts as a dumpling wrapper; and galangal is a type of Southeast Asian rhizome that goes well with lemongrass.
At Peninsula Malaysian Cuisine, Chef Tong mixes these ingredients with practiced precision to make nearly 200 dishes, from pineapple seafood fried rice to the Buddhist yam pot—a bowl formed from crispy fried taro and filled with shrimp, chicken, cashews, and vegetables. The restaurant's open kitchen lets guests watch him and the other cooks as they flip the crispy pancakes known as roti canai and toss fresh egg noodles with duck and barbecued pork. The food impressed Jeremy Iggers of the StarTribune along with his Malaysia-born dining companions, who "gave the Peninsula a strong endorsement: they said the food was as good as at the restaurants back home."
The kitchen also displays Peninsula's love for coconut. Jumbo shrimp and beef take on sweetness as they simmer in coconut milk, and a coconut-butter breading turns bites of chicken into crispy treats. To increase the chances that their dreams will take them to a tropical island, diners can finish with another celebration of the fruit of the palm: coconut pudding served inside a real coconut shell.
“Jedzcie pijcie i popuszczajcie pas.” For those who don’t speak Polish, the motto at Nye’s Polonaise Room may seem complex, but its translation is simple: “Eat, drink, and loosen your belt.” In fact, expansion has been the running theme at Nye’s since it set its roots back in the '40s. By 1964 Nye's original form, a bar, provided owner Al Nye with the funds necessary to purchase the space next door. Though he added a dining room, the bar's original features—gold-flecked booths, dark paneling, a curved piano bar, and a portrait of Chopin—remain, creating a vintage and homey feel.
Nye’s lengthy menu dishes up Polish classics, such as cabbage rolls and pierogi, as well as hearty 14-ounce new york strip steaks, cold-water lobster tail, and aged, bone-in, slow-roasted prime rib. Specialty martinis and the eatery’s inherent ambience make it a cozy place to talk, much like a candlelit phone booth. Nye’s also curates a full wine menu with pours from California, Spain, and Australia. All these ingredients come together to create a restaurant that's distinct and locally lauded, earning it a feature on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
The former owner of local hotspot Taco Morelos, restaurateur Gaspar Perez now reigns over the kitchen at Las Teresitas Mexican Grill. Here, he's ramped up his well-known Mexican favorites with high-quality ingredients and bold flavors, and this time, he's keeping the entire operation in the family. According to City Pages—which awarded Las Teresitas the 2012 Best Taco award for its chorizo taco—Perez's wife waits tables as his cousin cooks up fajitas, mole chicken, and tacos stuffed with brisket, Mexican-style barbecue pork, or beef cheek. The family's even in the restaurant's name, which Perez chose in honor of his mother (Teresa) and his daughter (also Teresa), who gained popularity at Taco Morelos for greeting customers at the door with a smile and fresh tortilla chips.
The free chips are still a thing. In the center of the casual dining room stands a complementary chips-and-salsa bar, showcasing a spread of nine colorful homemade salsas in varying degrees of heat. Perez encourages guests to sample these salsas—which include tomato chipotle and chili de arbol varieties—and use them to customize their meals or secretly spice up a friend's horchata.
“You feel like you’re in a museum, or some other metropolis hotspot,” a reporter for the Minnesota Monthly said after a visit to My Burger. The article went on to praise the menu, applauding “beefy, thin burgers with good, sweet, fresh buns.” Each quarter-pound burger is prepared fresh to order, with standard toppings as well more adventurous options such as Cajun bacon. Amid crackling décor infused with pop-art influences, patrons also swap in patties made of fish, chicken, turkey, or veggies like the best friend of a lonely chef.
The staff also claims they have their french-fry process down to a science, which may be true: they were listed in Citypages’ Top 10 French Fries in the Twin Cities in 2012. Robin’s-egg-blue stand mixers churn out fresh malts in chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry, and glasses click together at the small bar, spilling rivulets of wine, hard ciders, and draft Surly.
If the limestone walls of the Nicollet Island Inn Restaurant could talk, they would have riveting things to say. They would relate recent memories of romantic weddings and elegant special occasions, filled with the popping of champagne corks, laughter bouncing off the water from an outdoor patio and garden, and soft music wafting from the piano lounge. But the inn's more distant past is what distinguishes its true character; the building is one of the few that survived an island-wide fire soon after its construction in 1893. The site was rehabilitated in the early 80's. Double-hung windows have transformed the industrial exterior with welcoming turquoise awnings, and the old loading dock was glassed in to create a dining room with scenic views of the Mississippi River.
Though steeped in historical charm—including hand-carved woodwork, stained-glass windows, and an antique, steam-powered elevator—the inn appeals to the modern traveler with world-class amenities such as organic bath products and plasma TVs.
Hailed by StarTribune writer Tom Horgen as “two guys who know their beer,” Mark van Wie and Paul Schatz have worked for the last decade to put their pub The Muddy Pig on the maps of local and international beer connoisseurs. At their second venture, The Pig & Fiddle, they have raised the bar even higher with 36 beers on draft—including a slew of Belgian-style brews—to go with chef Stephanie Kochlin’s menu of European-inspired pub fare.
Each day from 4:00 p.m. until 1:00 a.m., Chef Kochlin prepares hearty dinner entrees using recipes gathered from rustic European locales and cooking oils derived from melted Renaissance paintings. Along with artisanal cheeses, house-prepared meats, and boiled pierogi, the kitchen specializes in European pasties—pouch-shaped pies filled with roasted lamb and house-made pickles. Aside from the nightly dinner menu, The Pig & Fiddle frequently curates events such as special dinners with course-by-course beer pairings.