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.
The aroma of simmering lamb and curried vegetables wafts from Flamingo Restaurant’s kitchen, where owners Shegitu Kebede and Frewoini Haile ladle hearty meat stews onto spongy disks of injera. The duo’s traditional East African cuisine has been lauded by the Star Tribune as “flavorful and lovingly prepared.”
But Ms. Kebede’s and Ms. Haile’s passion for African cuisine is not the only bond they share: both women embarked on a dangerous escape from their respective war-ravaged countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea. As reported by MPR News, the refugees fled Africa on foot, alone, dodging rebels and government armies en route to freedom.
Once in the United States, Ms. Kebede and Ms. Haile joined forces to rebuild their lives and preserve their cultural identities. The result is Flamingo Restaurant. There, traditional African art adorns the walls, and imported African spices flavor the owners’ family recipes. Both women are always on hand to greet guests with a smile or conduct a tableside primer on their favorite dishes. Says Kebede, "We want people to see that, even though your countries fight [for] over 35 years, you can still be friends."
• For $10, you get $20 worth of French-American cuisine at brunch or lunch. • For $20, you get $40 worth of French-American cuisine and drinks after 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Restaurant's blend of fine French recipes with hardy American ingredients increases gustatory alliances at tables sprinkled throughout its homey dining rooms. In a contemporary take on the timeless roasted duck a l’orange, Grand Marnier and seasonal fruit accompaniments simmer next to a crispy quarter of tender duck ($16). After being pan seared and flambéed with cognac, the steak au poivre's black-peppercorn-encrusted fillet bathes in delicious blend of crème fraîche and bordelaise sauce next to a potato, pasta, or vegetables ($20). The salmon mosaic weaves strips of wild Alaskan salmon and fresh Canadian walleye into a replica of Starry Night before a light poaching and drizzle of lemon beurre blanc and dill ($18). Capturing the essences of classic French cuisine, the chicken coq au vin slow cooks locally raised chicken with bacon, pearl onions, and mushrooms in a red-wine sauce ($19 for dinner, $13 for lunch).
In the 1950s, Sam Perrella owned a small cafe in Minnesota's Iron Range, offering up the usual cafe fare of coffee and baked goods. But after hearing WWII soldiers' stories of Italian pizza and traveling to Chicago to taste the Windy City's version of the Italian pie, he and his wife created their own version. They morphed the cafe with Sammy's Pizza, moved it to a larger location, and watched the loyal customers roll in.
The iconic restaurant now boasts 16 locations in three states and the Five Four Lounge in Coon Rapids. But though it's a household name, it remains a family-run eatery with menu items culled from family recipes. Among them are chicken tetrazzini, three-cheese bacon caballero, and specialty pizzas. Favorites include Sammy's Special with Italian sausage, green pepper, and onions, or the Iron Ranger with kosher beef salami, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.
Chez Daniel executive chef Wilver Sanchez interprets the cuisine of France with an eye for artful presentation, simple and fresh ingredients, and a creative sensibility. Attentive servers welcome diners with appetizing small plates, covering nude tables with plump escargot baked in garlic butter and house-smoked salmon toast. Lobster ravioli is tossed with saut?ed mushrooms before making a dazzling midmeal entrance in a mantle of roasted artichokes and lobster-tarragon sauce, while filet mignon is served with potatoes and a classic b?arnaise sauce. Chez Daniel also features a list of weekly specials. The dining room's exposed-brick, lofty archways, and elaborately adorned tables entice customers with an atmosphere as elegant as a tablecloth woven from Charlemagne?s beard.
At Sweet Taste of Italy, the secret’s not just in the sauce—although they have a specialty housemade red sauce—because everything is made from scratch each day. The chefs whip butter, grind cheese, bake fresh sweet Italian bread, and hand-slice meats to create Italian favorites with an American twist. Customers can dine in or take out heaping helpings of pasta and Toyota-sized pizzas, and catering services are also available.