What I ate when I was under the weather


Broth is the common cure for almost anything that ails you. We all know grandmas have been taking care of business with their homemade soups and broths since the dawn of the soup bowl, but more importantly, I’m taking about spiced broth: Spice gets the blood flowing, bringing more oxygen to all parts of your body. Capsaicin, which puts the spice in spicy, can clear your sinuses, help against ulcers and get your metabolism running stronger. It can also be a solid colon cleanse in large amounts.

This is what I ate as I was laid up in bed for 48 hours craving nothing but spicy broth.

Kung Pao mock duck, Pho ’79

Pho ’79  (Nicollet Ave)

Restaurant Grade: B

We did get surprised by the Kung Pao mock duck. Basically ordered it out of hunger and thought we needed more food. But good lordy, am I happy we did.

Maybe it’s because I was dealing with a sinus infection, maybe it’s because we got it to go, or maybe the lazy cousin was working that day and forgot to put flavor in the broth, or whatever the reason, this was the blandest pho I’ve had in Minnesota: Lacking on spices and umami, only after adding the typical hoisin and chili sauce did it become appealing. Pho broth is supposed to be this tried-and-true cornerstone of depth that comes from hours of slow simmering and mélange of spices, so once you are given the necessary accompaniments you can tweak it how you’d like. The lime, Thai basil, chili sauce, hoisin, bean sprouts, smoked chili oil, and scallions are all necessary and available for you to add the appropriate amounts. These things are great but it doesn’t fix the missing layer of flavor from a boring broth.

Chicken Pho, C-

Maybe it’s because I got the chicken pho, or maybe it’s just lame. I don’t trust where they get the proteins from. For some reason in my head when I’m sketched out or unsupportive about most restaurants choices of meat sources, I tend to go chicken, if I don’t go vegetarian.  I need my lean protein. The broth was lackluster and left something to be desired. I can and do appreciate the use of dark meat.

Kung Pao Mock Duck, A+

Hands down, the best Kung Pao dish I’ve had here in the Twin Cities. It was intensely flavored with celery, garlic, chili pepper and the sweet, salty sauce coating every edge of vegetable and mock duck. This crunchy and beyond texturally satisfying dish was the highlight of the dinner and had a fair amount of spice to be a dish originally for the Szechuan region of China. The mock duck wasn’t chewy or dry, and was generously tossed among the load of crunchy peanuts and sweet and al dente bell peppers.

Bali Bali ramen, Tori Ramen

Tori Ramen (STP)

Restaurant Grade: A

Customer Service, A+
Kombucha, A+

The rotating house Kombucha on tap was awesome. Small bubbles, smooth palate, not too tart and extremely refreshing while eating a bowl full of rich broth and noodles.

Bali Bali Ramen, B

The whole dish needed to be seasoned with salt. When dishes are under seasoned a lot of the nuances that are supposed to shine or be a supporting role tends to drown in nothingness and the dish can come off as flabby. Ground chicken, tahini, slow egg, Korean chili, Szechuan pepper, sesame, Yu Choy, bean sprouts, burdock, fried leeks, chili oil, scallion oil.

There was a ¼” of fat floating on top of broth, which to most people is revolting. It didn’t appeal to me, but fat is flavor so I indulged. This made the ramen broth super-duper rich.  It needed more spice and/or acid to balance out the fat of the two flavored oils plus a whole runny egg yolk. It needed balance to cut through its seemingly creamy viscosity.  They garnish this bowl with what they call “blackened” (or fried) leeks. Although the aesthetic was nice, their texture and flavor were rather uneventful and off-putting. The accompanied burdock garnish was over cooked and dry like sun torched tree bark. It should be sweet and delicate, like a Midwest kohlrabi coupled with a Kumamoto oyster.

The noodles were good. A standard prepackage, pre-portioned ramen noodle that gives you all the consistency you need, want, and expect. The slow cooked chicken egg was perfect and a mesmerizing dream of nature’s original sauce. I asked for some sort of chili sauce or spice and what they brought me was delicious: A hot sauce made in-house with some sort of scotch bonnet or habanero peppers and full of seeds and fruity notes.

Greeted by casual smiles and Minnesota nice from the service staff. They were very friendly and comfortable. Comfortable because the whole restaurant is 500 sq ft and I didn’t feel like I needed to slurp and run. It reminded me of this small ramen shop in Brooklyn called Samurai Papa. It is a very simplistic and tall space with straight forward menu with similar service and family-style feel.

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Born and raised in the suburbs of Saint Paul, MN, Brandon has immersed himself into being a local and sustainable advocate for delicious living. Working for the best Chef’s in the Twin Cities before becoming the Residence Chef at the Minnesota Governor’s Residence and personal Chef for the Zimmern family. Foraging, eating, parenting, writing, cycling, consulting, catering and hosting pop up dinners are what his free time entails.