Signapore! Restaurant (Minneapolis, MN)
By Bruce Schneier and Karen Cooper
South 34th Avenue, just north of Crosstown highway, doesn't seem like much of a restaurant location. And to be sure, the building has been the home of a string of mediocre -- and worse -- restaurants for as long as we can remember. But this time the restaurant is a winner, so good it's worth a drive to eat there.
Singapore! is owned by two chefs. Kin Lee is from Singapore, and the owner of the absolutely fabulous Singapore Chinese Cuisine restaurant in Maplewood. Tee Belachew is Ethiopian and trained under Lee in Maplewood. Together, they serve Southeast Asian cuisine, Ethiopian cuisine and the occasional dish of Southeast Asian-Ethiopian-fusion cuisine.
Most of the time, the results are incredible. The captain's curry, for example, is a fragrant coconut curry made with literally dozens of spices. You'll practically taste them individually. It's remarkable.The Ethiopian spicy bean curd is tangy and hot, and just as delicious. We also like to order the vegetable curry; its flavor varies with the vegetables they have on hand.
The shrimp with lobster sauce is wonderful and well worth the more expensive price. It's made with real pieces of lobster, which is why it is so much more flavorful than...for example...the sambal udang (shrimp in chili paste). But we love this dish, too.
In fact, we've only found one clunker on the menu. The Ethiopian honey wine chicken is tasty but too sweet. The spicy lamb is also a bit of a disappointment. The lamb was okay, but its sauce wasn't that flavorful. Much better is the lamb curry, which you have to remember to ask for because it's not on the menu.
And that's the real secret to eating at Singapore!; the most interesting dishes are not on the menu. When you're there, ask what else they're serving. Ask what's interesting. Ask what Lee or Belachew feel like making. Trust us; trusting them is the smart thing to do.
Once Lee got a batch of giant prawns from his seafood supplier, and we were treated to a traditional Singaporean red pepper dish. Another time, Belachew made us a stir fry of beef and asparagus. In general, if you say what sort of ingredients you like and what kinds of flavors, they'll make something to order.
One favorite that's not on the menu is Tee's tea. This is a sweet, clear, ginger-laced tea. The amount of sweetness and spice tend to vary, so it's definitely made from scratch.
Singapore! is a pretty restaurant. It's charmingly lit, and the furnishings are attractive and new. Service is friendly but spotty. On most weekdays, it's either Lee or Belachew in the restaurant, alone -- cooking, waiting, clearing, everything. On weekends, often a server helps out. But honestly, we don't mind. We like having the chef at our table so we can ask what's interesting and on or off the menu.
Singapore! happily caters to any dietary restriction or any size group. We've held birthday party dinners for 20 here. We just told the kitchen to create a menu and make enough food for everyone, and that was that. We even got some durian ice cream for dessert. Delicious.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.