12.06.2016
GoGo Penguin
Man Made Object
Given my mini love affair with Mammal Hands' Floa this year, I was pretty excited to dig into the even-more-awkwardly-named but just-as-British GoGo Penguin. They've been touted as one of those crossover jazz groups that grew up just as much on Aphex Twin and Four Tet as on Thelonius Monk and Keith Jarrett, attempting to "make jazz cool again," or something like that. Which, by the way, I didn't actually quote anyone there. Just making believe. More or less what we're looking at here is a technically proficient to the point of Aspergers drummer, laying down tittering tottering tippy tappy beats as a very chill pianist does his best Brad Mehldau over it. Unfortunately, for as nice as it is, the lack of a second lead instrument—like Mammal Hands' uber melodic saxophone—basically forces me to compare this to Mehldau and Matt Chamberlain. And guess what, as good as GoGo Penguin may be, that's not a comparison anyone can realistically overcome. Which leads me to...
12.06.2016
Brad Mehldau
Elegiac Cycle
Just try to convince me that Brad Mehldau isn't the greatest piano player alive. Do it. I dare you. Wanna fight? Let's fight.
11.29.2016
VRTRA
My Bones Hold A Stillness
I'm usually very particular about my metal. And my use of "usually" there should probably tip you off to where I'm going here. VRTRA doesn't seem to be doing anything special; they don't write amazing melodies, they don't have a transcendently talented vocalist, they don't subvert genre (or sub genre) cliches, they don't blow my mind with chord progressions or movement transitions or mind melting solos. They just play "blackened doom metal" (god, metal genre-ing is great), but they do it with such intensity and focus that I can't help but love it. And this isn't even a "real" album, it's just a 3 song demo, so the recording quality is a bit rough, but whatever. Look at these song titles: "Perpetually Hag Ridden"... "The Cold Suffocating Dark Goes On Forever"... "My Bones Hold A Stillness." Just total perfection. Genre dogmatic perfection, sure, but perfection.

(1)
11.25.2016
Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions
Until The Hunter
Whenever Hope Sandoval releases a new album, I always like it, but I also always secretly wish it was just "Fade Into You" playing on repeat a dozen times.
11.11.2016
Nicolas Jaar
Sirens
Sirens fools you on first listen listen, as the opening track plays out like a beautifully sublime electro-acoustic Tabula Rasa, meshing field recordings and patient, ambient crescendos into glittery synth peaks. And your'e like, "Fuck yeah, this is going to be amazing." And then track 2 is, like, experimental remixed 80s highway blues rock? Like getting smacked out of a trance. And then it never quite gets back to that initial slow burn. And you're bummed and forget about it. But then you find yourself camping in a northern California river valley, miles away from anyone, on crisp October night lying on your back with the Milky Way above your head, and you give Sirens another try, and it all makes sense. Yeah, there's some weird 80s blues rock, and then there's some Latin pop, and some sort of Chris Isaac thing. But all these genre experiments are folded and inverted and osmosized through some biorobotic fugue, like waking up at 3am to the sounds of a half tuned adult contemporary radio station and not fully comprehending if you're asleep or dreaming, this depressingly rare case of an electronic artist completely transcending electronic music and simply just making music, and it's perfect.
11.11.2016
Devendra Banhart
Ape In Pink Marble
I checked out from Devendra Banhart a long time ago, sometime around Cripple Crow. He just lost me. But between his last album Mala, and this new one, he's seriously back in the game. Not as much as the weirdo folkie, but more as a pure songwriter and minimalist. Neither this or Mala are perfect, but if you were to talk the best halves of both and put them together, it might be a career best for him. And "Saturday Night" is right up there with my favorite songs of the year.
11.11.2016
Opeth
Sorceress
Lucky for Opeth I got lazy and waited over a month to write this review. Because if I would've posted it the day it came out, it would've been rough. Very negative. Almost enough to make me give up on the once-invincible band. "Yet another in a seemingly endless series of bland prog experiments didn't work the first time they tried, and haven't worked since" I would've said. But a funny thing happened. I took a road trip and needed music to listen to, and I gave Sorceress another chance. And a third chance. And fourth and fifth. And it turns out that it might actually be their best album since Ghost Reveries! Yeah, they're still doing the prog thing, but they've started to re-introduce their heavier side into the proceedings, and things are starting to gel again. "Chrysalis" and "Strange Brew" in particular drive like no Opeth song has done in a long time. And even the lesser tracks at least beat out the filler that was all over Pale Communion and Heritage. I just think, giant sigh, here's the thing: Mikael Åkerfeldt needs to get his Cookie Monster death growls back into the mix. There are a few moments on these songs where I'm just thinking, "Oh my god he's going to come in right here with a fucking killer scream and Opeth is going to rule the fucking world again!" And it never happens. Just one, one guttural death howl on one of these tracks would've vaulted this whole album to another level. I get that he's trying to get away from that, but man. I need it. We all need it.

(1)
11.11.2016
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
The voice of the Walkmen and one of the brains of Vampire Weekend joining up to create a sort of 21st century 60s pop pastiche sounds like a perfect B+ album. All the right pieces to make it impossible to fail, but hard to imagine it transcending into greatness. And after listening to it a solid dozen times over the last month, it's exactly that. Very good. I keep going back to it. But it can't quite crack through that wall and make it up to an A-.
09.25.2016
Grumbling Fur
Furfour
A band that sounds like they've based every last aspect of their sound solely on Brian Eno's "St. Elmo's Fire" doesn't need to do much more than that to get me hooked. And they don't.

(1)
09.25.2016
Japanese Breakfast
Psychopomp
"Everybody Wants To Love You" is maybe my favorite song this year. Short and sweet and easy. It got me really excited about this band and album, which doesn't totally deliver. The singer at points sounds so much like the singer from Hop Along that it makes me want to listen to both of them less, even though I'm not sure who's copying who. Still, "Everybody Wants To Love You" would've been my Song Of The Summer if it wasn't fucking October already.
09.15.2016
Okkervil River
Away
You know that line about how Brian Wilson wrote "teenage symphonies to God"? Well this Okkervil River album is Will Sheff writing 30-something symphonies to the Void. It sounds like giving up, but in a good way. It's the musical culmination of 15 years of leading a band that never quite made it, asking "What was the point?", and trying to answer the question in the language of Astral Weeks, or Benji, and succeeding in every way. If Walter Martin and Moon Tooth hadn't already wowed me this year, this could've very easily been my favorite album of 2016.
09.15.2016
Wilco
Schmilco
First: I love that this album is called Wilco Schmilco. If you know me and you know anything, you know why.

Second: I'm sad that this album is kind of a bore. It's interesting, and kind of like Star Wars it has a very consistent palette, and feels unfussy and natural. But the songs just aren't working for me, and something about Tweedy's delivery is very sleepy; he never raises his voice higher than 'man trying to be quiet while recording bedroom demo as not to wake his neighbors.' It becomes a little grating after a while. It's a choice, sure, but he does it on every song and it doesn't hold up.

Third, and most importantly: Wilco has clearly and obviously entered a new phase of their recording career. Their albums are no longer events. They're no longer Statements. They're just collections of songs, some good, some not good, all basically less than their previous output. In fact, I believe the last truly great song they've recorded was "Wilco (the song)", which was the lead track on Wilco (the album), and simultaneously acted as the end of phase 1 and the beginning of phase 2. They just as easily could've ended their recording career by releasing the song as a single and saying "goodbye," and it would've been the perfect ending. Which in a way it did, because the rest of that album was mostly a snooze—albeit a competent one—as was The Whole Love and Star Wars and now Schmilco. Also interesting that they've now released almost as many albums in this new phase, four, as the five they released in their Important Classic Album phase. Or depending on your feelings about Sky Blue Sky those numbers are flipped (I of course believe Sky Blue Sky to be a masterpiece and disregard any arguments to the contrary, and in fact my defense of Sky Blue Sky is written into the very mission of this blog). In fact, I'd actually take my 2-phase theory farther and say that this second phase is now into 2b, starting with Star Wars, the point where Wilco themselves have realized that they no longer share their younger selves' ambitions, and aren't even trying to record Important Statements, which they were perhaps attempting and failing on Wilco (the album) and The Whole Love. Now they're just hanging in a studio and recording tunes and not worrying too much about it, which is probably why these last two are certainly more enjoyable than the former two. Which is to say: Schmilco isn't bad at all. But it's absolutely not Summerteeth.

Fourth: You know, actually, the fact that it's called Wilco Schmilco is actually the most important thing here. That is amazing. I love this band.


(1)
09.08.2016
Morgan Delt
Phase Zero
This Morgan Delt guy came out of nowhere a year or two ago with this deeply psychedelic, Olivia Tremor Control sounding headfuck of an album, which despite not even being that great was a breath of fresh air in the twenty-teen music climate. It had one great song on it, "Barbarian Kings," and a whole lot of promise. And now all of that promise signed to Sub Pop, and suffers from it. I don't know when Sub Pop turned into a shorthand warning for "overpolished indie pop", but that's where they've landed, and they have Morgan Delt in their grasp. It's not bad, I've listened to it a bunch already, but nearly everything is on the hazy, sleepy, sunrise continuum, rather than the otherworldly unease of "Barbarian Kings," or anything-can-happen balancing act of his Elephant 6 proclivities. Really what this is is half a great album, and the other half probably doesn't exist anymore under the Sub Pop label.
09.04.2016
Case Lang Veirs
Case Lang Veirs
I was excited when I first heard of this project, because I love Neko Case, I like Laura Veirs, and I, uh, have no particular ill feelings about K.D. Lang? But then the more I heard about it, and the singles I started to hear, I got less excited. It didn't sound like a passion project of artistic necessity as much as K.D. Lang wanting a project, asking Case and Veirs, and Case and Veirs saying, "Um, sure, I guess." And when they released the first couple tracks, it just sounded toothless and tired. But then, listening to the whole album, in the right setting, really paying attention to it, it hit me: These guys are fucking pros. It's something I've come to appreciate in my old (ugh) age, this idea that an artist needn't be the most radical or pioneering in their art. There's a value in simply being a pro. Look at Prince. Sure, some of his early work was barrier breaking and unique, and he was certainly a generational iconoclast, but as the years went on, it was his meticulous attention to craft, and practice, and professionalism that kept him in the pantheon. He was a pro. And he surrounded himself exclusively with pros. It's the difference between seeing your local 20-something indie alt country band play, and then going to see Wilco play. Fucking pros. That's what makes this potentially "toothless" album a pleasure to listen to. These three women know exactly what they're doing, and who to do it with. It's not going to change the world, it's a little overproduced, but it's a joy to hear.

(1)
12.06.2016 - by Steve
Spoon & Stable - Downtown Minneapolis
Grilled venison, beet cured trout, goat goulash
The cycle continues, and Spoon & Stable is now the "best" restaurant in the city, which mostly means it's the newest restaurant in the city to charge premium prices for premium food in a premium setting filled with premium people, and all of your Facebook friends talk about going there like it's no big deal because they just like good things, so of course they love it, duh, and oh, you've probably been there too because it's the best restaurant in the city, and you need your friends to know that you're good too. So Spoon & Stable. What does that even mean, spoon and stable? Are we eating horse soup? This getting away from me, I'm going to regroup...

So I went to Spoon & Stable by myself on my birthday, because I deserve it. I think? It's been a long time since I've been to a "good" restaurant, and I didn't have any other plans, so I just said Screw It, I'm gonna go and sit at the bar throw down 100 bucks on a ridiculous dinner. Usually in these cases I'd try my best to be careful and thoughtful about my choices, or maybe I'd actually be there with another human to be able to split and try things. But nah, I just went for it. Here's the rundown: Beet-cured trout, served kinda like lox, with some citrus and beets and other assorted nibbles... Grilled venison with malted jus and some kinda puree over a big fat celery root... Goat goulash pasta. The food itself (not the surroundings) reminded me of the 112. Favorably even! Which was a pleasant surprise; the cynic in me half expected to hate it, given its bound-to-come-back-down-to-earth-in-time reputation. But nah, it was good. In fact, the venison was one of the best dishes I've had anywhere in a long time. It's one of those entrees that you've had a dozen times before—quality piece of meat atop some starchy puree with some deglazed pan sauce and a some greens—but this was pretty much flawless. Every bite of the meat was lean and perfect, and the sauce had a deep rich body that came as a surprise. If I had any gripes (other than the fact that I don't love celery, so the celery root wasn't exactly my favorite), it's that the whole dish was so richly savory that it needed an extra stab of something else. Some little sweet or vinegary burst somewhere. But really it was fantastic. The beet trout, I won't blab much about, because I don't have much to say about it. It had that deconstructed Travail sort of vibe, without the Travail surprises. But it was fine. So then after ate those, I tallied the damage and decided that I'd be wasting a birthday dinner if I didn't get one more dish. Which of course was the goat goulash, because of course I'm going to order the goat goulash. If I'd never been to the 112 or La Grassa before (or the late lamented JP's) I would've sworn this was an incredible plate of food. But in truth it just made me wish I was eating the comparable—and slightly better—pastas at 112 and La Grassa. But whatever. It was still delicious!

Oh, and I also made the mistake (?) of mentioning to the bartender that it was my birthday. Because as I was paying up, he brought me an embarrassingly large ball of cotton candy. It was the Uptown Cafeteria Pork Rind Incident all over again. Everybody stared at me. People commented under their breath. I literally died. But I also shared some with the rest of the bar, so I guess I made some friends. And isn't that what it's all about? No?


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11.29.2016 - by Steve
Ideal Diner - Northeast Minneapolis
Eggs and french toast
Oh, by the way, I went to Ideal Diner for the first time in years. I think it's under new ownership now. Who knows. It's completely unexceptional greasy spoon diner food; I love it.
11.26.2016 - by Steve
Lu's Sandwiches - Northeast Minneapolis
Pork banh mi
Sometimes this music and food blog is about food. But often (lately) it's about me complaining about the state of food in this city, and really about the state of this city in general, which seems to be steamrolling forward towards... something... without trying to figure out what that thing might be, instead just handing the keys over to a small handful of developers who in turn hand retail space leases over to a small handful of restaurant food and liquor retail entrepreneurs who then maybe make good food, but mostly pay restaurant interior design companies and design and marketing companies a ton of money to make their spaces look good—but more importantly, brand-expandable—in the hopes that they can have a successful year or two and then open a second and third and fourth location, and maybe god willing become the next Chipotle.

Focusing my attention on Northeast this time around, specifically the 'downtown' Northeast area, anchored by Surdyk's and Kramarczuk's and, well, formerly Nye's [this space reserved for future angry essay about the motherfuckers who destroyed Nye's, and pretty much sealed the deal on proving nothing in this town is sacred and that we'll all just be a condo eventually]. Here's a quick tour of those couple blocks:

• Rachel's - dying
• Chipotle - chain
• Noodles - chain
• Ginger Hop - lame
• Kramarczuk's - god help us the day they close
• Pizza Nea - fine
• Punch Pizza - chain trying to shut down Nea
• Jimmy Johns - chain
• Keegan's - fine
• JL Beers - local chain from Mankato
• Rachel's - dying
• Butcher Block - fine
• Masu - locations in MOA and Apple Valley
• New Bohemia - locations in Golden Valley and Roseville
• The Bulldog- locations downtown and Uptown
• Whitey's - second location in Stillwater
• Ray J's - chain
• Conga - fine
• Brasa - at least one other location
• Rusty Taco - chain
• Spitz - probably a chain, or will be soon. Either way, who on earth wants to eat at a place called Spitz??
• Savoy Inn - chain. Used to be a beloved mom n pop joint.

Which brings us to:
• Lu's Sandwiches - second location on Nicollet

I liked Lu's pork banh mi a lot. With the standard banh mi caveats applied (that french bread is always too crusty!), it was a pretty flawless and authentic sandwich. Awesome, great, good. But to bring us back around to my central issue here: This isn't just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place. It's the second, new-construction condo based, location of what maybe once was just a quality Vietnamese sandwich place, but is now clearly gunning to become the next Chipotle. Funky fresh clean interiors. Funky fresh clean graphic design. A big logo on their bright green wall. A menu and build-it-in-front-of-you service taken straight from the Chipotle playbook. And of course a price tag for a sandwich that was a solid couple bucks pricier than what you'd pay at a "real" Vietnamese sandwich place. Because the interior design firm doesn't work for fish sauce and shaved carrots.

What am I complaining about? I enjoyed my sandwich. Can I really fault somebody for trying to make a buck? Maybe this is the only way you can run a restaurant these days. Franchise or die? I guess? But this doesn't seem to be the norm in places like New York and Chicago and other "food cities." Or is it? I don't know. I just know that I just moved to Northeast, and was excited to see what that area has been up to lately. And when 75% of the options around are places that I could have anywhere else in the city, what's the point? At which point does living in the city become no better or different than living in the suburbs? I can get Masu there too. And now Nye's is gone and there will be a new glass box there, probably with a new Hola Arepa location, or maybe a Sonora Grill, or really just probably a Potbelly, because what's the difference anymore.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
El Farolito - San Francisco
Al pastor burrito, horchata

If you'd like to follow the epic narrative of my big road trip eating adventures in their proper order, scroll down until you get to River Rock Coffee, 19 or 20 posts down. And then go up from there. Or don't worry about that and just do whatever. See if I care.

So it's my last morning in San Francisco, and I'm flying home in a few hours, and in these final moments of reflection and contemplation, there's one feeling that I can't shake: There's no way La Taqueria is the best burrito in San Francisco, right?. So in my last dwindling hours of vacation freedom, do I walk across the Golden Gate bridge? Do I visit an art museum? Do I ride a street car up to the Full House house and take a selfie with a loaf of sourdough? No, I do not. There are burritos to be eaten. Specifically, burritos at El Farolito, La Taqueria's most insistent challenger on the internet's endless collection of Best Mission Burrito lists. Farolito isn't so different than Taqueria, or probably any of the places on Mission, and as such isn't so different than any random Mexican taco/burrito joint you're likely to visit anywhere else. So what's the deal? Why do these Mission places get this universal acclaim to be the Worlds Greatest Burritos, when they're seemingly doing nothing different than 1,000 other spots in the country? To be honest, beyond simple history and reputation, I don't know. But I do know this: El Farolito's al pastor burrito was fantastic, better than La Taqueria. Maybe the best al pastor I've ever had. Still, as a pure burrito experience, it was fine? Above average? At least better than any random place on Central? Look, I like San Francisco's burritos. They're just probably not worth the airfare.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
Dynamo Donut - San Francisco
Chocolate rosemary donut, lemon poppyseed donut
We're deep into the post-cupcake Donut Renaissance right now, and you can visit nearly any decently sized city and find at least one "cool" donut place, trying Elevate The Donut, or some such thing. I'm sure there's a hundred of them in San Francisco, but I picked one of the acclaimed spots, Dynamo Donut & Coffee, an uber-cool little nook that's seemingly leading the headlong charge of gentrifying an unsuspecting Hispanic neighborhood. Or maybe they're fully suspecting. Either way, their rent is about to skyrocket. Anyway, as is the case with almost every one of those donut place I try, I was not terribly impressed. These things are about 4 bucks a piece, and were too oily, neither crispy or soft, and the combination of rosemary and chocolate, while looking nice on the wooden menu, just tasted like rosemary and chocolate. Nothing magical. Beyond just Dynamo, I'm starting to feel like maybe donuts don't need to be anything more than a 50 (or fine, 75) cent ring of dough with some chocolate and sprinkles. Or maybe a 4 dollar donut in San Francisco is actually just the standard rate.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Henry's Hunan - San Francisco
Marty's special
I wasn't about to bother with Chinatown during my brief San Francisco stints, but I did want to test my hypothesis that the very existence of Chinatown, and a large Chinese population in general, is a high tide that raises all the boats of San Fran's Chinese restaurants. So when I found myself in the Noe Valley neighborhood (after attempting to watch that night's World Series game in the local Cubs bar), I saw Henry's Hunan, and thought, "Sure, why not." I think my theory was mostly, sort of, proven true, because Henry's was indeed better than your average sugary slop Chinese place. It wasn't amazing, and I've certainly had better Chinese food before, but it closer to something like Rainbow than New China Garden Palace Wok. The most interesting thing about the place was that they offered a small selection of in-house smoked meats, including ham, which is apparently a classic Hunan thing, but I don't think I've ever seen on a menu before. I got the "Marty's Special," which was a spicy smoked ham and chicken stir fry, and some steamed dumplings. It was a classic Chinese restaurant situation (usually specific to Szechuan places) where I wish I had somebody eating with me, because while my dish was good, it was a little too intense to eat solely as an entree; salty and spicy and loud. It could've used some other dishes to balance out. Still, interesting to get smoked ham at a Chinese place, and nice to know that you don't have to deal with the madness of Chinatown to get good Chinese food in San Fran.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
In-N-Out Burger - San Francisco
Cheeseburger
Still think In-N-Out is inferior to Five Guys. Pretty sure I've posted that before here, but just needed to confirm. Moving on.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Chick & Meck - Honolulu
Korean hot chicken wings
My last night in Honolulu, I found myself in what I assumed was the Japanese neighborhood, but really was more like a Japanese neighborhood, and was excited to get some legit Japanese food. One place that interested me was a yakiniku place (which excited me since one was featured on an episode of Kodoku no Gourmet), where you grill raw meat right on your table. Thankfully I peeped their menu before going inside, and saw that it would've set me back a solid $100. So nope. But after walking around past countless Japanese and Korean holes in the wall, I found one new-ish cool-ish bar called Chick & Meck. What excited me is that they specialize in Korean hot fried chicken, which is one of those Anthony-Bourdain-isms that I always hear about, but never find anywhere in the Twin Cities. So despite not being what I set out for, I wanted some damn hot chicken. And I got some. And it was good, but nothing worth writing a blog post about. Oops.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Umeke's - Kona
Poke
I guess poke is a thing. In fact I just saw it on a Minneapolis restaurant menu the other day. But I'd never really heard of it until Hawaii, where it is supposedly a ubiquitous local treat, but to be honest I didn't see that much of it. What we're talking here (just in case you don't know, which you probably do, because apparently I'm way behind the eight ball!) is basically raw tuna sashimi tossed in vinegar and other good stuff to create a deli-style sushi salad. Not much more to it! I sought out what was supposedly the best poke in Kona, at a little place called Umeke's. Set up more or less like a deli, Umeke's offered 5 or 6 types of poke, when you could either buy by the pound, or of course, plate lunch style. I got the "regular" poke rather than any of their oddball types, which was mostly just tuna mixed with vinegar and soy sauce and some seaweed and maybe some garlic and ginger, and got some spicy crab salad as a side. I liked it, but perhaps would prefer it as a side or smaller dish along with another course. And yes, it was served with two scoops of rice.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Cafe 100 - Hilo
Loco moco
If you haven't read my post on L&L Hawaiian Barbecue yet, scroll down and read that first, because the basics of a Hawaiian plate lunch form the foundation for what's happening here. But what Cafe 100 did is take that foundation and build upon it a goddamn castle.

I guess you can get a "loco moco" at other places elsewhere on the island, but Cafe 100 in the city of Hilo on the north side of the big island, apparently invented it. So you have your standard plate lunch—two scoops of rice, some macaroni salad, and meat—but instead of pulled pork or short ribs, we're using two hamburger steaks. So, like, hamburgers. Oh, and we're throwing in some Spam. Oh, and we're throwing in some Portuguese sausage*. And pouring brown gravy all over the top. And then topping it all off with fried eggs. Look, this isn't the French Laundry. This is a styrofoam plate of garbage. But it is so, so, so good. Best garbage I've ever eaten.

* Apparently the big island was home to a large number of Portuguese immigrants who worked the cattle ranches around the turn of the century. This lends a crazy sense of symmetry to my trip, as I'd learned in Idaho not only about Boise's large Basque population, but that the entire southwest region of the state is named "Owyhee", including the Owyhee Mountains and the Owyhee River. This is an antiquated spelling of "Hawaii", and was given the name because of the large numbers of Hawaiians that worked the valleys around that same time. And really, the land in Idaho isn't so different than the land on the big island, as far removed as they may be.

11.11.2016 - by Steve
The Coffee Shack - Kona
Ono benedict
I don't have a ton to say about The Coffee Shack, except they make a pretty decent ono fish benedict, and check out that view.
11.11.2016 - by Steve
Tenkaippin Ramen - Honolulu
Kotteri ramen
I like Honolulu. I think I had low expectations coming in, but that was probably born from the opinions of people who just don't like cities, and were offended to find one on in the middle of their romantic island paradise vacation. Well Honolulu is indeed a city, and a surprisingly big one, a real honest-to-god metropolis. Yes, in the middle of an island paradise. Scare-quotes optional. It's also a city with a very large Asian (and specifically Japanese) population, something around 50%. It doesn't exactly feel like an Asian city, but it also doesn't necessarily feel like an American city either. It's something of itself. But it does mean good and plentiful Asian food.

I specifically had my heart set on some quality ramen, and there was a plethora of options. Almost too many. One of the highest rated that I found was Tenkaippin, not too far from where I was staying, and fairly close to the University of Hawaii campus. It looked legit and had good reviews, and was well known for a uniquely thick broth-ed "kotteri" ramen. But as soon as I walked in, something struck me: This was a chain. What I eventually learned with a quick investigation was that Tenkaippin indeed is a chain, a Japanese ramen chain that has hundreds of locations throughout Japan, and has been around for decades. This Honolulu location was its first and only American spot. Usually the discovery that I was unwittingly eating at a chain is a bummer, but in this case, the novelty and authenticity of eating at a legit Japanese chain without actually going to Japan was enough to un-bummer it.

Except, it was still sort of a bummer. I didn't like it. I don't want to pretend to be Mr. Ramen Guy, but the flavors were just flat, the pork belly was a little overcooked, and the famous thick kotteri broth was just kinda thick, somewhere between broth and gravy, like a cream-of-whatever. So, I don't know. I'm glad I went there, it was interesting, but a little sad that I've had better ramen in boring old Minneapolis.

After trying to find some other places to eat later in Honolulu, I found that there are actually a lot of Japanese chains that open up locations there. And without speaking the language or having the experience, it's hard to tell which spots are local and which are imported! Well at least I can say, Tenkaippin is indeed Japanese, and you shouldn't bother with it.