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May 11, 2008 05:02 AM

[MSP] Qoraxlow Chowdown Report (Minneapolis) v. long

To answer what was, at least, my first burning question: it's pronounced Kor-ah-low. The X at the end of the second syllable has a slight guttural sound to it, similar to the sound of the "J" in Spanish or the "G" in Dutch (such as in gouda).

To answer what was my second most burning question: are there separate dining areas for men and women? Yes, that seems to be the set-up. There is a separate women's dining room with its own entrance off of Cedar St. The women's bathroom can only be accessed through the women's dining room (and the men's bathroom can only be accessed off the main dining room). Men (and mixed groups, but all men except for our group) seem to enter from the front door off Lake Street and dine in the front room. All children seem to dine with the women. The VIP/praying room Norton mentioned in his City Pages review, which is off the main dining room, was dark most of the time we were there, so I didn't see the big sofa to which he referred. Two giant televisions with CNN blared from the corners of both the main dining room and the VIP room. The walls of both the main dining room and the women's dining room are lined with booths. The main dining room also has several four-top tables and exactly 8 chairs, which will become important information later in the story.

They do a brisk take-out business judging by the parade of men who drifted in then departed carrying plastic bags sagging from the heft of the styrofoam containers filled with food. Also, when I called to make the reservations, and a second time to confirm them, the gentleman answering the phone initially thought I was ordering take-out for a dozen people. It's clear to me that the phone is mostly used for ordering take-out, not making reservations. Also, in both conversations when I finally got him to understand that I was making a reservation for a dozen his response was "We'll try." I thought that was an odd cultural kind of way of responding and didn't think much more of it until I arrived at the restaurant and saw that there wasn't a booth big enough to accommodate our group. And though there were tables that could be pushed together to fit a group of twelve, they only had 8 chairs. Eventually they pushed two four tops together and against one of the booths and that's how we dined; with 4 in the booth and 8 in chairs. But the fact that it took them several attempts to solve this problem made me thinking that they don't often serve groups.

On to the chow. They brought out the pitchers of guava and mango, a stack of styrofoam cups, red plastic baskets of whole bananas (still in their skins), and red plastic baskets filled with napkins and spoons. As people from our party continued to stream in, they brought more baskets of bananas. They didn't bring out the soup Norton described in his review.

We told our waiter we wanted to try a little bit of everything ("bittis" means everything, I think he said.) So, he recommended 3 "sports platters," which feed four people each. The 3 platters for each of our 3 orders (9 platters altogether) arrived as Norton described:

~one of spaghetti with red sauce and of rice, studded with bits of carrot, but no raisins;
~one of salad: iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and shredded carrots, accompanied by lime wedges and little dishes of vinaigrette and of fiery green sauce (which we concluded was jalapeno with some other stuff--initially yogurt we thought, but upon reflection I'm guessing not as I'm not sure that would be Halal to serve with the meats);
~one of meats: little cubes of goat stewed with tomatoes and sweet caramelized onions; a leg of fried chicken, which was cold, perhaps deliberately so; a fillet of fried white fish, tilapia, I assume; beef; and some pounded chicken or gyro meat made of chicken...not sure, exactly).

Notice when I said they brought several platters, I didn't say they brought plates or eating utensils. Eventually we coaxed plastic forks and more napkins out of them, which arrived characteristically in the red plastic basket, but otherwise, this was family style dining in the most sharing sort of way, with everyone eating off the platters. This could be awkward, but as 'hounds, we just shrugged and dove in as delicately as we could. Most people figured out a way to carve out a bit of the platter closest to them as their staging spot for the items they plucked off the other platters. I can't say I ever found a rhythm for myself, but I admired everyone else's ingenuity in solving the problem.

After dinner we asked to try all of their desserts--"Bittis," we said. He told us he only had the buskut, qunbo, and the shu-shumo (which I must have pronounced laughably badly because he kept laughing)--the cake, he said, must be ordered in advance. The things we ordered are all types of cookies. We were never able to figure out which was which and when the red baskets arrived there were actually four types of cookies: a star-shaped biscuit; a krinkle-top rectangular biscuit; something that looked like a glazed doughnut hole but was really more like snakes of pie dough rolled into a cookie, baked and glazed; and cakes of pressed coconut that looked like sawdust energy bars, but tasted way more delicious. We were also offered coffee (some of the densest, blackest coffee I've seen in awhile--he ground it right there in front of us) and tea (which was cinnamon-y and delicious, especially with milk.)

Brace yourself for the tab (before tip): $72.00 for twelve.

Thank you, everyone, for coming out on a drizzly spring evening. Red Sox beat the Twins.

Photo #1: rice & pasta platter with pitchers of mango and guava in the background
Photo #2: meat platter
Photo #3: salad platter
Photo #4: cookies (sorry, we ate all the glazed, rolled pie crust cookies before I remembered to snap a picture)


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    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      thanks for posting the photos!

      so they let you all sit together (males and females) - in the male room?!

      how was the food?

      1. re: Ummm

        They actually let us all sit together in both rooms. At first, we were in the women's room, and then when there wasn't enough space in there, they arranged tables for us in the men's room.

        1. re: Danny

          The first person to arrive for the chowdown was a half hour early. She showed up as a solo woman, so my guess is they seated her in the women's dining room because that's where she would be most comfortable. When more people--men and women-- started showing up, they added them to her table. She'd ordered food, so, I think it would have been awkward for them to try to move her, even once they realized the group was too big for the table they'd seated her at. There was also a bit of a language barrier.

          The restaurant was very accommodating to our requests in general and found us mildly amusing/curious. I got the impression that they were going to let us do whatever we were going to do. On the other hand, there were a lot of men ordering take-out. There were 2-3 groups of men dining right when we were seated in the main dining room, but after that the dining room was very empty. One (male) solo diner sat down at one point. A part of me did wonder if we were chasing their clientele away for the evening or if that's their typical level of business.

          As far as food, I really liked the goat with the caramelized onions and the glazed rolled-up pie crust cookie and the chai. In general, the food was not very spicy.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Sorry, but just so everyone doesn't have to look up older posts on this, could you say what nationality/ethnic group this place is related to? Great report!

    2. wow great post. just a note that the jalapeno sauce probably *was* yogurt, cooking/eating meat with dairy is okay in halal cooking (meat and yogurt biriyanis for example)-- halal rules just apply to meat ( & blood, & alcohol/intoxicants etc), as opposed to the four categories of foods in kosher cooking.

      2 Replies
      1. re: soupkitten

        I am also not aware of halal prohibiting meat & dairy together as kosher rules do.

        I couldn't taste dairy in the spicy green sauce. To me, it tasted more like jalapenos blended with a tiny amount of avocado for texture.

        1. re: soupkitten

          Excellent point--I wasn't sure about the combination of the dairy and the meat.


        2. I really liked the goat meat, too. I found that most of the other meats were tender and tasty (not always easy when pounded that thin). My end of the table really liked the flavor of the rice, too.

          I very much liked the tea with milk, especially dipping the star shaped cookie into the tea.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Uisge

            I was the party that arrived a half-hour early. I initially walked into the front door ('m female). It was like something out of a movie. The record screeched to a jarring halt and everyone turned to look at me. I thought it was bc I was the only white face, then quickly realized I was the only female in the room. I could see the other room.

            "Am I supposed to be in here?" I blurted out in embarrassment. I quickly assessed the situation, left, and re-entered through the other door. But I noted many females from the back room entering the front room at will, mainly to tease the servers and cooks, pick up their food and talk to people in the front. So the mingling seems very loose. I also couldn't figure out whether I was supposed to order at the counter or whether they waited on me. The server/cashier/cook (same guy) was teasing and nice about it.

            I have to rave about the fish. The spice rub was spicy, almost jerk-y with a hint of hotness. Fish was tender on inside. Not over-fried or even fried tasting. Also enjoyed the more Indian flavors and spices in the red sauce on the spaghetti. And the jalepeno sauce (not clear if it was intended for salad or meat) was heaven. Seems to me it was chopped or blended (in a food processor) . No taste of onions. I'm going to try it at home.

            Fun experience. I'm going back for the fish.

          2. Quite some time ago -- deeper in the past than the Search function allows -- there was a long, long thread on who sits where when traditional African restaurants open in someplace like the Twin Cities. Participants' reactions ranged from simply being unsure of the custom to being unwilling to set foot in a dining room that allowed for even voluntary segregation to a member of the traditional community who explained when she sat in the women's area and why she preferred to do so.

            I think that our Qoraxlow experience (where others sat as well as where we did) bore out some of the observations from that thread:
            -- Women alone or with other women & children are offered the women's area.
            -- Men and women who come in together are not expected to dine separately.
            -- Families who arrive together might choose to separate, like in a community room where they regularly come to meet up with their own friends.
            -- People from outside the tradtional community are not expected to know the traditions. Guests and hosts alike struggle to be gracious & aware of one another's sensibilites without being able to ascertain which customs are in effect.

            The menu reflects that this restaurant primarily serves its own community. Terms aren't necessarily translated to explain what the preparation style really means. The "fittis" or "fittus" approach (some of everything) that is the Sports Platter yielded several different meats with sides of pasta and rice. Still, I'm not certain that we saw the full breadth of cooking methods that this restaurant has to offer. I made a mental comparison to an appetizer sampler of chicken fingers, egg rolls, mozzeralla sticks and onion rings -- enough different items that you might conclude our entire culinary tradtion resides in a deep fryer.

            The Sports Platter was a little like that, suggesting that most of Qoraxlow's specialties are thin-punded meats on a grill, cubed goat with dark onions on a grill, and surprisingly familiar deep-fried fish filets or chicken legs. I had that very impression, save for one briefest glimpse of other possibilities:

            Late in our meal, a nearby table was served a deep bowl of what looked like vegetable soup, plus a bready item that called to mind a gigantic English muffin. What was that? How was it called on the menu, or was it even listed? We may never know.

            My favorites? As much as I've come to like goat, the lovely flavorful onions were the stars of that dish. The cookies were so alike that they did not appear to be made in- house, but the coconut dessert (I'd guess that it was the "halwa" on the menu because the term and the sweet seemed like versions of "halvah") was pretty great. The tea smelled terrific and yes, the coffee showed crema on top even if it was brewed rather than espresso steamed.

            4 Replies
            1. re: KTFoley

              I forgot about the coconut cookie--that was good, too. I wish I knew what it was called so I could order it again.

              EDIT: And I do agree with Kate that people outside of the community the restaurant normally serves weren't expected to follow the customs, but I'm still not convinced that we didn't kill their business for the rest of the evening.

              I respectfully disagree with jean that the mingling between men and women seemed loose--perhaps there was lots of loose mingling and teasing between the female patrons and male staff in the half hour prior to my arrival, but for the duration of our entire meal, I sat directly facing the door to the men's room and the entrance from the women's dining room to the main dining room. I don't think I ever saw a single woman emerge from the women's dining room to enter the front room or engage any of the (male) servers or cooks at all, let alone in a teasing way. Frequently children (boys and girls) would emerge from the women's dining room to engage with the men. And there was a constant parade in and out of the men's room--the door was seldom closed, which led me to believe that most of that traffic was related to ritual washing. There also seemed to be, at any given time, about a half a dozen men standing around the cash register chatting with the staff. The chime for the back door was audible from where I was sitting, too--we could hear it ping every time someone entered or left out the side (woman's) door. If there was lots of teasing and interaction with the female patrons and the male staff, it wasn't happening in the main dining room during our meal.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Huh, that's weird (about the mingling). To be honest, I think some friends of the staff were in the women's room when I was there and they'd walk back and forth. I was reflecting how ubiquitious teen culture is today. They were texting and laughing about it to one another.

                And then women would come through the back door and go into the front for takeout.

                I think the English muffin thing KTFoley referred to may have been a sandwich. They were listed on the back, but didn't seem good for sharing. Whatever it was, it looked wonderful.

                Oh, I should add the juice was a disappointment. Kind of Kool-Aid tasting.

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I didn't observe anyone enter and then depart without ordering, so I'm at a loss for drawing any conclusions about killing their business traffic.

                  1. re: KTFoley

                    Well, only one person was seated after we were, the guy with the giant English muffin looking thing. So, maybe I should have more precisely said sit-down business.


              2. Just want to clarify the way the seating arrangement works. It's not just male room/female room. The idea is a "single" section and a "family" section. The "single section" is strictly for men only - individuals or groups of men. The "family section" is for mixed parties of males and females (ideally, a family), and women. A man or group of men cannot sit in the family section unless they have a woman with them. A woman should not sit in the single section - whether she is alone or with a group of women, they should be in the family section. Kids will typically stay in the family section.

                4 Replies
                1. re: faransa

                  Thank you for the clarification. Yep, that's pretty much how it seemed it worked, although, because our group was large (men and women mixed), we started in the "family" section then they moved us to the "singles" section where there was more room.

                  Do you know if "families" are expected to go through the side "family" door?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    So the side door, the "back room" (literally in the back) is the family room? If I go there as a single woman, I should sit there, correct? Because I seem to remember the front room begin segregated with a wall, like a waist high wall over which you could look. But I could be wrong about that.

                    1. re: jeanmt

                      Yes, the "back room" where you and several of the folks who arrived early, is where you were first seated. That was the room that had the women and the children in it (when we were there). Then they moved us to the bigger room, which only had men it it. There might have been a separate prayer room off to the side with a waist-high wall??? Obviously, it's been way too long since I've been there and need to go back. :).


                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Yes - single women, groups of women, and "families" are supposed to through the side door - there's a bell you can ring to get the staff's attention if they don't see you.