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Brief but delicious return to MSP (Brasa, Pho Ca Dao and assorted odds and ends)

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We swung through the twin cities as part of thanksgiving outside of town which just involved a lot of down home midwestern cookery (i didnt know stuffing could be made in a crock pot, but it came out pretty great with even some crusty outsides). There was precious little time to eat but we did return to a couple of st paul favorites.

Brasa seemed even better than we remembered, and we were fortunate to experience it in my favorite context, a big group meal with large (or medium) orders of meats and sides shared around. We got the pork, beef and pulled chicken (always a favorite of mine) and they were great. The beef's sweetness has always been a little offputting for me, not because its overly sweet, but just because i eschew sweetness in general. The pork is pretty plain but had great porky flavor and with a squirt of the provided limes hit the spot. I LOVE that they offer the pulled chicken outside of the sandwich option (which was the only way to get it when we left town, i believe) and it was outstanding. Moist, large chunks of chicken lightly dressed in that deliciousness that is the creamy cilantro sauce - i could do this every day. The sides were on point as ever, we had the masa cakes (great), mac (better than i remembered it, nice and moist), very good plantains, light and crunchy apple slaw and OMG those greens. We were staying just down the street and i spent the rest of our stay fighting the urge to walk down the street and get a large order of collard greens to inhale all by myself. We had the perfect amount of food, a drink each, and our total bill came out to about 20 dollars per person (maybe ive been in NYC too long but i thought this was a steal given the quality of the food and the fact that it didnt require eating in an atmosphere-free ethnic dive)

Speaking of zero atmosphere ethnic dives . . . another day we had lunch at Pho Ca Dao on university and it was, like dinner at brasa, as awesome as ever. I was pleased to find it busy with a mixed lunch crowd even on the later side of lunch, and the soup was just on point. Great flavor, fresh vegetables to add in (culantro that i didnt remember getting when i was a frequent pho-er back when i lived in town) and incredibly efficient. My only knock would be that they dont, i think, offer omosa which i have a love/hate (more like fascination/revolt) relationship with and which i kind of enjoy testing myself with every so often.

The rest of our time was spent giving thanks and eating assorted home-cooked things, although we did get some great locally raised bison (through the farmer, not avaialble retail), a couple of shopped items really stood out. A friend works in a school in east st paul and a parent makes and sells tamales to the employees - these were fantastic with a great avocado based hot sauce on the side. We enjoyed those with Burrito Mercado's jalapeno asado salsa that was just incredible, and I thought a steal for 4.50 for a large jar. Also cooked with some chorizo from the seward coop that had great flavor and a nice course texture which we really appreciated. Also finally found a Summit beer that i liked, the black lager was a good, not super heavy but nice and dark winter beer that didnt taste too "summity" to me.

All in all not nearly enough time or eating on this trip, but it was great to revisit some old faves and be reminded of why the twin cities are great eating towns (and be constantly astounded at the outrageously low, to us, prices).

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  1. sounds like you had a yummy time! I am wondering which east side st paul school that is and since I live over here whether I can get my kid into the school while the parent who makes the tamales is still there... homemade tamales are the best.

    I just wanted to add as a tip for anyone heading to Brasa soon- on a recent trip to Brasa (Grand Ave location), we had the carmelized brussel sprouts that were on special and they are DIVINE. Possibly one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth! We talked to the restaurant manager and he said they'd be sticking around for awhile cos people seem to like them. YOU MUST ORDER THEM! Even if you don't like brussel sprouts, you will like these!

    4 Replies
    1. re: turtlebella

      Ha! I was there week before last and had the same. Our table ordered them as one of several appetizers, and immediately ordered another bowl as soon as we'd tasted them. They were delicious. I called Brasa the next day to get the components: they're mixed with sunflower seeds, dressed with lime juice, aromatic fish sauce, cilantro and salt, and topped with a little pickled ginger.

      Seem to be a takeoff on the Ssäm Bar's Deep-Fried Brussel Sprouts.

      1. re: clepro

        I've only had brussel sprouts maybe 3 times in my life, so take the rest of this FWIW.

        I had them last night and, while I liked them, I wasn't completely floored. They came as a combination of fried leaves and solid bits. I think the flavors of the pickled ginger against the rest of the dish was really well done, but the texture was a bit odd. Some of them were overly crisped and dry.

        I think I prefer them halved and pan roasted with some delicious pork product.

        1. re: BigE

          Ah, then you should definitely order the Brussels sprouts at Tilia

      2. re: turtlebella

        Yes, the Brussel sprouts special at Brasa is to die for. One of the best things I've had in 2011 and probably in the top 5 of vegetable sides ever. I hope they become at least a seasonal fixture. I also asked about ingredients and was told just fish sauce and vinegar, but the lime sounds about right. Amazing.