4th Street Eats
I’ve already touched upon the wonder that is 4th street—how can just one block contain so many restaurants representing so many nationalities? Tibetan, Turkish, Ethiopian, Indian, Burmese, even… the possibilities are endless. Better yet, it still manages to keep this quaint, town-like feel, due to the fact that the restaurants are in old houses. The prices range: some places are more upscale, but for the most part, 4th street is a good choice for people on a budget. Unfortunately, due to the sheer amount of choice, I have only been to most of these places once.
Anatolia—not as good as Turkuaz, maybe, and slightly more expensive, but worth eating at. I’ve already blogged about the first time I came here with my parents. The second time, I ordered a shrimp dish with tomatoes and peppers. Despite the large portion, I literally inhaled my food. The rice is incredibly addictive (and slicked with olive oil/butter). The lentil soup—slightly strange taste, almost like it has egg in it.
Snow Lion—Tibetan place, apparently owned by the Dalai Lama’s brother. The front of the restaurant is more like a souvenir shop. There are two Tibetan places on 4th street, and you would think that Snow Lion would be the one to go to, but it was pretty disappointing… either that or I just didn’t order right. First of all, I went with my friend, and the restaurant was completely empty. We took a good 10 minutes to figure out where we were going to sit, sitting down for a minute before saying, “you know what? I don’t think I like this angle” and switching.
A glance at the menu told us that there were items on there that definitely weren’t Tibetan (udon?), but when we asked our waiter for recommendations, he clearly didn’t know. He also seemed a little stoned. As a result, my friend ordered a beef stir-fry with glass noodles and I ordered a spicy tofu dish. Beforehand, we were served iceberg lettuce smothered in what was essentially ranch dressing. When I told my dad about our food later, he said that in Tibet they rarely eat rice, which is a more southern thing. Still, despite this, dessert was awfully good. We ordered rice pudding, but it turned out to be steamed jasmine rice with raisins and cinnamon, topped with yogurt. Definitely not pudding in the traditional sense, but unexpectedly delicious.
Anyetsang’s Little Tibet—Now this is the place everyone goes to for Tibetan. It also has a lot of outdoor space, which is a big draw. In addition, their menu features mo mo, or the Tibetan equivalent of bao zi, Chinese steamed dumplings. The wrappers are made from wheat flour and extremely doughy. Plus, Little Tibet had a lot of filling options: everything from beef to chicken to potato to cabbage. I went with the cabbage, which also had shredded carrots, but I can confidently say that this was not a time to go with the vegetarian option—the filling just wasn’t substantial enough to stand up to the thick dough. The dough, however, was fantastic—slightly uneven in thickness in the way that only hand-rolled dough can be. The dumplings were served with a spicy dipping sauce rather than soy, and came with lentil soup and salad. I also ordered a lassi (not mango, just plain), since the menu also had some Indian options. In fact, sitting next to me was a huge family clearly from India. The lassi was wonderful and incredibly refreshing.
The second time I went to Little Tibet I was interesting in trying their take on what my friend had ordered at Snow Lion, the dish with glass noodles (if you’re interested, these noodles are actually made with mung bean starch), which is apparently called phing sha. I ordered mine with shrimp. First of all, I thought it was hilarious how they gave me a pot of rice big enough to serve a family of six, but the stir-fry itself was a relatively small portion. The shrimp were tiny, but flavorful, and it was pretty spicy.
Mandalay—Bloomington’s only Burmese restaurant! And what, pray tell, is Burmese food? It seems to me that it’s a cross between Southeast Asian and Indian. So then why did I order pho? Well, it was on the menu, it was what I felt like at the time, and they claimed they could make it vegetarian. I’m skeptical about whether or not the broth was vegetarian, but it was pretty damn good. With dishes like soup with okra, egg plant, potato, dried shrimp,
yellow split peas, and spices, I probably made a mistake. My friend ordered a pork dish in a mango pickle sauce, but claimed that it was too salty and more like a condiment than a dish. I really should have come back here to try their specialties, but there simply wasn’t enough time. Therefore, this review is not representative of the food at Mandalay.
Casablanca Cafe—In my opinion, the word “cafe” implies a casual restaurant. However, not the case when it comes to this slightly upscale (for Bloomington) restaurant. The outdoor space and Moroccan waitress make it casual enough to eat there alone. Casablanca prides itself on having fresh seafood flown in every day. Their specials are the same every day, but listed as such to make known the quality of ingredients. The seafood kabob has mahi, halibut, and swordfish, and is usually served with Greek salad, but they could do it without for a cheaper price. The kabob was expensive, but well worth it. The saffron couscous was flavorful, the vegetables on the side were simple and served with a chermoula dipping sauce, and the fish was as fresh as they said it would be. If I could afford to eat here more often, I would.
Cafe Django—I refrained from coming here because it’s considered a “jazz bar,” and to be honest, I hate jazz. However, I was always tempted by the dry erase board promoting mango iced tea, tofu vegetable soup, teriyaki salmon, and falafel platters. Eclectic, healthy food that really shouldn’t be as expensive as it is (entrees are around 12 bucks). My stir-fried tofu dish was huge, but definitely not worth the price. On the days that they have live jazz (if you like jazz), this would be a nice place to come and sit outside. Unfortunately, the night I went, the restaurant was virtually empty.
Esan Thai—Technically (okay, not) not on 4th street, but I was too lazy to make it a separate post. For some reason, although I kept hearing rave reviews about it, previous bad experiences with Thai food prevented me from trying it sooner. The owners and waitstaff were clearly Thai, the coconut milk in my curry had a slightly thinner texture that the canned kind lacks, and the green curry was full of seasonal vegetables, among them zucchini and those little baby eggplants. The tofu wasn’t fried for once, and like at Little Tibet, I had more than enough jasmine rice. The theme of this post seems to be, “If only I had found this place sooner….”