Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Friends Café in Roseville, Minnesota
Friends Café, the Twin Cities’ first restaurant showcasing Burmese cuisine, opened in Roseville last summer. It boasts a large menu of Golden Triangle specialties and freshly made, home-cooked fare.
In contrast to Thai cuisine, Burmese food is somewhat muted, so if you prefer your dishes on the spicy side, be sure to tell your server. It is best known for curries, and the lineup at Friends includes a solid half-dozen simmered to a delectable turn in sauces like onion, garlic, chili, and cilantro. A tasty example is the shrimp and eggplant curry: a pairing of succulent, butterflied shrimp and slices of purple-hued Asian eggplant served in reddish gravy that would have benefitted from being kicked up a notch or two. Several curries are bolstered with tamarind paste, adding a slightly sweet-tart dimension. This was the case with the golden egg curry: a bowl of halved hard-boiled eggs immersed in curry sauce and topped with crisp-fried onions. It was a standout.
Burma (now Myanmar) is also known for its unique appetizer-style salads. Two are offered here: one centered on tapenade-like pickled tealeaf, and the other on julienned pickled ginger. Piles of peanuts, cashews, sliced tomato, cabbage, and an assortment of crunchy, addictive dried legumes (described as mixed peas) are arranged around the platter. You then mix the ingredients together to your preferred taste and texture. These are definitely not to be missed.
Another hit was a plate of vegetable tempura comprised of lightly battered and very tender gourd and onion fritters served with an amazing tamarind dipping sauce. The quality of the coating and the absence of oiliness were exemplary. The wonton soup, which we ordered to go, was a wonderful surprise. This is my preferred alternative to chicken soup for curing what ails me, and this was the best local version I’ve found. Wontons were well plumped with pork and shrimp; the container was brimming with roast pork, rice noodles, cilantro, and scallions; and the broth was suffused with lots of Chinatown goodness.
From the open kitchen to the helpful service, this is a family-run café in every sense of the word. The trappings are simple, and I suspect if crowds were to show up, things might quickly get backed up. Nonetheless, Friends Café is one of those great little discoveries that’s serving some top-rate food. 1711 Rice St., Roseville, 651-487-7696