Que Nha Restaurant; culinary notes and University Avenue musings from Macalester’s civic engagement programPosted: August 6, 2012
Guest blogger: Harry Kent
Looking upon the construction cacophony of University Avenue, it is evident that the avenue is undergoing major changes, even for a street that is used to such shifts. It is exciting to daydream of what exciting initiatives will drive the avenue forward via the new light rail. However, it feels that what is currently on the avenue is being overshadowed. Recent efforts to bring attention to the plight of businesses affected by the construction disruptions have certainly helped, but, there’s more than just giving businesses a meal or two during this difficult time.
My name is Harry Kent and I am currently a senior at Macalester College, and a student employee at Macalester’s Civic Engagement Center. Prior to that time, I was a community outreach coordinator and eventually, served a brief stint as Office Manager of the University Avenue Business Association. There, I learned about the difficulties the businesses were going to face with the light rail, and I worked to warn them about the effects and to try and lighten their burden by seeking political support and funding. The biggest perspective I gained was how hard these businesses were working to maintain their livelihoods, and, how the businesses that took a chance on the dangerous environment in the 1980s helped make the light rail a relevant possibility. And yet, in my opinion, planners and politicians have been unable to give the proper respect to the sacrifices that these businesses made, which made the light rail a viable idea in the first place. The fact that there are still scars from the era of disinvestment makes their contribution just as valuable. And yet, the businesses have continued to fight and prosper during difficult times.
That is why, at the Civic Engagement Center, I have worked to formulate a contribution that honors the history of the Avenue, and the work of these businesspeople. Every Thursday this summer, the Civic Engagement Center has invited Macalester College community members to lunch on University Avenue at an independent restaurant to show our support of the work of these businesses. We have the lunches to educate the Macalester community of the difficulties the businesses have been facing, and to encourage them to make return visits, or sample other restaurants. We don’t dine to simply lament over the difficulties these businesses face. Our goal is to demonstrate and to act on our desire to support some of the hardest-working businesses in the Twin Cities. The avenue has attracted fantastic interpretations of Thai, Vietnamese, Eritrean, and Chinese cuisines. Other excellent and affordable restaurants sprinkle the avenue. And, of course, how could I forget to mention The Best Steak House.
This past week, we visited Que Nha Vietnamese Restaurant, a pleasant cafe located in the Brownstone Model Cities building. The dining room is brightly colored and adorned with intricate pictures and silk dresses.
The dining room is brightly colored and adorned with intricate pictures and silk dresses. The food options are just as vibrant, as the menu is dotted with unique options, along with comforting favorites.
Our gang of nine opted most often for the bun dishes, the rice noodle salads that quench the thirst for cool in the summertime heat. Student worker Danait said it was the perfect mix of light fare that filled her up. Political Science professor Adrienne Christensen chose to liven up the visit to one of her favorite restaurants, opting for a sizzling rice beef hot pot. The rice charred evenly and smoothly on the cast-iron pot, and the meat weighed in well in the rice’s flavor. I opted for a similar option, as I sampled goat for the first time at a Vietnamese restaurant with the goat hotpot. Chocked full of Napa cabbage slices, and accompanied with a plate of egg noodles, the goat gave the broth a thicker accentuation of dark, meat flavor, and the meat itself was tender and rich to eat.
The wait for the food was a bit longer than preferred, but, we soon learned the other primary waitress called in sick, so, we were grateful for the valiant efforts of the solo waitress. She was grateful for our patronage and implored us to come back, and I see no reason why we wouldn’t fulfill her request.
So, we are helping businesses and they provide us great food. The best part of this project is you never can tell who really gets the better end of the bargain.
Que Nha Restaurant
849 University Avenue
If you would like to know more about the Macalester Civic Engagement Center, you can visit their website.
Last week brought 2 and 3 of my Learn to Row lessons from the Minnesota Boat Club. For the first few minutes of the class we warmed up on the machines. While on one of the machines, I spent some time lost in my head fretting about my ability to row and wondering whether I would remember anything that had been taught. To catch you up, at our first lesson our instructors had us in the training barge rowing but tethered to the dock. My maiden attempt at rowing did not go as I had imagined. I thought, ‘really – how difficult could this be?’ Turns out there’s plenty you can screw up.
But onward and out to the barge we went. Our instructors, Kerry and Bruce, were liberal with their reminders; carry your oar blade forward, once in the boat never take your hand off your oar, keep the blade square to the water, etc, etc. Once out onto the water, Kerry broke us down into groups of 4 and had us start. As expected, there was a bit of flailing about but everyone seemed to get the hang of it quite quickly and soon all 12 of us were rowing (mostly!) in unison with our lead ‘stroke‘. Yay team!!
Here’s what I discovered very soon into it; I like this team sport. I like the individual effort required much like a more solitary sport such as running but because you have to match the stroke of your leader, I found I stayed more in the moment instead of getting lost in my mind with some needless thought. My brain felt scrubbed clean. Too bad those newly formed blisters kept interrupting my Zen!
By lesson 3, we just got better and better. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning on the river. At times we would hit that sweet spot where everyone’s blade hit the water at the same moment – at the ‘catch‘, followed by the ‘drive‘ when the blade is in the water moving us forward, the ‘finish‘ as the blade comes out of the water and finally, the ‘recovery‘ as we all slide forward in one fluid movement.
I have 3 more lessons yet; can’t wait! Stay tuned.
9 ways of looking at a building. 9 different days. St Paul, Minnesota. Summer 2011.
A white hot late summer day, half way between the dog days of August and the Indian summer of October, is a perfect time to slip into the halls of House of Hope Presbyterian Church for a visit to the Cloister Gallery, where transplanted St. Paul artist, Richard Abraham is displaying his work from Sept 4 through October 2 .
Don’t be intimidated by the construction going on in back of the church, on Portland Avenue. Actually, an observation of the pallets of slate and a view of the crews ascending the scaffolding and balancing on the steep slope of the Gothic building is reason enough for a visit. The church was designed by Richard Cramm and is among one of his many Gothic church designs.
I had to duck under some construction tape to ring the doorbell, and get buzzed in by an unseen hand. Luckily, I soon encountered an employee who walked me to the gallery, though the curator’s instructions were easy enough to follow, and are here: “turn left and follow the wall to your right and you will see the gallery going towards Summit Avenue next to the open courtyard.” Trouble is, there are so many interesting things to look at while approaching the gallery, it’s easy to get distracted.
The gallery spans the hallway, punctuated by windows that view a fetching interior courtyard. An alcove provides another viewing area. According to the current chair of the art committee, and curator of the space, Patty Paulus, also a notable painter, the gallery has been around since the 70’s.
Artists picked to show in the gallery have all been local or regional artists from Minnesota, and are chosen by members of the Arts Committee at the church. Interested in showing at the gallery? Portfolios – digital or pictures of art can be submitted to the committee.
According to Paulus, “sometimes the art has a religious theme, but that is not the intent of the gallery to only show works of that genre.
Art is for sale if the artist desires. They range in price anywhere from $100- $6000, depending on the artist. The church does not take a percentage of the works that are sold, but appreciate a donation from the artist if sales are made during the show.
(We) try to feature a variety of media, subject matter and interesting art that might challenge our congregation …..and encourages their support of art produced by local artists.”
The Abraham show was a perfect choice for an early fall exhibit. Richard Abraham, according to his biography, made a profound life change when he left a 14 year long production career in Madison, Wisconsin to move to the Twin Cities and study painting.
The collection of work here is a study in the power of changing mid-western seasons. They are the kind of landscapes that we view from the car window -so usual that we forgot to contemplate them. Finding them on canvas provides a moment to reflect on what we take for granted.
You can view the show and talk with the artist during a “coffee chat” taking place on September 18 at 11 a.m.
Prices for paintings range from $500- $2300.
Here’s the viewing Schedule/Office Hours (Sept.-May)
Sun 8 am-noon
Mon & Wed 9 am-8 pm
Tues &Thurs 9 am-5:30 pm
Fri 9 am-4:30
Please visit St. Paul Spot on line, and download our app, on Android or iPhone, for a daily comprehensive listing of St. Paul events and St. Paul restaurants.
Move in day for Macalester students. I volunteered to help the freshmen class (Class of 2015!) move their belongings into the dorm, and spent the afternoon conversing with engaged young people from around the country while lugging fans and bedding into environmentally sensitive not too air conditioned dormitories.
I remember arriving on campus via airplane and taxi cab around 2:00 a.m. on a fall day in 1971. Some freshman lurking in the shadows, probably smoking a joint, helped me lug 2 suitcases to my dorm room in the now defunct Dayton Hall. I’ve been in St. Paul ever since.
This year’s freshmen class has the red carpet rolled out for them. They pull up to the curb with vehicles exploding with stuff – refrigerators, t.v.’s, athletic equipment, musical instruments. They head off to Target to return with another explosion of plastic case goods. The parents are reluctant to drive two blocks away to park their cars. I recognize the ambiguity in their faces-having deposited two sons off to college myself in the last decade.
Though I exerted little effort all afternoon, being on the campus where I lived for 4 years, and around the energy of parents parting from a lifetime with their sons and daughters, I am spent.
Rowing practice on the Mississippi River, seen from the High Bridge in St Paul
The Minnesota Museum of American Art has brought back their popular musical event, Patio Nights for three nights this summer. If you are a music lover, history nerd, St. Paul enthusiast, foodie, community explorer, want to support the MMAA make their comeback or are just looking for an excuse to get out of the house next Friday night, then make sure you are there!
You can expect beyond amazing meals from the truck of Café 128. I had the ginger-soy sirloin skewers washed down with handmade ginger basil lemonade, both were perfection and were a great way to start the night.
When I walked into the City House space , a former municipal grain elevator, I confess I had a history nerd moment and proceeded to read almost every sign in the place. I literally jumped up and down at the sight of a Humphrey Man Lift. The patio offers sights of this working river (I talked to the crew of the “Betty Sue” who were maneuvering a loaded barge) and the cool breeze that rolls right across the seating area is so refreshing. Thanks to the city of St. Paul for renovating this spot and making a great place for the community to come together in.
The music hosted by the MMAA was top notch, Communists Daughter played the first night and offered up their classic indie music. Everyone was tapping their toes and grooving to their all pleasing style. Matthew Inkala & the Hostages had a host of people up and dancing. Their folk style is upbeat and great for all ages. Up next Friday is Mr. Rowles and Band who state they like to rock, but not in your face. They have a bit of funk and jazz mixed in their tunes and are sure to please all in family.
Lastly when the night and sun are winding down you can wander down the path to Upper Landing Park to visit Jim Campbell’s light sculpture, Scattered Light. The MMAA helped bring this work to St. Paul for the Northern Spark festival and it is truly a treat to be let inside and experience the 1,600 LED light bulbs moving about. Don’t forget to stand and view it from afar so you can experience figures walking across the pixilated “screen.” If you take some unique pictures with the sculpture, make sure to share them on the MMAA’s Facebook page!
If you live in the neighborhood, walk on down or if you drove to the city you can find Patio Nights at City House just off Shepard Road and Chestnut Street, on the path behind the Caribou Coffee. Check out the map for more details. If a short walk along the river suits you, there’s parking underneath the High Bridge, accessed via Randolph Avenue off Shepherd Blvd.