Showing posts with label pork belly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pork belly. Show all posts

Monday, December 27, 2010

Croquer: Mission Chinese Food

San Francisco is a kick ass food town, this we know. So when in Rome, how does one pick a dinner destination when there is only one slot to fill? How can you ever decide? Well, apparently just ask Lessley Anderson. She seems to always be right, and suggested without hesitation Mission Chinese Food. Once the popular Mission Street Food, the owners took their popular dishes indoors. A funny "in-the-know" type of joint, Mission Chinese Food is a pop-up inside of another restaurant - the divey Lung Shan Chinese Restaurant. Both menus are served, but the waiters seem to know which menu to drop by the table.
Perhaps due to their name and surroundings, the Mission Chinese chefs are careful to disclaim their craft, plainly labeling their offerings "Americanized Oriental Food." They are quick to bolster the term, stating: "Though we'll focus on Chinese food, we're leaving ourselves the freedom to incorporate other Asian flavor profiles. Our use of the term "oriental" is not meant to be offensive. The word is derived from a root meaning "eastern," which represents a Eurocentric orientation to Asia, and it was most often used in a bygone era when Europeans viewed the regions east of the Mediterranean as exotic lands full of "romance and intrigue." For us, as Asian-American cooks, using this loaded term is an indictment of the Eurocentricity of fine dining, but it's also meant to desensitize the term in that transcending-racism-by-not-interpreting-every-single-thing-as-racist way. You know, like the "queers" did." (cite)
This open approach to the cooking has brought an intoxicating array of atypical dishes to the menu. Selecting was near impossible. We decided to start with the tart and spicy Szechuan Pickles - Salted pickled cabbage, cucumber, roasted peanut, fresh coriander, and chili oil.
The slow-cooked Char Siu Pork Belly with tea smoked egg, ginger scallion, rolled noodles, and cucumber was melt-in-your mouth rich. Indulgence that can't not bring a smile to your face.
The Thrice Cooked Bacon was smoky and spicy - Thick cuts of meaty bacon tossed with rice cakes, bitter melon, tofu skin, scallion, black bean, and chili oil. A contender for favorite, the texture was as interesting as the flavor profile. Where have stir fried rice cakes been all my life???
The Westlake Lamb Dumplings -my other favorite- were handmade several feet away from our table. The lamb was terrifically spiced, steamed in freshly made rice dough, served with braised peanut, coriander, dill, and brown rice vinegar. Shockingly toothsome.
Lastly we sampled Lung Shan's Vegan Delight with shitake and oyster mushroom dumplings in miso soup. The light dish worked well as a palate cleanser after such a rich and incredible meal.
We sat in blissful awe, finished our beers while laughing, the soft chopping and forming of dough on the wood counter behind us. The hushed sound of happiness being wrought into consumable form.
*Mission Chinese Food donates seventy-five cents from each menu item to the SF Food Bank.

2234 Mission St.(Lung Shan Restaurant) San Francisco, CA 94110; 415.863.2800
Mission Chinese Food on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Croquer: Animal

My birthday dinner this year was a surprise.
Made me realize I've never had that before...
I suppose in many ways surprises are a test as to how well someone knows you. When my boyfriend Brent arrived at my house to pick me up for dinner I still hadn't guessed, and skirted the clues, after all I really am someone who thoroughly enjoys a good surprise.
When we turned onto Fairfax my heart pattered. Could it be?
"Animal..." I murmured, with a knowing smile.
Ah, he DEFINITELY knows me.
Though Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo's meatlover's hideaway has quietly been winning over LA since 2008 with pig ears and poutine I still, somehow, had never been. Alas, I must have lamented aloud at least once.
I punched Brent in the arm.
Inside the unmarked storefront on Fairfax, a strip of Miracle Mile best known for Canter's and the Silent Movie Theatre, a bustling crowd of theatre-goers, young professionals, and hip couples crossed forks in Animal's spare, unpretentious space. We were seated near the wine bar at a small wooden table and handed the daily menu. No frills here, it's all about the food.
We started with an amuse bouche supreme of sorts, the rich and delicious chicken liver toast with tart balsamic shallot jam. Clears up any confusion that you will be indulging this evening right off the bat.
And so we dove right into the ribboned pig ear next, gussied up with chili, lime, and a fried egg up top. The crunchy, spicy pig ear strips reminded me of melt-in-your-mouth super crisp lean bacon, but better. A revelation!
Menus like Animal's push the envelope enough that if you aren't trying something new you're either a card carrying gourmand or a chicken. I'm no chicken, so ordered the marrow bone. I've never had marrow served in the bone, and despite its raw appearance, piled with chimichurri and caramelized onions, the heavenly scent won me over even before the first bite. Spread on a slice of warm fluffy Texas toast, this was easily the most sinfully exorbitant course.
When the barbeque pork belly sandwiches came, Brent and I just stared at each other, knowing we had an entree coming even AFTER this. And we were already full. Still, we dug into our mondo sliders, stacked with slaw and dripping with tangy sauce. I could feel my eyes bug, make note: these sandwiches are incredible.
I whimpered a little when the flat iron steak arrived. But slowly lifted my knife. It was my birthday damn it and I was going to be rolled home if necessary. The gooey truffle parmesan fondue covering the steak was another fragrant warrior, buttressed with a subtle artichoke hash. Juicy, perfect, umami perfection. Another incredible dish I wished I had more room to enjoy to its flagrant fullest.
The irony is that we ordered dessert. There was one slice of apple pie left and it was near closing time, they needed our help. The crusty home-style pie was just like ma used to make. Nothing fancy, just plain good.

I rubbed my belly all the way back to the car, wishing I lived close enough to walk home. But I still can't imagine a better way to celebrate a mellow weeknight birthday than with a table for two, a bottle of wine, and a feast fit for a king.

435 N. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036; 323.782.9225
Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Animal on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Croquer: Palace Kitchen

I grew silent in the back seat suddenly, rivulets of electric orange and lilac light fading behind cut-outs of woolen clouds and the hard edge of the black pines. Crisp wet wind forced its way through the open car window, rifling my combed hair. The Northwest preened itself and I paused to breathe in the twilight, embracing its glory again for the first time in years. Turning my eyes forward again I resumed the usual post-aiport banter with the front seat, my gracious Seattle hosts, rockstar chef couple Nicole Burrows (chef at Collins Pub, formerly of Carmelita) and Jon Pipenbrink (Oddfellows), who not only were putting me up while I was in town for the IFBC, they were also about to spoil me rotten every second I wasn't at the conference.
Starting now.
"So what do you want to eat first?"
It was a chilly Thursday night in Seattle, and the suggestion of a cozy booth at Tom Douglas' Palace Kitchen fit the bill for drinks and a late bite.
Travel is always primer for a cocktail, and I was overdue. I selected the delectable sounding Prosser Punch, a frothy concoction of Maker's Mark, sage, earl grey tea, and apricot puree made with fresh fruit from Tom Douglas' own Prosser Farm. Gorgeous late summer in a glass!
The most tempting dishes came from the small plates section, so naturally we selected several to share. First to arrive was the buttermilk fried soft shell crab with sweet corn salad, arugula, and sour cream dressing. Possibly my favorite of the night, the delicate buttermilk shell was a heavenly vehicle for the warm and succulent crab, so delicious swathed in the cream dressing and a squeeze of lemon.
This photo does not do our next dish -the grilled pacific octopus- justice. Expertly blackened so that the meaty center remained tender, the octopus, with shaved summer squash, chermoula, and tomato was consumed almost immediately in a flurry of dexterous forks.
Simple yet refined, the smooth goat cheese and lavender fondue hit the spot between dishes, with grilled Dahlia Bakery bread and crisp green apples.
Palace's "B.L.T." came composed on a plate, tomato braised pork belly stacked beside a smear of aioli, bacony toast, heirloom tomatoes, and a crown of arugula. Not the most exciting of the batch, but the juicy pork belly still hit the spot.
Last was a plate of thin-sliced smoked kobe beef brisket, with tasty little gruyere potato fritters, smoked tomato and pickled carrot. A novel presentation of brisket, I think we all wished it were stuffed inside a warm roll, as it would make an ideal sandwich. We also wished for several more fritters!
Dessert? Uh, yeah.
I let Nicole and Jon pick the desserts, and certainly was not disappointed. The milk chocolate crème caramel was silky malty perfection, completely winning me with the cocoa krispy crisp, a nod to childhood decadence.
Finally, the basic blackberry cassis cobbler with vanilla ice cream (which admittedly I would have passed on) was exactly what (I didn't know) I wanted. Bursting with juicy Northwest berries, flaky warm pastry and fresh melty vanilla bean ice cream, the cobbler encapsulated the priceless bounty of Washington and reaffirmed just how excited I was to be there for the weekend.

2030 5th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121-2505
(206) 448-2001
Palace Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 19, 2010

Croquer: Red O

And then, as soon as he stole America's heart on Top Chef Masters, the humble and lovable Rick Bayless opened a flashy restaurant in West Hollywood, the first outside of his Chicago Frontera dynasty. I couldn't help but approach Red O with a touch of reticence. Could this Vegas-y monolith be from the same down-to-earth Bayless that taught me how to eat well everyday through his fresh cookbook Mexican Everyday? When I went to enter Red O, a man outside the door asked for my name to ensure I had a reservation - but he wasn't the maître d', he was actually a door man... for a restaurant? Red flags waved, but I kept calm and carried on.
The interior is dim and dinny like a hotel lobby (for some reason I expected the spray of a fountain on my face from between the potted palms). Architecturally I found it over-embellished, and over-decorated (a la Z Gallerie) - Also shockingly dated for a brand new A-list restaurant. Why is it not clean and confident, like Bayless' food? Once I got one of the host's attention she said it would probably be another 30 minutes or so for our reservation (9:15pm on a Tuesday), so we made our way to the bar for a drink.
A winding glass-walled tequila cave and ornate metalwork-encased bar express a strong alcohol prevalence at Red O. This made me look forward to the specialty margarita menu I knew I would be handed. We saddled up on bulky cream leather bar stools beside two older women sipping chardonnay bobbing in two slingy black swings, an unintentionally perverse decor concept.
I ordered the Market Margarita, fresh cucumber-honeydew melon muddled with agave nectar, Arette blanco tequila, lemon & lime juices. Michael ordered the Maceta Margarita with Herradura silver tequila, Veev Acai spirit, fresh Mexican papaya, homemade limonada, rosemary & lime. We thought we'd sample the exotic differences between the two very different sounding drinks. I sipped mine, it was a decent margarita, but the cucumber and honeydew flavors were incredibly subtle, or perhaps overpowered by the sour limonada (their homemade marg mix). I tried Michael's Maceta, expecting a sweet punch from the Acai and papaya, with rosemary nuance. I laughed, it tasted exactly the same! He sampled both, shrugged. Despite a slightly different hue, we sat and sipped our innocuous coolers while the abrasively plastic bar crowd cawed about us like ravens on Hitchcock's playground.
Our table was ready close to 10:00pm, which probably benefited us as the room began to clear and we were seated at a quieter corner table.
Our server went over the large menu, loaded with 'savory snack' starter small plates such as tamales, taquitos, and quesos fundidos. We immediately gravitated toward the Shredded Creekstone Beef Short Rib Sopes in a roasted tomato-green chile sauce. Things were looking up! The smoky delicious short rib and crispy masa sopes were a match made in heaven, married in the delicate but flavorful chili sauce and dusting of crumbled queso fresco. I could have eaten 2 more orders...
Next we tried the Slow-cooked Sonoma Duck taquitos with tomato-arbol chile sauce and arugula, per suggestion from a friend who had come a week prior. The light shells reminded me of egg rolls more than taquitos, and they were very petite. The flavors were nice, but maybe too mellow following the bold sopes.
Since it had turned into a late dinner, we decided to split an entree. We settled on the Tinga Poblana - A pork trio consisting of homemade chorizo, braised Gleason Ranch pork shoulder & belly, with roasted tomatoes, smoked chipotle, Yukon gold potatoes, avocado, queso fresco. The dish was an absolute winner. The layers of flavor and consistencies found neglected taste buds in the back of my mouth and made them sing. Warm homemade tortillas sopped up the rich broth and tender pork. The bites of avocado tamed the heat, which was just right. It was the kind of dish you could eat again and again and never tire of.
The desserts all sounded relatively expected (tropical fruit sorbets, empenadas), but the creamy goat cheese cheesecake with caramel corn and Mexican "root beer" sauce sounded just curious enough to try. Our server told us it was a Frontera staple, served at all of Bayless' restaurants. All the more reason. The cake was actually another series of bite-size pieces. The sauce is made from Hoja santa, a central Mexican herb sometimes aptly called "root beer plant". The piquant sauce had more bite than Barq's and complimented the farmy cheesecake, nutty crust and caramel corn crown ever so nicely.

While the meal overall left a pleasant impression, existing a stones throw in any direction from winning authentic Mexican food a fraction of the price, Red O's existence in LA amongst such ubiquity still seems curious. Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have made a name for themselves over the years in LA creating "new" Mexcian cuisine, as Bayless has in Chicago. But why here, why now? I expected to be blown out of the water, which would have been my answer. But while I wasn't, I of course can't hang it all on Bayless. I learned he is not in fact the executive chef of Red O  - Michael Brown (of Patina Group and Wolfgang Puck Catering) is. Bayless does not cook in the Red O kitchen, nor does he own it - Mike Dobson and Rick Teasta (responsible for the EZ Lube oil changing chain) do. So is it really any more than Bayless' name? He developed the menu and trained the staff, but what's in it for him? These are all questions I asked myself leaving Red O, satisfied with a tasty meal but still searching for answers.

8155 Melrose Ave. 323.655.5009
Red O in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Red O on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Croquer: Flying Pig

This spring's Silver Lake Jubilee may have been a sleepy alternative to the overcooked Sunset Junction summer cluster-you-know-what, but the Jubilee definitely represented what LA's current mobile food scene has to offer. One newbie to me was the cotton candy pink truck donning a flying pig called.. Flying Pig.
James Seitz's menu transposes Asian and Pacific Rim recipes using Le Cordon Bleu French technique, proffering some tasty results.
First on my list was the braised pork belly with red onion escabeche, pickled sesame cucumber, death sauce on a steamed bao bun - basically a chocomeat bushwhack, reason enough to seek out the pink truck.
Furthering me admiration was the spicy pork taco of marinated pork shoulder with green papaya, black sesame seeds, cilantro cream, and death sauce.
And for dessert the tamarind duck taco - Duck confit with pickled red beets, toasted almonds, radish sprouts, mandarin orange, and tamarind gravy. YUM.

Don't wait for Sunday dim sum, seek out this sucker.