Monday, April 12, 2010

Post 16.1: Palm-sized Patties of Perfection (牛肉陷餅)

A&J Restaurant (半畝園) is a Taiwanese restaurant that specializes in northern Chinese style dishes and Taiwanese-specific specialties.  Its simple dishes, simple recipes, and simple ambiance convey a mom and pop shop feel, but its name is displayed at locations across the state.  From Cupertino to Arcadia to Irvine, A&J Restaurant allows all who walks through its doors to experience the comfort of northern Chinese noodles.

My favorite item here is absolute heaven.  And it's arguably one of their most popular items: the beef and scallion patty (牛肉陷餅).  I'm sure there is a better translation, but the print-out receipt at the Arcadia store lists this item as "beef pupusa."  (I think beef and scallion patty can suffice for now.)  Imagine a patty of fresh ground beef blended with a sporadic abundance (if that's possible) of fresh, green scallions... wrapped in a thin layer of dough... and then sizzled on the griddle until the outer layer of dough is just a minute or so past golden brown.

The result? To the naked eye it may appear to be a larger, rounder and more flattened potsticker.  (And perhaps it just may be that.)  But to the nose, and most importantly the tongue, the result is a savory sensation that sensualizes your smell and sinks deep into your tastebuds. 

Upon first bite, the searing juices from the patty burst into your mouth.  (Taking a petite bite is a smart and strategic plan of precaution.)  Veterans know that to savor the juices, you must take a small bite, just enough to pierce the tender skin of the patty, and let the juice of the beef run... flow... drizzle... into your spoon.  

Tedious much? The extra effort is worth it... because the beef patty's liquid essence has now congregated into a bite-sized pool on your spoon... and you can now effortlessly airlift the concoction of bare beef brine to your mouth.  And as the mixture of juices and oils travels through the caverns of your mouth and slide down the back of your tongue and into the pitfalls of the esophagus, you think... how heavenly.  And now... to focus on the patty itself.

One of the greatest textures I've discovered in my 24+ years of being entwined in food is the unique combination of a crispy or crackling outer layer and a tender or soft inner layer.  Foods that exemplify this texture model include (but are definitely not limited to) extra-crispy fried chicken... a freshly baked, rustic, French baguette... and a perfectly-made creme brulee.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, this Taiwanese beef and scallion patty may very well provide the rubric upon which all crispy-outer-layer-soft-inner-layer foods are judged by.

Nothing makes me happier than biting into one of these patties.  Really.  The root of my happiness can be attributed to routine visits to the pediatrician as a child.  If I didn't cry after an immunization shot, my parents would take me to A&J afterward and present me with these premium, palm-sized patties of perfection.  The kids who were rewarded with lollipops were such suckers.

A few of my favorites appetizers at A&J:

Chilled and crispy cucumber slices in red chili oil.  While the spicy chilies contrast with the cool cucumber, a few slices of fresh garlic adorn the pile and complement the refreshing crunch of everyone's favorite bright green vegetable.

A mixture of earthy vegetarian delights.  The bran dough from the same bran of Raisin Bran and bran muffin is tossed with wedges of carrots, tender bamboo shoots, wild black fungus, mushrooms, and delightful soy beans.  The bran dough is the centerpiece of the dish.  One bite into the spongy texture causes the bran dough to ooze with sesame oil.  Pure pleasure.

Hundreds of pickled mustard green leaves tossed with soy beans (shell-less edamame) and tender bamboo shoots.  This mustard greens have a briny bitterness that allows you to appreciate the tender sweetness of the baby bamboo shoots.  The lightness of the soy beans blends in naturally with this light salad.

Shreds of seaweed swimming in sweet vinegar is another classic at this restaurant.  The soy bean sprouts are savory, yet sweet, and soft, but still provide a crunch.  I love how the seaweed and soy bean sprouts intertwine and create a haystack of greens and whites on the plate.

I plan to feature some more of A&J's titillating tastes in the next post.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20100413+19/20100321

1 comment:

  1. Hi Michael. I love those "beef patties" too! Good job on the bigger pictures :) Keep writing.