Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Post 94: Pork Belly Tacos and Much More (LA-SFV: North Hollywood)

With all this talk about pork belly, I was hankering for more.  Bow & Truss, a relative newcomer to the LA food scene.  It is self-titled as a modern Spanish taverna, and some of their most popular dishes include the empanadas, paella, and of course, pork belly tacos.  Fellow foodie Angela and I dined here before meeting up with other friends downtown.

Soon after we were seated, our server Nicole dropped by our table with castelvetrano olives on the house.  The firm, green olives were basted in none other than olive oil.  They were sweet at first, slightly salty yet savory olives were a welcoming start to our meal.

The first item on the menu we ordered was the cheese & charcuterie board.  The assortment of meats and cheeses was a playground of jamon, salchichon, chorizo, and Felino sausage.  There was also mahon, a semi-firm, cow's milk cheese and caprichevere, a soft cheese made from goat's milk. The caprichevere was smooth and easy to spread over the crostini.  Although it was made from goat's milk, it was surprisingly milder than the mahon.

Spread around the playful platter were Bow & Truss' house made jams.  The first was a pineapple banana jam with serrano and chili pepper flakes, and the other was a pumpkin peach jam with vanilla bean, all spice, and cinnamon.  Two house mustards complemented the duo of jams (the grain mustard was a favorite), and the remaining cherry tomatoes, carrots, caramelized onions, and spicy sunflower seeds dotted the charcuteriescape.  This charcuterie board was an absolute delight.  It was the one that we continued to pick at throughout the meal of inventive dishes.

We followed the charcuterie with the highly recommended empanadas.  The petite pastries were packed with button mushrooms, red peppers, and cotija cheese.  A tamarind crema and tamarind soy sauce were served alongside the empanadas.  While Angela and I tried one dip at a time, the server suggested that we taste the two sauces together at the same time.  Mushrooms, peppers, cheese.  Savory, sweet, salty.  Crema, tamarind, soy.  Savory, sweet, and salty again.  Smart suggestion, Nicole.

Our third dish was the highly anticipated pork belly tacos.  The tacos were fresh and vibrant in color... and they were stacked high with toppings like Mexican sopes.  The pork belly was shredded, a eyebrow raising change from the typical square cut.  It was a good eyebrow raising change, for the meat was tender and succulent... although I am not quite sure if using shredded pork increased the difficulty of eating the taco or not.  Atop the pork belly were shreds of carrots, cilantro, pickled jicama slaw, all of which helped give the taco a refreshing, citrus taste.  The avocado sauce was a perfect substitute for salsa, which might have overpowered the fresh feel of the tacos.  Oh, and by the way, the pork belly is really good.  Really, really good.

As we were ready to close the meal with some paella, the manager brought out some chicken confit tacos, with handmade tortillas, arugula, anchiote paste, and pickled shallots.  Dennis Christensen, one of the managers of Bow & Truss, warned us that the chicken tasted like pork.  The chicken tasted like pork? It didn't make sense.  But I took one bite, and well, yes, the chicken tasted like pork.  This extremely flavorful chicken was very substantial... like if the chicken, before it was sacrificed for our glee, was a bad ass alpha male chicken that ruled the hen house.  That was the kind of breast pounding poultry that died for these chicken confit tacos... the delicious oxymoron kind.

Next to the pair of chicken confit tacos were two mixed mushrooms tacos (the head chef must really hate odd numbers) piled with cotija cheese, pickled jalapeños, and chives.  They were very juicy.  In fact, the mushroom blood that dripped all over almost made the taco slurpable.  We really enjoyed the tickle of spiciness from the jalapeño and the hint of saltiness from the cotija.  The use of mushrooms in both the tacos and the empanadas were smart meat substitutes.  I didn't even realize the dishes were carne less.

Stuffed to the brim already, Angela and I attempted to dig into a beautiful cast iron dish of seafood paella.  Of the four choices of paella on the menu, the shelled option is cooked with clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops, chorizo, and chicken.  The shrimp was highlight of paella because it was cooked just barely through... still tender and translucent, not tough and overly white.  The clams and mussels pointed skyward so that the freshness of the shellfish was apparent on first glance.  The rice itself was flavorful from absorbing all of its surrounding tastes.  Ah, this dish was beautiful in both taste and appearance.

Finally, the last course of the night was a tequila lime tart that was so, so good.  The texture of the tart itself was more like a buttery, holiday shortbread cookie.  The pool of honey on the side helped the dessert be naturally sweet, and the lime helped cut the sweetness in a balance check.  The honey and lime combination just added to the perfection of the tart.  I almost lost consciousness watching the honey drizzle each time I dripped the tart into it.  It was so good that we took two extra tarts home for our friends.  And each of them agreed that the tequila lime tart was simply delicious... a great way to end the meal.

Thank you to charismatic Dennis and congenial Nicole for taking the time to explain each dish and list each ingredient and method of preparation.  Thanks also to Angela your adept services in lighting and photography.  Of course, a big thank you to Erinn of Platform Media Group for setting me up with Bow & Truss and helping me discover a new way of having pork belly.  It was an awesome from beginning to end.  The charcuterie, tacos and the tequila lime tart really sealed the deal for me.  We are definitely returning in the near future.  Until the next pork belly craving, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20121020

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Post 93: Pork Belly Octo-nom (LA: Koreatown)

When I decided to dedicate the month of October to the most pleasurable portions of pork, the first thing I thought about was pork belly.  Not bacon? What a shock.  Ah, pork belly... it is a luxuriously thick slab of fatty pork that, at least for me, gives me more exhilaration than eating just basic bacon no matter how smoked, cured, or maple syruped it has been.  One of the most memorable meals of delicious pork belly that came to mind was the eight courses of decadent grilled pork belly from Palsaik Samgyupsal Korean BBQ in Koreatown.  Palsaik, meaning eight colors, specializes in BBQ of pork belly.  There is beef on the menu also, but most patrons select one of two multi-course set meals of pork.  The first selection on the menu, the one we ordered, is an ample amount of food for three people with moderately large appetites.  The meal comes with other grilled vegetables, a salad, seafood stew, fried rice and side dishes... all of which can be refilled by the server with the push of a glutton.  Er... button.

The eight different flavors include (in order of suggested consumption)... wine marinated, original, ginseng, garlic, herb, curry, miso, and spicy gochujang.  There is even a ninth flavor of smoked pork belly.  It is left off the classic palsaik, but it can be ordered a la carte by the strip or by the tray.  The restaurant stresses the healthy aspect of eating the pork belly, which is laughable at first.  But after exploring the health benefits of the eight flavors posted on their website (ginseng stimulates metabolism... herbs alleviate stress... curry helps prevent Alzheimer's and certain cancers, etc.), it is understandable as to how each ingredient can be good for you... those healthy ingredients should probably be consumed without it being slathered over slices of fatty pork belly.  Speaking of which... each cut of the fatty pork belly has been scored so that the supposedly healthy marinades can permeate the protein more easily for the utmost of flavor in each bite.

The first cut is wine flavored pork belly, which the server tells us has been marinated in a red wine overnight for eight to 12 hours.  Having the wine break down the proteins in the meat for that many hours allows for a texture that is tender and succulent.  I have not figured out why the wine marinated belly gets served prior to the original flavor yet... although I speculate that the remaining seven cuts of belly are not as tender as the wine marinated.

Following the wine marinated cut is the original pork belly.  It is the cut in the purest form without even a sprinkling of salt or pepper...  Returning from the tenderness of the wine marinated cut, this is a reminder of what unaltered pork belly tastes like.  It's crispy... it's fatty... it's juicy.  It is around this time that I notice the many things happening on the table at once that it is difficult to focus on only the pork belly.  I am distracted by the seafood stew that is still boiling away... and mesmerized by all that is gleaming on the table.

After the original flavor is one that has been rolled in ginseng.  The ginseng flavor is extremely smart because it is almost a palate cleanser.  It is a bit unexpected but not unrealistic to have contrasting flavors to help cut the grease of fatty pork belly, which there is a lot of exuding from the strips of glistening pork.  Tilting the grill pan is another method of helping to cut the grease.  All the extra fat runs downward into a convenient hole at the bottom of the tilted grill.  What is not captured by the black hole helps to fry the kimchi and spicy soybean sprouts.  That goes without saying that kimchi fried in lard is quite delicious. 

The last of the first four is garlic pork belly with actual sliced cloves of garlic.  The pairing of meat and garlic is very natural.  It is one of the first items in the kitchen that cook will grab to cook or marinade with.  The fragrance and aroma of the garlic is powerful, and it becomes even more potent after it is grilled.  It may even help induce an orgasmic climax during the meal.

Of the final four, herb marinated is next, with dill as the predominant tasting herb.  None of the herbs are thought of as typically found in Asian cooking, so it was surprising to taste these flavors marinated into the pork belly.  I appreciate the break in seemingly Asian flavors knowing that curry and miso were coming up.  More than halfway through the meal now, food coma may start to set in.  I found myself zoning out and staring at all the cuts of pork belly sizzle away on the grill.

Curry tasted like a blend of Southeast Asian curry flavors more like the taste of Malaysian curry rather than an Indian or Japanese curry.  It was a little heavy for my taste, especially because I was expecting something a bit lighter like Japanese curry, but it was still good.  The Southeast Asian curry uses its somewhat more exotic spices to provide more of a punch.  Because it is one of the heavier tastes it is nice to wrap it around some radish paper or have a bit of the pickled japaleños and onions to cut the heaviness.

The penultimate flavor of pork belly was miso paste.  There were no surprises here.  The miso flavor provided the saltiness that I expected from eating pork belly, which gave it more of a bacon quality.  I especially liked this flavor because the miso paste crusted up really well on the grill.  It has a great grilled color and crisp texture on the exterior.  Yum.

Hot/spicy was a favorite for all at the table.  It was flavored with gochujang, a spicy Korean chili paste.  Although the red glow from the marinade warned of the impending heat, the slight sweetness of the gochujang does not overpower your taste buds with overwhelming heat or bite.  There is a smoothness to the spice that allows you to continue eating it until there is no more.  It really was the best ending to all of the flavors... understandable why they saved the best for last.

Our eight colors of pork belly was quickly followed by a boiling cast iron pot of seafood stew.  From crab to shrimp to mussels to octopus to tofu to udon noodles, we eat everything until just the little dregs were leftover... but there is just enough stew to reduce down into some intense flavor that is perfect for making fried rice.  The server arrives to cut and fold the leftover kimchi and soybean sprouts into the rice along with remaining onions, mushrooms, and seaweed.  If the pork belly has not already made your stomach full, the last of the fried rice will.  In the couple of times that I have dined on Palsaik's eight flavors, we have never finished the last of the fried rice.  No matter... when the rice is done, we dig in.

We are full and satisfied from the eight, delicious flavors of pork belly.  This meal has inspired me to make my own pork belly octo-nom.  I am convinced that my collection of eight pork belly flavors are going to result in mouthgasms across the land just like Palsaik's incredible palate of eight has done for us.  So until then (when I wow you with my pork belly octo-nom), let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20120811

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Post 92: Bacon Shortage (OC: Costa Mesa)

With the extreme heat and dry weather this summer, crops such as soybeans and corn have suffered.  Because the quantity of pig feed made from soybeans and corn are in short supply, farmers have had to cut back on food for their swine.  In turn, the pigs are not growing as large and as fat as expected.  As a result the commodity price for pork has recently increased, which has caused some media outlets to report that there will be a major shortage of bacon and other pork products.  Talk about chain reaction.  It looks like the end of the world really will come by December.  Whether the end of the world arrives or not, we really should live our lives to the fullest... and means EAT MORE BACON.  And if you really care about your life, you'll exercise it off afterward (ha).  When I first got wind of the bacon shortage, I sprang into action and headed over to Rooster Café, the local breakfast hub in Costa Mesa, for some bacon and eggs.  It's all I needed to satisfy my hunger and consequently calm my panic attack.

Although there is a lunch menu also, Rooster Café is known for everything breakfast related... scrambles, burritos, and simple plates like my bacon and eggs.  They have taken the breakfast burrito once step further also; there are breakfast tacos.  What I really like what this local joint is that instead of the usual grilled potatoes served alongside a breakfast plate, there is an option of having brown rice instead.  The brown rice is good by itself, but I do enjoy it with a bit of runny yolk, a pat of butter and a dash of hot sauce.

It's a friendly place.  Many patrons are gathered to meet friends for brunch, but many of the diners eat by themselves... whether at the counter or outside with a copy of the morning paper.  One of the women who takes orders is what I call the "Laker lady."  She's always excited to share that she is a regular season ticket holder at Staples Center and that Kobe and her are "homies."  I can always tell by the stance she takes while hovering over the counter that she is not just a basketball super fan, but she has definitely played many a game in her life.  When she pours orange juice, it even sounds like she makes a swish into the glass.

The menu displayed inside proudly states that 96.3% of their food comes from local farmers markets.  Perhaps that is where the bacon comes from too. Never mind that.  The goal of the day had been accomplished.  Bacon prices soar... Michael nabs crispy fried bacon and eggs.  Now off to the office!

I've just decided that the remaining posts for this month will have to do with pork, bacon, or my favorite... PORK BELLY.  Yum! Until  next time, let's get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20121004