One of the great advantages to living in Vancouver’s Chinatown is that it’s almost as cheap to eat out, if you know where you’re going, than to cook for yourself, and if you cook like I do this is a DISTINCT advantage. None the less, there are so many restaurants in the neighborhood that nobody can get to all of them, and if you do happen to blunder into a bad one, you feel quite moronic for having wasted the opportunity to go somewhere you already know is good.
So when Richard Wolack announced that his latest Tasting Plates tour was headed to my neighborhood, I signed up right away. This is a cooperative event with one ticket price, entitling the attendees to a small serving of some set item at each participating restaurant or food shop. A piece of the ticket price goes to support a local charity. For this Tasting Plates round, the charity was Project Limelight, which provides Downtown Eastside youth with support for artistic endeavours and community.
We started with salted caramels, eggnog rounds, and hot chocolate you made yourself by dipping a hunk of solid white, milk, or dark chocolate on a stick into hot milk. Crazy fattening, but rich and a lot more fun than that ordinary stuff. Definitely first-class skating party material. That was all done by Beta 5, an ultra-modern dessert shop in the industrial flats between Terminal and Great Northern Way.
When that’s your first course, the second is naturally pizza. Ours came from Pazzarella pizza truck, which has the city’s only truck-mounted wood-fired pizza oven. I don’t think they were quite ready to be so slammed so quickly, as the line was long and everyone, EVERYONE wanted to try the maple bacon pizza. It smelled good, but they were out of it when I got up to the front, so I had a more mundane, but still tasty, mushroom pizza.
Then it was a trundle northward to Electric Owl, which as anyone who’s gone past it knows is a very hopping night spot, though it is yet very new. The food there was seemingly endless, and all of it was very, very good. Like, foodie quality, which is surprising, because from the crowd I’d always assumed the kitchen would not be a priority. Sliders, pulled pork with coleslaw, skewers of all kinds of tasty things, delicious egg rolls, and pudding in Chinese porcelain spoons. One may have indulged a bit too much, because we practically waddled en route to the rest of the stops.
In Chinatown proper we went first to Harvest, a very hipster/new urban gourmet deli where we had a paper cup double handful-sized of handmade ramen noodles with pork, preserved vegetables, and half an egg. Honestly, it was as much as I eat for dinner some nights all by itself, and the quality of the noodles was simply the best I’ve ever had. Noodles with flavour: what a concept!
In need of respite, we rolled our overstuffed selves to Treasure Green Tea, where staff was pouring their Seasons tea, a blend of black and green teas with a medium body, smoky aroma, and, surprisingly for a tea with that much flavour, no tannic bite whatsoever. It was good enough that I went back later and bought a half-pound for myself. The only thing that can compensate for my lack of fire place in the long, rainy winters is a big pot of steaming, smoky tea. Well, Viggo could try. I dare him.
From there, and feeling mightily stuffed, I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to Oyster Express, where I explained that to me, a perfect payday dinner is savory, salty, fresh oysters and gin Martinis and nothing else. At that point, I bailed on the tour for the sake of my figure (yes, I know, about two years too late). Cheers!
Here’s video coverage from the intrepid Alyssa Dawson for CityLights tv. She actually toughed it out and hit all the venues, believe it or not. I should call her trainer.
Finally, after an interminable wait, summer has arrived on the wet coast. You can keep your highballs, your hard lemonade, your Sauv Blanc, your sangriae: Victoria’s Phillips Ginger Beer is what I’m drinking when the thermometer rises and the asphalt sticks to your sandals like a clingy ex.
The original ginger beer from the old Pirates of the Caribbean days wasn’t a proper beer at all, and contained none of your common-or-garden yeast, but instead an interesting combo of microorganisms as explained in the Guardian’s do-it-yourself guide. Allow yourself to be entertained for the moment by visions of legions of British social work professors-emeritus, mid-level NGO operatives, and overeducated eco-fashion bloggers earnestly attempting to do it, indeed, themselves. In $200 Hunter wellies.
God, I love British people (they’re the people, after all, who gave us Traidcraft.)
This offering from Phillips is indeed proper beer, as are all beers from Phillips. It’s also got a bite that would stand off a pit bull, thanks to the ginger infusion. It’s fiery like a good Jamaican ginger beer, and the heat lingers afterwards, as if you’d bitten into a fresh ginger root. The beer itself is a nice ruddy ale, balanced, not too sweet, and with enough body to stand up to the ginger’s volatile nature, so you don’t feel like you’ve been drinking ginger water, but ginger beer.
It’s terrific on its own, but it really comes into its own paired with spicy foods, particularly if they’re really rich as well. Phillips says, “It’s killer with sushi” but I enjoyed mine with some mussels steamed in coconut chili sauce from the Union Bar, and they were perfect for one another. The mussels, which were enormous and full of flavour, swam in a savory broth of coconut and chili: no watery bullion need apply.
My friend April Smith of AHA Media had the snazzy-looking and non-alcoholic Lapu-Lapu: cucumber juice, coconut water, galangal, calmansi pandan syrup, garnished with tender young coconut and lemon grass. Also delicious and refreshing, if lacking in heat. April and I are so different, we are pretty much guaranteed to order from different ends of the menu spectrum every time. Not a bad way to dine out, if you ask me.
As Vancouver Chinatown bars go, the Keefer Bar is absolutely #1, and not just because it’s the only one: manager Danielle Tatarin is Bartender of the Year in Vancouver Magazine. If you know anything about the Vangroover booze scene, you’ll know that takes serious talent and originality.
Our menu is influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicinal ingredients that we incorporate into classic style cocktails. Some of the most prominent herbs that we use are Yun Zhi mushroom and astragalus root. This year I have been studying more on TCM and getting a deeper understanding of it. I am working with some really interesting combination of ingredients for tinctures that are meant to help detoxify the kidneys and liver.
Last night I just started a tincture that combines sea dragon, sea horse, cordyceps, lemon and bitter orange. It should be ready in a couple months and I am excited to see how it tastes. For me I have really embraced natural remedies, and as a sufferer of seasonal allergies I hope this year to not have to take antihistamines because I have been working with TCM ingredients to boost my immune system over the last year.
You might think that sounds a little…medicinal. And you’d be right, but you’d be wrong if you think that means it isn’t tasty. When I visited with my friend, intrepid photographer Cathy Browne, there were plenty of flips and creamy drinks on the menu, including several which played on an opium theme.
Opium Drink at the Keefer Bar
You can see the poppyseeds on this beauty, which was called something like The Flaming Opium Pearl of the Black Dragon or something similarly subdued, and which tasted, like most of Dani’s drinks, subtle, complex, and not very sweet.
The decor is medical, by which I mean they have backlit panels of body scans and apothecary jars everywhere, in use. Fitting for a place where you can give your liver a workout and a healing tincture at the same time. It’s only about ten feet wide, and on Thursdays there is a burlesque show on their tiny (TINY) stage up front, but it is a beautiful, esoteric little gem. The unique drinks mean you can’t always be sure you’ll love what you order, so do talk to the bartender about what you’re thinking of ordering; it’s not always easy to tell what’s sweet, light, savory, or rich from the menu.
Can’t talk about the food: I don’t come here for the food. But you can see the current keefer_menu here (PDF!). The service has never been anything less than excellent, and I don’t know what you look like but I’ll just tell you right now, they are all out of our league.
Pictured below, and starting off our slideshow of fabulousness from Cathy Browne, is the Lavender Sidecar, an aromatic, very light Spring version of the old favorite. Lemons in this case, not oranges (which I prefer with brandy by the fire around Christmas time).
Yes, it was back to the salt mines for your poor, martyred blogger here, thanks to an invitation to the opening of Xi Shi, the posh new bar in the Shangri-La hotel in glamorous downtown Vangroover. It helps when you know the head barman. The woman in charge of the bar at Xi Shi is Heather Yau, who competed admirably in last year’s Tales of the Cocktail both in Vancouver and in New Orleans. Accompanying me was the lovely and talented Cathy Browne, who took all these gorgeous pictures; impressive enough, but moreso when you realize she’s legally blind.
It’s a lovely space once you’re inside, but getting inside consists of going around to the “back” of the building which is really the “front” and standing around the lobby, looking confused, until a staff member asks if you’re here for the Xi Shi party, and gently points the way. I’d tell you how to find it yourself, but I think they’re trying to keep it a secret, and besides, the staff need to keep busy!
Xi Shi Bar
It’s a long, light, L space with ceilings that go up to HERE and sightlines that go out to THERE, which is great for people-watching if you’re not as nearsighted as I am. This isn’t the place for a discreet affair, as the “around the corner, tucked away” tables are basically just off Robson Street, ie you might as well be parked outside of TMZ. This is the place raincoaster, who now refers to herself in the third person because she’s imaginary-dating much higher-grade people lately, will be taking her next boytoy for a quiet drink.
Right after she alerts the paparazzi and gets her hair did.
The general theme is Contemporary Asian, meaning airy and Zen, with referential scatterings of Chinoiserie, as in the cheongsams worn by the waitresses. It must be said, and that by me, that it’s good to see a place that doesn’t go for Generic Vancouver Glossy: black on black on black with black leather chairs and chrome and everything shiny and hard. The cascade of glass over the bar changes colours thanks to clever lighting, although there’s a definite preference for pink: even the house cocktail is pink, at which point I am tempted to insert a reference to intimate anatomy but yea verily, am too way classy.
Ahem. Anyway…as I was saying, a lounge shouldn’t look like a dance club, and it shouldn’t look like an operating room. I like a place that looks good by day as well as by night. See for yourselves:
It's hard to pull off jazz in the daytime, but this worked
Did I say Chinoiserie? Yes, yes I did, even though Spellchecker tried to replace it with “Chitterlings,” but I was having none of that! Chinoiserie I said and Chinoiserie I meant, speaking of which, behold the Lady Grey Cocktail:
Lady Grey sure is pretty
The Lady Grey cocktail is a beautiful thing, a mellowed orange with brassy glints. The pot, by the way, is full of hot water so you can adjust it to the strength you prefer; it and the cup and saucer are a custom-made iteration of the classic Blue Willow pattern which tells the story of a pair of runaway lovers. It’s made with Earl Grey tea-infused Tanqueray gin with an extra measure of Bergamot, and seemed to me a little too sharply citrus. And oh! if you only knew what it costs my very soul to criticize a free drink! Ah, the trouble with using fresh ingredients is, the difference between one lemon and another can be substantial!
Jay Jones has come through with the recipe for us so you can judge for yourself. And wouldn’t a bottle of Earl Grey Tanqueray liven up a nice bridge party? I don’t know about you, but the presence of card snobs of any variety usually drives me to drink, or at least calls me a cab to. And somehow bourbon goes with poker the way gin goes with bridge.
1.5 oz earl grey tea-infused tanqueray gin
.4 oz fresh lemon juice
.6 oz sugar syrup
small pot of hot water
-all ingredients (except hot water) combined in shangri-la blue willow china tea cup & saucer
-served with matching small shangri-la blue willow china pot of hot water
-pour hot water to fill tea cup – top up as desired
*served with lemon zest
Earl Grey Tea-Infused Gin
1. empty a 1.14 liter bottle of Tanqueray London Dry Gin (room temperature) into a clean, dry, sealable container
2. place 4 heaping tablespoons of loose leaf Earl Grey tea in the Gin (use bags alternatively – much neater)
3. seal container and leave to steep for minimum 1 hour at room temperature – longer if desired (2 hours suggested)
4. after steeping, shake sealed container throughly
5. strain tea leaves/remove tea bags from Gin – the Gin’s colour should be deep brown
5. seal and refrigerate to preserve freshness (max 1 week shelf life when refrigerated)
Iron Lotus poured by Heather Yau
The signature cocktail here is the Iron Lotus, concocted by cocktail queen Heather Yau; only last year she was a humble apprentice at hipster central, the Waldorf, and look at her now! Xi Shi is a PBR-free zone!
The Iron Lotus is a hard drink to turn out in bulk, each being made from the same number of fresh raspberries. The sweetness varies wildly depending on the particular individual raspberries, but whether more tart or more sweet, this is as lovely to drink as to look at.
Raspberries in the Iron Lotus
The focus at Xi Shi is on lighter, less alcoholic, and more feminine drinks overall; this is not a place where you will find many people testing flights of bourbon or single malt. There’s no doubt that Xi Shi, named after a goddess, was put together with the fact that women choose the date spot firmly in mind. The flattering, rose-coloured lighting makes everyone look ten years younger (I’m sure they only failed to card me out of deference), and the lower alcohol content in the drinks ensures that you don’t slip from Charming Anita Loos to Scary Dorothy Parker.
And the food ensures you don’t slip from Perky Britney to Sad Britney.
Mary had a little lamb. And then she had another cocktail.
Squeeee! This adorable little roast of lamb was less than two inches long, and came with crunchy yogurt. Yes, crunchy yogurt, and not because it was left in the back of the fridge for six months and then scraped off the lid of the container like your revolting roommate used to do; because the kitchen is a Shangri-La kitchen, and they do things right and just a little weird.
Xi Shi has crabs. But she's a goddess, so who's going to tell her, eh? Not me, that's for damn sure.
Behold the mammoth crabcake! Did I already say “behold?” I did, didn’t I? Oh well, you wouldn’t believe how many people I’m beholden in this town, although their bank managers would.
The salmon was so good the waiter wouldn’t let me refuse, although I was getting pretty full. Believe me, I will never again doubt a Xi Shi waiter.
What to do when you’ve had as much food as you can hold? That’s right: back to cocktails!
Naked Botanical Martini. It sets a certain tone. I intend to order it when I bring Julian!
Just look at the legs on that thing! My pal Jay Jones knows I’m a gin snob, so he made me a Martini using The Botanist gin from Scotland, one I hadn’t tried before. Frankly, this may be Too! Much! Gin! even for me: the title role botanicals are dense and overwhelming if you’re unprepared. Because it’s produced by Bruichladdich, a famous and famously insane Islay Whisky distillery, it is viscous and powerful, and my recommendation is to have one, but have it James Bond style: very large, very cold, and very well-made. And have one only. This gin is Serious Business. Here’s a list of the various botanicals:
Apple Mint Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Chamomile (sweet), Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Meadow Sweet, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves, Angelica root, Cassia bark, Cinnamon bark, Coriander seed, Juniper berries, Lemon peel, Liquorice root, Orange peel and Orris root.
Say THAT three times fast! The nose on this is citrus and juniper dominated, the taste complex, puzzling…you just can’t figure out the various elements and it can’t be said they blend into one single whole. It’s like listening to a Beethoven symphony and then trying to pick out each of the instruments. And trust me, this ain’t Brahms: it’s DEFINITELY Beethoven. The aftertaste is long and powerful, and in it you begin to discern some of the different components. I like it, but it’s definitely Special Occasion Gin, not It’s Five O’Clock Gin.
Hemingway Daiquiri so much more macho than the Fitzgerald Daiquiri
Ah, the Neo-Classical Hemingway Daiquiri! One of the greatest summer drinks, featuring grapefruit where you’d expect lime, and a sour cherry where you’d expect … nothing at all. Not for Papa your silly blender drinks! Although this has a noticeable alcohol content, it fits right into the Xi Shi aesthetic of light-tasting, citrusy cocktails.
Cue the Darth Vader music…
Why ahoy there, sailor! The Nautical Disaster, a Jay Jones original
The Nautical Disaster is not a drink to be trifled with. It shouldn’t even be left alone with your wallet. This dark and dangerous newcomer is a rum-based take on the classic Sazerac, and it’s hearty, thick, spicy, complex, and sweet, just like me. It’s also definitely your last cocktail of the night. If he has one of these and still hasn’t sealed the deal, well my dear, just get up and go home.
And that, my friends, is how I like to start a meal: with a half-dozen exquisite bivalves, a Martini, and a good friend (neither of which latter you can see because well, good Martinis are invisible and so are good friends until you need them).
The Martini, in this case, was Elyx vodka, which my pal Jay Jonestells me is the premium offering from Absolut. Normally, of course, one is all about the gin, but one is curious and from time to time one likes to give vodka a chance. Normally, it’s the booze of choice for those who like to get drunk but don’t like to drink, a key ingredient in Cougartinis, a prerequisite to being featured on DouchebagsLoveGreyGoose.com , and normally I avoid it like the plague. See how tense the thought of such things makes me? I transubstantiated my tenses and persons! One is distraught!
But the Blue Elyx Martini was everything a proper vodka Martini should be: as cold as my ex’s heart, as clear as Fate, as bracing as a letter from the bank. Occasionally one runs across a vodka that actually deserves the adjective “smooth” and Elyx is one of those rare distillates, it was positively Bond Villain-smooth, while at the same time it possessed enough body to assert itself in the company of the two plump, gorgonzola-stuffed olives that lolled wantonly within.
But I was talking about oysters, wasn’t I?
The Kusshi oysters were the smallest of the lot, only about the size of Manila clams which, for someone from Vancouver, was a bit of culture shock on a plate, ours tending more towards the size and texture of a catcher’s mitt. These were delicate of taste and texture, mild like a sea breeze with a slight, lemony sweetness. Best naked.
One senses a theme. Why yes, it has been a long time since I’ve eaten an oyster…and you?
The moderately-sized Joe’s Gold were creamy and rich, and lemon juice was a good foil for those, if you’re an oyster-foiling sort of person.
The Sawmill Bay beach oysters were BC-sized (and you thought everything was bigger in Texas) and honestly unsubtle of flavour. Horseradish time, methinks. Meaty of texture, slightly liverish of taste, these are the kinds of oysters that put my old roommate off oysters: big enough that she could identify the component parts as they slid down her gullet, having deconstructed many a bivalve in high school biology class. Thank GOD in Ontario we dissected fetal pigs; I don’t run across a lotta fetal pigs in the food-and-bevvie-blogging bizness. In any case, they were delicious, briny, and assertive.
I could live off Martinis and oysters, but you’d get pretty bored with the blog, if I even remained sober enough to type it all up, so there was more, much more:
Goldfish Salmon Pastrami
At a restaurant called Goldfish, I think I could be forgiven for sticking with fish all the way through, and so it came to pass that I ordered the Vodka-Cured (was it sick in the first place?) Salmon Pastrami for an appetizer. Or would that be the fish course? In any case, it came after the Martini-and-Oyster course which I always think of as the Monte Carlo Casino With James Bond on Your Arm course. As do all right-thinking people. Having been deprived of our fine Pacific salmon for several months, and fed insipid, pinkish farmed Atlantic fish, I was happy to see that these thickish slices of Sockeye were as sinisterly red as stigmata. As I’m not a mystic, I have to drop the metaphor there; if any of you know how stigmata taste, drop me a line in the comments; there’s bound to be plenty of interest in that sort of thing, at least in certain circles.
Salmon pastrami. We were talking about salmon pastrami. And it was good. I didn’t know quite what to expect of pastramized salmon, but it was to regular smoked salmon as bacon is to regular slow-cooked pork, assertive but neither over-salted nor over-smoked. The peppery arugula salad was a great counterpoint, with a vinaigrette sharp enough to set off the fatty salmon, a sprinkling of fried potato shards for crunch, and some creme fraiche for richness.
Goldfish Scallops; objects in the blog may be larger than they appear
Objects in the blog may be huger than they appear. These East Coast scallops (I love it when the manager says “they’re from the East Coast. I KNOW! The East! But they’re actually quite good”) were massive, each almost the size of the palm of my hand, but there was not the slightest bit of toughness in them. They were perfectly prepared and that’s not easy with seafood this thick. Those brown nuggets in the foreground are delicious nubbins of bacon. Yes, yes, bacon has been done to death, but scallops can use the boost in flavour, and this particular bacon was marvelously understated, letting the taste of the meat dominate and bringing a richness and depth to the whole dish that the scallops alone would have lacked. It was served with roasted fingerling potatos, roasted asparagus, and roasted cherry tomatoes, which is the ONLY way to go with cherry tomatoes if you ask me; they’re the Dim Beauty Queens of the vegetable world, but roasting brought out the sweetness and flavours that are usually hidden behind underripe, frosty cuteness. Where was I?
Oh yes, about to rhapsodize about the wine which Jeff recommended for this dish: a white Bordeaux, Château Bauduc 2009 sauvignon blanc/semillon, which is hilarious because my cousin married a Bolduc, although if she gets a discount on this delightful beverage she’s been holding out on me all this time. It’s a buttery, full-bodied wine with moderate oakiness, and went well with both the creamy scallops and the bacon, which is quite a feat if you ask me.
I also had a glass of the Joie, and you’re lucky I can still read my notes from this point on. Joie is one of my favorite wineries, their rose is one of my favorite wines, and some day I will tell you one of my favorite wine stories which has to do with Joie but that’s not today. Today we must put such fripperies aside, as we have one more course to go at the Goldfish Saga. The things I do for you people.
Dessert. Pudding. Afters. Whatever you call it, I haven’t seen much of it since I moved out of my mother’s house at the age of 17. Single women just do not make dessert if they’re not expecting:
a) to seduce someone
b) to have to bring it to a party
and let’s just say it’s been a long time since I’ve brought anything but potato salad to a party. Which explains my love life, but there, I’ve said too much already…
Goldfish Strawberry Panna Cotta
We were talking, or were about to talk, about the Strawberry Panna Cotta on a peanut butter shortbread. Honestly, do you give it ALL ALL CAPITALS or do you recognize the subjugate nature of the shortbread, as a substrate upon which the actual, starred player rests, and lowercase it? I don’t know from capitalization; I’m not German. In any case, howsoever, and whatevs, it was delicious. There was a swirl of balsamic reduction, which catalyzed the volatile elements in the strawberries (and how you dice strawberries that fine, I do not know. Perhaps there is an army of miniature Japanese strawberry-dicing robots somewhere under the counter) and caused the fresh scent to rise, as if we were walking through a strawberry field on a sunny morning. Now, two courses in a row where the main players were round and creamy is perhaps one too many, but je ne regrette rien. Nosiree, je ne regrette strawberry panna cotta pas du tout, no way. The shortbread was beautifully done, although the peanut butter was more theoretical than it should have been. I mean, it was probably safe for the allergic.
And now in my notes I see that I have a recipe for another cocktail . Funny, don’t recall that one…but it does sound lovely. Here it is:
Kiss from a Rose
1 oz Giffard Rose Syrup
1 oz lime juice
1 oz Hendrick’s gin (and no other)
Mix and pour over ice.
Hendrick’s, of course, is made with roses as an ingredient, and I’ve always wanted to experiment with rose water and Hendrick’s. This cocktail is sweetish, but not as sweet as a tiki drink, lightly pink, and rather girly. In fact, it goes down dangerously quickly if you don’t remind yourself it’s a third gin, which explains why this is only coming back to me now. All in all, a beverage suitable for my lifelong dream job, White Rahnee of Sarawak. I’ll sip it on the terrace while giving orders to my Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I don’t know about you fine folks, but as a kid, when I got home from school, the usual after school snack was some cookies and a glass of milk (or Dunkin’ Donuts on those extra special occasions when my dad had gone to the dentist and had picked an assorted dozen or some Munchkins on his way home — I may be the only person who positively associates dentists and donuts…)
Apparently, in Korea, however, after school food treats tend more toward kimchi fried rice with cheese and ramen with Spam. Or at least that’s what School Food, the new Korean import in Los Angeles’ Koreatown would have us believe.
School Food Blooming Roll, which is the full name for the joint, purports to specialize in the kind of food that K-pop teenagers enjoy after a long hard day of school (and from what I gather the Korean school day is long and very exhausting, so these kids have worked up an appetite.)
In addition to an assortment of ramen, topokki (soup with rice cake), and fried rice dishes, many of which are topped with cheese (the only thing that could make ramen and fried rice even yummier,) School Food offers a wide range of kimbap, Korean-style sushi rolls.
I heart kimbap, so I stuck to that.
Thinking myself conservative, I ordered two rolls, both of which, it turns out, were massive and came with free soup. One would have been enough even for a person with an enormous appetite comme moi.
A great lover of teeny, tiny fish, I went for the hot pepper and anchovy roll-
These were whole, head-on baby anchovies, the sort you pop by the handful as free banchan appetizers in Korean restaurants. A little sweet and a little chewy, the fish were matched nicely by the tang of a pickled raddish and the unctuous bite of the spicy oil sauce.
My second behemoth roll was actually a mix, called the Special Roll II, which came with three offerings – -
At the top is smelt eggs with daikon sprout. A little oily from some sort of sauce, the smelt eggs themselves had a nice pop and the daikon a good crunch, so with the toothsome nori and rice, it was a veritable textural symphony.
Next up, the Spam roll, featuring a “special School Food Sauce.” Folks, spam gets a bad rap. While the way my great aunt in North Carolina served it on a white bread sandwich with mayo and wilted lettuce may not have been fine dining (but in retrospect, perhaps delicious), what Asian and Pacific Island cultures do with the canned wonder meat is pretty fantastic. From Hawaiian style Spam musubi to Samoan Spam and eggs with rice, the salty, texturally challenged blob does wonders when paired with some spicy sauce and rice. This was no exception.
Finally, at the bottom, with the black rice – squid ink rice with teriyaki squid. To my surprise, this was my least favorite of the bunch. The squid ink rice didn’t have the subtle briny flavor that squid ink pasta often does and the teriyaki squid was too chewy and cloyingly sweet. But I did find that when I popped out the squid and replaced it with Spam, somehow the black rice sang.
Spam it turns out is the answer to everything. Or at least to Korean after school specials.
Last Saturday the Mr. and I hit up La Super-Rica Taqueria in beautiful (and I mean BEAUTIFUL) sunny Santa Barbara. The little taco stand, with it’s big back porch was fabled to be Julia Child’s favorite Mexican spot.
The queue is apparently often scores of people deep, but since we didn’t get there for lunch until about 4, we didn’t have to wait too long before placing our order at the counter, which is particularly fun because you get up close to watch the kitchen folks making handmade corn tortillas.
For such a wee place, there were loads of options, and it was difficult to make a decision, but I’d heard that when at Super Rica, be sure to eat loads of tortillas and go for the special tamales, so I did as told.
A deceptively simple taco de bistec — perfectly grilled meat on one of those impeccable fresh tasting tortillas. (Really it’s two tortillas, but when splitting one taco between two people, the Mr. and I each take a tortilla and half the filling and it works out just fine. Blasphemous perhaps. But just fine.)
Guacamole. Believe it or not, there are two tortillas lurking under that mountain of avocado. What initially seemed like an excess of guac quickly became a dearth of the glorious green stuff. Especially with a drizzle of one of the three complimentary salsas. Especially when scooped onto the taco de bistec.
One of the specials — a tamal de verduras. (Though I get the sense this “special” is often on the menu.) Fresh masa stuffed with chayote, corn, zucchini, potato, chili strips, and cheese. Topped with a crema sauce. This was kind of the fettuccine al fredo of the tamale world. Decadent. Comforting.
And finally my first favorite. The itty bitty tamalito de cambray. A pint-sized tamale fit for a pint-sized taco joint, stuffed with chicken, raisins, almonds, and tomato sauce, packed into a banana leaf. Moist, a little sweet, a little savory. A little corny. I literally licked the banana leaf clean of all traces of this one.
Manolo the Shoeblogger is not Mr. Manolo Blahnik. This website is not affiliated in any way with Mr. Manolo Blahnik, any products bearing the federally registered trademarks MANOLO®, BLAHNIK® or MANOLO BLAHNIK®, or any licensee of said federally registered trademarks. The views expressed on this website are solely those of the author.