Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Yunnan Kitchen and Pig and Khao

I'm happy to say that Alex and I started off this year by knocking off two of the restaurants that were runners up on my list of Restaurants to Try for 2013.  If I had my way we would have knocked off at least one restaurant on the actual list if the reservation gods didn't hate me so much.  But we (when I say "we" I really mean "I" since I have been the one making all of the calls) finally managed to get reservations at Acme for this weekend so I am pretty pumped about that.  I tried to get reservations at Brooklyn Fare, Blanca and The Marrow and basically failed spectacularly each time.  Actually, I could have made reservations at The Marrow at 9:00 pm this past Sunday but I decided that was too late for a Sunday night.  And since The Marrow has only been open for a very short while I am tempted to let it mature a little more before visiting.  So I will probably try again this summer.  If the 7 train wasn't in the midst of some crazy renovations on the weekend, we would probably have trekked to Flushing by now to try Biang, but we're going to wait until the planned service concludes at the end of March.  There are other ways to get out there, but I'm not in a huge hurry so we will just wait it out.  I'm hoping that by beginning of summer, we will have tried at least one or two more of the restaurants on our list, not including Acme, Yunnan Kitchen or Pig and Khao.  The most likely candidates are Pok Pok Phat Thai and Biang, but who knows?  If the Red Farm location ever opens on the UWS we might make it there too!  Strangely the two restaurants we have tried are both on the LES.  I say strangely only because we rarely make it down to the LES because it's a pain in the butt to get to from the UWS and not because of a perceived lack of quality restaurants down on the LES.  The LES has a ton of wonderful restaurants - including Pok Pok Phat Thai.  Brooklyn Fare and Blanca might remain wish list items since reservations are impossible to obtain, but such is  life.

More after the jump!

Of the two restaurants we managed to try in 2013, Pig and Khao was my favorite.  Their flavors were just in your face delicious and the restaurant itself was just a lot of fun.  I also loved that it was Filipino-inspired because in my humble opinion we don't eat nearly enough Filipino food.  My favorite dish of the evening was the Sizzling Sisig (pieces of pig head served on a sizzling platter with egg, lime juice and chili - pictured below).  I know it sounds weird, but their version of the dish was amazing - rich and fatty, porky and delicious.  The squeeze of lime juice brightened it all up and cut through the heavy unctuousness of the dish.  I know it sounds really strange to eat pig head, but trust me - it is to die for (if done correctly).  Plus it smells amazing so I dare you to sit next to someone who is served a fresh platter of sisig and not order one for yourself.  Another dish we particularly enjoyed was their Crispy Red Curry Rice Salad (pictured above), which was deliciously spicy.  I loved the combo of flavors and textures in the dish and would totally order it again.  We also tried the whole fried fish (pictured below), which featured a really nicely cooked fish in an aromatic lemongrass broth.  I liked the dish (particulary the broth), but it just couldn't quite compete with the flavors of the other dishes.  We also had some market veggies, coconut rice and halo-halo (shaved ice) to finish off our meal.  Yum.  On our next visit to Pig and Khao I really want to try their khao soi (the table next to us ordered it and said that it was very spicy and it looked really good) and the grilled pork jowl.  Their quail adobo also sounds pretty tempting. 

Alex and I are in slight disagreement about Yunnan Kitchen.  We both enjoyed our meal there, but Alex claims that he wouldn't trek back down to the LES to eat at Yunnan Kitchen, whereas I think I might if I were in the proper frame of mind/mood.  All in all I thought the food was really good.  It wasn't mind blowing, but I was very satisfied with my meal there.  Since I was 15 minutes late to meet Alex there for dinner, he had time to sit at the bar and check out the reviews online so he had a pretty good plan for what to order jotted down on a scrap of paper before I arrived.  Yunnan Kitchen offers dishes in a small plates-type format so we ordered 5 dishes - lamb meatballs, mint salad, fried pork belly, tofu ribbon salad and mushroom rice cakes.  The lamb meatballs were juicy and succulent and had nice flavor from the combination of lamb, ginger and scallions.  They were among the best meatballs I have had in NYC in some time.  The mint salad was bright and fresh, with a really light and herbal blend of flavors that I appreciated.  I liked the mint salad more than I liked the tofu ribbon salad, which was also bright and fresh, but it felt like it was missing something.  I wanted it to either have more lime juice or more heat.  I think the tofu skin salad (liang pi) at Xi'an Famous Foods is better and more flavorful (and much spicier).  The tofu salads are very different, but it's hard not to compare them - the herbs in the salad at Yunnan Kitchen made it skew far more southeast Asian, which is no surprise given the location of Yunnan province and the various ethnic groups that call Yunnan province home.  As for the fried pork belly, I was expecting hunks or slices of pork belly (a la Momofuku pork bun), but what arrived on our table was more similar to crispy strips of bacon, topped with fried mint leaves and served with a delicious spice blend.  It was delicious. I'm not sure the fried mint added anything, but I really liked the spice blend (in moderation) with the bacon.  Alex liked fried mint because he thought it kept it from getting too heavy and cut the heaviness between bites of porky goodness.  Our least favorite dish of the evening was the mushroom rice cakes.  Compared with everything else, they didn't stand out.  It was basically a bowl full of korean-ish rice cakes with a few mushrooms in a sweetish sauce.  It could have been any dish anywhere.  Unfortunately none of the pictures that I took at Yunnan Kitchen turned out.  It was really dark in there and Alex was embarrassed by my iPhone picture-taking, so I gave up.  But the food was good enough that I decided to seek out recipes from Yunnan province (luckily I found one from the chef of Yunnan Kitchen) for our (Belated) Chinese New Year meals. 

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