In this world of ours, there are many different kinds of eating establishments to fit various circumstances. After a night of heavy drinking and concert going, my food pyramid consists of two things, tacos and Asian cuisine. I need one or the other, sometimes both.
Fortunately for my extra-specific alcohol cravings, a little place opened up not too long ago called Tako Cheena. I was driving down Mills Ave., on my way to one of the many fantastic restaurants in the area, when their catchphrase caught my eye so violently I may need retina re-attachment surgery, “Dim Sum Good Takos”.
The sign alone intrigued me, as I had no clue what was inside. I was hoping for dim sum, as I recall reading the sign incorrectly. As I was saying, I was on my way get food from another place, a banh mi from Yum-mi Sandwiches to be precise. Even though I already had my meal lined up, I couldn’t resist. So I walked in and took a look at the menu. I loved what I saw even though in my heart, I was disappointed there wasn’t any dim sum despite their slogan. What they did offer though, made up for this ten times over. A love affair blossomed that night, Tako Cheena and I have spent many nights together since.
This leads me to my latest visit, although every one has been worthy of written praise, I’ve always seemed to be lacking a camera to document the experience. Good thing I had James with me on this trip. He is like the food snob equivalent of a boy scout, always prepared.
This was his first time with Tako Cheena. I remembered my first time fondly as I watched him eat up the menu with his eyes. It’s extremely concise and leaves no room for fluff. The menu is considerably Eastern Asian. Most of continent is well represented with touches of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian. The only thing missing was a Russian Borscht burrito. After our orders were placed, I sat back and took in the sounds of the space. The room of half drunk patrons who, like me, were loud and excited to jump in on the feast to soak up the alcohol pond in their tummies that had accumulated throughout the night. The smells were equally intoxicating as aromatic whiffs of smoke from the grill and char siu pork belly, flavored with five spice filled the air. Soon enough our food arrived.
The very pork I spoke of earlier in all its glory filled a flour tortilla, topped with a chopped cabbage, green onion and cilantro slaw. That crunchy slaw paired off against the ultra rich and fatty pork was the only thing that kept me from entering a full-blown food trance.
The other Tako ordered was filled with panko-crusted cod and topped with the same slaw. The fish was fried to golden perfection and was as crisp as snapping a fresh potato chip. It was an awesome take on the fish taco. The most astounding aspect was the sweet and spicy sauce that created a lacquered sheen over the fried plank. We each had one so no sharing was in order. James was so overwhelmed that he had to get another, just to make sure it was as awesome as he first believed, it was.
Early German immigrants were kind enough to share the frankfurter with us Yanks, and we have thoroughly embraced it as one of our American staples. What Tako Cheena does best, is presenting non-traditional flavors with a certain visual appeal that isn’t automatically dismissive. They take the concept of a hot dog, something we all know and love, and give you something completely different. The first trick is the dog. It’s actually a Chinese sausage that’s sweet, salty and packed with flavor. Then they use the garnish as the way to bring in some classic Asian flavors. The Japadog takes command with seaweed, cabbage, cucumber and a sweet sesame miso sauce. The Banh Mi dog on the other hand, gives a nod to the traditional Vietnamese classic using slivers of daikon, carrot and cucumber pickled in nuoc cham and rice vinegar. Then it’s finished with lemon mayo and chopped cilantro.
Finally we shared an order of Ginger Apple Empanadas. I think they’ve changed the recipe on this menu item a couple of times, trying to get it just right. It’s still on the menu as spring rolls, but the cashier informed me they were actually empanadas. It was a welcome change if you ask me, which you obviously didn’t. It took weeks to figure out that this dessert was really two pastries wrapped into one parcel. You can have an empanada filled with warm spicy apple filling and stop there, that’d be your dessert and you’d walk away a happy man, but there’s more. To top things off, you have a key lime and sweetened condensed milk caramel to create a pseudo reversed key lime pie. You even could say you have a crust which was made up of the outer edge of the empanada shell.
Maybe I over-analyzed the genius of the chefs vision. Maybe we just aren’t as thoughtful. Either way, this dessert was like much of the food we had that evening. Complex, sophisticated, even modest if you will. At its core, showing respect to the flavors is what’s most important. If you ever find yourself in a stupor say, after a night out at the punk rock show, there’s no better brain food to be found than at Tako Cheena.
♦ Logan C.