Blackbrick – Miami, FL

I think it’s high time we got back to our roots here at Eat a Duck. I mean it’s been what, TWO posts since we featured dim sum around here! Well not to worry, we’d never let the dumplings disappear for long, and neither will Richard Hales, chef and owner of Blackbrick, Miami’s sorely needed dim sum mecca. Chef Hales, best known for the popular Korean joint, Sakaya Kitchen and its mobile counterpart, Dim Ssam a GoGo, clearly saw the gap in Miami’s dining landscape. Until now, finding truly great dim sum was a chore at best, and nearly impossible at worst.

Sure, you’ve got Mr. Chow on Miami Beach, but who wants to drop $13 on a plate of siu mai? Alternatively you could make the trek out to Tropical dim sum on Sundays for one of the only dim sum cart services I’m aware of, but neither of these options are ideal. What Miami needed was a centrally located spot, within a few minutes drive and preferably near other like-minded restaurants for obvious food crawl possibilities! Chef Hales found the perfect spot, nestled right in between the design district and Wynwood, two of the hottest neighborhoods in town.

Blackbrick spread 1

At first glance, the large Target shopping center where Blackbrick is located may seem like another bland, prefabricated Florida “village”. Clearly though, someone did their homework. Instead of bringing in the typical corporate restaurants like Brio, P.F. Changs and Cheesecake Factory, they opted for independent, local talent. Granted, there’s still a Five Guys and a World of Beer, but for the most part, the dining options in Midtown are something to be excited about.

Blackbrick is one of the places warranting the most excitement, not only for the crew of Eat a Duck, but for food lovers around the country, even being nominated for Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America. The reason behind the buzz is no secret, as Blackbrick combines tradition and creativity seamlessly.

Blackbrick dim sum

Their dim sum selection, while not exhaustive, is of a quality you won’t find anywhere else. Each item is cooked to order, so while the wait may be more than some veteran dim sum-o-philes are used to, the resulting flavor makes it all worth it. The wrappers of the har gow and pork siu mai are perfectly cooked, tender and toothsome. The fillings are equally well executed. The shrimp and scallop dumplings are fresh, leaving none of the low-tide aftertaste some lesser establishments might offer.

A couple of instant favorites are the fried pork cheek dumplings (pictured in the first spread) with its succulent filling and drizzle of slightly sweet sauce, and the jade Peking duck dumpling, an idea which I’m upset I haven’t found until now. Both of these manage to find their way to my table during each visit. Do we have any bao fans? Blackbrick makes a mean steamed bbq pork char siu bao with that wonderfully sweet meat filling. A couple of these for breakfast would start any day off right.

Blackbrick spread 2

But Blackbrick isn’t simply a dumpling house. Looking for some comfort food, why not take a look at their selection of fantastic fried rice that will expand your opinion of what the dish can be. Not content to match your neighborhood Chinese take out joint, Chef Hales spikes his rice with things like rock shrimp, lobster tail and duck. Another exciting option pairs bacon with kim chi made by sister restaurant Sakaya Kitchen.

The Chinese brunch, once dominated by dim sum alone is now joined by a bevy of options including a breakfast fried rice of sausage, eggs and country potato, shrimp and grits made with cornmeal congee, bacon and a poached egg, and my personal favorite Chinese fried chicken and fortune cookie waffle with a scallion, ginger maple syrup. Don’t forget the salt and pepper tots! Here they’re prepared simply with peppers and onion, achieving a level of spice that gets your brow moist but keeps you coming back for more.

My favorite dish however, might be Blackbrick’s take on Dandan Mian, a Sichuan dish usually consisting of a spicy, chili oil tinged sauce, minced pork and scallions. Here it resembles a Chinese version of ragu alla bolognese. This is one of those dishes I could eat for the rest of my life and be a happy man. Chef Hales chose bucatini, a stout noodle that can stand up to the mountain of fiery pork and scallions.

Blackbrick spread

After a half-dozen visits to Blackbrick, it’s solidified itself in my pantheon of go-to Miami restaurants. Over the past few years, the food scene in there has grown by leaps and bounds, leaving behind the tired, stodgy cuisine of the late 1990s and early 2000’s in favor of a vibrant blend of traditional fare, executed well and bold new creations destined to become classics. Blackbrick is indicative of this trend and stands among the leaders of great dining establishments in South Florida.

Click to add a blog post for Black Brick Chinese & Dim Sum on Zomato

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

Recently at the market, I spotted a large basket of eggplants in various shapes and colors. Their fate was not clear to me at the time, but something in the back of my mind was encouraging a Northern Chinese approach.

I’ve seen this dish many times in magazines and on cooking shows, yet never thought to do it myself. Hindsight being what it is, I realize now that it’s because of the remarkable ease of preparation, not to mention its natural photogenic quality. With so many angles, shadows and sauce filled crevices, I ended up with a gorgeous plate of food. It was mainly complimented by the wonderful quality of light on my mom’s porch as dusk hits.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

While this may seem like a lowly side dish, it’s far from a throwaway recipe, if for no other reason than its versatility. Use this sauce on beef, poultry or a firm white fish. Pretty much any vegetable with sturdy flesh could be substituted as well. Think about all the times you’ve thought to yourself, ” we have no food”, but you did. Don’t say that, because you did. You failed to notice the brown paper bag filled with zucchini and squash in the back of the crisper.

Beef & Broccoli

I made this along with a hunk of organic, grass-fed top sirloin cut into narrow strips and seared in a cast iron pan with a lot of brown butter. With that I scorched a half head of broccoli cut into florets and then sliced in half to create a flat surface needed for proper coloration. Make sure not to waste the stalks. If you cut them thin they will be tender and will look like miniature green versions of that 70’s style clock cut from a Cypress tree stump, your weird uncle has mounted in his house boats sleeping quarters. Be careful never to overcook broccoli. Use a very hot pan and flash sauté those guys with a big nob of butter at the beginning and end! The marriage of these two items resulted in a southerners rendition of Beef & Broccoli.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

  • About 1 1/2 lbs eggplant (Japanese preferably)
  • 1/2 cup prepared Hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp. sesame oil
  • A couple shakes of Five Spice Powder
  • Canola Oil
  • Salt

Pre-Heat Oven to 400.

With a paring knife, slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/3-1/2″ thick planks and score them on the flesh side to make a diamond pattern. Coat with a thin layer of canola oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt. Lay slices skin side down on a baking sheet. Combine Hoisin, Tamari, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and five spice in a small bowl, then brush it evenly over the eggplant.

Roast for 15- 20 minutes, or until they have caramelized, building a dark Mahogany color around the edges.

Shanghai Dumpling King – San Francisco, CA

I once took a Sociology class in school. I always felt that you could teach an entire course on the sociology of food, specifically how it affects migration and settlement. The topic has come up between Logan and I many times, what causes certain cultures, and by extension, their cuisines to settle down in this city or that? The answer is probably more involved than I’d like to get in this piece, but the impetus behind that question is usually a complaint about the lack of some food stuff in our area.

Take dumplings for instance. In every major city, you’re likely to find a Chinatown or Koreatown where the choices of dim sum establishment, or mandoo bar are nearly endless. Here in Florida, you have to put forth a good amount of effort to find a place that serves house made dumplings, and even then the pickings are slim (albeit delicious).

San Francisco is one of those blessed cities that doesn’t have this problem. The town is so packed full of dumplings you could nickname it Po. Throw a dart at a map and you’re likely to land on something delicious. However if you’re aiming for the typical neighborhoods, you might miss out on a gem, Shanghai Dumpling King. Two blocks north of Golden Gate park on Balboa St., is a small satellite grouping of Asian cuisine, a pho shop here, a sushi bar there, a Chinese bakery across the street.

Shanghai Dumpling King exterior

I have to give all the credit to my good friend Matt Covall, who kindly took me and Logan by the hand, and guided us to this dream world of dumplings. Soup dumplings have been on my checklist of things to try for a while now, sadly, as far as I know, you can’t get them in Florida. Shanghai Dumpling King, I was told, is the place to go if you want soup dumplings. If you’re a seasoned food detective, you’ll know from one look at the storefront that this place is special. It’s not the sign, not the location, not the reviews, but the crowd that should guide you in your hunt.

Every table was full and there was a small group waiting for their turn. After a long day filled with eating, I was more than willing to wait for the Chinese cherry on our snacking sundae. Almost as soon as we were seated, our order began to take shape, however we were quickly schooled by our waiter who vetoed some choices and strongly suggested others. In reality he just told us what we were getting, assuring us with a brisk wave of his hand that he knew better, and who were we to argue! We began with an order of Lion Head meatballs braised in soy, so tender and packed with Chinese aromatics even Italian grannies would swoon with approval. Pea sprouts in garlic sauce brought a little green into our decidedly beige feast, and they were delicious. Slightly bitter but crisp and fresh with a pungent garlic gloss that won me over. The green onion pancakes were as you’d expect, savory and flavorful. A very simple dish executed well.

Shanghai Dumpling King starters

A pile of plump, pan-fried, pork potstickers were presented promptly. These were a treat, succulent pork with hints of ginger and garlic were wrapped in a flavorful skin that gently tinged the meat with sweetness. A vinegar spiked dipping sauce kept things from getting too salty on the palate.

Shanghai Dumpling King - Pan-fried Pork Dumpling

The next dish kept the pork theme running but this time with a spicy twist. This set of dumplings waded in a bagna calda of chili and sesame oils with soy. A very specific itch was scratched by juicy little morsels, that tangy and fiery aroma that gets pulled into your nose through your mouth is addicting.

Spicy chive & pork dumplings

Ah the thing we’ve all been waiting for, the magic that is the soup dumpling! Often times dishes long yearned for lose their luster when the reality doesn’t match the hype. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here. They had a gelatinous characteristic to them that allowed a gentle jiggle as our waiter laid them before us. Take note here as there’s a certain technique to eating these that will hopefully save you from any juicy mishaps. Use a spoon, not your chopsticks. Remember, you’re delivering about a tablespoon of scalding soup, just above your privates to your mouth with nothing but a fragile membrane to hold everything together, the slightest nick can spell disaster. As you bring it to your lips, give the outside a small nibble and sip a bit of that delicious broth, savor the flavor before you lay siege to your taste buds with pork fat and spices. The hype did nothing to diminish my virgin soup dumpling experience, they offer a truly unique sensation to even the most traveled food lover. Shanghai Dumpling King lived up to its name and then some, bestowing a second order of the porcine liquid bombs to our table.

Shanghai Steamed Dumpling

If Logan were here to write this, he’d probably be able to decode the spice mixture and process necessary to create these beauties (maybe I’ll see if he can take a stab at creating Eat a Duck’s own take on this masterpiece), however I’m just a lowly dumpling lover that can only share when I know I’ve found something special. If you’re in The City you’ll likely find yourself flush with spots to find a good dumpling, but trust me here, take a detour out to west Balboa St., visit Shanghai Dumpling King and be happy.

Shanghai Dumpling King on Urbanspoon

Anise Global Gastrobar – Tampa, FL

It’s hard to imagine a logical person asking for anything better than those little puffy globular fatty pork filled clam shells known as bao. The Stinky Bunz food truck goes above and beyond when it comes to serving the wonderfully steamy, lovingly handcrafted pockets of goodness. With a sparkle in my eye glimmering brighter than the David Yurman summer collection, I tried my first bao at the aforementioned Stinky Bunz, at the first sanctioned monthly food truck rally in my sleepy city. The next time around I eagerly anticipated giving the bao my full attention. Sadly, they didn’t come back. I found out that the truck had taken an indefinite hiatus. It was then that sadness gnawed at my heart as my soul was swallowed up in a baoless void. My body violently seized function as a tempestuous sorrow knocked me down to my knees, much like Eu·ro·aq′ui·lo, the great storm of biblical proportions.

Stinky Bunz Truck

What more could I do than wait things out? I wrote down my vitals on my arm as one does in times of natural disaster. Name, address, favorite taqueria. You know, the essentials.

Flash forward to the near present. a good friend of mine kindly requested my help finding a venue for her brother and sister in-laws anniversary dinner.

The prerequisites were the following:

  • great menu both in the food and drink department
  • a place that adults could go for a night away from the kids, as well as a place that doesn’t make you want to leave after an hour
  • and the most challenging of all,  to find a place no one had ever been to, as the Central Florida area has been quiet in the new restaurant department.

I began doing the research and was coming up empty. The seemingly insurmountable task almost had me down for the count, until I saw it, “Coming soon, Anise Global Gastrobar”. I saw those words in a post online and had to check it out. I admit, the name is a mouthful but it appeared, based on name alone, that this place might meet my needs, wants and Bacchanalian desires.

Anise Logo & Interior

Scrolling. Menu. Click. Full Dining. Click. Scrolling. “Stinky Bunz”. That read with an eerie familiarity. Kind of like that one place I used to know. Was I in the food version of the epic blockbuster “The Number 23”? Through hungry, squinting eyes, I read “inspired by our food truck”. I picked up the phone, dialed up my friend, gave her the details and a grand party was had. (Editors Note: I wasn’t even invited to the party that I basically birthed.)

Then it was my turn. Little time had passed before my wife and I were once again looking for the perfect place for a dinner date. Anise was the first place that came to mind. My wife usually likes eating on the lighter side, but sometimes, when the planets align, she craves food of the deep-fried persuasion. As I read the entire menu with the grace and style of Eric Carmen, she began to swoon at some of the items. Truffled tater tots, duck confit lettuce wraps, baked goat cheese, and of course the trademarked Stinky Bunz.

We actually started the meal with the tots. There’s something about the molecular makeup of a tater tot that science cannot explain. Don’t you ever compare them with french fries, dont do it. When you pair the Picasso-like structure of perfectly crisp tots, combined with a liberal shower of truffle essence, then provide a lemony aioli as my paint for this canvas, the results are like art in a basket. The tots got the ol’ supershot basketball treatment. It was a race to see how many we could devour in 60 seconds. I scored a swisheroo for two while the wife earned a free play.

Truffled Tater Tots

I chose the duck confit lettuce wraps as my first true solo endeavor as she went with a steaming bowl of Korean Jap Chae. The lettuce wraps were a great way to start the Asian portion of the meal. The shredded duck cooked in its own fat and slathered with hoisin inside the lettuce wraps, included fresh herbs, pickled daikon and lots of sliced raw jalapeno. I welcome heat when it’s balanced, which this was. Mainly due in part to the bright citrus dressing that played as the sauce. It not only cut the heat but also served to cut the richness of from the confit de canard.

Duck Confit Lettuce Wraps & Korean Jap Chae

Shortly after pulling the curtain on the last wrap, my wife’s Jap Chae arrived. So, you can get this stuff completely vegetarian or with chicken or whatever and it will be just fine. But, my suggestion is to go for gold and get it with a couple hunky slices of grilled beef tenderloin cooked rare, like purple rare. The flavor profile for this somewhat simple dish is vast. I can’t accurately describe the fireworks display exploding in my wife’s brain as she devoured the noodle bowl. What I can say without pause that she has become a Jap Chae hound ever since, seeking and destroying all possible opposition in her path. I’ve never seen such dedication.

The bunz arrived. Three to an order and all with different fillings. I always eat in a way that rewards potential. Meaning, the dish that sounds the best to me, if I have the choice, will always be the last consumed. It was a fitting conclusion as the stinky bunz made it to the table far later than all the others. The first one grabbed was the Chinese BBQ pork shoulder with radish. I could tell right away this was the same style as I had many months ago at the food truck rally. Sweet, sticky and rich, similar to the flavors of the duck I enjoyed earlier. I’m glad I got that out of the way. More pork in the form of the belly was my second attempt in my Tour de Bao. Again, similar flavors with a few differing characteristics. The fatty pork did well to compliment all the freshness that surrounded it. With the addition of a slab of wonderful kimchi, it became clear how well the food was seasoned. I wanted no more than what was presented to me, but I had one Bun to go.

Stinky Bunz

Finally, with a heave and a hurl I grabbed the last parcel, catapulting it toward my face. I closed my eyes and quietly began singing in my head “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside. I look at you and I fantasize. You’re mine tonight. Now I’ve got you in my sights…With these hungry eyes.” Crispy red curried chicken with a gargantuan cucumber slice, drenched in this bright white creamy coconut yogurt sauce was the last bite I would have. Fittingly it was the best. I could venture a guess at which 5-10 ethnic regions this one bite originated from, but I prefer to enjoy the mystery. The global part of Anise is the most telling. The food isn’t based on Chinese or Korean or Indian or even Taiwanese. They take a little piece of this and extract out a small sampling of that , making something tasty and worldly. You need to try this place. If for no other reason than to hear my voice serenading you with every bite you take.

Hakkasan – Miami Beach, FL

I don’t know what’s going on at the Fontainebleau hotel, but I like it. Whoever is in charge of food, drink and hospitality deserves a raise, if they aren’t already being paid handsomely. First Scarpetta delivers an eye-opening Italian spread, and now Hakkasan, their in-house purveyor of traditional Chinese cuisine, knocks it out of the park. Two for two ain’t bad folks.

hakkasan-logo1

When comparing high-end Chinese eateries, I use Mr. Chow as a measuring stick. Both New York locations, as well as the one in the W on Miami Beach, are outstanding. The Hakkasan brand has long been known as a heavy hitter in the Chinese ring, both London outposts have earned Michelin stars. Naturally my expectations for Florida’s own Hakkasan were high. I’ll spare you the suspense, my expectations were met and then exceeded, not only by the food, which was outstanding, but the decor, ambiance and especially the impeccable service. I felt like Don Draper in my favorite New York hangout minus the smoke and infidelity.

But this is Eat a Duck, and unlike my esteemed colleague who is unmatched when it comes to spinning an intriguing pre-review yarn, I’m an anti-Lorax, I’ll let the food speak for itself. At first glance, the menu looks to be in lock step with tradition, until you notice some luxurious interlopers. Sure the typical standbys are here, Peking and roast duck, dumplings etc., only at Hakkasan they pair these items with Petrossian caviar, foie gras and black truffles. Some might say those ingredients are cliché, a simple gimmick to lure dummies with too many greenbacks. I assure you, there are no gimmicks here, the crew at Hakkasan wields their flavors with care and respect. Not once did the gourmet additions take away from the traditional soul of the dish, on the contrary, they only served to enhance it.

We began with an order of duck rolls and foie gras Shanghai dumplings. Neither looked particularly fancy, which was a good sign, the chefs didn’t feel the need to impress with flash, they let the flavors do all the work. The duck rolls were moist and tender, with flecks of green onion interspersed among the fowl. Fried to a crunchy perfection, the wrappers picked up globs of tangy hoisin, delivering a satisfying crunch before your teeth hit the meat. It was basically fried Peking duck to go. Somebody open a drive-thru where I can pick these up after a night of heavy drinking!

Foie gras dumplings & duck rollsAs I said before, the foie gras only enhanced the already silky flavor of the dumplings. There was just enough foie to feel it on the tongue and detect its buttery flavor. It added a whole other dimension to an otherwise ordinary, though incredibly delicious dumpling.

Scintillating conversation made the time between courses fly by, and soon our entrées had arrived. Spicy assam prawns in a baby coconut had almost a Polynesian look to it. The broth was savory with a glowing heat that lingered on your lips. Little doughy puffs allowed the ever satisfying dunk, soak and slurp ritual that begged to be performed. The stir-fried Chilean sea bass was out of control. We’ve never really discussed the black cod miso from Nobu in any detail, (which must mean it’s time to visit again) but this dish was like having a bowl filled with it. Each slab of fish flaked away to reveal pearly flesh, sweet as could be. They were lightly tossed in a sanpei sauce, a mixture of soy, rice wine and black sesame oil that gave the fish an attractive sheen without crossing the line to gloppy syrup you find at most Chinese joints.

Hakkasan Miami spread

A handsome plate of hand pulled noodles tossed with wild mushrooms and a whole other side order of mushrooms arrived to the exclamation, “mushroom party!”. I’m a sucker for a good plate of noodles, and this was a great plate of noodles. The medley of mushrooms made this a most comforting dish, something I’d love to eat when it’s cold outside and I’m feeling a little sniffly. The main event for me though, was the black truffle roasted duck. Have you ever heard of a more appetizing dish? I can just hear the chefs who thought this up, “roast duck, how can we make it better?…”, a rookie line cook raises his hand and mumbles “…truffles?”. Yeah that’s how it happened. It was genius. The broth gave off an aroma so full of truffle essence that they could charge for that alone. Thankfully they actually include the food as well. As with each dish before, the duck was cooked perfectly, crispy skin glazed with five spice and truffle, tender meat luxuriating in the broth, and if that wasn’t enough, large slices of fresh black truffle on top.

Black Truffle Roasted Duck

Dessert is not a course usually enjoyed at many Chinese restaurants I’ve visited. But I just couldn’t pass it up, seeing how fantastic the meal had been up to this point. Lately I’ve been distancing myself from chocolate options as more refreshing and tropical items lure me with their siren song. Tonight it was a mango custard with grapefruit, calamansi and coconut sorbet. It was bright and tangy and hit you right in the back of your jaw. The tiny globs of concentrated mango added shiny bursts of flavor that were gently mellowed by the sorbet. I believe the calamansi was nitro frozen and sprinkled like bacon bits. The grapefruit slices added a welcome bitter note, without overpowering the natural sweetness of the mango.

Mango Custard with Grapefruit Calamansi and Coconut Sorbet

Meals like this are rare, where every dish is a winner and no complaints. I may sound like a brown noser (it’s only hoisin don’t worry) but sometimes restaurants just get it right. The Miami branch of Hakkasan may not have a Michelin star of its own, but that doesn’t take away from the amazing cuisine they’re producing nightly. I’m looking forward to returning soon to sample their dim sum service that they offer at lunchtime on the weekends. Lord knows Miami is in dire need of it. Until next time!

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Tako Cheena – Orlando, FL

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”.

photo: www.amplifiedculture.com

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.

Takos:

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.

Asian Dogs:

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.

 

Tako Cheena by Pom Pom on Urbanspoon

La Maison Kam Fung – Montreal, QC

Dim sum has been something of a mainstay topic here at Eat a Duck. We’ve discussed Ming’s Bistro countless times, but Logan and I are always in search of the next big thing, not content to believe that we’ve found the best. This persistent searching brought the discovery of a wonderful dim sum house nestled deep in the bowels of a nondescript shopping center in downtown Montreal. La Maison Kam Fung, located at 1111 Saint Urbain Street, Montreal, QC, has captured the look, feel and most importantly, taste, of some of the best dim sum houses in Hong Kong. At least as closely as you can get on the opposite side of the planet.

Welcome sign to La Maison Kam Fung

If you happen to find yourself anywhere inside a 60 mile radius of Montreal, I suggest you take the day and visit this place. As you cross the threshold of the indoor Chinatown mall, you’re immediately greeted by a Chinese pastry shop on one side and a roast pork and duck joint on the other, you’re on the right track. After a short trip up the escalator, you begin to hear the muffled roar of hungry dim sum patrons and the circus hawker like voice over the P.A. announcing a newly vacant table. The turnaround at this place is staggering. You weave your way through the crowd of people until you arrive at the maitre’d podium, over her shoulder you can see the steaming carts of succulent dumplings zipping in and out of the crowded dining room. No words are exchanged except a short “15 minutes!”. She hands you a small piece of paper with a number, you promptly find your place among the masses and wait. Sure enough, after 15 minutes your number is called and you’re whisked away to your table, already cleaned, dressed with new linen, glassware, napkins and chopsticks.

The fun begins immediately. Most likely a cart will already be passing your table, offering two or three choices of steamed or fried deliciousness. The food is on the table and the cart is gone before you’ve taken your jacket off. Why can’t all restaurants have this kind of service?! As with any respectable dim sum establishment, the best time to visit is around 11:30-1:00 on Sunday. This is when you can be certain to find all your favorites and more at the peak of freshness. The insanely quick turnover means that nothing is sitting on racks in the back getting soggy and stale, they steam and fry and send the food out at a such a frenzied pace that the time between cooking and eating is a matter of seconds. The staples are always available, Siu Mai, Ha Gao, Char Siu Bao, Taro, Bok Choy with hoisin. If you don’t see the cart carrying what you’re looking for, just ask and they’ll either run in the back or find the cart that has it and bring it back to you. My favorite, Cheong Fun, has a cart all to itself, with three variations, pork, BBQ beef and shrimp.

La Maison Kam Fung dim sum 

The best part about Kam Fung is the unexpected dishes, the things you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. Shrimp balls wrapped in bacon with a mayo dipping sauce, shrimp and green onion patties tucked between two rice noodles with a side of hoisin, Szechuan peel n’ eat shrimp and more. There are literally so many items it would take many trips to sample them all.

Fried crab balls and Szechuan shrimp

Hong Kong, San Francisco, New York, London, all places with a fine track record of awesome dim sum. Well now we can add Montreal to the list, as La Maison Kam Fung is a must-visit eatery if you find yourself there. Just goes to show, when you think you’ve found “the best place ever”, make sure to keep searching, you’ll be glad you did.

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