March 3rd, 2019

Time to Re-Think Chinese Food

Posted in Food Trends, Restaurants

It’s a New Era for Chinese Food

And it’s really stepping its game up

Chinese Food

For a long time, we in the states have associated Chinese food with the overly sweet, oily, and often deep-fried mess that comes from local restaurants. You know the types, they often throw the words “Jade,” “Garden,” or “Dragon” in their name to feign authenticity.

Luckily, times are changing. With the increase in culinary exploration currently happening, we’re seeing a re-birth of truly delicious Chinese restaurants. These purveyors reach back to the traditions of Cantonese and Sichuan cooking, using locally available ingredients and complementing them with savory sauces, spicy rubs, and umami rich glazes.

So let’s spotlight 3 restaurants changing what we think Chinese food should be.

Chinese Food in a New Light

Hop Alley – Denver, CO

Chef Tommy Lee, a Denver native, ventured into his second restaurant business with Hop Alley. His first spot, Uncle, is a well-renown noodle and Ramen bar in Denver.

With Hop Alley, however, he went from focusing on a single item (noodles), to developing a delicious and diverse menu of classic Chinese dishes with modern twists. The menu is especially conscious of using local products. The Cumin Lamb made with Colorado lamb ribs exemplifies this.

Modern Chinese Food

Photo Courtesy of Westword.com

The Char Siu (Chinese BBQ) Pork Shoulder and Sichuan Potatoes with fermented black bean sauce convey the traditional spirit of Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. The main 2 regions we unwittingly reference when we speak of Chinese food. But more importantly, they do so without dumbing down the quality and complexity of what makes these foods special.

Duck Duck Goat – Chicago, IL

Bravo’s Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard has certainly made the most of her post-television life. Opened in 2016, Duck Duck Goat is Chef Izard’s 3rd restaurant, and personally, my favorite. DDG combines just the right blend of tradition, modern technique, and whimsy on the menu making it an unforgettable experience.

New Chinese Food

Picture courtesy of Chicagomag.com

The Char Siu Bao (there’s that Char Siu popping up again) are perfectly savory and chewy, acting as a terrific appetite warm up. Her menu further walks the tight rope of tradition with items like Wood-Fired Chicken Hearts with a sesame horseradish sauce, Sichuan Eggplant with goat sausage, and a fit-for-a-king whole Peking Duck with mandarin pancakes and an assortment of sweet, salty, and spicy Chinese sauces.

If DDG is not on your short list of Chicago restaurants, it definitely needs to be.

Wu Chow – Austin, TX

Everyone knows Austin is a culinary beacon for delicious Texas style BBQ. But what many folks outside this one-of-a-kind city don’t know is that it’s also a mecca for amazing Asian cuisine. Tyson Cole’s Uchi, Otoko from Chef Yoshi Okai, Thai Kun from Chef Paul Qui, and the plethora of Tatsu-Ya restaurants exemplify the breadth of delicious Asian cuisine in the city.

But not to be forgotten is the stand out hot spot of downtown Austin, Wu Chow. Executive Chef Ji Peng Chen brings a remarkably unique and delicious menu to life, highlighting familiar Chinese favorites and unknown oddities side by side in a winning tableau.

Chinese Food

Image Courtesy of atasteofkoko.com

The traditional soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao), made with pork shoulder and concentrated pork broth are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Plus, it’s nice to get a little walk-through of the proper soup-dumpling procedure before you eat (dip in vinegar, place on spoon, bite a hole and suck out some soup, then eat the rest in one bite). For a nod to Texas, Chef Chen offers Wok-Tossed Texas Okra. Similar in preparation to dry fried green beans, the okra is made with ginger, Thai chili peppers, and a delicious seasoning mix. This is by far one of my favorite dishes.

For more abstract but delicious items try the Seafood Bird’s Nest, the hot and spicy Striped Bass, or the Chicken and Taro Egg Rolls. Really, you can’t go wrong.

Xièxiè

Thanks for reading along. I hope this article motivates you to go try out some new and unique Chinese food in your local area. If you know of any restaurants doing something special, be sure to let us know in the comments.

Cheers!

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December 12th, 2016

Food Trends Series: Hawaiian Cuisine

Posted in Food Trends, Hawaii, New Foods and Flavors, Restaurants, Reviews, Trends

Hawaiian Food Trends

Hawaiian food trends

When you think of Hawaiian cuisine, images of roasted pork and, most importantly, Spam are likely what your brain conjures. Though these two staples are indeed important, they are not the end all be all of a culture rich in food tradition. Though more prominent on the West coast of the US, dishes and flavor profiles from Hawaiian cuisine are making their way across the mainland.

Poke, a dish that until recently was widely unknown throughout the continental United States, has seen a surge in popularity over the past year. A simple dish, traditionally made of white rice topped with diced raw tuna, green onions, chili, sesame, soy sauce and furikake, poke is a massive reason for the interest in Hawaiian flavors. Poke is simply part of living in Hawaii. Available in every grocery store and with entire restaurants dedicated to making it, poke is a staple. With poke eateries popping up heavily in both New York and Los Angeles, it is no surprise that we are seeing Hawaiian restaurants appear in major cities across the US.

Certified Research Chef

Liholiho Picture Courtesy of Eater San Francisco

Hawaiian and Hawaiian-inspired restaurants run the gamut from fast casual to fine dining. Concepts such as Pokeworks on the west coast utilize a similar setup as Chipotle, allowing customers to choose the toppings and sauces to accent their fresh fish. Higher end restaurants such as Liholiho Yacht Club in San Francisco take Hawaiian cuisine to a new level.

Like most major cities, Denver has seen a growth in Hawaiian restaurants in the past year. Though there has been a L&L BBQ (a Hawaiian based fast casual restaurant) located in Aurora since 2004, there has been little competition until recently. Most notably, the newly renovated Adrift Tiki Bar off Broadway St. and Ohana Island Kitchen in the Highlands.

Adrift Tiki Bar

Research chef Denver

Picture Courtesy of Westword

Adrift has taken on an enhanced menu of traditional island flavors blended with American fare whilst still producing delicious tiki drinks and bowls.

Kilauea Poke – Ahi, Albacore, Mango, Wakami, Taro Chips

Chef consultants Denver

A beautiful take on a simple dish, this poke is slightly sweet and spicy with a good depth of fresh fish flavor from the different tunas. The taro chips were very crunchy and a great addition to the tuna.

Green Papaya Salad – Jicama, Asian Pear, Peanuts, Lotus, Tamarind, Sriracha, Chicken

Chef consultants Colorado

A wonderfully balanced salad. Slightly acidic green papaya paired with sweet Asian pear and rounded out with spicy sriracha. This salad shows island flavors with the plenty of Asian flair.

Pupu Platter – Pele Wings (gochujang glazed), Guava BBQ Ribs, Onion Rings, Kalua Pork Sliders, Mofongo Chips, Edamame

Chef consultants Texas

A Hawaiian take on an Asian classic, this pupu platter allows you to try the majority of the menu offered at Adrift:

  • Pele wings are glazed with Adrift’s take on the now extremely popular gochujang sauce, slightly spicy and sweet with the addicting flavor of fermented chilies.
  • Kalua pork, no Hawaiian restaurant would be respected without it. The sliders were good but felt unnecessary, the pork could stand on its own without the addition of the bread and excess lettuce.
  • Guava BBQ ribs added another variety of pork to the platter; very tender with a fruity and sweet glaze.

Ohana Island Kitchen

Hawaiian food trends

Once literally a hole in a wall, but now a full restaurant across the street from their original location, Ohana keeps their menu wonderfully simple and true to Hawaii. With only 4-5 main menu items, Ohana is able to serve exemplary food at a reasonable cost.

Spam Musubi

Chef consultant services

Seared spam with a sweet soy glaze, wrapped in sushi rice and nori; probably the simplest Hawaiian dish and one of the most delicious. Though not seemingly exciting, especially for those adverse to the Spam name, Spam musubi is a must at Ohana.

Poke

Culinary consultants

 

THIS IS POKE! Large chunks of fresh tuna lightly seasoned with soy, sesame, and chilies is all you need. Ohana does poke as it should be and being in a land locked state, it’s not easy to make it this good.

Kalua Pork Bento

Product development

As much as I love pork, I will admit that kalua pork is not my favorite. If made incorrectly, it can come out lacking flavor and tasting steamed. Ohana does a fantastic job of avoiding this by seasoning well with a light sauce and scallions. Served with seasoned white rice and house made pickles, this pork is hard to pass up.

Final Thoughts

Both Adrift and Ohana are great places to dine, each with their own charm. If you are looking for a few classic tiki drinks and some delicious bites, Adrift is the place for you. However, for the best Hawaiian food in town the answer is Ohana.

Though just a few examples, Hawaiian food influence can be seen across the country and is only continuing to grow. Island flavors are making their way into different culinary segments every day. With coconut milk added into the cheese process in KoKos gouda and passionfruit in a sour wit beer with Lilikoi Kepolo by Avery brewing, the possibilities are plenty. 2016 was definitely the breakout year for Hawaiian food and flavors and I doubt we will see them disappear anytime soon. With consumers continually seeking out new experiences trends like Hawaiian are going to continue to flourish in the future.

 

-Patrick

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