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PORK SNORKEL REPORT! We lived, but were not champions, Binh Minh Quan, Joaquin Deli, Church's etc. (LONG)
Ok, it has been a little bit, but I finally have the Pork Snorkel report ready to go. I will say that it was a great time, but poor stomach management meant that we did not really optimize the situation.
Here is the great thread where everyone chimed in about where we should go to get our pork, etc.: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/335699
So we started around noon. Our first error was that we wanted to establish a baseline of taste so we hit some place in the Mission (SF) and had some Pupusas. They were greasy, not very flavorful, and not agreeable. A bad start, and our first mistake. Then we picked up some donuts at a random place (neither here nor there) so these do not warrant a mention.
Picture of pupusas: http://www.flickr.com/photos/threebulls/287499817/
Hopped over the Bay Bridge and headed for Oakland Chinatown where Robert Lauriston (http://www.chowhound.com/users/show/11369) and Hunicsz (http://www.chowhound.com/users/show/17737) both suggested Binh Minh Quan.
Binh Minh Quan discussed here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/30513
Binh Minh Quan
338 12th Street (near Webster, but not on the corner
)Oakland (510) 893-8136
So we decided that (there were three of us) we would get two dishes, just to sample. BMQ has many of the grill-at-your-table/make-your-own-wraps-with-rice-paper dishes. We went with a special one of these that featured thinly sliced pieces of wild boar marinated with minced lemongrass and some sesame seeds, and a claypot with prok and ginger.
1) Wild boar wraps
I would say that the meat was not really marinated, but arranged with some sesame seeds and little piles of fresh, minced lemongrass. A portable propane/butane(?) grill was brought out to the table, fitted with a cast iron griddle, a big hunk of butter. A plate with all the fixings was brought along, these included: long slices of English cucumber, leaf lettuce, two kinds of mint, rau ram (a Vietnamese herb), pickled daikon and carrot, and bean sprouts. Dried rice paper wrappers were brought out and we softened them in a bowl of hot water. This is a standard Vietnamese dish, but I will describe why I thought this version was very good. Many times I have had a similar dish, and it is served with the usual, or at least in the US, an unexciting version of nuoc cham, the piquant dipping sauce featuring lime juice, sugar and fish sauce, and sometimes some chilis/chili sauce. At BMQ it comes with a tamarindy, fishy, shrimpy, fruity garlicky sauce. On its own it tastes boldly fishy, elusively tamarindy, almost pineappley and strongly garlicky, perhaps too much BUT when used to dip a nicely wrapped roll, it harmonized perfectly with the minty, spicy notes from the herbs in the roll, and everything seemed to fuse together. Really quite excellent. As for the wild boar, there were only the odd bites where the character of the meat came through as distinct from some other non-descript meat. I must caution that I don’t know if we cooked it too long or not enough. This dish was great, but it was actually quite a lot of food, and we ate every last morsel.
Boar on grill in lake of butter: http://www.flickr.com/photos/threebulls/287499829/
2) Pork in claypot with ginger
We ordered this knowing that they usually are not that large in portion size, but pack a lot of flavor. This dish features a meat simmered in a clay pot where a caramel sauce has been made by melting sugar to a browny caramel yummyness and then adding fish sauce and garlic. It can be made with catfish, sometimes the pork version has tofu, and not all versions have ginger, some are topped with freshly ground pepper. Our version had ginger, no garlic and was brought to the table still bubbling in the claypot. Sometimes the meat is deeply flavorful but still quite tender, other times it is almost like very soft jerky, a little drier. The latter is how this pork came out, but instead of being deeply fishy or cloyingly sweet, it was perfectly balanced between salty and sweet, with wonderfully soft bits of perfectly fried (but more like roasted) pieces of garlic, and soft, mellow strips of ginger. This is a dish that has a lot of possibly strong flavors melded and mellowed together. I can’t say everything was perfect with it, but I felt it tasted great, and of course we wasted more stomach space on sopping up every last drop of sauce with some steamed white rice.
BMQ is a nice restaurant, very clean, good atmosphere, and extensive menu. I will certainly be back.
So realizing we were fuller already that we’d planned on being we decided to take a walk around. The check at BMQ had come with some of those yummy coffee-flavored hard candies, and we had to have some more so we went to a market a couple of blocks over and got a bag, but not before we picked up some Banh mi at Cam Huong.
I already have a deep love affair with Cam Huong and Banh mi, discussed here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/334740
This say we just walked out of there with three, a grilled pork, a BBQ pork chop, and a BBQ bacon.
MW discusses the BBQ bacon here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/32760
We didn’t eat these right away, we packed ‘em up, and headed for Joaquin deli in San Leandro, not wanting to get stuck in East Bay traffic. On our way out of Oakland, we passed Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken. This was our second mistake. See, while researching all the delicious porky places for our trip, I had kind of got lost on Chowhoud and had becomed obsessed with fried chicken. And at this point the nature of the chicken didn’t matter, it just had to be something new and not KFC (and I like KFC just fine, but this is about expanding the palette). We didn’t stop. So we made our way to Joaquin Deli, formerly Vartran’s Flying Sausages. http://joaquindeli.com/
275 Joaquin, just off E. 14th
On a side street, just about into a residential neighborhood lies the delightful Joaquin deli. I have to say I didn’t even have time to scrutinize the deli case, we grabbed some menus and some sodas, ordered and sat outside (they have some tables on their porch and in the front as well as some inside I believe). It is a grate little lunch spot out of traffic and on a sunny day (as this day way) it was great. They have a distinctive selection of interesting eastern European beers in bottles as well as a nice selection of sodas in bottles, including coke from mexico in a glass bottle. We ordered three sandwiches, two or a pork nature, one of a beefier nature.
1) I got the “Magic BLT” with three kinds of bacon, house aioli, lettuce and tomato on ciabatta. I’m certain the ciabatta backlash has started, but theirs is soft and perfect and reminds you of why it is great for sandwiches. The bacons were all rich and mellow, and thus not necessarily distinct from each other. One was thinner cut and seemed fried, the other one or two were thicked cut and cooked in perhaps a more European style and very very fatty. This is not how I am used to my bacon, but I gave it a try, and since everything else about the sandwich was successful, it came across as rich, mellow and smoothly bacony buttery. I would say the flavors could have been stronger, but I think this is not what they were aiming for.
2) My friend got a roasted pork, garlic sausage, and saurkraut sandwich, also on ciabatta, I think it also had cucumber or pickles for some reason, and also had house aioli. When we got outside, it seemed that either the menu was wrong and there was not supposed to be a comma between pork and garlic, or that the sammie had no pork on it. Because of this, the sandwich was unbalanced, as the sauerkraut all went the middle and the sausage was on the outside (like porky parentheses). The sauerkraut was not too strong and was mellow, and the sausage was delicious, smoothly garlicky, without being harsh or dominant.
3) My other friend, the luckiest of the three, go a BBQ tri-tip sandwich. My experience with California style tri-tip is limited, only having had the “Fred’s steak” from Schuab’s Meat Market in the Stanford Shopping Center. And the prominent notes in that stuff are salt and then beef, in that order (works best on a sandwich). This sandwich had BBQ sauce on top, aioli on bottom, also on ciabatta. It had smokey, beefy notes that were accentuated by a saltiness, but not an overpowering one. The meat thinly sliced, not perfectly tender, but was not at all tough, it was more that it was exerting its presence in your mouth. I can’t tell you if this was good or bad or correct for tri-tip, but I can say that it was awesome.
Seeing how we were already one sandwich down, and thinking about our traffic issues, we decided to grab some fried chicken somewhere and get back to the Peninsula to catch one of the World Series games. My handy-dandy notes said there was a Church’s Fried Chicken not far from Joaquin (maybe two miles) so we hit that on the way back. I have had people swear by Church’s, although it is a chain, and had never been there, so this was a chance to cross it off the list of all places everywhere ever that I have not yet been to. We just got 10 pieces and a 6 pack of biscuits. This was our third mistake. I thought all their chicken was spicy, and the cashier did not ask if we wanted spicy or regular, she just gave us regular. I was quite surprised at how much their regular chicken tasted almost exactly like KFC extra crispy, some of the only differences were the cuts of the pieces, and the breasts were smaller. Don’t get me wrong, I would eat it again in a heartbeat, but that is conditioning, this is not chicken that would require an extra trip. The biscuits were interesting tasting, they were in between the fluffier ones at KFC and the crumblier, denser ones at Popeye’s. Instead of being intensely (overly so, in my mind) buttery like Popeye’s, they are sweetened with a little honey. Our other mistake was that I didn’t get any honey with the chicken (I like honey on my fried chicken, and interestingly Popeye’s honey is some of the most floral honey I have ever had, so I wanted to compare Church’s). Anyway, the car smells like porky Banh mi and fried chicken at this point and we put the baseball game on the radio as we cross the Dumbarton. And somehow we are full, even though I am eating chicken in the back seat.
And then we make our fourth mistake. We literally drive right by Back-A-yard. We thought we were full, not realizing that fried chicken gives you a second wind. This was very foolish. We get back to home base, demolish the fried chicken, but disappointingly so, watch some baseball, the St. Louisans (?) among us are happy, and then oddly, our appetites come back, and we polish off the Banh mi.
I watched the sandwich maker very closely this time and saw that they do give some of their sandwiches a splash of sauce, which I had not noticed before. I ended up with a half of a grilled pork chop and half of a grilled pork, having already had my full of overly fatty bacon. The pork chop was bigger pieces of pork than the grilled pork, and was less dominated by the marinade and had a slightly greater black pepper taste, although they were similar. As usual from Cam Huong, they were delicious. My friend who had the BBQ bacon said it was very, very smooth, and the bacon, while quite fatty was thinly sliced. He said it tasted similarly to the BLT we had at Joaquin, texture-wise.
Our final mistake is that we scuttled a taco run late night, thinking now with our clogged arteries and not our fat-addled stomachs.
Thanks to everyone that made our day great. We promise better stomach management next time!