Wednesday, May 02, 2012
A Trip to Portland Part I: Boke Bowl
This is the first entry in my three-part installment about a field trip to Portland, OR. I hope you enjoy. Fuckfaces.
On a recent trip to Portland, I discovered that there are TOO MANY utterly delicious dining options in the Rose City. As a result, we were having trouble deciding where to eat. But there’s one restaurant in Portland at which attendance, for me at least, is mandatory: Boke Bowl. Boke Bowl is the brainchild of one of my favorite motherfuckers: Patrick Fleming, author of the hilariously lowbrow blog Culinary Addict.
In Culinary Addict, Patrick juxtaposes scenes from his sordid past as a full-on junkie with insights he’s gained during his recovery and subsequent career as a successful executive chef. Patrick’s writing somehow manages to be simultaneously insightful AND stomach turning, like one of those old “Nova” episodes where they put a fiber optic camera inside a guy’s dick so everyone can watch him jizz from the inside. You may think my simile trashy and inaccurate, but it’s actually quite apt: Patrick’s convoluted and juicy life experiences are the urethra of his soul, his inspiring battle to overcome drug addiction and alcoholism is his heart’s jizz, his pen the miniature camera which captures his literary orgasm as he shoots it all over your mom’s tits… I mean the internet. In much the same way that Coca-Cola is so popular in the south that people call any soft drink a Coke, your mom’s tits are so frequently seen on the internet that the two are basically synonymous.
Along with his business partners Brannon Riceci and Tim Parsons, Patrick launched Boke Bowl first (as fledgling restaurateurs are wont to do these days) as a pop-up. Boke Bowl: the Pop Up was hosted in various venues all over Portland to great acclaim and sold-out engagements. Late last year they opened a permanent location, and Boke Bowl instantly became the darling of people who care about things.
We started with the warm brussels sprout salad ($9). Roasted brussels sprouts were tossed with slippery cubes of fresh mango, roasted cauliflower, and smoked tofu. This was super fucking delicious. The sprouts were perfectly cooked: tender inside, caramelized outside. Sometimes there were crisp outer leaves still attached here and there, crunchy and brown and with a texture like your tongue leaping into a pile of freshly raked leaves on a crisp fall afternoon. The cauliflower was stained a pleasing mahogany color by having been either marinated, or roasted, or smoked, but probably all three. The tofu, too, was more delicious than this often-maligned ingredient (maligned by me, anyway) had any right to be: at Boke Bowl they treat tofu like pork, first marinated for days in a brine of salt, sugar, star anise, juniper, and bay leaves, then smoked.
Pork belly steam buns were okay. For $7 we got 3 gua bao, in which luscious rectangles of melty pork belly were nestled inside soft mitts of cloudy rice dough, along with some pickles, and a sprinkling of chopped scallion. This was a pretty standard if uninspired version of Taiwan’s most famous export besides electronic components, metals, plastic components, optical instruments, chemicals, and textiles. I hate to admit it but the tofu in the Brussels sprout salad was actually tastier, with a more nuanced flavor, than the pork belly. What the…? Tofu that tastes better than pork? Did you hear that noise? The universe just imploded!
Pork dashi ramen ($9) This isn’t like ramen you eat in college: a big swirly pile of house made ramen noodles, soft and slippery and starchy in the way that only hand made fresh pasta can be, swam around in an opaque pool of dark brown broth, with heavily muscled shreds of juicy roasted pork, water chestnuts and some braised greens, and topped with scattered emerald bracelets of sliced scallion. This broth is complex like a calculus word problem: not too salty, but very savory, with hints of smoke. That having been said, I would hope that this luxe noodle bowl would be tastier than what you can purchase at Costco, considering it costs 4500% more than one of those typical wavy bone-white rectangles of Top Ramen. But it’s totally worth the price.
Fried pears ($2.50) were so delicious, they boggled my tongue. I don’t know exactly how long they fried these pears for, but the fruit had been rendered down into sweet leathery quarters, the sugars concentrated into a crystalline caramel shellac, then doused in a garlicky sesame vinegar. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be a dessert or not, but it doesn’t even matter: I’d eat these fucking fried pears for every meal if I could. What they tasted the most like was an Oompa Loompa’s dried ear, taken as a macabre souvenir by GI’s if, and when, we finally go to war with those candy-making bastards who cause Americans to be morbidly obese.
A chocolate coconut-cream Twinkie ($2) reminded me too much of an Almond Joy for comfort. A big sloppy schlong of chocolate pastry was filled with coconut cream, topped with slivers of candied almond and a couple stripes of chocolate ganache. Nobody likes Almond Joy: in a mixed bowl of leftover Halloween Candy, it’s always the last thing left, rattling around in the bowl with Sour Apple Jolly Ranchers and a Bit O’ Honey that had somehow become unwrapped and now has a piece of dog hair stuck to it. Eventually someone eats the furry Bit O’ Honey.
Luckily the vanilla miso Twinkie ($1.50) did the Twinkie name proud. I don’t know how Boke Bowls keeps getting away with actually calling these things “Twinkies,” since I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Hostess slaps them with a cease-and-desist, but this Twinkie, unlike the chocolate-coconut one, was tastier than actual Twinkies: the dough was light, and not cloyingly sweet. The vanilla miso filling tasted like a mildly salty crème anglaise, but it was a perfect counterpoint to the pastry.
The desserts at Boke Bowl are fine, but if I were eating there and wanted something else to eat after I was done ordering, I would get a side ($3) of this motherfucking fried chicken. It was so tender you could eat it with a SPOON, and we did, since they didn’t give us a knife or fork, and the pieces were too big to pick up with chopsticks. The crust was shaggy and brown like a 1970’s carpet. The meat was salty, with a little spice, as juicy as fuck, and topped with a smear of “orange dot sauce,” which is a sweet-and-sour mélange of pickled mustard seeds and pickled cucumber suspended in a hazy aoli. I don’t know exactly how they make this fried chicken but I suspect it’s the kind of thing that takes at least 2 days to prepare.
Boke Bowl is awesome. Not everything is perfect: the concept is blatantly Momofuku-esque, and during the lunch rush this place can seem like a yuppie cafeteria, but those are minor complaints. They clearly use very high-quality ingredients, the prices are affordable, and all of the food seems to be handcrafted with painstaking care. Boke Bowl is a vital and cutting-edge addition to an already legendary food scene, and no trip to Portland would be complete without some of Boke Bowl’s fried chicken, which is so mind-bendingly delicious, I had to give it a separate rating! This chicken fundamentally changes your consciousness in exactly the same way your brain would warp if you saw a midget taking a shit.
Rating: 8.5 bowls out of 10
Fried Chicken: 10 midgets out of 10
Boke Bowl is located at 1028 SE Water Ave in Portland, OR
For inquiries (they don’t take reservations) call 503-719-5698