Friday, September 30, 2011

Chairman Bao Creator Movin' On Uptown

Original Baohaus Location on Rivington Street
Well, not too far uptown.  New York restaurateur, gonzo blogger and Four Loko aficionado Eddie Huang revealed today that he would be closing his original Baohaus location at 137 Rivington Street and moving operations about a mile uptown to 238 East 14th Street where a second Baohaus location has just undergone a successful shakedown period.  The original Baohaus grabbed New York by the, er, buns in late 2009 when Eddie un-David-Chang-ed the post-modern pork bun and turned it towards its Taiwanese gua bao roots.  He created the “Chairman Bao” with Berkshire pork belly braised in soy sauce and cherry cola and served with crushed peanuts, cilantro, Taiwanese red sugar and house relish.  His creations earned him the “Best Bun” accolade in the New York Magazine’s Best of New York issue.

The Chairman Bao
Eddie’s “Chairman Bao” also became the subject of a yet-to-be-resolved bicoastal tiff when a group of chain restaurant veterans on the West coast decided, a few months later, to get into the food truck business and seized on the name “Chairman Bao” for one of their trucks as a clever hook to hang some hype on.  Eddie Huang’s howls of outrage could be heard all the way to the Pacific, and another Bay Area food truck subsequently offered to host a “bao-off” between the Chairman Bao creator and the Chairman Bao truck operators.  This never occurred because, according to my sources, the truck peple would have none of it.

Eddie Huang and Gary Soup, May 2010
Baohaus' original subterranean digs, seen at the top of this post, were welcoming and cozy, but ultimately too small for Eddie Huang’s personality and his army of admirers.  For a time, he tried to simultaneously run a more ambitious eatery, Xiao Ye, but eventually threw in the towel when both Sam Sifton and his own mother pointedly suggested that he might not be as long on attention span as he is on talent.  His newest incarnation of Baohaus appears to be more ambitious than Baohaus 1.0 but still oriented toward xiao chi, or small eats. (You can read that as “drunk food” if you like but I suspect it will be s few notches above that.)  Closing the original location will allow Eddie and brother Evan to devote full time to Baohaus 2.0. I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to checking it out on my next trip to NY around Thanksgiving.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who loves ya, baby? The KoJaKitchen Truck Does.

OK, so it’s the KoJa Kitchen, not the Kojak Kitchen, with KoJa standing for Korean-Japanese fusion. But to me, the truck’s name conjures up images of a crusty on the outside, soft on the inside fictional NYPD detective of the 1970s and 1980s.   And KoJa Kitchen loves ya, baby; the proof is in the food it gives you to eat.

I caught up with the KoJa Kitchen truck on its Off the Grid debut at 5th and Minna on Wednesday.  The new, elegantly wrapped truck has some nice high-tech bells and whistles suitable to a Food Truck 2.0, such as the LCD monitors displaying a real time updatable menu and images of the food.   KoJa Kitchen serves three varieties its signature “KoJas” along with “Kamikaze Fries’ and  a dessert called “Mochimisu,” Tiramisu layered with house-made chocolate mochi.

On this occasion, I got to try a Korean BBQ Beef KoJa accompanied by an order of Kamikaze Fries.  A “KoJa” is essentially an Asian-pedigreed burger or large slider, hefty enough to be a good value at its $5.00 price.  The genius of the KoJa is the bun, which is made of two hand-shaped patties of cooked rice which have been “toasted” to a crunchy brown on the outside, while soft on the inside.  The filling in my Koja was a basic bulgogi with “sautéed onions, sesame vinaigrette slaw drizzled with our signature sauce.” The beef was cooked to a tenderness, not overly cooked as bulgogi sometimes is, and spicing was sharp and clean. (The heat can be kicked up on request).  Biting into it created a sensational mélange of textures to go with the bold flavors; be warned that a few bites in, the bun begins to disintegrate into the filling, hastening the mélange.  It’s a somewhat messy sandwich, but messy in that fun “don’t bother me I’m eating” kind of way.  (Grab a fork with your order in any case, and maybe even request a paper "boat" to catch the spillage if you are as clumsy as me.)

The Kamikaze fries turned out to be waffle fries (also carefully cooked) topped with more bulgogi, “sautéed onions, kimchi, green onions and drizzled with our signature sauce and Japanese mayo.”  It’s a sizable order, really a main as much as a side (and in fact costs a dollar more than does the sandwich) but so tasty that I had no difficulty finishing mine up even though I’m not generally a huge French fry fan.

Other “KoJas” on KoJa Kitchen’s current menu include Korean BBQ Chicken with Pineapple, and Teriyaki Vegetarian Chicken with Pineapple.

With refreshing originality and sure execution, Koja Kitchen looks like a food truck winner.