Sunday, March 9, 2008

Eating out. Monsoon.

I went to the Baguette Box for lunch this morning, early, just after 11:00. The place was empty of customers; even some of the staff were late, having forgotten about Daylight Savings time. I already knew before heading down there that I would order the braised pork belly baguette; I had seen it on the menu last time. It arrived quickly, the meat rich and fatty against the soft baguette within the thin shell of its crisp crust. There was a sprig of cilantro, a smear of something creamy dressing, the tender meat drizzled with the sweet darkness of Hoisin sauce. It was all very tasty, but it left me with a craving for more pork belly.

This craving would have gone unsatisfied had I not checked my phone upon re-emerging, blinking in the sudden light, from the darkness of the movie theater to find that C. had left me a message. Excellent, someone to drag out to dinner with me. I left the choice to her, but as dinner time came around and she lobbed the choice of dinner back to me, I thought ha! Monsoon! J., foodie extraordinaire (who makes me look like a lazy slob in the kitchen, which of course I am) has told me that it was a great restaurant, and I have always wanted to try it. (Coincidentally, it is the sister restaurant to the Baguette Box, a full-on restaurant instead of a sandwich shop). We hop in the car and drive off. Do I get a bit lost and drive past the restaurant and have to turn into a side street and circle around? Yes.

We arrive at an unspeakably early hour (unspeakably early for normal people, but perfectly normal for me, that is); the restaurant is empty. I have no reservation, but we are offered any table we like along the banquette that runs down one side of the room. The menu is simple, one page with a handful of appetizers and rolls and some main dishes and some vegetable side dishes. Our waiter comes along to tell us that there is one special for the evening, braised pork belly, and I know that is exactly what I want. We order some Imperial rolls, the braised pork belly for me, the grilled pork belly and shoulder for C. Our waiter is taken aback. Whoa...that's a lot of pork belly there, he says.

The Imperial rolls arrive, and our waiter tells us to wrap them in lettuce leaves with some soft white vermicelli noodles and fragrant basil. They are hot and crisp, filled with ground pork and shrimp, and I could make a meal of them. Our main courses arrive, with a pot of steamed rice. My pork belly has been braised in coconut water and served over a tangle of bean sprouts, in a pool of broth. The coconut water has given the pork a sort of wild sweetness, a faintly caramelized taste that emphasizes the natural sweetness of the pork. It is better than candy. Then I try some of C.'s grilled pork belly, chewy and intensely flavored and also a little sweet, and I am not sorry that we are not ordering dessert (it is still Lent for C.).

All I need is some pork belly to make me happy.

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