Since rolling into American Chinese restaurants in the 1970s, pushcarts loaded with little dishes have become synonymous with Hong Kong–style dim sum. But at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, owner-chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krazinski have refashioned the dim sum cart to be the vehicle of their small-plates bistro, a place where you won't find a single shumai or steamed pork bun. Each night through the narrow dining room, servers wheel the custom-built, orange-framed cart (a midcentury-modern Scandinavian tea cart inspired its oblique angles), stopping to ID cold dishes like Miyagi oysters on the half shell, drizzled with a sauce containing dashi. Hot dishes likewise circulate on custom wood trays, and you can order some things in the traditional way, off a short printed menu of "Commandables." It feels like a cocktail party with a cool edge, or what local restaurant critic Jonathan Kauffman calls “a meal of constant motion and surprise.” READ MORE
The first time I had banh mi was in a California strip mall, in a shop between a burrito joint that smelled like dirty steam and a secondhand porno store that never opened (I lived close by). That gateway banh mi was intense and surprising with its shattering roll, tangy shock of carrots and daikon, and jalapeño burn. To be honest, the roasted pork and paté seemed a little sketchy, but I thought that only added to the thrill of the new.
Chefs love eating banh mi because they have vivid flavors and startling textures, and also because they’re cheap (news flash: cooks make crappy money). And what chefs like eating, they like making. These days, chefs who cook in fancy neighborhoods far from the kind of strip malls where you can get a $1.50 sandwich are putting them on their menus. They’re making banh mi fancy, or at least turning them into vehicles for ingredients no traditional Viet sandwich maker would ever think of wedging into a roll. READ MORE
Mexican mole is a rich sauce with complex flavors, served with meats or enchiladas. Oaxaca and Puebla are Mexico’s centers of mole, but the sauce is now common in restaurants and burrito shops north of the border. It often contains chocolate, one of a dozen or more ingredients Americans have come to expect, along with ground nuts and sesame seeds, dried fruits such as raisins, spices, meat broth, and, of course, soaked and puréed dried chiles. READ MORE