Sound & Savor
Sound & Savor
Do you ever eat with your hands? I’m not talking about little snacks like popcorn or crackers. I’m talking about full meals, hearty stews with rice and noodles, scooped up by outstretched fingers reaching across the dinner table. It flies in the face of traditional western etiquette, flagrantly breaking unspoken rules against this literal power grab while in the presence of others. Yet, far from the supposed faux pas I’d been raised to view it as since birth, this is simply the expectation at any of the meals presented by Free for Real Kitchen. No forks, no spoons, no knives, no chopsticks. Hell, no napkins, unless you get into a truly desperate mess.
Crafting a family-style Filipino Ilocano feast featuring vegan versions of traditionally meat-heavy fare, it’s a feat of modern cookery that such bold flavors could even exist in plant-based form. Dinardaraan, also known as “chocolate meat,” would be made with offal and pig’s blood anywhere else, but comes to life here with tofu, preserved turnips, shiitake mushrooms, and fermented black beans instead. Agar-based salted eggs posing as Itlog na Maalat could make anyone do a double take, based on both the uncanny appearance and sulfuric salinity. Jackfruit makes an appearance of course, not as a meat alternative but paired with banana blossoms in the Adobong Langka at Puso ng Saging, a naturally vegan preparation that dazzled with the unassuming combination of tamari, garlic, vinegar, bay leaf, and coconut milk.
More beguiling than the food, however, is the experience of sharing such a feast in such a visceral way with your neighbors. Strangers awkwardly shift around at first, pawing timidly at whatever mysterious mound lays closest, afraid to fully engage. With a few bites comes greater confidence, whetting the appetite for more. Conversations grow louder and deeper, hands fly farther and faster, and the whole room moves and sways in a different kind of dinner dance before long. Dropping formalities to boldly share space allows in a world of new flavor, along with an experience unlike any other.
Kamayan, eating with your hands, fills your heart perhaps even more so than your stomach. No matter how stuffed you end up after heartily partaking in over a dozen delicacies and dessert, warm memories of this communal event still last much longer.
One of the most buzz-worthy restaurant openings of recent months, much has already been written about FOB Kitchen in Oakland, California. Filipino food is quickly gaining mainstream traction, but remains relatively rare in an elevated dining atmosphere, particularly in an accessible, approachable format. Given the circumstances, such breathless anticipation can be forgiven. Clamoring for something new, the dining public is absolutely eating this stuff up- And not just for the novelty factor.
In a culture ruled by pork, vegan options are rare at best, but not so on the menu at the Temescal treasure. FOB Kitchen goes out of their way to provide meatless eats for their diverse, discerning Californian clientele.
Tofu-mushroom adobo, the entree that earns the most critical attention, is the result of recipe testing for over a year to get the flavors just right. Garlic-forward in the best way possible, aromatic onions and peppers give this lightly stewed combination its essential character, enhanced by a generous hand with the coconut oil for a luxurious eating experience.
Ensalada talong, an unassuming eggplant salad, turned out to be the sleeper hit of the evening, dazzling with a bright vinegar dressing sprinkled across crisp jicama, tomato, with the surprising briny bite of sea asparagus woven among tender braised eggplant and shredded mango. Crunchy broken rice crackers crown the melange with a satisfying toasted note, essentially allowing eaters to indulge in forkfuls of chips and chunky dip without looking like brutes. This dish alone is worth a return visit.
Kabocha squash also dazzles with stunning depth, stewed in coconut milk alongside long beans and onions. Such simplicity belies the incredible richness of each melt-in-your-mouth soft orange cube.
Pancit sontaghon, simple glass noodles with a handful of colorful vegetables, doesn’t have quite the same sparkle, but still satisfies with its savory soy sauce-infused translucent strands.
Suman, a variation on mango sticky rice, presents the starch as a completely smooth cylinder on the plate that bears only gentle resistance to the fork. Topped with caramelized coconut crumbs, the lightly bitter notes contrast beautifully with the tropical fruit arranged on the side. Though I might personally prefer more sauce, it could probably be served in a soup bowl and I’d still have the same complaint.
Beginning life as a fledgling pop-up back in 2015, the name is an acronym for “Fresh Off the Boat,” but I truly hope they’re dropping anchor to stay a good long while.
WAIT! Before you start folding up the picnic table and packing away the lawn darts, let’s pretend like it’s still summer for just a little bit longer, please? While everyone else rushes to embrace the new pumpkin-infused season, plenty of warm, sunny days remain in the forecast yet, with much of the west coast in particular still due for a solid heatwave soon. Despite what the calendar may tell you, take a look outside before donning that heavy sweater. Let’s party like fall is but a distant concept for later days, concerning only overly cautious weathermen determined to throw shade on our fun.
My encouragement is of course entirely self-serving, but you see, it would be a shame to sit on this great pasta salad for another full year. Inspired by a trip to Baia Pasta, my neighbors in Oakland that I never knew lived next door all along, such incredible noodles need little ornamentation to shine on any table.
These small-batch artisan noodles are making a big splash nationwide thanks to an obsessive level of passion for every detail. Obvious considerations are the specific amounts of protein, moisture, type of flour, but what about the drying temperature and time? Procuring the unique shapes and the obscure dies to extrude them? Determining the types of wheat that can endure such a demanding process without breaking, dissolving, or crumbling under the pressure? That’s to say nothing of the unconventional seasonings blended into some of the more colorful pastas, giving rise to a full rainbow of bright, bold flavors.
Organic durum, whole durum, spelt, whole spelt, and whole khorasan wheat are the foundations of each charming twist, twirl, and tube. Pale, limp spaghetti strands are no where to be seen here, and you’d never miss them in the first place.
To fully celebrate such an exquisite yet uncomplicated staple, the greatest (and most challenging) task for the cook is to simply not mess with perfection. It’s already great as is- What more could one add?
In this case, my inclusions are more like additional refrains of the chorus, echoing and underscoring what already got the crowd off their feet to sing. Beautiful Organic Durum Wheat Flavored Soup Radiatori (Dynamos) are infused with beets, spinach, and tomatoes, which are exactly the same guests I invited to harmonize. Yes, that’s why it’s the BeST pasta salad, but for more than that cute pun alone. Accented with an invigorating punch of fresh basil, savory yet subtle white miso, and a light kiss of buttery avocado oil, it might very well be best dish of the season altogether, if we can sneak this last ode to summer in, right under the wire.
Smothering any of the superlative pastas from Baia with a heavy sauce seemed a crime, though I’ll readily admit, later experiments with mac and cheese were a stunning success…
But that can wait for colder days. For now, let’s revel in the fading sunlight, the last call of summer, until we reach the very bottom of the bowl.