Out Burnin’ Love BBQ friend Josh is considering adding a La Caja China to his cooking arsenal, and posed some excellent questions. I’m re-posting them, along with my answers, for anyone else who’s thinking of picking up a magic box.
Josh: I’ve been debating the merits of La Caja China for a couple months now (my wife is sick of me talking about it!!). I think the only way I can justify the purchase (to my wife) is if I can use it to cook ribs, briskets, pork butts, and maybe even mass quantities of burgers. As such, I have the following questions that I hope you’ll be willing to help me with.
Perry: Hey Josh, I hear you…I think my wife’s final word on the subject was along the lines of, “Just buy the freakin’ thing already!” LOL
Josh: Have you used the smoke pistol that the La Caja China folks sell on their site? I’ve read blogs where folks use a pan of wood chips inside the unit, but would like your opinion. If you’ve used the smoke pistol, will you please comment on it’s effectiveness? If you’ve found another way to smoke meat with La Caja China, I’d love to hear about it.
Perry: Yes, I’ve used the smoke pistol, as well as the pan method, and a couple of others. You can see my full review on my favorite smokin’ hardware in this post: A-Maze-N Pellet Smoker Review.
Josh: I see you mentioned that Cuban pork is done tender, but firm. How do ribs turn out? I’m really looking for ‘fall off the bone’ ribs. I see that many people use La Caja China to cook ribs, but I haven’t seen any pictures/videos that show that the ribs are really tender.
Josh: How do pork butts turn out? Right now, I use a combination of a Smokenator (a clever addition to a Weber Kettle grill) and my oven for a total of 16 hours (at 220 degrees) and the butts literally fall apart.
They are amazing. I’m confident that the pork butts that come out of La Caja China are great, but I’d really like to know if it will be possible to get the type of results I get from the smoker/oven.
Perry: I know exactly the method you’re referring to, as I did it the same way for years. Butts and shoulders are my #1 use for my boxes, and I’ve cooked many, many dozens of them, both for myself and for customers of our bbq catering biz. I can smoke 6-8 shoulders at a time in the larger boxes.
I inject and rub, then cook to 190, then wrap and rest. Save any juices, and mix them back into the shredded meat with a touch of cider vinegar. Shoulders come out perfect. Search this site for “shoulders”, there are a bunch here, and more in the cookbooks.
Josh: I’m look at the #2 unit. I know you have the Pro, but are you able to comment on the durability of the wooden units? Are they sturdy? Structurally sound? Etc? any info you have on this would be helpful.
Perry: I have the Semi-Pro, two of the model #2 units, and a model #3. My first box was a model #2. It’s seven years old, and we’ve done dozens of pigs, 25-30 shoulders, a couple of dozen turkeys, 20-25 briskets, a couple of lambs, and a whole bunch of chickens in it, and it’s still going strong. I need to replace the firepan, but that’s because of user error (I backed over it with my truck and tweaked it, lol.)
If you’re in a low-humidity area, I recommend keeping it covered and it’s fine to store outside. I keep mind the the garage, as I live in Oregon.
Hope this helps! I love answering questions about La Caja China, and barbeque in general, so keep firin’ away! If you haven’t done so, make sure to download my free ebook, the La Caja China Guidebook, here.
Question: I need help please. I have La Caja China model #2 and I have now cooked two pigs with no great success.
The first pig was 100lbs and took me over 7 hours to cook on the hottest day of the summer, and I had to put the hams back in because they were still raw. The second pig was 67lbs and, unfortunately had been covered with foil before the top of the box got put on.
I went about cooking and was surprised that I could not get my thermometer above 150. Then, after 5 hours, we uncovered to discover that the foil was on. Took the foil off, which lost a lot of heat. It then took another SIX hours and 8 20lb bags of Kingsford charcoal to reach my desired temperature of 170, and the skin didn’t crisp up that much.
Once cooked, it was delicious, but I can’t get it to cook in 4 hours or less as advertised.
What am I doing so wrong? I read that the meat has to be at room temperature, I think 70 degrees?
But what else can I do?
Hmmm, 160 pounds of charcoal, added over the course of 6 hours, is 26 pounds of charcoal per hour, roughly three times what the instructions call for (after the initial 18 pounds). Something’s not right with those figures…it’s practically a physical impossibility that that much coal would take that long to raise the temp from 150 to just 170.
That much coal should have not only cooked your pig, it should have incinerated it.
What temp was the meat at, when you fired up the roaster?
Second, you’re right, the foil is a killer. I made this exact same mistake myself this summer, and the pig wasn’t done to my liking at all. Slow roasted meat has to hit a “sweet spot” temperature-wise, where it plateaus for anywhere from an hour or more, before it jumps up the the finished temperature you’re looking for.
That plateau is the window where the meat nearest the bone is cooking, and the collagen (hard fat) is chemically changing into the gelatin (soft fat) that creates tender, succulent meat. Foil reflects back a LOT of heat, and keeps the pig from cooking through that plateau (or, at least, taking a LOOOONG time to do so.)
My new policy to to add foil only if (and after) I start to smell something burning. This isn’t a bad thing, as a little char adds to the flavor, and won’t hurt the meat if caught in a reasonable time.
That said, here are only five other things, typically, that prolong cook-time on La Caja China:
1. Temp of the pig at start time. This is the #1 issue I’ve found with delayed cook times. You want the pig to be as close to room temp as you’re comfortable with. The colder the pig, the more heat it sucks out of the box, and the longer it takes for the internal temp of the box to reach it’s “sweet spot.” One of my first pigs still had ice crystals in the meat when I loaded it in the box…it took 12 hours to bring to 185.
2. Peeking. Lifting the lid from the box effectively removes all the cooking heat, and it takes a LONG time to build back up, as your pig is cooling at the same time. Use a remote probe thermometer, and (personal opinion) a metal dust pan and scoop to remove the ashes, instead of removing the lid. NEVER lift the lid until your pig has reach “flipping temp”…which is your finished temperature, depending on what meat-consistency you’re shooting for.
3. Ambient temperature/wind chill. Keep the Caja out of the wind as much as possible. Set up on the “lee side” of the house or garage, or throw together a couple of sheets of plywood (at a safe distance) to block the wind. Cooking in extremely cold weather is just going to take longer, it can’t be helped, so plan ahead for it.
4. Ash build-up. Ashes are an extremely effective insulator. Even a 1/2 inch layer, between your coals and the pan, can cut the amount of heat going into the box drastically. La Caja China’s instructions call for removing ashes roughly every three hours, by lifting the lid and dumping. I like to do so more frequently, about every hour, using the method in #2, above.
5. Amount of charcoal used (especially at the start). Roberto did a lot of research and testing in coming up with the charcoal-to-cooktime ratios, and they should be adhered to exactly. For best results, use Kingsford brand charcoal, not lump, or an off brand (is it really worth risking that $200 pig, to save $10 on charcoal?) and add the exact proportions listed on the box. I’ve cooked any number of perfect pigs, simply following those instructions.
I own a lot of cookbooks…a LOT of cookbooks, and the list is growing at a rapid rate. However, if I were told I had 5 minutes to get out of my house and leave everything behind but an armload of my favorite cookbooks…there are five or six that would immediately pop to mind.
Besides my own cookbooks, or course (wink wink), these would top the list!
A fascinating look at live-fire cooking around the world. Lots more than just a cookbook!
A 900,000-copy bestseller and winner of the IACP/Julia Child Cookbook Award, The Barbecue! Bible includes full-color photographs illustrating food preparation, grilling techniques, ingredients, and of course those irresistible finished dishes. A new section has been added with answers to the most frequently asked grilling questions, plus Steven’s proven tips, quick solutions to common mistakes, and more.
And then there’s the literal meat of the book: more than 500 of the very best barbecue recipes, inventive, delicious, unexpected, easy-to-make, and guaranteed to capture great grill flavors from around the world.
Lots of strong opinions, family histories, and great bbq recipes!
North Carolina is home to the longest continuous barbecue tradition on the North American mainland. Authoritative, spirited, and opinionated (in the best way), Holy Smoke is a passionate exploration of the lore, recipes, traditions, and people who have helped shape North Carolina’s signature slow-food dish.
Three barbecue devotees, John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney, trace the origins of North Carolina ‘cue and the emergence of the heated rivalry between Eastern and Piedmont styles. They provide detailed instructions for cooking barbecue at home, along with recipes for the traditional array of side dishes that should accompany it. The final section of the book presents some of the people who cook barbecue for a living, recording firsthand what experts say about the past and future of North Carolina barbecue.
Filled with historic and contemporary photographs showing centuries of North Carolina’s “barbeculture,” as the authors call it, Holy Smoke is one of a kind, offering a comprehensive exploration of the Tar Heel barbecue tradition.
Picked this one up on a whim, in Oahu…and fell in love with it. My daughter’s birthday luau each year is a big hit, largely due to the great recipes and info in this cookbook!
Sam’s recipes reflect a melding of East and West, with distinctive Polynesian flourishes and some highly innovative twists that could have been conceived only in the creative and original mind of Chef Choy.
Here are over 80 recipes including both Sam’s innovations as well as his renditions of Island favorites. They range from simple preparations like poke, an addictively delicious raw seafood appetizer, to elaborate and beautiful dishes like Sautéed Island Fish Trio, sure to dazzle the table and palate at your next dinner party.
All the recipes use readily available ingredients. Where hard to find ingredients are involved, a guide to mail and Internet sources will give mainland readers access to poi, tropical fruits and even fresh fish.
I found this treasure several years ago at a school book sale in Portland. Not only are the recipes and back-stories great, but the photographs from the autor’s “tour de white-trash” will have you howling or cringing depending on just how much your family tree forks (or doesn’t!)
From Oleen’s Stuffed Pepper Slippers and Franceen’s Good Ol’ Meat to Mrs. Tooler Doolus’s Oven Spaghetti and Bobbie’s Lemon/Lime Jell-O Cake Supreme, Ernie Mickler has collected another whopping batch of the“most magnannygoshus” recipes of the Very Deepest South. Previously known as SINKIN SPELLS, HOT FLASHES, FITS AND CRAVINS, this collection has a new name and a new cover that calls to mind its best-selling brother, WHITE TRASH COOKING. Same good eatin’, though.
Oysters being my favorite food, this cookbook was recommended to me by “Dan the Oysterman” in Oysterville, Wa. If you think you’ve had oysters every possible way…you’re wrong…by several dozen recipes, lol. A great, and comprehensive cookbook.
The Joy of Oysters tells the story of oysters in North America from the first settlers to the latest harvests of these delectable morsels by dedicated oystermen and women on every shoreline. Discover the details of each oyster species, how they are grown and how the most famous oyster restaurants prepare them for their customers. Join in the fun with tales of oyster festivals from Florida to New England to the Pacific Coast.
The Joy of Oysters is the perfect gift for that friend who can’t get enough Bluepoints or Belons, Hog Island Kumamotos or Westcott Bay Petites. Whether you like your oysters live on the half shell, baked, fried, curried or served up plump in a traditional oyster stew, The Joy of Oysters will fill your need for all things oyster.
The Wise Guy Cookbook: My Favorite Recipes From My Life as a Goodfella to Cooking on the Run By Henry Hill
If you want an American’s guide to real Italian food…this is the book for you. Liking the movie, “Goodfellas” doesn’t hurt either!
Henry Hill was a born wiseguy, and his love of food got him through both the good and bad times. Even cooking on the run in the Federal Witness Protection Program-where prosciutto was impossible to find and gravy was something you put on mashed potatoes-he managed to keep good Italian food on the table. He still brings this flair for improvisation to his cooking. No recipe is set in stone. And substitutions are listed just in case.
Now, in his inimitable style, Hill tells some spicy stories of his life in the Mob and out, and shows readers how to whip up his favorite dishes, Sicilian-style-recipes to make even the toughest tough-guy beg for more…
Mom’s Antipasto € Sunday Gravy (Meat Sauce) € Cheaters Chicken Stock € Striped Bass for Paulie € Fat Larry’s Pizza Dough € Henry’s Kickback Antipasti Hero € Sicilian Easter Bread with Colored Eggs € Clams Casino € Osso Bucco € Oven Penitentiary Sauce with Sausage € Michael’s Favorite Ziti with Meat Sauce € and many others
“Consider it a cautionary tale, in the event summer weather ever returns: Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, the agency responsible for enforcing city codes and getting rid of nuisances, will impose monthly fines on food cart operators who leave tables and chairs on sidewalks outside their businesses after receiving written warnings. Although restaurants are permitted to have outdoor seating on city sidewalks, food carts are not, a BDS spokesman said Thursday.” (Read the entire article here)
I forget…is it “Keep Portland Weird” or “Keep Portland Stupid?” Portland’s Bureau of Development Services seems confused as well.
I’m sure glad that there’s nothing more important in the entire city of Portland for these bean-counting bureaucrats to focus their beady little eyes, and ticket pads, on than…of my God, the horror…FOOD CARTS!
It’s a good thing they don’t have any real work to do, unemployment would be even higher!
Food carts (yes, with tables and chairs) seem to work just fine in crowded cities all over the world, and in fact are a major tourist draw (note to Portland’s Bureau of Development Services…TOURISTS = MONEY, just FYI…)
Unfortunately without having SOMEONE to fine, most of these city-desk knobs would be out of a job, so I guess it’s in their best interest to make the vendors job harder, and the customers experience less convenient, to justify their paper-pushing. Congratulations on giving people one less reason to go downtown.
Perry P. Perkins
Author & Food Blogger
So, yeah…I think that pretty much sums it up.
Feel free to visit Oregonlive.com and leave your own thoughts. You can contact Portland’s Bureau of Development Services here: firstname.lastname@example.org and here: 503-823-7700…at least I think you can. The page’s informtion was last updated in 2006, but, you know…they’ve been busy dealing with bistro-table related emergencies and all…
Hey, when you go…piss off a bureaucrat…bring your own chair!
PS – There’s a great new book out on the Portland food cart scene, “Cartopia: Portland’s Food Cart Revolution” by Kelly Rodgers & Kelley Roy – which tells, through stories and photography, how the perfect storm of Portland’s independent culture, artisan economy, and “foodie” scene created the food cart revolution.
“Portland has over 500 food carts, some clustered into “pods” in parking lots and others staking their solitary claim on the sidewalk. Artisanal, quirky, independent, and an exceptional value, these food carts are the perfect symbol of what Portland is all about.
As authors Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy explore the factors that have placed Portland in the street-food spotlight, they also document the personality and character of the Portland carts, and by extension, Portland itself.” (from Amazon.com)
Now, ya’all know I love my La Caja Chinas, all three of them, but let’s face it, there is one issue with the Model #1 and Model #2 pig roasters (resolved in the Semi Pro) that can be frustrating…the drippings pan.
For a foodie like me, that broth that gathers in the drip pan under the pig is liquid gold. I dream about how that rich, amazing broth flavors my rice dishes, bean pots, soups, and anything else I can think to pour it into.
But – it’s kinda a pain to get that pan out of the box without spilling it everywhere!
Then, not only am I losing my lovely hog juice, but I’m creating a big greasy mess in the bottom of the box…and who’s gotta clean that up? Me!
So…we were roasting our last piggie in my model #2 at a friends house, and I was whining about getting those invaluable out of the roaster, without making a huge mess, as I’m incapable if lifting the pan out of the box and getting the broth into a container, without spilling it everywhere.
My friend had a Siphon-Mate Transfer Pump new in the package, on his shelf, and offered to let me use it, so I thought…why not give it a try?
First, of course, we took it into the kitchen and pumped hot, soapy water (first), bleach water (second), and clear hot water (third, and forth) through to make sure it was clean, as it wasn’t manufactured with food in mind, lol.
When the piggie was done, sure enough, the drip pan was full within a half-inch of the rim…a guaranteed grease tsunami waiting to happen. Instead, I let it cool for about 20 minutes, until the broth was just warm, but the fat was still liquid, and dropped the intake into the pan, and the output hose into my stock pot.
A half-dozen pumps later and the pan was nearly empty, and easy to lift out without a single drip! The rest of the box was a 2 minute clean-up job with a few paper towels and a little of La Caja China’s degreasing spray.
Clean up of the Siphon-Mate was as easy as repeating the intial cleaning steps.
Best of all, I have 3/4 of a gallon of liquid gold pig broth to flavor beans, pork gravy, and my infamous Pulled Pork Dirty Rice. Needless to say, I’ve ordered my own Siphon-Mate, and can’t wait for it’s arrival!
Since my childhood, I can remember my mother Millie cooking so many delicious southern dishes using her famous sauce. Millie’s memory still lives on in our family, as she has inspired my wife and I to re-create this one of a kind sweet and tasty barbecue sauce.
– Craig & Toni Brown
The first commercial barbecue sauce was made by H.J. Heinz Co. in 1948, and today there are hundreds if not thousands of varieties of jars, jugs, and bottles available.
A couple of weeks back, Texas Pepper Jelly owner Craig Sherry was kind enough to answer my Facebook plea for an Apple Habanero Jelly (that recipe is still in the works…it will be awesome) and while I was perusing his website, I couldn’t pass up the chance to order a 2-oz bottle of Pineapple Habanero while I was there.
I’ll tell you this…I’ll never order that two ounce bottle again…I’m gonna be a 12-oz bottle customer from now on!
What we tried: lot’s of stuff (see below) What I liked best: Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger Rating: 5/5 Stars
One line review: “Burgers and fries the way they oughta be!”
After a long day of playing on the beach in Pacific City, I shuffled into the Pelican Pub and was shocked and disappointed at the jump in menu prices. As much as I love a tall Tsunami Stout, I was footing the bill for the group, and still wanted to make my mortgage payment this month, so I decided that perhaps we should explore other options.
Victoria and I have visited Pacific City many times, including an anniversary week-end, and there’s a little grub shack on the corner of the main drag named Fat Freddy’s that we’ve always meant to stop in at, but never have. (Note: they aren’t always open for dinner in the off-season, so call ahead!).
So, given it’s proximity, and with a couple of ravaging youths in the van with us, it seemed like the ideal time to give it a try. Boy, am I glad we did!
Known locally for their burgers and shakes, Fat Freddy’s has a walk “To Go” window, which we didn’t use, but would be great fun if you were just walking around town checking out the wine shops and antique stores (which just about sums up Pacific City), instead we availed ourselves of the small dining room.
Redolent with the aromas of frying burgers and deep-fried mushrooms, your cholesterol can rise several points just by breathing the air…in other words, it was perfect.
Both the dining area and bathrooms were very well maintained and very clean with a lot of fun, old photos, license plates from around the country, and an article about the airplane that crashed into the restaurant years ago, on the wall. The airstrip is still located directly across the street, seemingly pointed directly and our table, and we did have one pulse-jumping take-off buzz the roof while we were there. The kids loved it!
So, enough atmosphere, let’s get down to it…
The Original Fat Freddy
I was going to order the namesake “Fat Freddy Burger” – which comes with standard burger fixin’s plus bacon, fried egg, and cheese.
Served with fries, the house special comes in 1/4lb (Mini-Freddy), 1/2lb (The Original), and a whopping 3/4lb “Ultimate Freddy”, but the waitress recommended the Bacon Swiss Mushroom as “to die for” and, being my favorite burger combo, how could I say no?
Besides, Johnathan, our token teenager, was more than happy to face down the Fat Freddy (it never stood a chance.)
My burger was fantastic, with that unmatchable fried-on-a-greasy-grill flavor.
Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger
The fixings were crisp and fresh, including the mushrooms (NOT canned) which were sauteed to a slightly chewy, perfectly caramelized mahogany, just the way I like them.
The coup ‘de grace on this burger, however, was the bacon. Typically, bacon on a cheeseburger is cooked limp (or, god forbid, those pre-cooked, plastic-wrapped dog-treats warmed on the grill.) Freddy’s cooks fresh, thick-cut bacon to a crispy well-done brown that some folks might consider overcooked, but that I feel creates a rich, nutty flavor and “meat crouton” crunch that’s the perfect contrast to a moist burger and crisp veggies.
By the unhinging of his jaw, Jonathan made it clear that The Freddy met with his approval, and Victoria had very complimentary things to say about her California grilled chicken sandwich and Mountain Blackberry/Banana Milkshake (an off-menu combo that they happily concocted at her request.)
Then there were the fries….Sweet Lord in heaven…the fries! Fresh cut, double-dipped, seasoned French fries; the salty skins crunching between your teeth like potato chips, revealing a hot, steamy baked-potato center. Gracie, our resident French fry connoisseur, gave them two sandy thumbs up…and she’s never wrong.
Seriously, these were in the top 5 of any fries I’ve ever had.
French Fry Bliss
Speaking of our junior-foodie, Freddy’s provided her with a cup of crayons and an activity page, without even being asked, and had a deck of cards on each table, as well. Which segues nicely into…
Service was a pleasant surprise, as well.
Too often, these diners, drive-ins, and dives are manned (or, more appropriately, womanned) by impatient, Flo-esque, “kiss my grits” kinda waitresses, who never look up from their order pads, and raise a penciled-in eye-brow at any special request.
Our waitress, however, was very friendly, helpful, and very, very patient with us (Gracie informed her, at every pause in the order-taking process that she wanted fries AND ketchup). Her laughter, knowledge of the menu, and obvious enjoyment of the food were infectious, and our anticipation level jumped several notches by the time she left with our order.
I wish I’d gotten her name, she deserves a raise.
Burger prices ranged from $7-$15, and the menu includes a good variety of gourmet salads, appetizers, hot & cold sandwiches, and classic seafood dinner combos, as well. Sure, we could have saved a few bucks and gotten a dollar-menu cardboard burger from some fast-food joint on 101, but where’s the fun it that? Lord knows, we already have enough of those places back home.
Also, the portions are generous enough that light eaters could easily split a burger and fries, maybe add a side-salad, and enjoy a very nice meal.
Fat Freddy’s is exactly the kind of great food/great fun one-of-a-kind place that becomes the icing on the cake for those “family summer beach-trip” memories. Next time you’re near Pacific City, I strongly recommend Freddy’s.
Fat Freddy’s is a “must stop” when you visit Pacific City. It is one of the oldest buildings still in use in Pacific City. Freddy opened the charming burger diner in 1985 with the idea of serving the best burger possible at a fair price. He became an immediate success and a landmark as well. Freddy retired in 1992 and the present owners, Art and Tammy, picked up the tradition as Freddy handed down the secrets to his burger success.
Although Art and Tammy have maintained Freddy’s name and reputation for quality food and service, they have applied their own charm to make the diner one of the most talked about and fun eateries in PC.
Fat Freddy’s has become a meeting place for family and friends and is walking distance to the beach. Check out the antique photos of Pacific City on the wall and watch the planes land on the PC airport right across the street (keep your head down). Bring Mom, Dad, Grandma and the Kids and enjoy their old fashion milk shakes, onion rings, fish & chips, sandwiches, and Kids menu. And of course, you can’t say you’ve visited PC without experiencing the famous “Fat Freddy Burger”….(the way burgers were meant to be!)
What I liked best: Bambuza salad rolls, Hanoi beef pho
Rating: 4/5 Stars
One line review:
“Very good food + New and interesting flavors + Fair price = I’ll be back.”
Pho [pron: faa] is a Vietnamese noodle soup, usually served with beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà). The soup includes rice noodles, and is often served with Vietnamese basil, lime, bean sprouts that are added to the soup by the diner. The specific place of origin appears to be southwest of Hanoi in Nam Dinh province, then a substantial textile market, where cooks sought to please both Vietnamese (with local rice noodles, of Chinese origin) and French tastes (cattle before the French arrival being beasts of burden, not frequently sources of beef). It was first sold by vendors from large boxes, until the first phở restaurant was opened in the 1920s in Hanoi.
Phở is served in a bowl with a specific cut of white rice noodles (called bánh phở’) in clear beef broth, with slim cuts of beef (steak, fatty flank, lean flank, brisket). Variations feature tendon, tripe, meatballs, chicken leg, chicken breast, or other chicken organs. “With the lot” (made with all or most of the shop’s chicken and cattle offerings, including chicken hearts and livers and beef tripe and tendons) is known as phở đặc biệt (“specialty phở”) – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ph%E1%BB%9F
So, I’ve been driving past the sign for this place for months now, and every time I notice it, I think, Dang, I gotta go try that! Bambuza Vietnam Grill sits at the intersection of I-5 and Nyberg Road, at the Tualatin Exit (turn like your going to Fred Meyer, then hang another left.)
Now besides that fact that it’s someplace new to me, and a type of food I’ve never had, I really had no overwhelmingly compelling reason to go seeking Vietnamese food, except for the fact that I’ve been watching Bourdain and Zimmern slurping down Pho for a year now, and I gotta try it…
So, what did I think…
First of all, don’t pre-judge this joint, and don’t be fooled because it’s in a strip mall. This place is the real deal! The food is shockingly fresh, hand made to order, beautifully plated, and served to your table on real plate ware. Drinks are served in wine glasses, and though there’s a busy murmur and some kitchen noise, it’s still quiet enough to enjoy polite conversation, which was a good thing, as fellow foodie Anthony Wilkinson, author of the big guy sharing food in Portland blog, joined me in this adventure.
Tony and I came ready to eat and review, cameras in hand, and we weren’t disappointed.
The Bambuza Salad Rolls were the first thing I tried, and they set the mood for the rest of the meal. Looks like a few chilled salad greens wrapped in rice paper, which made me think, Meh… but the first bite was explosive with the flavors of fresh raw basil and cilantro. It’s like a spring garden with a touch of frost blossoming in your mouth!
The shrimp were perfectly steamed and chilled. The leaf lettuce was super-fresh and crisp, and the three large rolls were served with a slightly sweet peanut dipping sauce what played a beautiful counter-point to the bitterness of the fresh greens.
Honestly, for most folks, this would have made a refreshing and satisfying light lunch. Of course, neither Tony nor I are anything like most folks, we came here with a job to do, and thus…we pressed on.
Banh Mi Thit Heo Nuong (Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sandwich): made with a short Vietnamese baguette, mayo, pickled carrot, cilantro, and grilled marinated pork.
This was Tony’s entree, which he was kind enough to share with me. An excellent sandwich, the pork was tender and moist, and grilled in a Hoisin-esque sauce with a nice balance of savory and sweet.
The roll was fresh, and soft with a good crust that gave a nice crackle with disintegrating with each bite.
Again, what really stood out was the burst of flavor from the fresh cilantro and the tang of the pickled carrots. Personally, I could have used a little more meat on the roll, but otherwise it was very tasty.
Hanoi Beef Pho: The signature Vietnamese noodle soup with fresh rice stick noodles in fragrant beef broth. Served with a side of bean-sprouts, jalapenos, lime wedge, and fresh basil.
The choice of beef cuts included thin-sliced leansteak, brisket, beef meatballs or a combo.
This is what I came for, and I chose the brisket (shocker, huh?)
Okay, so the good news first…the broth was amazing, rich and beefy without being greasy or over salted. The bean sprouts have a nice fresh crunch and the pepper added a nice burn. The portion was HUGE. Feeds two, easily.
But…the brisket was disappointing.
Now, I completely recognize that this is a “cultural preference” thing, but Pho calls for thin slices of raw brisket to be cooked in the soup broth.
My fellow bbq folk are cringing already.
Brisket is a tough cut of cow that requires (for western tastes) VERY low and slow cooking to break down the fibers and create a butter-soft meat. Any other style of cooking produces shoe-leather.
The brisket in the Pho required a LOT Of chewing and, given my preconceived notions of what brisket should feel like in my mouth, cast a shadow over what otherwise would have been one of the best bowls of soup I’ve ever eaten. This was NOT the kitchen’s fault, it was my own ignorance over how the dish was to be prepared. If I’d have done a little research, I’d have skipped the brisket.
I’m looking forward to going back and trying the other Pho options at Bambuza.
Coconut summer rolls: fresh rice paper rolls with fresh coconut meat, tofu, and roasted peanuts wrapped with lettuce, carrots and bean sprouts served with peanut sauce. These were good, but I didn’t really get any coconut flavor out of them. The only thing that really differentiated them from the salad rolls was the lack of basil and shrimp. Next time, I’ll stick to the former.
Wrapping up with the beverages. I found the bia 33, a Vietnamese beer, to be very flowery, bitter in a “perfumey” way, and not at all to my liking. Though, it was well chilled, and severed in a classy wine glass.
Tony had a coffee-flavored Bubble Tea Smoothie, which, personally, I found to be a freak-show in a glass. It was served with a straw that you could have sucked a bowling-ball through (should have been my first warning) and came off, at first, as a pretty standard, and good, frappuccino, EXCEPT that there was a layer of huge tapioca pearls hidden in the bottom.
Again, a cultural thing, but when I’m expecting a coffee smoothie and I suddenly find myself with a mouthful of fish eyeballs…I’m gonna pass, thanks.
Tony found my reaction very amusing. I was just glad that nothing embarrassing happened.
Overall – excellent food, portions, and pricing.
Left full, with another whole meal in my to-go bag, and a big smile on my face. I’ll definitely be going back!
So, if you like Vietnamese food…go to Bambuza Vietnam Grill. If you’ve never tried Vietnamese food…go to Bambuza Vietnam Grill.
Bring someone with you whose never tried it…order them a Smoothie. Bring a camera.