Blanca - Solana Beach, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We came away from our Snout-to-Tail dinner at Blanca quite impressed, and had resolved to make a return reasonably soon. Our anniversary turned out to be the perfect excuse. In advance of our visit, we arranged an extended tasting menu with Chef Gavin Schmidt - given the profusion of pork at our previous meal, we requested a lighter degustation this time around, with emphasis on vegetables and seafood. I'm pleased to say that the chef succeeded with flying colours.

Intermezzo 2 - Ba gua (肉干)

Ba gua (肉干 - yoke gon in Cantonese; also known as long yoke in Malaysia) is a Chinese dried-meat product, traditionally made with minced pork that is shaped into thin slices and barbecued (although chicken and turkey versions are becoming increasingly common). Ba gua is popular in regions with a large Hokkien Chinese presence, and is especially sought after during festive seasons like the Chinese New Year. In Malaysia, the good stuff runs $5-7/lb - I purchased the ba gua below at a whopping $25/lb from Little Red Dot Kitchen, a small operation based in Sunnyvale, CA.

At its best, ba gua has a perfect balance of sweet and salty, with a hint of smokiness - the overall flavour should appeal to ones senses on a primal level. The mouthfeel will be slightly oily (but never overly greasy - the sign of poor-quality ba gua), and you should be able to really discern the texture of the meat in your mouth. Like great barbecue, there should be some char on the surface of each slice, but nothing overly burnt - this can be assessed and appreciated visually as well.

So how did the Californian ba gua fare? Honestly, not bad. It scratched an itch, and it's actually a decent representation of ba gua for the uninitiated. Would I buy more? Perhaps - the price is exorbitant for what it is, but the product is unique. But really, what I need to do is take a crack at making my own.

Ba gua - Little Red Dot Kitchen, Sunnyvale, CA (2011)