Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bar Food: Weirdly Good and Just Weird

There has been a trend lately toward restaurants elevating the sort of food one would eat only when high or drunk to something of an art form. In Los Angeles the restaurant Animal is making fancy poutine (fries covered in gravy and cheese) and pork rinds grace bar tops from Publican’s spicy version in Chicago to Maialino’s in New York, served with a tangy vinegar dipping sauce.

With all the high-end places venturing into lowbrow food, it is no wonder that certain restaurants known more for their happy hour than haute cuisine are trying to up the ante when it comes to booze friendly snacks. Some of these creations are minor revelations, others are just weird and should go back to the hazy high from whence they came.

Among the more interesting ideas comes the novel use of wonton wrappers. Nine, a minor figure on the Hell’s Kitchen drinking and dining scene in New York, scores points for its “Buffalo” Chicken Dumplings- the lovechild of Buffalo wings and fried dumplings. Wonton wrappers are filled with a traditional mix of ground chicken and spices then skewered on a popsicle stick before hitting the deep fryer. The resulting crispy impaled dumplings are drizzled in tangy sauce hot sauce and a thinned out ranch dressing. The result is a happy marriage of east-west snack food.

In other creative-use-of-wonton-wrapper news, The New York Times reported this week on the men behind Torrisi Italian Specialties serving up Chinese Nachos at their San Gennaro Festival stand in New York City. These fried wonton nachos come drizzled in duck sauce and hot mustard. Ligaya Mishan reports that “Nothing but mustard registers.” Maybe so but I like the idea. Perhaps for the full on restaurant version they could try covering the fried wontons in shredded duck confit and duck sauce, easy on the mustard. That’s a crazy upscale bar food idea I could get behind.

Finally, in ideas that should never have been, at PBR Bar and Grill in Las Vegas trailer park favorites like corn dogs and fried pickles can be had with a side of Fire Cracker Cole Slaw. Coleslaw is hard enough to get right in its most simple form, too often degrading into a tasteless pile of soggy shredded cabbage drowning in mayonnaise. PBR decided to take a bad thing and make it worse by topping the already terrible rendition of this cabbage salad with Pop Rocks, those neon colored candies that sizzle and pop when they come in contact with liquid e.g. one’s mouth or the soppy coleslaw. The effect this offensive side salad elicits cannot be underestimated- even after pushing the slaw as far away from me as I lost my appetite for everything else on the table as the Pop Rocks continued to snap, crackle and pop in a chorus of talking food.

Call it fancy stoner food or simply the next phase in scaling up comfort food, but I think pork rinds with $18 glasses of Bordeaux are probably here to stay. As for those bars who used to think fried bar snacks were their exclusive domain, I fully support creative explorations in the use of wonton wrappers. But when a gimmick, like Pop Rock covered coleslaw, is disgusting then it is just that, a gimmick, and no amount of Jagermeister is going to make that taste good.

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