Despite the fog, despite the wind whipping through the Alemany farmers market site, even despite my husband Facebooking a photo of me with a knitted cap yanked down over my head, I was still wowed by the second annual La Cocina Night Market.
Or maybe it was the warm glow of chatting with Chefs Azalina Eusope and Suvir Saran that made me forget the cold. She (La Cocina entrepreneur who creates dazzling Malaysian cuisine) and he (former Top Chef Masters contender with plans to open a San Francisco restaurant) had the best dish of the evening, lamb curry with murtabak (flatbread stuffed with savory sweet potato and peas) all topped with cauliflower and onion pickles from Suran's mom's recipe.
The spices were so clean, the flavors danced together so beautifully, that sharing one portion -- our usual method for tasting as much as possible -- just wasn't enough. My husband (aka the Bottomless Pit) insisted that we circle back and each get another helping. No argument from me.
In addition to our murtabak orgy, we managed to sample some excellent North Carolina whole hog (from Sam Jones of Skylight Inn BBQ) and South Carolina whole hog (from Rodney Scott of Scott's BBQ). Thank goodness the Carolinas' chefs are way better than their politicians! Both dishes of smoky, tender pork were pure heaven. Sugarfoot Grits (from La Cocina entrepreneur Stephanie Fields) were the perfect pairing. Fields turns out the best version I've ever tasted.
Some local big-name chefs turned out to support the La Cocina benefit, including Traci Des Jardins (Mijita and Jardiniere), who turned out ribs with a complex, Latin-spiced sauce caramelized onto the falling-apart meat. Alexander Ong (ex-Betelnut) and Brandon Jew (ex-Bar Agricole) were there, as were Anthony Strong (Locanda), Hoss Zare (Zare at Fly Trap) and David Bazirgan (Fifth Floor).
M.Y. China sent a noodle puller to entertain the crowd (and Chef Ong), while other diversions included a karaoke booth, hookah smoking, ping pong and a game called -- I swear this is true -- cornhole.
This year, food offerings were grouped by geographic region, which perhaps helped attendees hone in on their favorite cuisine but, frankly, I missed the sense of adventure from last year's less-organized presentation.
Cooking areas were well back from the serving areas, which distanced the chefs from diners -- though I do suppose it was a better working setup than last year. Next time, I hope the organizers will find a way to re-inject that sense of intimacy.
We polished off a bowl of bo kho beef stew, from Jessica Nguyen of Bicycle Banh Mi, to end the evening. It was just like mom used to make -- if mom had had star anise in the pantry. Delicious, warming, and the perfect way to fend off the cold.
I agree with many I comments I overheard, wishing there were a night market all year 'round. My ugly knit cap and I would be there every week!