Two Worlds, One Classic (Sound 7/09)

Two chefs do what they wanna do with “Pork and Beans”

They say
I need some Rogaine
To put in my hair
Work it out at the gym
To fit my underwear
Oakley makes the shades
That transform a tool
You’d hate
For the kids to think
That you lost your cool

CHORUS

I’mma do the things
That I wanna do
I ain’t got a thing
To prove to you
I’ll eat my candy
With the pork and beans
Excuse my manners
If I make a scene

“Pork and Beans”
from Weezer (Red Album)
by Weezer

Remember 1987, when the National Pork Board positioned pork as “the other white meat” to boost sales? We’ve come a long way, baby. The power of the pig is strong in Seattle. And where there’s pork, there’s often beans—which simply love pig fat. Add a ham hock to a pot of navy beans and you just might convert an unsuspecting vegetarian. (I’m not condoning this behavior; it’s your ethical choice.) And pork and beans is not just an American phenomenon. In this month’s Dish-Off, I pig out as two contrasting restaurants—one new world, one old—make multi-course meals inspired by the song “Pork and Beans” by Weezer.

BOKA (Bold Original Kitchen Artistry) touts itself as a place for “urban American cuisine.” Chef Angie Roberts starts with a mug of English pea soup, which quickly raises the pea vs. bean question. But there’s no doubt about beans being on a thin crisp of toast atop the mug; favas mingle with feta and bacon, providing saltiness that was missing in the soup. Peas or beans, the greens glow in this course, much like the ever-changing wall colors in this lounge-like hotel restaurant that’s part of the luxurious Hotel 1000.

Olivar: Ajo blanco - Chilled Marcona almond soup with garlic, Spanish judion bean, and Serrano hamOlivar (Spanish for olive grove), in contrast, is cozy and charming, with grainy wood tables and Pushkin fairy tale-inspired murals from the 1930’s. Chef Philippe Thomelin grew up in France and lived in Spain, so I know my pork and beans will be Mediterranean-style. As I snap a photo of the ajo blanco, my dining companion samples a spoonful of hers. She’s about to describe it, but her garlicky breath delivers the message first. The blended soup is complex; beneath the garlic, I taste Marcona almonds and Spanish judion beans, which are like butter beans on steroids, and coveted for their creaminess. Grape halves and strips of Serrano ham bring bursts of sweetness to help balance the garlic taste.

For the salad course, I adore BOKA’s fresh Washington garbanzo beans (edamame-like, with a nutty flavor) camouflaged in some foraged greens, dressed with a green garlic vinaigrette and topped with strips of crispy prosciutto playing the “bacon bits” role. It’s delicate and delicious. As is Olivar’s wild watercress salad, featuring tender haricots verts and morcilla migas—crumbs of Spanish blood sausage that bring the unique, rich flavor (and some would say soul) of the pig to the plate. Thomelin tells me he eagerly accepted the pork and bean challenge partly because he likes to use the many parts of the pig, which today will include skin and blood.

BOKA: Pork ‘n’ bean duo - Braised pork belly with baked Full Circle Farm’s beans, and sweet and sticky baby back ribs with jicama slawRibs rule the day at both restaurants for the entrée course. Roberts tells me that when she thought about pork and beans, the words “sloppy” and “sweet” came to mind, leading her to serve a pork ‘n’ bean duo. On one side of the plate are “sweet and sticky” baby back ribs sitting on jicama slaw; on the other side, braised pork belly with baked Full Circle Farm’s beans. Pork and beans is a canned classic in the minds of most Americans. Roberts and I recall childhood days of trying to avoid the whitish glob of pork fat in our bowls of beans. I remember slicing hot dog pieces into the beans, and joke that these days, as an insatiable pork lover, I’d probably pounce on the pork fat. No fat to be found in these beans, though. With a stick of watermelon rock candy and a glass of watermelon soda in the center, this pork plate screams summer, and is playful—and plenty tasty.

Thomelin also serves two pork preparations for the entrée course: Pedro Ximenez-braised pork ribs and flamenquin—Manchego cheese and pounded pork loin that’s wrapped in Serrano ham, then fried. The ribs are wonderfully tender, acidic and almost sugary (PX is a white grape that produces a sweet vinegar), while the flamenquin is full of incredible crispiness and, well, porkiness. I also enjoy the fava bean puree and whole fava beans, with the bitterness balanced by some sun-dried tomato.

Desserts also fit the theme. After the sweet and sticky entrée, the red bean ice cream at BOKA is clean and refreshing. Azuki bean (strong and nutty) lends itself well to a not-so-sweet dessert, though I wish the flavor was more prominent, as the cherry compote overshadows it. Still, I like the bacon bits, as well as the vanilla-thyme and bacon tuile, that accompany the frozen treat. Meanwhile, at Olivar, Thomelin has been savoring the chance to showcase pork in dessert and sends out a four-parter: a chocolate Bavorois cannoli; berry soup with goat cheese and pocha bean (which is smooth when ground up, and like azuki, slightly nutty); caramelized chorizo that’s sweet, porky goodness; and pork skin crackling that’s crispy, porky goodness. Most interesting, and perhaps unwittingly, both chefs conjure up beans (though neither of these is technically a bean) in their use of vanilla and chocolate.

At the upscale BOKA, I get an urban American meal highlighted by a plate that features baby back ribs and baked beans. Charming Olivar takes me to the old world in a bold way, showing off lots of piggy parts and preparing an unforgettable ajo blanco soup. And much to their credit, both Chef Roberts and Chef Thomelin manage to sneak both theme ingredients into all the courses—including dessert, which means that I, like Weezer, can “eat my candy with the pork and beans.”

The menus

BOKA

  • English pea soup with fava bean, feta and bacon toast
  • Spring salad with foraged greens, spring onion, Washington garbanzo beans, crispy prosciutto and green garlic vinaigrette
  • Pork ‘n’ bean duo: Braised pork belly with baked Full Circle Farm’s beans, and sweet and sticky baby back ribs with jicama slaw
  • Red bean ice cream with sweet red beans, cherry compote, and vanilla-thyme and bacon tuile

Olivar

  • Pork belly and candied apple (with garbanzo bean crust)
  • Wild watercress with haricots verts and morcilla migas
  • Ajo blanco: Chilled Marcona almond soup with garlic, Spanish judion bean, and Serrano ham
  • Pedro Ximenez braised pork ribs with fava beans, flamenquin and roasted cauliflower
  • Chocolate Bavarois cannoli, caramelized chorizo, berry soup with goat cheese and pocha bean, pork skin crackling

All photos in the post by Rina Jordan. (Click to enlarge them.)

Here are photos of the other dishes from this Dish-Off.

Note: Dish-Off reviews are based on announced visits. Restaurants get guidelines and choose what to serve according to the month’s theme.

BOKA Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon

Olivar on Urbanspoon

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