Brunch at Fresh Bistro, less the Cracker Jack box

Obviously, I’m brutally backed up (aside from my Sound/City Arts reports) on my restaurant write-ups. So let’s start with a morning meal. Over the summer (remember summer?), I returned to Fresh Bistro (having previously discussed their brulee, bellies and beets) to sample a few of the brunch offerings, to which I’d say: two out three ain’t bad.

No…no Meat Loaf served, but definitely a meat-filled brunch. Tops was the banh mi ($9). This came as a surprise, since on a value scale I couldn’t imagine paying more than my usual $2.00 for a BBQ pork sandwich at one of my favorite places in Little Saigon. But did I mention that Fresh Bistro’s version is made with pork belly? The belly’s braised, lending its luscious layers of fat to the depth of the sandwich. There’s a fried egg for the bacon-and-eggs effect, as well as the usual: pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro, and jalapenos—though this was a little more salad-y than most with the addition of cucumbers and romaine. Oh…and foie gras mayonnaise, though the foie feeling was lost amidst all the other ingredients. A super sandwich overall, and I liked the snappy little salad on the side. Sadly, the banh mi now appears to be off the brunch menu, though it survives on the lunch menu.

I also enjoyed the sopes ($12). This isn’t something I would have been inclined to order on my own, but I’m glad I got to try them. Lots of textures and flavors coming from the fried masa cake topped with shredded pork, summer squash, kohlrabi slaw, roasted tomatillo salsa and cotija—along with black beans, Spanish rice, and the ever-present, ever-delightful fried egg.

What I looked forward to most was actually my least favorite: the bibimbap ($12). This Korean mixed rice bowl wasn’t bad, with its egg (again!), quick kimchi, enoki mushroom and bean sprout salad, and Korean chili paste. But I would have liked just a little more of the delicious, kalbi-grilled wagyu flank steak, as well as a bit more bite from the sauce. (Perhaps slower kimchi or more Korean chili paste is the answer?) The biggest disappointment, though, was that Fresh Bistro’s bibimbap is made with brown rice. Brown rice? Who eats that stuff? Chef Dalis Shea does, apparently. And I guess others do as well. But for me, brown rice is just a little too healthy, and a mismatch for the dish; its full-bodied, earthy flavor doesn’t allow the other ingredients to “pop” as they do with plain, white rice. Brown rice: there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you.

Nevertheless, as far as Fresh Bistro’s brunch goes, don’t be sad, cause two out of three ain’t bad.

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