E&O Asian Kitchen Travels the “Spice Route”

Black pepper and caramel-braised pork belly
Black pepper and caramel-braised pork belly

by Anneli Rufus

San Francisco’s newly remodeled E&O Asian Kitchen recently offered a preview of its new Spice Route program — in which, every month until September, the high-ceilinged Union Square restaurant will add to its regular pan-Asian menu one savory dish, one sweet dish and one handcrafted cocktail based on a particular spice traditionally associated with the ancient Asian Spice Route. The special dish and drink will be available only during its designated month.

March’s spice was cinnamon; April’s is black pepper; May’s is turmeric; June’s is cardamom; July’s is ginger; August’s is star anise.

During the special tasting, E&O’s chef Sharon Nahm and mixologist Carlos Yturria served samples of dishes and drinks that will be part of the program. Representing March was a smoky, tender, dry-braised chicken with cinnamon.

“You see cinnamon in a lot of desserts and even in a lot of drinks,” explained Nahm, a California Culinary Academy alumna and veteran of Stars, Kuleto’s and Lark Creek Walnut Creek. “The trick is how to use cinnamon in savory dishes without letting the cinnamon overpower them.”

To accompany the chicken, Yturria — a first-place winner of both Santé Magazine’s Iron Bar Chef competition and the Northern California regional United States Bar Tenders Guild Competition — served a cocktail comprising house-spiced Brugal rum with bergamot and cinnamon. Best known for lending Earl Gray tea its distinctive flavor, bergamot is a bitter and exquisitely fragrant yellow citrus fruit. The rum was infused with spices in-house.

Also shared were crispy-soft black pepper and caramel-braised pork belly, representing April; a gin cocktail featuring pan-toasted cardamom and ginger, representing June; and spicy pork-and-kimchi dumplings with ginger-soy dipping sauce, representing July. Among many other dishes to be featured as part of the six-month program are grilled lamb sirloin with cardamom-scented curry sauce; star anise-braised short ribs; lemongrass rice pudding with turmeric-infused coconut cream; and condensed milk pound cake with strawberries, black pepper and Thai basil.

“It’s been great having a chance to explore all these spices and discover new things that they can do,” said Nahm.

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