Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Meal with Emil: China Poblano

It all started with this window and two cute Chinese ladies making steamed buns.  They were eyeing Emil as we pushed him by in the stroller, smiling & waving.  Ryan & I smile back, but our gazes don't meet their eyes. We kept walking, but we were both thinking about those delicious-looking buns.  

Emil was not having a good day, or a good weekend for that matter! The Kalama Brothers were in town to play the Ohana Festival at Springs Preserve.  The Vegas shows always becomes an Ohana festival, with so many in our family living there!  Our visit with them was a bright spot in an otherwise challenging trip. We blamed teething, but there was very little sleep happening in our room.  In desperation, around 7am I offer to take a walk with Emil so Daddy could get some sleep.  A Downtown Vegas hotel/casino is not a very baby friendly place to take a morning stroll.  We zigzagged around trying to dodge smokers and shady characters.  We walked outside in search of fresh air, but only found ourselves searching for shade.  We searched in vain for a Starbucks :( The scene was equally tragic at Springs shade in sight. What are they 'preserving' anyway? Astroturf? San Clemente weather has ruined me for the rest of the country...Vegas, how do you do it? I really should have made time for breakfast, but I was mentally 'saving myself' for some ono grinds at the Ohana Fest.  Instead, we found some sad excuse for curry chicken katsu slopped over jasmine rice...and this was the best looking option!, sleep deprived, hungry.  I attempt to nurse Emil with a dry, sweaty teat.  It is every bit as terrible as it sounds. Ryan & I look at each other in desperation. "I think we made a big mistake", shaking our heads in our hands. Parenting is hard, and our hunger only escalates the problems. Tomorrow is a new day.

 "Today, we eat like kings!", I say clearly with something to prove.    
Which brings me back to those beautiful buns :)  Only when the baby drifted off to sleep (finally!), did we give in to their deliciousness.  Sometimes, a nap can turn the whole day around. This nap literally turned us around! This was our chance! We change directions, walking back to the Cosmopolitan hotel and directly to the hostess at Jose Andres's China Poblano.  Table for two please, and room for a stroller.
Noodle bar meets taco stand, I'm still not really sure what brings Chinese & Mexican food together. I say this even after reading an old legend on the menu about an Asian girl brought to Mexico by pirates. Jose Andres brought the two cuisines together, and both were delicious...that's enough for me. I loved that the front window on the Mexico side of the kitchen also operated as a taco stand serving 'street food' to the crowds walking through the hotel! Nice touch.
I'm feeling better already, as we survey the menu. We tried to give each side of the kitchen equal opportunity, so we ordered 2 items from both the Chinese & Mexican menus.  I love small plates and sharing, and this menu was great for that.  Things just came out of the kitchen as they were ready, so it was a surprise to see what dish would be next. I loved the Tuna Ceviche. Beautifully fresh ahi, amaranth seeds, 
soy sauce & pecans, which offered a delicious crunch.  I really enjoyed the temperature of this dish...nicely chilled.  The most deceptively challenging rule in cooking is hot food hot, cold foods cold.  Sounds easy enough, but with the hustle bustle of a busy kitchen, things happen.  This ceviche was presented on ice..problem solved. 
The noodle dish was a daily special, so some of the server's description escapes me.  Buckwheat noodles & black pepper...honestly, too much black pepper.  While the daily special may have been a tad forgettable, I can vividly recollect Lengua Tacos! I know some of you out there are instantly puckering in distaste, tongue tacos? Tongue can be quite tasty...try it! Since tongue is a tough muscle, it requires a rather long cooking time to become tender.  This Lengua taco was perfectly tender, shred-able beef  topped with a salsa pasilla & what I thought to be not quite enough radish.  I like radishes :) 
China Poblano calls these little beauties "When Pigs Fly", delicate steamed buns filled with Chinese BBQ pork.  The Hawaiians call this dish Manapua, the Chinese call it Cha Siu Bao (bao means bun) and serve it with Dim Sum. I have my husband Ryan to thank for my intro to this Hawaiian favorite.  Awesome food is yet another perk of marrying a Polynesian! Honestly, I haven't had a bad Manapua yet! I love the softness as a result of the steaming, paired with the nice texture of the yeast dough...delectable little clouds.  I thought this version had a nice ratio of bun to pork. They tasted every bit as good as I had imagined, walking by that window salivating.  I feel revived. We had our reward. 

Our respite was brief, as Emil soon woke up, grunting at us for tastes of everything.  Luckily, it was enough.  We felt renewed! A well-timed meal (along with a well-timed nap) can turn the whole day around.  Those beautiful little steamed buns, and all the deliciousness that came along with, were like a symbol of hope in a dark moment of parenting.  It's tiring, it's testing to our every fiber of patience, but we will be sustained...this time in the form of a delightful pork filled dough ball :)

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