With the death of Bun Rieu Quan, The “New in ’11” LA Asian food scene seemed less darling. It’s not that Bun Rieu Quan is the “b”est restaurant in SGV, it’s the fact there are actually few mom & pops churning out affordable & tasty food. West SGV was mad for the spicy/numbing choo choo train in Q1 and Q2 of 2011; Ktown’s pochang machas are barely scraping by with all their 50% happy hours, while the rest of Hallyu groupies* are once again jizzing over the same DYI cut of pork belly, dipped in the same gdamn ssamjang; the loudest pop on the Thai front was a young Thai gent replicating Bangkok Street food in WeHo. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m sick of raggedy peanut buttered dan dan mian, deplorably bad beef noodle soups, and $10 Thai sausages being passed off as the creme dela creme of this fair city’s Asian cuisine.
Then, Crispy Pork Gang unceremoniously took over Captain Thai in Thai Town mid June, and I’m thinking: “dude, bombass authentic Asian food just touched down in LA, let’s not wait for this shit to hit The Find.”**
How authentic is Crispy Pork Gang? You won’t see any ping pong shows in Thai Town Plaza ala Patpong, but fried pork belly was being sold at every stall at the open market by Soi 22 off Thanon Silom. (Silom City Hotel: you bastards still have my Canon Speedlite). THB30 stir fries will never be found in LA, but for $7 and a 10 mile drive, Crispy Pork Gang is your Acela Express straight to Bangkok. If your idea of Siam grubbing is tweeting that picture of a lopped coconut from an all-in resort in Krabi Island, don’t bother. This here’s a total dump with tchotchkes so reckless even your grams may kvetch.
CPG takes a couple of chefs from Hoy Ka, an owner who is a sister/auntie/cousie/really-just-a-family-friend of the first (or the second) Hoy-Ka operator, a concept menu dedicated solely to fried pork belly, and assembles it all into certifiably the most exciting Thai shanty in LA. You may have succumbed to Animal’s overpriced pork sliders time and again, it’s possible Huge Tree’s pork belly gua bao even appeared on that foodiet radar thanks to C. Thi Nguyen. But is there a more complex preparation of pork belly beyond CPG’s in Los Angeles? Not talking about the gut-wretching $75 pork belly at Red Med, just interested with prosaic cooking techniques involving hydrophobic liquids and a 600 degrees wok.
Below is a dish that is among the finest sampled in 2011 — sauteed crispy pork with fried 1000 year old duck eggs. You can order it as spicy as you wish, but a medium is a perfect compromise. This dish is mid-sized morsels of cubed & fried pork belly, tossed in a the wok with some fried black eggs, then lightly dressed. There’s no curry paste, but hits of fish sauce are omnipresent. It stinks of gefilte fish funk and wok, it bares its ass towards umami. At $7, this is an exemplary dish that represents the crux of Siamese cuisine. And if ever some colorfully inked, facially hirsute chef (armed with a few months at AlinWD50Bulli) decides to deconstruct this dish, someone ought to scream “bullshit” as if they’re attempting to win the card game.
Crispy pork isn’t just crunchy, it’s also a bit chewy when covered in wokked prik khing. The prik khing crispy pork is best served ultra-spicy, lest the kitchen has to thin the curry paste. A good way to truly enjoy the prik khing is to first ruminate the gloriousness of open dining on Hollywood Blvd, thereby allowing the porous pork grinds to absorb, then be softened by, the rather salty prik khing sauce. 10 minutes later, the dish turns into something akin to 锅塌 method of cooking in Chinese (ie, piccata, without the flattening), with the previously crisped bits carrying a good bit of chew as well. This dish, served all hours of the day in Thailand despite the pork being fried early in the morning, always carry that fried jerky texture. Can’t afford to go to Bangkok? Go up the 101 and exit Hollywood.
To demonstrate the neighborly relations between Sino and Siam, Crispy Pork Gang does a fantastic $10 rice congee course paired with 3 selectable sides. While the choices may not be as bountiful Lu’s Garden, the punches served up by the Chinese “spicy pork sausage” salad are so satisfying that a masochist ought to order the “rice soup” course every time. An additional benefit: it’s even cheap enough to quality as a “Midtown Lunch” for the Manhattanite in you.
Still not convinced? CPG’s already loyal customers clamor for the grilled squid. No doubt the squid itself is evocative of Thailand’s street food on a stick, but by itself, it’s not completely convincing. Dipped in the thickened tamarind fish sauce packing severe heat? Yah, that’s 2 flavors of the sea simultaneously molesting your tongue and the orifice containing it.
CPG isn’t without faults. Arrive at brunch time and the aspiring fried morning glory topped pork larb could be an overbreaded mess without the right chef manning the batter. Done right, it rivals that OTHER fried morning glory salad at 75% the cost. But really, can you put a price on poignant larb so full of mortared lemon grass and lime? Dotted by ceviched shrimp no less?
Crispy Pork Gang & Grill
(not related to the actual crispy pork gang on facebook)
5253 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
24 freakin’ hours.
* Still, I maintain only 3 good things originated from Korea: few bangin’ K-girls, Samsung/LG appliances, Hyundai Sonata turbo
** Big props to them for the Lil Saigon run down this week though.
- « Yujean Kang, Pasadena: 20th Anniversary
- » L’epicerie, Culver City — Larder, Pantry, Deliciousness.