One of the challenges of living a thousand miles away from home is satisfying the cravings for food that you can't find anywhere else. So when Chef Alexander Ong of San Francisco's Betelnut Restaurant invited me on Twitter to try his Fish Head Curry, it didn't take more than two seconds to respond with a resounding YES!
Partnering with Blackboard Eats, the e-newsletter on restaurant deals in New York, LA and now, San Francisco, Betelnut Restaurant is offering Fish Head Curry as part of a special menu for Blackboard Eats subscribers that launches today. Featuring four "off the menu" family-style dishes designed for the most adventurous of diners, each item is based on Chef Ong's childhood favorites from growing up in Malaysia.
We got a chance to sample this "secret menu" at a recent media preview, starting with Crispy Chicken Livers with Black Pepper Sauce ($9.88), a traditional street food snack in Malaysia. Soaked in milk before being breaded in cornstarch and deep fried, the livers are tossed in a black pepper sauce that's also used in this traditional crab dish. As a fairly timid eater that shys away from "exotic cuts" like these, the livers were the perfect ice-breaker. A light crunch quickly gives away to rich, creamy liver, its earthy taste masked by the pungency of black pepper.
Next up was Cured Lamb Tongue with Galangal, Lime and Crispy Taro ($11.88). Served cold, this Northern Malaysian dish reflects the Thai influences of the region, as poached tongues are shaved into thin slivers and tossed with aromatic ingredients. Galangal, lime juice, chilies and sugar create an interplay of bold, acidic and sweet flavors on the palate, while crispy fried taro strips counterbalance the spongy texture of tongue meat. Galangal's strong aromatics are key in this dish, adding another dimension to the palate.
Salt and Pepper Veal Sweetbreads ($12.88) reflect Chef Ong's French culinary training and his upbringing in a Cantonese family. Prepared in a similar fashion to crispy calamari, sweetbreads are breaded, fried and topped with a mixture of scallions, ginger, garlic, five spice, Sichuan peppercorn and salt. Be sure to order at least two servings of this because one bowl can easily vanish over the course of a few beers and engaging conversation.
The nibbles we had up until now had barely started to fill us up when the star of the meal arrived: Tamarind Fish Head Curry ($15.88). The whole head of a grouper is braised with shrimp paste, coriander seed, ground turmeric, curry spices, tamarind and coconut milk with the addition of eggplant and okra, and garnished with cilantro.
I'll be honest: this is an absolutely unglamorous dish, requiring full concentration to slowly pick out different pieces of fish tucked into numerous crevices, with your hands. But the tamarind curry, bursting with flavor of fish broth and a multitude of spices, is the ultimate reward for your hard work and dirty fingers. Think of it as a full-on crab fest except with more sauce and bigger chunks of meat, and get those wet wipes on standby.
Just as we were about to settle our appetites for an afternoon siesta, more dishes from the regular menu magically appeared to aid us in our task. Our server, Alex, prepared bowls of Seabass "cha ca la vong" with Rice Noodles (above) tableside, a Northern Vietnam classic featuring generous accents of turmeric and dill. Rounding out the meal were platters of "Shui Jiao" Pork Dumplings cooked in a szechuan peppercorn broth and generous servings of Marin Sun Farms' Xinjiang Cumin Lamb with fresh Sesame Buns. Apparently when Chef Ong invites you for a meal, what he really means is that he's cooking up a feast!
To sample Betelnut's Secret Menu, just subscribe to the Blackboard Eats newsletter and buy the passcode (at $1) for today's deal, which is valid through May 5, 2011.
We’ve got two passcodes to giveaway today for two lucky readers! We are giving away (2) annual passes to BBE, valued at $20 each. This annual pass will give you free access to all the BBE specials that come up over the year. To win a pass, just leave a comment below telling us about the most adventurous things you've eaten.
Giveaway deadline is Friday 3/11, 11:59 pm PST. (Contest is open to US residents only. Winner will be selected by random.org.)
Disclosure: This giveaway was made possible via a giveaway donation by Blackboard Eats.Update: Congrats to Chris & Sara, winners of Lick My Spoon’s Blackboard Eats Giveaway! ADDRESS
2030 Union Street
(between Webster St. & Buchanan St.)
San Francisco, CA 94123
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