Ribfest: Finger Licking Good

I went to Reno, Nevada with my family this past weekend for Labor Day. Reno is known as “The Biggest Little City in the World.” A little less known neighboring city a few miles from Downtown Reno is Sparks, Nevada. Sparks has a population of about 90,000 people. Each year during Labor Day weekend, 500,000 visitors come to Sparks to attend the annual “Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-off” aka “Ribfest.” This is a competition that has been happening at the Nugget Casino Resort since 1989 to find out who cooks the best barbecue pork ribs in the Country. The top winners receive prize money, a trophy, and bragging rights. Visitors can buy barbecue ribs from any of the competitors. I’ve heard about “Ribfest” for many years, but this was my first time attending.  

There were about 24 competitors this year so how does one go about deciding which ones to try? A friend of mine gave me some recommendations and they were similar to my brother’s friends recommendations, so that was what we went with. We got a full rack of ribs from three vendors for our family of nine.  
The first one we tried was from Aussom Aussie’s, originally from Down Under. I was in rib heaven after my first bite. It had a nice taste of honey and really reminds me of “char siu” or Chinese BBQ pork. The pork was tender, juicy, and easily came off the bone. Aussom Aussie’s won best barbecue sauce in 2015.
The second one we tried was from Michigan’s Bone Daddy’s BBQ, which was quite different from Aussom Aussie’s. I definitely felt like I was a part of barbecue perfection. These ribs had a kick and a smoke to them which was very enjoyable. Bone Daddy’s won first place last year.
The final rack came from the local BJ’s BBQ from Sparks. These ribs had a hint of sweetness and spiciness. I thought to myself, if Aussom Aussie and Bone Daddy’s got married and had a baby, they could name it BJ. The last prize BJ received was 4th place in 2010.
The unanimous favorite of the Lau family was Aussom Aussie’s, which didn’t win any awards this year. This year the winners included: 

1st – Rasta Joe’s BBQ
2nd – Bone Daddy’s BBQ
3rd – Texas Thunder BBQ

All the BBQ rib cookers at “Ribfest” are masters in their art of barbecuing and I think they are all winners. I hope to be back to attend a future “Ribfest.”


KaSoy Pop Up: Mien Noodle Soup

A month ago I attended a pop up dinner at the home of my Instagram friend @dishingoakland. The theme was Mien food cooked by Instagrammer @laneylaneyfong.  
Our appetIzer was a broiled chicken wing with asparagus spears and came with an unforgettable Mien sauce. The sauce had very similar ingredients to a fresh Mexican salsa, but used roasted tomatoes that really made it pop.  
The main was KaSoy which was the reason for having the pop up. KaSoy is a popular and traditional Mien noodle soup. The dedicate and flavorful broth used for KaSoy is cooked with bone marrow for a number of hours, way before we arrived. The bowl of rice noodles, beef balls, vegetables, and fabulous broth is topped with a signature saucy ground pork mixture. There was a communal plate of chopped green onions, cabbage, bean sprouts, and cilantro if we wanted to add more. Individually we were also given chicharrones and a lime wedge to add to the KaSoy.
Chef Laney also prepared our soup bowls with hot chili sauce. I definitely thought it was spicy, but not so much that I couldn’t handle it. There were two diners that needed their bowls prepared with less spice. We recommended that this be self administered in the future.
At the end of our meal, our host baked some cupcakes and quickly whipped up some homemade strawberry frosting for dessert. It was light and was a nice treat to end the meal.
I was fortunate to attend this small pop up dinner where I was able to experience KaSoy noodle soup for the first time. As a noodle soup lover, I enjoyed it very much.  It was also great fun to meet others that enjoy good food. Follow @dishingoakland or myself at @510foodie on Instagram to find out about potential KaSoy pop ups in the future.  

Duck Hunt: New King Restaurant

The first thing you see when you walk into New King Restaurant (actually, entrance is from the back door via their parking lot) is a window display of roast meats including roast pork, BBQ pork, and roast ducks.  
New King is located on one end of International Blvd., only a few blocks from Lake Merritt and serves a combination of Chinese and Vietnamese food. A close friend introduced me to this place about a year ago. She frequents the place often in the mornings to pick up a Vietnamese iced coffee. With a lot of choices in Oakland for Chinese or Vietnamese food, I have been drawn to New King more often in the past six to eight months.  
One day I was craving wonton noodle soup and discovered that New King makes a good one. You can select one or more of their roast meats hanging from their display as a topping. The plump wontons are filled with pork and shrimp. I found the wontons to be fresh and just the right size. The egg noodles also had the right texture. My topping was a delicious BBQ pork. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to savor the sauciness of the BBQ as much because it slowly melted away in my soup. 

My favorite noodle dish at New King is a Vietnamese dish called Hu Tieu Mi Nam Vang Kho, where the broth is served on the side. It comes with assorted sliced meats including some intestines as well as seafood. Topped with an abundant amount of cilantro, there are other deep flavors that meld together to make this dish wonderful. It’s nutty, garlicky, and kind of umami.  

If you look closely enough, there are two kinds of duck that hang on display. The first is the common Chinese roast duck. The other is a flattened duck called Peipa duck. I had never eaten Peipa duck before. Last Friday, I planned “Duck Day” for a small group of my colleagues. I bought the two ducks cut up, brought them back to the office, and we ate.  
Two liked the traditional roast duck (pictured on right) best and two liked the Peipa duck (pictured on left) best. The Peipa duck was a bit leaner and had a deep sweet flavor I enjoyed very much. Most importantly, the skin was crispy like what you would find on a Peking duck. One coworker found this one “gamey,” but that didn’t bother me. I did a Google search to find more information on the Peipa duck and interestingly enough, it was named after the Pipa, a Chinese guitar that is pear shaped. When the duck is cut open and flattened, it resembles this instrument.

Aside from flavor, I look for a crisp tight skin and juicy meat on a traditional roast duck and this one had both. I have enjoyed New King’s roast duck a few times now and I find that it is one of the best you can buy in Oakland.
I would be remiss not to mention the roast pork at New King. I bought a small sample and my colleagues devoured it. With its crackling skin, I can’t imagine anything better at that moment of consumption.

Popping up in Oakland: Pop Sandwich

Pop Sandwich is a one man shop creating sandwiches in the back of a convenience store in the Uptown district of Oakland. The man, Ian opened up this little business a few months ago and he’s getting rave reviews for his sandwiches especially the pork adobo sandwich. My colleague mentioned how she stumbled upon this place a couple of blocks from our workplace.
We went to pay a visit to Pop Sandwich last week and ordered a few sandwiches to examine more closely. I asked Ian how he got to making sandwiches. He worked at restaurants around the Bay Area including Range and Ame and even traveled around Asia before he decided on giving this a try.
I first tried the pork adobo sandwich which is soy and vinegar braised pork shoulder, lettuce, sambal, aioli, carrot, and crispy onion. The delicious French bread first got my attention which Ian gets fresh from a local Vietnamese bakery. On first bite I felt like I was missing some vinegar and pepper flavor that is so present in adobo. As I continued on, I got more of the adobo flavor. By the last bite, the juices appeared like the au jus in a roast beef sandwich and was so good. Here is a quote from one of my colleagues “the Adobo Pork was the best Adobo Pork Sandwich I’ve had. So good. I would go for that over most things at Stags.” (Stag’s Lunchette is an amazing sandwich shop a few doors over.)
Another sandwich we got was the curry squash which was one of the vegetarian options. It’s made of squash, tofu, coconut milk, sambal, aioli, lettuce, basil, cilantro, lime, carrot, and crispy onion. I really liked the flavor profile of the curry sandwich but felt there was something missing – maybe it was meat or fat. Vegetarians would love it.
The mahi mahi sandwich was another sandwich we tried. Filled with confit mahi loin, lettuce, tomato, brown mustard, aioli, carrots, red onion, and cornichon, this was a really hearty sandwich. I enjoyed this one a lot for its uniqueness. Every ingredient appeared important to this sandwich and was really fresh tasting.
It was fun trying the different sandwiches from Pop Sandwich. I would definitely go back to Pop Sandwich when I need to get my adobo fix. It’s great to support small business and someone’s dream.