Friday, November 27, 2009

Owww! Owww! Too 'Picey!!! Too 'Picey!!!!!

Interesting review of Parker's in the Thursday, November 25 Argus Leader. Jay Kirschenman and his bride stopped by Parker's for dinner. Here's a summary: great coffee, great service, beautiful food, awesome pork chop, and four dishes that set poor Jay's mouth on FIRE!!!

As is generally the case with the AL's feeble attempts at reviewing restaurants and food, I couldn't disagree more. Don't get me wrong, I am not taking issue with Jay's subjective understanding of what constitutes "too spicy." After all, we have all had different food experiences that shape our understandings and impressions of what is spicy and what is not. Personally, I didn't think the gumbo at Parker's was clamp-your-throat-shut spicy hot. I would characterize it as pleasingly warm with the correct use of several peppers to give you that nice multiple level of warm. I am also not afraid or put off by the idea that there is a little cayenne in the apple desert. It does kick up the apple flavor- a notch above what cinnamon might. My beef with Jay's review is two-fold. One, it doesn't tell enough about the Parker's story (locally procured ingredients, unique menu items, multiple courses, etc.) Basically, I didn't learn much more from the review then what I could have learned from talking to co-workers at the super-stressful day job, family members who have visited, or hanging out at coffee. Second, the review left a person with the impression that the food is generally overly-hot, right down to dessert. Claiming that seasoning in several dishes caused the writer to "choke" because it was so spicy borders on irresponsible. If you haven't been to Parker's yet, don't let the AL review dissuade you.

On the other hand, if it's a Chili Head experience you desire in Sioux Falls that you desire, there are places to get it. If you are anything like me, there are times when you crave the sweat on your brow, the red face, the unquenchable burn in the mouth, and the I-don't-care-how much-I-am-going-to-regret-this-in-the-morning capsaicin fueled rush of endorphins, fortunately, you are not entirely out of luck here in Sioux Falls. You want hot? You want hot? You think you deserve hot? You can't handle the hot! (Awkward, I know. Read it again, but this time think of the scene in "A Few Good Men" where Tom Cruise is cross examining Jack Nicholson.) Jay, try some of the following places to readjust your perspective of just what might be "Too 'Picey!"

Let's go right to the top of the chart. The spiciest food in Sioux Falls, hands down, is available for the asking at Taste of India. Indian food is one of the most exciting and complex cuisines in the world. It's like a beautiful painting created with layers of colors and techniques. Sweet tastes like spinach or eggplant play off of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or clove. Add some sweet chutney, or a cooling yogurt based sauce like raita and it only gets more complex. Add a vinegray spicy pickle and you get entirely different textures and flavors. It's awesome. And, if you want it, and only if you want it, it's forking hot. I'm talking about Vindaloo- a style of "curry" from the state of Goa, a region in India with beaches and Portuguese influences. That means Catholics, not necessarily Hindus- and meat, like pork or duck. Vindaloo is going to separate the real chili heads from the poseurs, and Taste of India does a great job with it. Vindaloo is generally spicy to begin with, but the chefs at Taste of India offer you a bit more control over your experience, by offering each diner different heat levels ranging from mild to medium, to hot, to chef's challenge. For most people who think they can handle the spice, medium will probably match their expectations and hot will probably push the boundary. Chef's challenge? Never tried it. Maybe someday.

One of the best things about Taste of India is the opportunity to mix-up the experience with multiple dishes. Not all Indian food is spicy. With that Vindaloo, or even the Rogan Josh, you might want a serving of the delightful butter chicken which is delightfully creamy, or spinach paneer, a sort of creamed spinach that has cubes of delicious home-made cheese- something between mozerella, ricotta and tofu. Give it all a try, it's all delicious. But if it's tears you are after, give the Vindaloo a shot.

Buffalo Wild Wings can offer a pretty-kicked up experience with spice. This place is great, especially since they went non-smoking. Swing in for a bite before a Skyforce, Stampede, or Canaries game. The beer is cold and plentiful and the fried food is the best. BW3, as it is often referred to by its fans, offers a broad array of sauces that are applied to their flat bread pizzas, sandwiches, wraps, and their chicken wings. BW3 offers various forms of "wings" ranging from the boneless variety, to "tenders" which are the grilled breast "tender," to the traditional bone-in, skin-on variety. The menu clearly displays the spectrum of sauce spiciness which ranges from a mild traditional wing sauce and teriyaki to more spicy tastes like garlic parmesan, honey barbecue, and medium. Ranging toward the hotter end are choices like Caribbean jerk, Asian zing and hot barbecue. If you really want to test your limits, you can go to the far right hand side of the list and check out "Blazing," a traditional style wing sauce that is undoubtedly kicked up with habaneros, if not some chili extracts. Blazing would be the challenge level. It's hot. You've been warned. If you want to dial it back just a notch, there are also choices like "Wild" and mango habanero. Lots of choices at BW3 and chances to try the sweet-hot connection with things like Asian zing and mango habanero or more complex spiciness of things like Caribbean jerk that includes spiciness from cinnamon and ginger. You can get separate flavors for every 6 wings. Take friends and mix it up. One tip: get the traditional wings. The tenders are probably "better" for you since they are grilled. The boneless ones are easier to eat- two bites off a fork, but they are breaded and that changes the whole flavor profile. The regular old wings with the bones and the skin have the flavor. Besides, this place is, for the most part, a bar. (Even though there is a sit-down side of the house which is generally more suitable for families or other people who don't necessarily want to be around people enjoying an extra adult beverage.) You're not going in there for a spa treatment, so get the damned real wings, chew the meat off the bones, chomp up the little bits of cartilage from the joints with you back teeth, eat the skin, and suck the sauce off your fingers. Wash it down with copious amounts of beer. Sheesh, I made myself hungry for wings.

Various Mexican places also can offer you a spice experience, but you might have to ask for it. If you are into food, you probably recognize that Mexican food is not necessarily spicy. Like all great cuisine, it can be quite complex and can offer different textures and tastes besides "hot." But, fortunately, it can be pretty hot, too. Ask the server what is spicy and ask if it can be kicked up. One of my personal favorites is Luis' Favorite at Puerto Vallarta, a plateful of tender sliced steak swimming in a sauce with mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes and spiked with a vinegary chili bite. Ask to have it muy caliente.

Various Chinese restaurants around town can punch your spicy button, too. Think the wonderful spicy standby Kung Pao chicken. Golden Dragon offers a great Kung Pao and will gladly use some extra red chili to make it as hot as you think you want it. Most Chinese restaurants will kick it up for you. Just ask.

Speaking of Asian food, we REALLY need a good Thai place here in Sioux Falls. If you haven't had Thai, you need to soon. Next time you are in a bigger city (Minneapolis will do, but Chicago is better) go find a good Thai place and be prepared for a great experience. Until we get a decent Thai place here, though, I am pretty much stuck at Hu Hot. Use the Pad Thai rice noodles, stick to the chicken, definitely add tofu, and do the veggies. At the sauce bar, follow the Pad Thai "recipe," but add a few extra spoonfuls of whatever appears to be hotter than hell. You should be able to get a good sweat going. Here's an insider tip for Hu Hot. Chances are you are going to defy the suggestion at the beginning of the line to use one bowl. Why wouldn't you? You eat cereal out of bigger bowls. But when you take two bowls, put the protein and the noodles in one bowl and the veggies in the other. Here's the kicker, though- you need to double the sauce. You got two bowls, you need double the sauce, so put the equivalent of your sauce of choice times two in the two bowls.

Jay, get out there and tune up those taste buds. With any luck, you'll join the fraternity of Chili Heads and someday be saying "Too 'Picey! Too 'Picey!! I want MORE 'Picey!!"

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