Crack in a Jar

“The poulterers’ shops were still half open, and the fruiterers’ were radiant in their glory. There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentleman, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. There were ruddy, brown-faced broad-girthed Spanish onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish friars, and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by, and glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered lanes; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.”


― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Laoganma Spicy Chili Crisp – I have almost finished off my first jar.

The other day we had a little bike ride to Four Bullets, a local brewery. It was a good time – shooting the bull and nerding out and enjoying a good beer.

On of my friends asked me if I had heard of Spicy Chili Crisp. I had not and they said that it was fantastic and everybody was talking about it. They sent me a photo on their phone and said, “You have to get this brand, no others.” They said that they had found a jar at a local Asian market – but there was only one jar left.

So I was tooling around the city and stopped in at the Plano location of the Super H Mart. This was the place, a few years ago, that I successfully found some Banana Ketchup. I figured that if any place had it – that would be the place.

After looked around a bit (the store is vast) I found a dozen jars on a shelf – along with a number of other Lao Gan Ma products. All had the same serious owner glaring out from the label:

Most people would recognize a jar of Lao Gan Ma by the stern portrait of Tao Huabi, 74, the legendary godmother and founder of the brand. In the early 1990s, Tao ran a humble food stall in Guiyang, the capital city of Guizhou province. Her crispy chili oil became a crowd favorite and turned into a billion-dollar business. – CBS news


So I bought a jar along with a few favorite Asian delicacies (all non-carb) and went home. I eagerly drove home and scrambled up a couple eggs. I had been told that it was good on everything – even ice cream – but that eggs were a popular vessel for the condiment.

It was delicious. More than delicious, addictive. It is crack in a jar.

It is spicy, of course, but not too spicy… it is just right. I can take more than a bit of heat – but I have ruined a few meals with too-aggressive application of the chili oil they serve in the little containers – but this does not have the nuclear late after-heat of that stuff. It is also very complex – there is a lot going on in that jar.

What is really odd is the texture. It contains chunks (maybe pea sized) of what I guess is fried peppers, giving it a crunch. I guess that’s why they call it spicy chili crisp. Since buying it, I eat that shit on everything – though I can’t eat ice cream.

I polished off the first jar in about a week. Luckily, I discovered the Vietnamese market near my house has the stuff, though in a smaller jar. I did buy some more and even tried an alternate brand as a test.

It was good too, but not as addictive as the Lao Gan Ma. I think Tao Huabi is glaring at me even more because I tried a competitor.

Warning Of Departed Time

“It is almost startling to hear this warning of departed time sounding among the tombs, and telling the lapse of the hour, which, like a billow, has rolled us onward towards the grave.”
― Washington Irving, The Sketch Book

Large Bell, Edo Period, Crow Collection, Dallas, Texas

 

From the Crow Museum Website:

Large bells such as this were common in the Edo period to mark time for communities. They were often paid for by collecting coins from parishes and locales, and then melted down for the metal. These bells are clapper-less and were struck with a large wooden beam. With the introduction of Western clocks into Japan, fewer large bells, like this one, were needed. Modernity also called for replacing the traditional calendar based on the zodiac with a January to December year. Bells continued to be made, but their use was more commemorative and ceremonial than practical.

Another Christmas, Another Bowl of Pho

2018 Christmas Bowl of Pho, Bistro B, Richardson, Texas

Everyone has their Christmas traditions. I’ve been keeping this incarnation of a blog since 2011 and we went to Bistro B for Christmas that year, so it’s been at least seven years. I think this is the first year we actually received what we ordered.

Nothing much has changed, so I’ll copy what I wrote then. The only difference is this year I ordered #33 Special Pho with Sunny Egg, and #395, Vietnamese Iced Coffee – in addition to a shared double order of #9 – Vietnamese Spring Rolls.

_______________________________________________________________________

The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?

For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.

The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.

It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm and fragrant waters?

But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.

Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.

There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.

The outside of Bistro B – complete with a vaguely unnerving inflatable snowman.

Wisdom Cannot Be Imparted

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Buddha Liu Yonggang,	Chinese, b. 1964 China, 2013 Painted Steel Crow Collection of Asian Art Dallas, Texas

Buddha
Liu Yonggang, Chinese, b. 1964
China, 2013
Painted Steel
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Dallas, Texas

Depth Of Field

“Her life with others no longer interests him. He wants only her stalking beauty, her theatre of expressions. He wants the minute secret reflection between them, the depth of field minimal, their foreignness intimate like two pages of a closed book.”
― Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Crow Collection of Asian Art Sculpture Garden Dallas, Texas

Crow Collection of Asian Art
Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

Crow Collection of Asian Art

Crow Collection of Asian Art Sculpture Garden Dallas, Texas

Crow Collection of Asian Art
Sculpture Garden
Dallas, Texas

I Mean, Is This Guy Pissed Off… Or What

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas

Bistro B on Christmas Day

The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?

For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. (you can download the main menu here – but be warned, it’s a seven megabyte PDF file) Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.

The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.

It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm and fragrant waters?

But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.

Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a nest of rice noodles. I don't know what creature they originally came from

I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.

There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.

The outside of Bistro B - complete with a vaguely unnerving inflatable snowman.

WordPress Blogs that ate at Bistro B:

Veggie Garden

The other day I went out to eat at the Suma Veggie Cafe near my house.

While I was checking on the web I found a web page for the Veggie Garden – another similar restaurant on Arapaho Road – the same street as the Veggie Cafe. This one is only about a mile to the west. As a matter of fact, for most of the day I thought they were the same restaurant. Luckily, they have pretty much the same hours, menu, and prices, so I was still good to go.

When I first wrote my blog entry, I actually called it Veggie Garden, and it wasn’t until I posted the picture of the place that I realized my mistake. Search and replace is your friend.

Today(Sunday) I had an hour or so before the library opened so I decided to try out the other Vegetarian option.

Veggie Garden is located in another rundown strip on Arapaho road, just west of Highway 75 and the Richardson Library and City Government complex. Araphaho makes an irregular jog to the north at that point and the area is crowded with inexpensive strips that have attracted a number of diverse businesses. The economy has cut through these like a scythe, but there are a few still open. I’ve been to the Salvadorian Pupuseria, but there is a well-known Brazilian restaurant hiding out, along with I Gemelli Italian Ristorante, Olive Lebanese Fusion, Mexican (with the interesting name “Holy Frijoles”), Kasra Persian, and the Peace Pipe Hookah Lounge, with the interesting looking “House of Poets” next door (that is a place I have to check out). In a more ordinary vein, there is an excellent burger place plus the usual bunch of fast-food choices and auto-parts stores. There’s even a car wash called the “Rubber Ducky,” a coin shop, and an inline Hockey Arena.

This is what I found in one drive-through. Obviously, this is an area worth a little more exploration. I think I need to have a plan and write about it. Stick around.

Veggie Garden

Veggie Garden. The parking lot is full of a lot of very aggressive sounding parking signs.

Not surprisingly, it was very similar to the Veggie Cafe. A small buffet offering Vegetarian versions of standard Asian dishes. This one was a little more intent on duplicating the taste of meat dishes – for example some of the dishes were labeled as “chicken” or “beef” though they were made of tofu or other soy.

I like it, the service was friendly and very good (no table piled with papers, no grumpy owner). I guess, to sum up:

Advantages of Veggie Garden

  • Friendly Service
  • More ordinary tasting food
  • Closer to the library
  • Better beverage selection

Advantages of Veggie Cafe

  • Slightly more adventurous food
  • Closer to my house
  • Very slightly better prices
  • Parking is less of a hassle

The same:

  • Decor (not very good)
  • Customers (interesting and diverse)
  • General idea/concept
  • Everything else

Are two choices better than one? Why eat meat again?