Thursday, March 31, 2011

Miami Eats of the Streets Battle: Colombian Dog vs Korean BBQ


Battle fast food did not start as a battle at all. It started as a mission to have the reported best hot dog in Miami via Los Perros (Spanish meaning “the dogs“), specializing in Colombian-style frankfurters. They have several locations so I knew I had hit at least one before I departed my hometown. (Yes, they were around when I used to live here 6+ years ago, multiplying the degree of shock from my resident friends when they discovered  I had never ingested one.) So this was a fully planned attack; the expectations were high. On the other hand, lunching on Korean barbecue was completely happenstance, the result of the planned restaurant being closed. My lunch date - and trusted food source - lives in the area we were meeting and glowingly recommended this spot by the name of Sakaya Kitchen as our second option, which was readily bumped up to the option of the moment. While I was not mentally prepared for what I expected to be a heavy lunch (with a stomach set on sushi), I nonetheless open mindedly welcomed Korean street food into my psyche. Thus two ethnic street food experiences just a day apart could only amount to one thing: a battle, naturally. A comparative on the casual specialties of different cultural cuisines. The results may surprise you, as they did me. Here’s what happened.

Types of Dogs
After a nice long day at the beach, my friend, who had experienced this classic Colombian “superperro” as they call it, and I had worked up an appetite and the location on South Beach seemed like a meant-to-be situation. This dog was  decidedly going to be my lunch-dinner go between no matter what. After a focused fifteen-minute walk, we finally arrived at the unassuming storefront, positioned at the corner of the business strip. While they offer dogs of chicken, chorizo and pork loin, as well as arepas, burgers and varied sides, I knew I wanted the classic, the perfect gauge for fair assessment of any staple, especially as a first-timer. This perro was to be dressed up in their special mayo-ketchup and pineapple condiments, along with finely crushed potato chips and melted white cheese. After it arrived, I can tell you that the only reason I knew these things were on it were because I could see them.

Not-so Superperro
Buried by the bun
But blindfold me and I would tell you that all I tasted was a plain run-of the-mill hot dog that must have had something flavorless adorning it, detected only by texture. None of the fixings that are supposed to make this dog so unique in flavor could be tasted; they seemed to cancel each other out. Perhaps there is something akin to the color wheel for food ingredients that we don't know about. These were not complementary tastes, rather ones that somehow worked against each other. Not to mention the wiener was lost in the disproportionately over-sized bun, which frankly (no pun intended) did not contribute anything in its semi-stale state. Only when I bisected the dog did I see that the unsubstantial meat component was actually there. My accomplice, who had held her tongue up to this moment, finally admitted that she had never been impressed with this fare, but did not want to taint my experience. Well if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I am now part of her club of extremely underwhelmed, disappointed  Los Perros consumers. (I don’t know how many more of us are out there, but I figure two’s a crowd. They may be in hiding in fear of supporters’ reactions to their revealed dissent, as when I did to a super-fan who literally responded “Blasphemy!”.) I can tell you with the utmost certainty that this was my last perro here, which was anything but super.

Sakaya inside
Cut to my lunch date in Midtown Miami the next day, as I stand before the menu at Sakaya Kitchen, written in chalk on the blackboard-painted wall. Their classic barbecue menu has all things awesomely Korean - from kimchi egg rolls, spicy tater tots, and pork buns, to beef "Bulgogi" burgers, spicy pork tenderloin, and popcorn shrimp ssam. Not to mention sides of coconut rice and gingered vegetable specials, along with baby back ribs, chicken wings and shrimp available per piece. The more items I read, the more excited I got about the prospects of this surprise visit. Who knew Korean street food would call to me?

Honey Orange Ribs
While everything tantalized my tastebuds for an Asian food fix, the "Bo Ssam" called my name (and happened to be the recommendation of my order-taker). What could feel more right than tender roast pork with grilled shrimp and ginger Japanese eggplant? Possibly the other dish I had my eye on which my eating partner wound up ordering (of his own accord, I swear - although I wouldn't underestimate the power of  "The Secret" at this point in time): honey orange ribs with jasmine rice and ginger brussel sprouts. Lucky me, I was able to indulge in both of the dishes I wanted to try. Funny that my initial idea of a light lunch quickly dissipated as soon as our spread hit the table. While I am always fearful of overly salty sauces that often douse Asian meals, these dishes had me licking my bowl. Even with an abundance of sauce dressing every exposed inch, they somehow managed to achieve the perfect balance of salty and sweet in both orders.

"Bo Ssam" Roast Pork
My tender roasted pork separated into perfectly shredded morsels; if it had had a bone to fall off of, it would have. Layer that into a lettuce leaf with perfectly charred shrimp, the supple gush of grilled eggplant lumps, spicy kimchi and refreshingly sour pickled cucumber and I had the most delightful little wrap of Korean goodness. Simultaneously packed with rich flavor and fresh crunch. But not in the least bit heavy! Same went for the ribs, with a sweet orange glaze that was beautifully offset by the scallion-soy sauce and the charred ginger brussel sprouts that melted into a buttery chew in my mouth. I was going to order these as a side anyways if they had not accompanied one of our meals, they sounded too good (and they were). As with all their gingered vegetables, their generous coating of freshly grated ginger pieces created a levity, much like a palate cleanser, to both the dishes, which could have easily felt heavy boasting substantial meats with a true depth of flavor. All in all, a meal I would definitely go back for, even if it's from their mobile food truck in authentic street food style.

Against all expectations for Miami food offerings, Asia trumped South America by a landslide in the eats of the streets competition. Pass the sake, please.