Review: Sometimes restaurants produce one particularly iconic dish that sets them apart. El Bulli had the spherified olive. San Domenico in Imola has the canard a la presse. And Plum Alley has the steamed pork belly bun. Let's start with the bun. Much like a good pizza or a good sandwich, the bread is key. Without good bread, the whole dish falls fails. Thankfully, the bun works. soft, somewhat damp (from the steaming, of course), mildly flavored. And then there's the pork belly with a cincalok glaze. Cincalok is a Malaccan paste made of fermented shrimp or krill. The glaze is tangy, sweet, viscous. It encapsulates a wonderful square of beautifully soft, fatty, unctuous, moist pork belly. This is among the best bites of pork I've ever experienced. So simple. So beautiful. And then there are the condiments (vinegared radishes, red onion, herbs). They are meant to add textural and flavor contrasts that add complexity to the dish and cut through the pork fat. Honestly, who on the river Styx next to Hades cares about adding textural and flavor complexity to this dish? This bun is an homage to all things caveman. Meat, bread, fat. Nothing else is necessary, and anything else simply muddles the flavor. Unadorned is the best policy with this bun. It is, in a word: dreamy.
Well, that was effusive. Indulging that streak makes reviewing Plum Alley's other dishes a difficult task because they pale in comparison (that's not to say they are bad; they just pale). The pickled vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, jalapenos, beats) were very nice. Crispy, vinegary, slightly salty. On the other hand, the steamed buns containing duck confited in pork fat with preserved orange was a complete mess. The pork fat masked the the taste of the duck so much I had no idea it was duck. The duck was also somewhat dry, which is hard to imagine since it was confited, but it was. The roasted cauliflower with aioli was okay. The cauliflower was unevenly roasted, but the aioli was quite good.
I'll be frequenting Plum Alley again and again. These future visits will always revolve around the steamed pork belly bun. And who knows, they might involve some other dishes as well. That is, if there's enough room in my belly.
Rating: (overall 7/10, pork belly 9.5/10)