Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dining Journal: Poco a Poco + Culinary Smackdown Reminder

You might recall that prior to preparing our entry for the August Culinary Smackdown: Battle Bacon, friend Cindie and I spent a lovely morning at Findlay Market. Once I got Cindie off her riverbank and into the city, we did some additional exploring as well. Our intended lunch destination as we wended our way eastward toward her house was Enoteca Emilia in O'Bryonville. But after paying to park in the lot across the street and entering EE's beautifully designed space, we were informed they were closed for lunch that day while mechanical/HVAC issues were resolved. (Enquirer's Polly Campbell reported today that Enoteca Emilia has decided not to offer lunch but intends to offer brunch "eventually" - I hope they do.)

So, what next? "How about Poco a Poco?" I suggested, having been reminded of it on a recent trip to Hyde Park Farmers Market. "What kind of food do they have?" asked Cindie. I paused, trying to remember what I had read. "Mexican-ish?" The menu has been through several iterations, and even participated in a restaurant makeover show for Food Network Canada (in one of those "I know I read about that somewhere" moments, I found it here).

Having started our day early (for us) in order to get to some Blue Oven bread before they sold out at Findlay (I think the Blue Oven line is shorter at 9:30 than earlier - but my experience is they often completely sell out by 11:00), Cindie and I were in a lunch mindset when we arrived at Poco a Poco, on Hyde Park Square in the former Red space. Feeling like we'd been up for hours, we learned the restaurant offers a brunch rather than lunch menu both Saturdays and Sundays (I wish more places did Saturday brunch).

There were so many dishes on this menu that spoke to me, from the Strawberry Summer Salad (described as grilled eggplant, strawberries, whipped Boursin, pickled asparagus, and artisan bacon vinaigrette) to the Corn Cake and Egg (fresh corn, onions, chiles, cilantro, and something called “sour cream vinaigrette"), I had trouble deciding.

I finally settled on the Latin Benedict, and was glad I did. The menu describes it as slow-poached egg, ham, smoked cotija cheese, and pico de gallo. But that doesn't tell the whole story. However they make the sauce (I had a moment of menu dyslexia thinking it might be that "sour cream vinaigrette"), it was unlike any hollandaise variant I have ever tasted and really made the dish - especially with the punch of fresh cilantro. For me personally, I wouldn't have complained if the poached egg were runnier, and I'm not sure I'd describe the fresh tomato-onion-cilantro garnish as "pico de gallo." But I enjoyed this enormously and have no interest in niggling about the menu writing.

Cindie went another direction, ordering Poco a Poco's pulled pork sandwich, topped with cole slaw and a huge fried onion ring. (Sorry my photos didn't turn out better - we sat outside under an umbrella on a beautiful sunny morning - great for people; not great results given my photogging skills.)

Smoked pork/barbecue are among those dishes with a bagillion different regional versions on which people have serious opinions. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert or dissuade you from your preferences. But Cindie and I both really liked the pork on this sandwich - moist and honestly smoky.

Poco a Poco's online dinner menu says you can order a roast suckling pig that feeds up to 22 people at market price. But I noticed that their blackboard specials mentioned pig roasts every other Tuesday for $25/person. I'm always a sucker for a pig roast (especially if cracklin's are involved), and this sounds like a great deal to me - for customers and the restaurant alike.

Last, but definitely not least, as a side I ordered the "charred" corn, which arrived in this a cocktail-ish glass.
I think the topping you see on this "sundae"-style presentation was a cilantro cream, but it was almost irrelevant to the corn -- the single most knock-your-socks-off essence-of-summer corn Cindie and I have had all summer. So much so that she and I tried to research and recreate charred corn ourselves on her home grill. Sadly, our efforts were a massive fail. (Cindie was so annoyed that a bunch of corn ears ended up tossed over her riverbank.)

One of the things I appreciate about Cindie as a cooking buddy (and my best friend since 8th grade) is being able to honestly bounce ideas off each other about what works and what doesn't. Our morning-after conclusions in this instance: 1) the corn we tried to work with was too mature and basically sucked, 2) we could try other variations as to technique, 3) there is no substitute for summer corn at peak freshness.

Hope to be back soon as I enjoy Restaurant Week. New posts may or may not be up before I head out for the weekend with dear friends.

Meanwhile, my lovely Restaurant Week dining companion at Bouquet last Saturday, local blogger Stephie from Small Girl Adventures, has her post up about our dinner here. She is also last month's Smackdown winner and this month's host for Battle Oktoberfest. So glad to meet her! Her details for the Smackdown here.


LaDivaCucina said...

Wow, I think the corn and the Latin eggs benny are my faves! Great choices, Eggy! As I pack up our house, food has been quick and easy fajitas and tacos with some take away pizza. Soon, all will be packed and no cooking for a few days as we then unpack! Can't wait to get back to normal cooking again.

Enjoy Restaurant Week!

chickory said...

man! Lots of good stuff here. Ill have that corn cake and egg and the charred corn. You eat so well I wonder if you dont look like Jabba the Hut! (if you do, my apologies in advance)

I love pulled park BBQ with slaw. There is a taqueria here that does it perfectly.

eggy, thank you for your thoughtful comment regarding my friend. It was a comfort and a generous act to relate your own similar heartbreak. you are a sweetheart. xo

Sharon Rudd said...

Diva, thanks for stopping by – especially in the midst of your crazy schedule and move! I know you are going to be so happy when you and the DJ finally settle into your new digs and get on with your “new normal” :) I hope you’ll be able to find someone to record your Latin MTV appearance. Me wanna see.

Chicky, I don’t think anyone would describe me as looking like Jabba. I’d rather eat well than eat lots :) You are a sweetie, too, and my heart absolutely went out to you when I read about you losing your friend. You can’t undo her passing, but you can hold on to your memories, and her inspiration.