Smoke will get in your eyes and abdomen
Smoke rises and fills the second ground eating room at Kaokao Grill. Even on chilly nights, the excessive transom home windows and the entrance door open at nightfall to let it escape. But it surely nonetheless finds a technique to infiltrate the air. As soon as seated, your eyes will step by step start to sting, redden and swell. And, after the meal, you may odor it in your pores and skin and shirt sleeves. However when the entrées arrive on the desk, the seek for pure oxygen not issues. This restaurant serves out-of-the-ordinary barbecue.
The restaurant’s inside belies the refined strategy the kitchen takes to plating dishes. Downstairs, the few tables there look deserted, as in the event that they’d been haphazardly organized to have a good time an oncoming apocalypse. Upstairs the place we sat, there have been holes within the wall the place new lighting fixtures had been not too long ago put in. The bronze-colored paint on the partitions is tinged with brown somewhat than gold. It’s a claustrophobic shade extra typically related to the inside lining of coffins. There’s nothing cheerful or inviting about it.
The primary time I meant to attempt Kaokao, the restaurant was empty save for a desk of staff twiddling their thumbs and eying the road for purchasers. There was an air of abandonment concerning the place, so I stored strolling. That was a horrible, book-cover mistake in judgment. There’s a genius, or a couple of, cooking within the kitchen. Their culinary abilities are rightly consuming all the extra power, time or cash that might be spent on the spare décor.
Kaokao’s restricted, gentle opening menu, maybe unnecessarily, reminds diners that the meats are, “smoked in-house.” For now, there are two protein decisions illustrated on the web page—rooster or pork. The drawn picture of an inside rooster bone, severed from the physique, may not be an attractive strategy for some diners. Others may admire that dose of gritty realism. It conjures up a wordless sense of irony or pathos that Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine nonchalantly obtain of their graphic panels. Regardless, the drawing doesn’t in any manner put together you for the precise plate itself.
My profitable return go to to Kaokao was impressed by pictures of this rooster dish ($12). A nice eating swoosh of sauce is painted on the empty aspect of the darkish plate. Huddled collectively on the opposite aspect are two legs and two thighs partially submerged in a ruddy chickpea curry sauce. The primary chunk of rooster is heavenly. So is the second, on as much as the final morsel. There’s a small parenthetical be aware suggesting $6 for extra meat. Take that suggestion to coronary heart.
The pores and skin is crisped with a yogurt marinade and a “South Asian impressed spice mix,” a distant relative of an Indian rooster tikka. As a result of the pores and skin attains such a wealthy, darkish brown shade, you’d be forgiven for pondering it was duck and never rooster. When the menu expands, including duck to it looks as if a foregone conclusion.
The second possibility is char siu pork ($12), “brined with Sichuan spices.” At 5pm, we obtained fortunate and had been served the final order of pork for the day. An worker defined that it takes no less than a day to prepare dinner the meat. Once they run out, that’s it till the following day. The finely sliced pork was served in a bowl with rice, brown sauce and skinny disks of pickled cucumber. The meat was succulent and candy, however my favourite chunk was a charred finish piece that had fully rendered down the fats.
There are starters, or “finger meals” choices as nicely. We tried an eggplant salad ($5) and a chilly cucumber salad ($5). The quantity of garlic chili-oil dressing on the cubes of cucumber seemed worrisome. However the chili’s warmth wasn’t overbearing. The eggplant salad, too, was overdressed however didn’t deter both of us from being startled by the style of it. Infused with each sesame paste and sesame oil, the roasted eggplant tasted in contrast to any preparation I’ve ever had. Sesame isn’t as sturdy a taste as peanut, nevertheless it conferred a density and a faint sweetness to a vegetable that always has a bitter aftertaste.
If these excellent preparations of rooster and pork are the place to begin of a brand new menu, what’s going to Kaokao Grill be capable of do with seafood, beef or different hearty greens? A smoky sky’s the restrict. However first on the agenda: a more practical air flow system; or, I’ll simply seize that nice barbecue to go.
Kaokao Grill, open Wed to Solar 11am–8pm. 2993 Faculty Ave., Berkeley. 510.960.0851. kaokaogrill.com.
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