Fried Kale at Smallwares
4605 NE Fremont St., 971-229-0995, smallwarespdx.com.
David Chang is probably best-known to food-obsessive Portlanders for palling around with Anthony Bourdain in Japan on TV and founding McSweeney's food porn mag Lucky Peach.
But his New York-based Momofuku chain of restaurants has cast a long shadow in Portland, from those once-ubiquitous steamed pork buns to alums like the Stray Dogs chefs Peter Cho and Johnny Leach, Double Dragon owner Rob Walls and, of course, Smallwares' chef-owner Johanna Ware, whose bowl of fried kale, candied bacon, mint and fish sauce remains the hallmark of this Beaumont neighborhood "inauthentic Asian" restaurant.
The dish is both deceptively simple and startlingly singular, and it finds its origins back East.
As told by Ware…
"It came about from a classic Momofuku dish I made when I was working [at the famous New York restaurant]. They'd just opened Ssäm Bar, and they had fried Brussels sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette. I didn't want to replicate it, but I was influenced by it.
If you talk to most chefs who were working at Momofuku at that time,they would probably have had a dish with similar elements on their own menu at one time or another.
We actually started with butternut squash. But I hate butternut squash. So when spring came around, I tried different greens. I thought, 'I've never fried kale.' When you have a fryer, you just kind of want to put things in it. I didn't really think it was going to work.
It was kind of hard to figure out. You want the leaves to be big. You get the leaves in flat—you can't put in a massive pile. It takes time. On Friday and Saturday, we have one extra person on kale duty.
The fish sauce vinaigrette is cut with lime water, sugar, chilies and garlic, then chopped-up cilantro and mint. I love bacon and wanted something smoky and fatty in there. The bacon is candied, and it's a very smoky bacon. I thought the smoke and fat and sugar would go well with the saltiness of everything.
When we teach our new cooks, we let them know this is the one dish they have to nail. I definitely didn't expect it to become our signature dish."
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