Friday, September 04, 2009

Two Carts, One Lunch

Picking appropriate dining partners can be a tricky business. Are they adventurous, or do they blanch when they see sweetbreads on the menu? Are paper towels instead of cloth napkins a deal-breaker? Do they have a sudden change of plans when you suggest anything on the east side of the river?

When my friend Ivy Manning suggested that we track down Koi Fusion, a truck that trundles around downtown and whose fans follow it religiously on Twitter, I was all in. Then I inquired whether she could handle adding on a trip to Asian Station, a cart that my brother has been raving lately for the soup dumplings called xiao long bao that he says rival the ones he had in Shanghai. Ivy just snorted that she was a Midwestern girl, so what was I worried about?

The sun was reflecting off the side of the big white Koi Fusion truck (above left) as we pulled up and parked across the street from the 76 station near the China gate on 4th and Burnside. There was a line of people primed for the takeout menu of Korean-Mexican tacos, specials and sides. We opted for four of their tacos (spicy chicken, short rib, pork and beef) and the kimchi quesadilla.

The short rib taco was the best of the bunch and we thought it was potentially addictive, especially if you had more than half of one. (Did I mention that good dining partners need to share their food and, in my case, allow me take pictures of it?) With just the right balance of spice and sweet, this fired on all cylinders, especially with a nice squirt of their red chili sauce.

The other tacos were fairly uninteresting and we found them to be on the too-sweet side. And the kimchi quesadilla could have used a lot more kimchi for my money, though Ivy said she wasn't fond of the combination of cabbage and cheese.

We left to head up to Asian Station and found it parked under the shade trees across the street from the big pod of carts on SW 10th and Alder. Painted a bright, cheery orange (right) and manned by a pierced and punky but very polite young man, we got a couple of orders of the XLBs and one of the barbecued pork buns (top photo).

The XLBs were, indeed, a revelation. Usually apricot-sized, you're supposed to take a bit and suck out the broth, then nibble away at the noodle-wrapped ball of sausage in the center. The ones at this stand were more ping pong ball-sized, small enough to pop the whole thing in your mouth and chomp down on an explosion of soup, sausage and noodle all at once. Entertaining and delicious, I'm smitten and will be needing more soon.

The bun was equally good, much smaller than other buns I've had, but still the soft, pillowy, pork-filled delights they're meant to be. This place got the full thumbs-up from both of us.

Details: Koi Fusion PDX; check the website for current location. Asian Station Cafe, SW 10th & Alder St. in the City Center Parking lot; Phone 503-227-5727.

No comments: