Dueling Dishes: Aioli Smackdown?

Few culinary trends annoy me more than the spread of aiolis (pun intended)--just seeing the term on most any menu is a tell that the chef imagines himself to be some high-falutin', fusion-y maestro who's going to blow you away with something that's really glorified mayo. Screw that--give me Sriracha or some mustard.

But last week, I had the chance to taste two exemplary version of the condiment, each superb, each unexpected. The first one was at Phans55 in Irvine, that Vietnamese place that overcharges for Viet grub because it's in some loft development. I like that they try to use as many organic meats and ingredients as possible, but Brodard Chateau it is not (although the bánh mì ca ri is properly sweet and oily). Honestly, the most impressive dish was the aioli that accompanied an order of sweet potato fries--spiked with Sriracha and a hint of lemongrass, creamy without being cloying, the epitome of great fusion food. I'd buy a bottle of the stuff, and Phans55's aioli redeemed my opinion of the scourge.
But the winner this week was the blue cheese aioli at Crow Bar in Corona del Mar. I ordered the hangover burger: fried eggs with bacon and patty between a bun. Too messy of a burger--the bun disintegrated with a simple grasp, and I kept having to shift the ingredients inside from slipping out--but that aioli! Kept all the pleasures of blue cheese and magnified them--sharp, gritty, almost sour, but with that furtive sweet kick toward the end. I'm surprised the chefs didn't spread it on the burger--would've functioned much better than Thousand Islands dressing. Enjoying a great aioli on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with a hot chick and watching UCLA surprise Tennessee--life can't get any better in la naranja than that. Wait, yes it can: AMNESTY FOR ILLEGALS!

Phans55, 6000 Scholarship Dr., Irvine, (949) 724-1236; www.phans55.com. Crow Bar and Kitchen, 2325 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar, (949) 675-0070; www.thecrowbarcdm.com

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