No. 15: Ta Pin Lu at Pagolac
Like Kasey Kasem, we're counting down the hits, except ours nourish your belly as well as your soul. Just a few weeks left in our listicle of listicles known as 100 Favorite Dishes (INSERT YEAR). YEAH!!!
Hey, don't ding us for listicles: Weekly DataLab studies show ustedes love this gimmick, launched in honor of our coming Best Of issue. Besides, it is rather fun to do this for us Forkers--an opportunity to highlight dishes from restaurants we'll never fully review, or secrets from old standbys. Anyhoo, let the march begin...
I don't know anyone who goes to Pagolac and doesn't order the ta pin lu, a sampler that sees raw calamari steak, butterflied shrimp and beef sliced as thin as carpaccio served on a plate and covered in an oily mix of minced onion and peanuts. It's not even part of the 7 courses of beef, Pagolac's raison d'être, but it is essential.
You sear the meats atop your own griddle, a greased dome resembling a pith helmet fashioned out of steel. When each morsel finish cooking, you roll them up into rice-paper cigars with aromatic herbs, scraps of dewy lettuce, sliced green bananas, cucumbers and pickles. You then dip the bundles into a salty-sweet sauce made with diced pineapples and fermented shrimp paste. Each time you roll, your technique improves. Someone at your table will inevitably discover that using two wetted rice-paper discs, each overlapping the other as though the circles of a Venn diagram, allows for more room and easier rolling.
After you master the technique, you resume the seven courses of beef feasting. But even if you're all thumbs and what you roll ends up looking like an exploded taco, continue. It's relatively healthy. It's yummy. And it's interactive and fun, even if the new space the Little Saigon institution moved into is cramped and stuffy.
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