Restaurants & Bars 35

Hawker Fare [Oakland] | May 18, 2011 12:41 AM

I stopped by this evening on an errand to pick up a credit card I had left elsewhere. I was glad for the PR blast that seemed to be going around the internet on today, opening day, as I learned it was open until 6, and I wouldn't have though of stopping by, as I had read it was opening for "lunch" previously.
I arrived later than I expected, at 5:45, and was welcomed to a table, but felt pressure (from my own uptight mind, not the friendly service) to order quickly since it was so close to closing. I ordered the green papaya salad and the 24-hour pork belly rice bowl. I had intended to order the khao mun gai, but was too tempted by the pork belly. I noticed quite a bit after I had ordered that a side khao gai (rice in chicken fat and broth) was available.
The pork belly dish was delicious. There was a generous portion of pork belly, very tender from the long cooking, but with some caramelization on the top and bottom. It came with pickled mustard greens and fennel over rice and a great side of homemade mustard. I added the egg option--it is no slow-cooked modern cuisine egg, but rather a very nicely done crisp bottomed sunny-side up fried egg, salted perfectly for mixing into the rice bowl. I really like crisp edges of this sort, if they're done well, and these were. If these guys want to start making a Thai omelet, they'd have me stopping by frequently.
The green papaya salad was less to my taste. I always have trouble gauging what I will like at these upscalish/non-traditional takes on street food/traditional cuisine. After perusing the menu with no pressure I should have chosen the other salad, which sounded like a green salad with interesting ingredients like lotus root mixed in. Anyway, I ordered the green papaya salad because I like som tam, and it seemed like it would be a fairly straightforward version of it from the description on the menu, calling it som tam dressing and mentioning dried shrimp (though there was the odd mention of tamarind). (Also, there were other dishes on the menu where scare quotes were used, as a nod to a traditional dish, such as the "Issan sausage", which I believe was an unfermented patty with appropriate flavors, and no quotes in this item.) It arrived looking great, with yardlong beans and cherry tomatoes, and ground peanuts on the side to mix in so they didn't get soggy while waiting, but the taste was way off, and not just because I was expecting it to be traditional. It didn't contain any spice that I could detect, and I would have definitely squeezed a lime on it, if I had had one. I asked for some red pepper, which made it much more edible. I often feel like I am just being picky, or being too tied to the original to be open to delicious new innovations, like when I mention that the salad didn't seem pounded together, but to make this salad lacking in spice or acidity makes me wonder why make it at all.
They offer desserts with Strauss condensed milk flavored ice cream, from a soft serve machine. I had neither the stomach nor the time to try it, but was intrigued by the offerings. In addition to in a cone, they offer an affogato and a sundae that has salted palm sugar caramel and red bean something. I'll definitely thought it was a good value and will be back for a quick rice bowl and sundae sometime soon.

Hawker Fare
2300 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94612

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