Spice Route Treats at E&O Asian Kitchen in San Francisco
Be it for the distinct, woody, warm taste of cinnamon or for its medicinal antiviral properties, but winter chills seem to call for the tree bark-derived spice more than for any other, and E&O Asian Kitchen in San Francisco takes notice.
When the beloved downtown restaurant first introduced its Spice Route program, the goal was to feature one Asian spice per month in one savory dish, one sweet dish, and one cocktail, but the endeavor proved so popular a spice of the month refused to leave the stage after its month was over.
Ginger, star anise, cumin, salt, and Sichuan pepper continue to tantalize E&O diners’ taste buds in more than one dish, even with the arrival of cinnamon—a designated spice for December.
Predictably, holiday season crowds responded with enthusiasm to the iconic holiday spice.
On the night we dined, my husband and I settled in a busy, bustling dining room ready to experience the best of cinnamon, presented by executive chef Sharon Nahm.
That was the night when Indian spiced whole chicken made its first appearance on the menu. I could’ve spent every night of the cinnamon month at E&O for the reason of this succulent chicken alone!
But let me start from the very beginning. Two strong yet subtle house-made rum cocktails, Winter Daiquiri and Walking Dead, starred sweet, fragrant cinnamon. I truly hope they stay on the specialty cocktail list past December, although you can never go wrong with any of the handcrafted elixirs from the E&O bar….
We shared a plate of seasonal roasted squash and kale salad, creatively dressed with creamy curry, sprinkled with goat cheese crumbs and pumpkin seeds, and studded with jewel-like pomegranate kernels. Dark green baby kale leaves, bright orange squash chunks, and shiny red “garnets” looked like a holiday-themed kaleidoscope pattern—cute enough to eat!
Then the abovementioned chicken, prepared with cinnamon, cardamom, and curry leaves, was delivered to our table on a sizzling pan in a cloud of enticing aromas. A young butterflied bird, roasted to ruddy-golden perfection, was placed atop raisin and cinnamon-sprinkled rice with creamy onion sauce and decorated with fresh sprigs of cilantro and scallion shavings.
For dessert we had chef Sharon’s decadent profiteroles, stuffed with delectable cinnamon ice cream and smothered with dark, rich spiced chocolate sauce lightly sprinkled with grains of salt. Since there were three of them on a plate, a short fork fight ensued before we each had a profiterole and a half, fairly divided between us.
I saw Madame Chef in her red jacket was insanely busy, but I had to catch a moment and ask her how she managed to achieve that incredible juiciness of the chicken breast and the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of the thigh.
Turned out the dish was inspired by an Indian cuisine staple from the city of Kerala; the bird was marinated overnight and then prepared in a 600- to 700-degree wood-fired oven. (I made a mental note not to try it at home.)
I also learned from chef Sharon that she likes working with seasonal California ingredients and incorporating Asian spices into traditional and innovative dishes. While she personally favors various peppers over all other spices, her kitchen will continue to derive inspiration from the ancient Asian Spice Route; only, the spices will now be presented the way they are being used in different cities in Asia. “That way we will highlight regional Asian cuisine one region at a time,” she said.
I definitely want to be back for that, but meanwhile, take my advice and don’t miss great cinnamon treats at E&O.
E&O Asian Kitchen is located at 314 Sutter Street in San Francisco, California. Call (415) 693-0303 for reservations.