Wednesday, October 28, 2009

MOVE OVER FLANK STEAK, PORK BELLY HAS ARRIVED

If “30s” is the new “20s,” then “pork belly” has got to be the hot, new thing in the foodie world (at least). Sure -- pork belly has been around for as long as men have been eating swine. It’s a staple in my native Philippine cuisine, as it is in other Asian and Latin fare. And popular “bad yet yum” food items, such as bacon and pancetta, are usually made from pork bellies. In essence, however, it seems that in recent years pork belly has become a popular part of the Western world’s high-end dining culture.

One of DC’s newest additions to the restaurant landscape, Masa 14, embraces the pork belly like no other. Two of the most sensuous dishes in their tapas-style line-up features pork belly as the star ingredient: Pork Belly Al Pastor Tacos (melt-in-your-mouth pork belly with pineapple preserve, red Fresno, lime, cilantro & pickled onion served on a steamed bun) & Pork Belly Carnitas (smooth-as-butter pork belly with kabocha squash, adobo bbq sauce, and blood orange). The tacos brilliantly illustrates Masa 14’s Latin/Asian fusion, meshing together the flavors of the two regional cuisines and serving it not in a corn or flour tortilla, but on a steamed bun. (Filipinos, think “siopao-esque” flat bread in lieu of the usual tortilla.) The soft, fluffy, and somewhat doughy texture of the bun envelopes the pork belly, absorbing its juices (and fat, I’m sure) in a way that makes the dish even more delicate than its arrival to the table. And carnitas will do as only carnitas can do, but pork belly carnitas out-does them all. The blood orange adds a zing in contrast to the adobo flavor’s zang, offering the dish “superstar” status.

Pork Belly Al Pastor Taco

The pork belly actually doesn’t hog (no pun intended) the limelight, however, and Masa 14’s surplus of flavors transcends an illustrious list of culinary dignitaries: crunchy shrimp & barbecued eel temaki hand rolls, tuna ceviche & Hijiki seaweed-jicama salad, Thai chicken flatbread, grilled baby octopus, fried oysters served in bibb lettuce cups, Kobe beef brisket, yucca fries (served with chimichurri and garlic/lime aioli), and shrimp and pork fried rice just to name a few.

Crispy Shrimp

If you’re looking for a meal that will fill you up, be warned. Masa 14 specializes in tapas-style dishes, so it’s best to know that before entering. The new dining space is the project of Chef Richard Sandoval, who is credited with “marrying” Latin and Asian cuisines by way of Zengo (in Chinatown), and Chef Kazuhiro “Kaz” Okochi, of Kaz Sushi Bistro fame. Their dining area evokes a sense of urban chic with wood-planked floors, brick walls, and reddish and brownish hues emphasized with metallic accents. The open space, which boasts a 65-foot long bar along one of its sides, gives off a vibe that rivals any power-restaurant in the city. However, the space isn’t packed with stuffy suits and made-for-the-office stilettos. Instead, you’ll find hip, trendy, yet very casual diners in for both food and scene. The restaurant is loud, but not to the point of obnoxiousness. And for a more private experience, a separate dining room can accommodate up to 18 guests.

Masa 14's bustling dining room

View of Masa 14 from 14th Street NW

For the late night set, Masa 14 is a perfect addition to the 14th & U Street corridor. With other spots like Marvin, Bar Pilar, and Sainte Ex just a walk away, Masa 14’s bar area will surely become a destination for Friday and Saturday night loungers. Couple that scene with their late-night bar menu of tapas and creative drink concoctions, draught beers, wine, sake, and tequila… and ultimately, you have a winner.

Pork belly fans, welcome home.



--

Masa 14, 1825 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009, 202.328.1414

(Photos courtesy of the restaurant's website.)

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