My favorite places to eat have a lot in common with the people I most admire; they know what they’re good at, they embrace their essential nature, and don’t try to be all things for all people. Love it or lump it.
Bang Bang is such a place. Looking for an expansive menu? Keep moving as you won’t find it here. Want a place with quiet ambiance? Again, look elsewhere; this place’s popularity right out of the box and diminuitive size precludes roomy comfort and a relaxed atmosphere.
If you go (and you must!), just remember that. BB is like the friend with 1293 friends on Facebook, started Twitter back in the day, and needs to look months ahead on her calendar to find an opening for a lunch cart outing. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you back, she’s just busy.
Similarly, BB doesn’t need to woo you, or lure you in with the gimmick of an early happy hour to fill up. Occupying the old Hoda spot on Fremont, this places has clearly hit a chord not only with the immediate neighborhood but apparently far beyond. Word has reached even some SW Portland friends and Friday night ever single seat was taken by 5:45, a fact that could have some restaurant owners weeping with envy.
Let’s start with a little liquid loving, shall we?
I didn’t tell Bang Bang, but this was potentially make or break time. I usually only have cocktails when out and when I order one and it tastes like they forgot the booze (but not to charge my credit cards $10 plus), I get really surly (same goes when a $13 glass of vino is a scant pour).
And when I get surly from the get go at a restaurant, it can be like a death spiral, and everything else after will be seen through the filter of skepticism. Rarely can a place recover my faith and optimism if they try to overcharge and under-deliver with their drink menu.
Is that fair? Perhaps not. Am I worried about my biases? Why should I? Be honest — don’t we all walk around with our pet peeves?
Luckily for all involved, BB sailed past the first hurdle. My hubby had a lemon drop (not advertised but expertly handled) that rivaled that of the lamentably shuttered Wildwood, a perfect blend of acid and sweetness with no small amount of vodka. And just the most lovingly and generously applied lemon sugar rim. Thanks, bartender.
I had a Bang Bang Old Fashioned with Ol’ Grandad bourbon and house-made Orange and Cardamom bitters and a hefty orange peel. It was a knockout, the unusual flavors of the bitters peeking out behind a boozy and citrusy curtain, and a single over-sized cube ensuring a gradual melt and only the tiniest trickle of water to dilute it. I loved the cocktail so much that I spent an hour after dinner researching ice cube molds on Amazon Prime.
Things were looking good. Now when I say mini review I mean exactly that– I can only report back on the basis of a couple of cocktails and a few of the listed items (all we had room and time for last night), but I feel confident in saying that this place is I can’t wait to go back to. Especially because of these little buddies.
These guys were the most impressive taste of the night. Behold a pile of six blisteringly hot and supremely fried chicken wings. The menu lists black vinegar, both black and fried garlic and shallots as ingredients — how about black magic? They reminded me slightly of the legendary wings at Pok Pok, and they sat atop an appealing smear of sauce that tasted of tamarind (and the waiter hinted of a balsamic reduction?).
They were so mouthwatering/crunchy/garlicky/meaty that no sooner had I taken my first bite that I mentally calculated how many were left and how many I could comfortably get away with eating. “You know I love you, honey, right? Then how hungry are you really?” (with that, I scored 4 out of 6 wings, not my best ratio but still respectable considering how good they were).
Almost nearly as succulent were the Charred Long Beans. Forget greasy-but-good renditions you might have had at your favorite Chinese or Thai restaurant; this version employs not just the easy sway of chili oil but the depth of dark soy, the crunchy-softness of sauteed eggplant and green beans with again lots of garlic and shallots. This may be the best rendition of the dish I have ever had; it had such an expert touch with seasoning that each bite intrigued instead of fatigued the palate — no easy feat to manage with something involving such a fiery profile.
Last up was something the waiter highly recommended which we enjoyed, if not to the extent that he had – the Fried Rice with house sausage, long beans, blue crab and egg. Don’t get me wrong; I was fascinated by the strong flavors of coconut that permeated the dish and how the pop of sausage or crab would show up unexpectedly and throw a mini-grenade of flavor my way. It’s just that after the first two dishes, this one was less worthy of flat-out adulation.
Next time I will head for the one of the curry bowls (interestingly enough served in wide, shallow bowls and customers are to pour the sauce atop) and the Green Papaya Salad. Another option is to drink enough caffeine midday that I can stay up past my usual 9:30 bed time and dive into the after-ten p.m. happy hour menu that features Curried Fries Deluxe with green curry and fried chicken bits and the Pork Belly Bahn Mi.
How fun would that be after a movie, say one after the Hollywood Theater? ( Movie AND curried french fries and a great Old-Fashioned? No need to ask me twice.)