East Bay Bite of the Week: Fried Chicken Rice Bowl at Hawker Fare
Months ago, I sat down with James Syhabout and asked him what he likes to eat when he's off the clock. I'd been compiling a story based on this question, digging up the dirty, greasy joints that so many chefs flock to after days spent toiling in the land of fancier food. Instead he pointed me, maybe not surprisingly, to his own restaurant: Hawker Fare.
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The choice would smack of self-congratulation if it didn't make so much sense. After all, that kind of place is the entire reason Syhabout concieved Hawker Fare: to create a down-home brother to Commis, a spot to bring the kids or bring yourself for hot, spicy street food and cold beer. After a day spent spinning out Michelin-starred plates, going home to a rice bowl of deep-fried meat hits a sweet spot. For Syhabout, Hawker Fare is a kind of home.
The restaurant revamped its menu a few days ago, relegating rice bowls to lunch only and adding on a whole slew of Thai family-style dishes that harken back to the way Syhabout grew up eating. Still, though, it's the rice bowls that I bank on. After rainy days and long shifts, there's a particularly good one for burgeoning the spirits: fried chicken.
Being a fried chicken rice bowl, the combo is expectedly unfussy. But in Syhabout's hands, "unfussy" doesn't mean much. Chicken thighs pick up the salty Thai appeal of the oyster sauce and lemongrass in their marinade. A quick flash fry seals in the densely flavored juices under a thin, crackling crust. Scattered on a bed of white rice and thin sliced cabbage, it looks like a poor man's lunch but it's anything but -- especially with the fried egg add on. Never, ever, skip the egg. The chicken banks on our nostalgia for the simple and the unctuous, for the hearty fried stuff we loved as kids. Happily, it's even better with beer (don't tell mom).