review: Saucy Porka is a delicious fusion of Asian and Latin American cuisine | Restaurant Reviews | Saint Louis | St. Louis News and Events

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mabel dream

Saucy Porka is an exciting mix of culinary traditions.

Amy Le’s most fundamental memories revolve around restaurants, a fact that should come as no surprise considering her actual formative years revolved around restaurants. Le, the daughter of a restaurant owner, found herself in the same situation as other children with lives centered on hospitality: she and her older brother, Phil, went to school, headed straight to their mother’s Chinese restaurant after After dismissal time, they parked at a booth to do homework, grab a snack, and take a short nap, then end the night answering phones, preparing takeout orders, doing the dishes, and helping with whatever chores their mother needed to keep up. family business going.

It was hard work, but for the Le brothers, it was far from drudgery. They both loved the business (for the most part) and saw the restaurant as a magical land where they could whip up treats in the kitchen when the chefs were on a break, wok fried rice for themselves, and even try using the deep fryer. so fascinated with the dish station that she insisted on using it before she was old enough to reach the handle. She had to stand on a stack of dish racks.

spicy pork (3900 Laclede Avenue, 314-818-2700), the restaurant Le and his brother opened in Midtown last January, is the natural outgrowth of those pivotal experiences, though it took them a while to get there. Although both Le and Phil now acknowledge that the industry was her destiny, they fought against it; He went to journalism school and got a job in Chicago as one of Grubhub’s first employees, while Phil established a successful career in banking and finance.

click to enlarge Phil Le, Loan Pannell and Amy Le make Saucy Porka a family affair.  - MABEL SUEN

mabel dream

Phil Le, Loan Pannell and Amy Le make Saucy Porka a family affair.

Phil was the first to fall apart, leaving his job in finance behind 19 years ago to work with St. Louis restaurateur Munsok So, So Hospitality. He took a little longer because he was scratching his itch by working in restaurants and helping cater events for his friends, even while he worked his writing-focused day jobs. But he finally decided to take the plunge when he noticed Chicago’s food truck movement taking off around 2011, launching the Duck and Roll truck.

Duck and Roll gained a loyal following and allowed Le to make connections with other operators. One of them, Rafael López, became a dear friend and collaborator of hers, so when Le was approached to open a physical location, she wanted him to be part of the equation. The two had often talked about how her respective cuisines, her Asian fusion and his Puerto Rican, have similar and complementary flavors, so they decided to turn that observation into her own concept, the Saucy Porka inspired by the Asian Caribbean.

Saucy Porka launched in Chicago in 2013 to immediate success, which Le and Lopez capitalized on to have a second location in Chicago and an appearance on Food Network’s. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. When they opened their second location, Lopez (with whom Le remains close friends) decided to pursue a career outside of the industry, leaving Le to think about his vision for Saucy Porka. He kept coming back to a St. Louis location, seeing it as a way to bring his restaurant career full circle. Recruiting a very encouraging Phil of hers to help her make this plan a reality, she spent three years searching for the perfect place. Once they found the old Kaldi’s Midtown location in Vandeventer, complete with the exact same tile that Le had in one of her Chicago restaurants, they knew they had her place.

click to enlarge "Asian Paella" features pork carnitas, seasoned jasmine rice, Chinese sausage, mild sausage, and edamame.  - MABEL SUEN

mabel dream

“Asian Paella” features pork carnitas, seasoned jasmine rice, Chinese sausage, mild sausage, and edamame.

She’s been delighted with the homecoming she’s received, though with a meal as vibrant as Saucy Porka’s, the reception is expected. Much of that success lies in Le’s ability to seamlessly meld seemingly disparate cuisines into something that feels less like a mix of the two and more like a unique third style. The Picadillo Roll is a perfect example of this; the gorgeous golden cylindrical fritter is stuffed with juicy ground beef seasoned with picadillo (hot chilies, bell peppers and raisins) and chihuahua cheese, then fried and served with chipotle aioli. Your brain registers this as a riff on a patty until you realize it’s actually an egg roll wrapper: an effortless marriage that’s what fusion is supposed to be.

This subtlety abounds in Saucy Porka. Bacos, an acronym for tacos bao, makes so much sense that you wonder why they aren’t ubiquitous yet. The fluffy, springy bao contains a variety of proteins, like guajillo-braised pork that’s so tender you could spread it on a cracker, then topped with juicy pineapple for a burst of sweetness. Grilled shrimp make an equally excellent filler; the seafood is pleasantly spicy and pairs well with the accompanying corn sauce and aioli.

Saucy Porka offers a variety of banh mi that use flaky Vietnamese bread as a canvas for an array of dazzling ingredients. The Five Spice Duck version is a nod to Le’s first venture, Duck and Roll, and features a succulent duck confit dressed with spicy plum aioli and crispy Asian slaw. The Panang Curry Chicken Banh Mi, is stuffed with decadent chili and coconut milk spiced chicken that is soaked in the bread like a Thai version of a chicken cheese steak (chicken itself makes a great salad when served with sprouts). soybeans, lettuce and fresh herbs).

click to enlarge Saucy Porka is a welcome addition to the Midtown dining scene.  - MABEL SUEN

mabel dream

Saucy Porka is a welcome addition to the Midtown dining scene.

The Ropa Vieja bowl, a play on a quintessential Caribbean dish, pairs citrus-chile braised brisket with kimchi over jasmine rice. Here, you get Le and Lopez’s lightbulb moment when you experience how beautifully the spicy funk of fermented Korean cabbage complements the chili peppers and citrus in the beef. The equally impressive Puerto Rican Rice Bowl with Guajillo Braised Pork is another must-try entrée; the meat is so succulent that it is like a Latin American stew.

Mexican Pho is another obvious fusion dish. Instead of the usual Vietnamese proteins (breast, meatballs, tendon), Saucy Porka fills the soup with delicious pork carnitas; the meat flavors the deeply savory broth and absorbs all the flavor of the herbs and spices from the liquid like a sponge.

He admits that it’s a lot to run three restaurants in two different cities, though he credits his brother for lightening the load. In fact, Saucy Porka has become a family affair; even her mother, who has retired from her own restaurant career, can’t keep herself away from the kitchen, insisting on coming once a week to help make egg rolls: once Le’s soul catches the spirit of the restaurant business, there is no way to stay away.

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at [email protected]

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