DISH OF THE WEEK: Crispy Brussels & Cauliflower, Nuoc Cham, Torn Herbs, Jasmine Rice at Steinbeck’s Ale House
Steinbeck’s Ale House might as well have had “Ye Olde” in its name, as far as I was concerned.
I’d last been there a few winters ago. It was charmingly shadowy and cluttered. Piercing drafts rolled through the windows. It felt like the sort of place that needed a peat-burning fireplace; where you want to get nothing more than fish and chips or a burger with many very dark beers on the side.
Recently, I went back and absolutely nothing had changed except the menu. Spicy Chengdu noodles? Charred Bulgogi short ribs with house radish kimchi? A “Chinese Breakfast” of pork belly, wilted leeks and oozy egg?!
Surely, this was a bit of Asian dabbling, I thought. Surely, it would disappoint. It didn’t. Every Asian item I’ve eaten at Steinbeck’s has inspired not a single yearning for a fast track to Buford Highway. In fact, they have inspired wonder, gratitude and many return trips, during which I always order a snack called, straightforwardly, “Crispy Brussels & Cauliflower, Nuoc Cham, Torn Herbs, Jasmine Rice.”
This dish has me at the sprouts, fried until they’re splayed like flowers in bloom. The cauliflower too, is remarkable—browned on the outside, almost creamy inside. All of this lovely cruciferousness is practically caramelized; it’s definitely sweet, which is why the nuoc cham swoops in, countering that sugar with a wonderful hit of fishy acid. It bathes every bite and it’s divine.
But wait, there’s more! There are crunchy, aromatic scallions and bits of herb that scent some mouthfuls with bright basil, others with zingy mint. All of this (and it’s a lot for $6!) is heaped onto a cozy mound of slightly sticky jasmine rice.
When those drafts return this winter, I will no longer yearn for a peat-burning fireplace but only for this dish.
Steinbeck’s Ale House, 659 East Lake Drive, Decatur. 404-373-1116, steinbecksbar.com.