4720 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Clairemont
Everyone has that one friend. You know the one. The guy who likes to nibble at pickled duck feet. The girl who crunches slices of cold pig ear and offers to take yours “if you’re not going to eat them.” The one who did a semester abroad in London and now never misses an opportunity to reminisce about jellied eels.
If you don’t have that one friend, you probably are that friend. Either way, sooner or later that friend will invite you to Village Kitchen in Clairemont so that he or she can order Hunan dishes such as Rock n’ Roll Pig Feet and steamed fish heads. For that friend, life’s greatest pleasure is discovering a restaurant where the menu runs leagues beyond General Tso’s Chicken, where Chinese-American families congregate around steaming cauldrons of soup filled with bits of flavorful meat considered unpalatable in non-hipster, mainstream American culture (at least since the middle of the 20th Century, before which history finds that most Americans would eat pretty much anything). Basking in the glow of cultural authenticity, that friend radiates the calming aura of a multiculti Buddha.
But should that friend insist you accompany him to Village Kitchen, fear not. You will not be held to pork knuckles and duck necks. You should try them, of course (spoiler alert: I can be that one friend from time to time), but you can also resort to dishes such as Grandma’s Pork, a heaping platter of braised pork belly astride a pile of shredded pork swimming in a sea of hot oil and spicy sauce and surrounded by steamed buns.
“Steamed eggs” sounds innocent, but don’t give short shrift to this dish of savory custard laced with nothing but a few scallions and some soy sauce. It’s a simple delight.
Even the feared “century egg” is more than approachable when incorporated into Village Kitchen’s popular eggplant dish. The egg, a Chinese delicacy created by curing in a caustic mix solution, adds a subtle depth of flavor to the creamy, roasted eggplant, smashed tableside in a mortar and pestle. If anything, the strongest flavor components in the dish are the tiny, fermented black beans which are pungent and pure umami.
Do not fear the Village Kitchen, my friends. If you want to branch out, a lot or a little, you can do it here. I promise it’s worth it.