Thursday, July 15, 2010

Little World

'...don't worry. They also have a drive-thru.'

You walk in and are not sure what to make of it. Cooks in the kitchen seem to be yelling at each other in a high pitched Chinese dialect. A restaurant worker is seated at a table in the middle of the dining room cleaning green beans - placing the clean ones in a colander and tossing the refuse in a plastic bag, while another employee slurps up hot noodle soup at the same table (guess it's her dinner break?). By the looks of the customers seated at the various tables you might have guessed you just walked into the DMV; some of the patrons are loud and cheerful, while others give you a dirty look making sure you don't look that way again. The restaurant doesn't look at all clean, let alone sanitary. In fact it's a dirty dive but you can't let that fact stop you. Your first instinct is to turn around and quickly walk out, get in your car, and drive straight to the nearest P.F. Chang's. But you've come this have to go through with it. If you choose to accept this mission, you will be guaranteed perhaps the most flavorful and authentic tasting Chinese food in Utah...and it'll be cheap to boot.

Not daring to actually set foot into Little World? Okay, so there's an alternative. I do like to encourage people to go outside their eating comfort zones from time to time. It is, after all, character building - giving you a perspective that you might not have considered or experienced. But I also understand peoples' limits. Divey, hole-in-the-wall places like Little World do have their time and place as well as some charm (kind of), but if the dining room described above reminds you more of a scene out of a bad horror movie rather than a place you want to eat, then do what I do...and order for take-out! Little World might be a dumpy little place but they serve really great Chinese food. What I love about Chinese food is the amazing depth of flavor in each and every dish, the pungent odors, and the complex textures. As a kid my parents would often bring us to a neighborhood Chinese restaurant for dinner. Back then, I equated Chinese food to a fancy night out. In college, Chinese food garnered a more everyday kind of feel for me. With Chinatown only a hop, skip, and a jump away from my school, noodles, steamed pork buns, and dumplings became important staples to my San Francisco diet.

Little World brings me back to the flavors of San Francisco that I consider to be authentic in Chinese style cooking. Sure you can still get your sweet and sours, beef with broccoli, fried rice, and chow mein here...but you can also get so much more. You can't get more Chinese than to eat duck and the BBQ roast duck reminds me a lot of walking through Chinatown glancing at all of those hanging ducks in the windows of butchers and restaurants. Slightly charred, tender and moist, this duck will satisfy anyone's poultry craving. For those wanting to break the habit of getting General Tso's chicken (which I must admit is really delicious here - glazed gooeyness with a sweet-heat to it) I encourage going outside of what you're used to. I love Little World's chicken with black bean sauce. Black beans in Chinese cooking refers to fermented soy beans (not the traditional black beans you think of in terms of Southwest food). The beans provide a starchy and savory sauce with very deep soy flavors. Chinese food is well known for this penetrating savoriness and the black bean sauce here delivers great depth. Instead of the standard chow mein, give your noodles a little twist and order the Beef Chow Fun. Big fat, short, and wide rice noodles are dowsed and slightly seared with soy sauce creating a scrumptious morsel packed with flavor. The soft yet crispy and firm texture of the noodles is what makes this dish so great.

Little World offers a multitude of options for dine-in or take-out. With the servings they provide, you can get dinner plus leftovers for lunch the next day, maybe even lunch and dinner the next day. Chinese food has become so ubiquitous that people really take it for granted. It's a default in food courts, hospital cafeterias, and college campus' across the country and across continents. The globalization of this cuisine has caused a really probing, deep, soulful food to become readily available and recognizable. Unfortunately in this transition, a sad sanitization of the food has occurred in order to fit a more general (aka bland) palate. Some of the stuff you get around town at different chains isn't half bad at all, but throwing bok choy on a plate with soy sauce doesn't make it Chinese. Little World plays to the deep rooted flavors we all know and recognize in Chinese food. Though the restaurant could use a serious makeover, the food makes up for the lacking ambiance. So what to do the next time you don't feel like cooking dinner or when a night "in" with your favorite DVD is on tall order? Call up Little World and show up 15 minutes later. If you're still too scared to actually set foot in the restaurant to pick your order up, don't worry. They also have a drive-thru.

Little World ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
1356 South State Street

Little World on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Greek Souvlaki

Enter the gyro (pronouced yeero).

When I was a kid, my mom would often drag me to the mall where she went on frequent shopping excursions. I found solace in these endless marathon shopping sessions by spending time in the bookstore flipping through comic books and then eventually picking up a snack at the food court. A food court in the mall. Not exactly the kind of place where you might expect to be introduced to a new and exotic food. But picture it: it was the mid-80s and I was a 12 year old boy (bowl cut and all) searching for something to eat in a big indoor shopping mall in the east San Francisco bay area. My usual snack was a square slice of pepperoni pizza and a soda. I rarely diverged from this all too familiar habit, but it was in the food court that I was introduced to something I'd never seen before.

Enter the gyro (pronouced yeero). A free sample persuaded me to try it and after a small bite - I was hooked. My then under developed palate told me that I liked everything going on in this Greek sandwich...even if I couldn't tell you back then what I liked so much about it. So here I am today and I have to tell you that I still love the gyro - and better yet - I can tell you exactly what I love about it. A great place to go for a quick, inexpensive gyro experience is Greek Souvlaki. We frequented this little gyro shop when I was a grad student at the U, but they've remodeled since those days and it's really quite nice on the inside. It's definitely a fast food kind of place, focusing on Greek delights. And the gyros here don't disappoint - luscious lamb meat, crisp tomatoes, a creamy yogurt sauce, a puffy hot toasted pita -the gyros here are delicious, savory, creamy, and crunchy. The perfect sandwich.

If you're looking to go outside the norm of the classic gyro there are a few options at Greek Souvlaki. One of my favorites is the Philly Gyro. The name Philly implies a cheesesteak feel and this sandwich certainly ties into this theme nicely. Sauteed peppers and mushrooms, and gobs of cheese top off this bad boy adding a depth of sweetness and earthiness to the classic gyro taste. If you want to go outside the realm of sandwiches, try out the Greek Spaghetti. The red sauce is oddly familiar but the addition of cinnamon really transforms the dish into something else. The cinnamon adds a heat or warmth to the pasta that is unexpected. Diving into it you immediately say to yourself, "Mmmm...what is that I'm tasting..."

There are a world of options for people who don't want to eat lamb (such as the chicken gyros), for vegetarians (like veggie gyros), as well as for those who want other classic Greek food (the kabob dish souvlaki, or filled grape leaves - dolmathes). For dessert the baklava is also great - crunchy layers of pastry with a gooey, sticky, nutty filling. An individual portion is small but filling and provides a great finish to your big, fat, Greek Greek Souvlaki is Greek fast food at its best. It's not super fancy, but the service is fast and the food delivers an important one-two: taste and value.

Greek Souvlaki ~ Salt Lake City, Utah
404 East 300 South
With locations in Murray and West Valley City

Greek Souvlaki No. 1 on Urbanspoon