Ba Ren – spicy, then less so

It seems fitting that I follow up a post about being a spice-wimp with a (kind of) post on the spiciest meal I think I’ve ever had.  Somewhere in the middle of dinner, I took a picture of something (I think it was the kabocha squash and pork) and then I never followed up to tell you all about it.

When we heard there was going to be a beer pairing dinner with Szechuan food, we jumped at the chance to go.  You never get to see how people pair beer with Asian food!  Plus, the menu sounded interesting and we’d never been to Ba Ren.  There were going to be 6 courses (I think we ended up having 11 dishes overall) paired with beers (well-paired and so plentiful):

1) Selection of Cold Appetizers – AleSmith X

Seaweed salad, marinated bamboo shoots, wood-ear mushrooms dressed with spicy sesame oil, Husband and Wife (beef brisket and tripe), sliced pig’s ear, and cold marinated chicken all pair beautifully with the light, hoppy effervescence of AleSmith’s X Extra Pale Ale.

2) Hot Pepper Prawns; Fish Flavored Eggplant – Ballast Point Wahoo Wheat

Prawns coated with a Szechuan peppercorn-spiked batter and stir fried with lots of hot peppers and eggplant seasoned with black vinegar provide a delicious counterpoint to Wahoo Wheat’s fruity and spicy flavors. The coriander and orange peel complement the flavors in these dishes.

3) Boiled Fish in Hot Sauce – Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale

The intense chili and ginger flavors present in this fish dish are well-matched with the ginger and coriander flavors in Lost Abbey’s light take on the saison style.

4) Kabocha Squash Stuffed With Pork; Chinese Bacon With Garlic Sprouts – AleSmith Anvil ESB

These two dishes are marvels of rich, intense flavors, which makes the caramelized and earthy flavor profile of AleSmith’s ESB an ideal match. 

5) Dry-Cooked Green Beans; Dan Dan Noodles – Ballast Point Abandon Ship

We were surprised at how well this combination worked – after all, matching a German rauchbier (lager made from smoked malt) with gingery toasted green beens and sweet and savory cold noodles doesn’t seem obvious – but believe us, it works in a big way.

6) Eight Treasure Rice Pudding – Lost Abbey Lost and Found

The sweet and earthy flavors of this classic Chinese dessert blend quite harmoniously with the raisiny components of Lost Abbey’s version of a dubbel. A perfect closing to the evening.

The main reason for posting that is in case the SDBW listing ever goes away.  We enjoyed so many dishes that I want to be able to remember what we had, so I know what to order in the future (this becomes relevant soon).  Alice Q. took some great photos (I don’t have any), so I’ll refer you to those.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet her that night, but I did get to meet Kirk!

Everything we ate was delicious, from the cold dishes to the rice pudding (but I also like sweet red beans, so that could just be me).  Most of what we ate was also blindingly spicy.  I don’t think I realized that Szechuan food was traditionally so spicy, but I’ve learned it now.  The fish boiled in hot sauce was so good… the bright red sauce was a little misleading, since it really wasn’t as scorching as the color would lead you to believe.  However, the other fish dish, the one with the clear broth on the bottom, had the kind of bite that snuck up on you and then stabbed you in the back.  It was brutal.  Travis only had a bit of the fish that hadn’t touched the broth (there were noodles underneath, too) and didn’t think it was so bad.  I gave him a piece that had been sitting in the spicy broth and I think he almost died.  I don’t know what the dish was or what made it so hot, but it was.  It made the red hot sauce fish seem tame.

Anyway, we survived all the dishes and enjoyed all the beer, and it was really a fun night.  After you get through the searing blindness of spicy, you start thinking about the actual flavors of the dish and I found myself craving that fish boiled in hot sauce. 

After Cami came back from her long work trip away, she invited us to revisit Ba Ren (they were at the beer dinner, too) because she was craving the hot pepper prawns – battered and fried shrimp, dry-fried in Szechuan peppers (and other things?)  It’s one of those dishes that has a mildy buzzing heat, one that creeps up on you after a while.  It also makes your tongue tingly from the Szechuan peppers… but they’re still tasty.  So, we sat down with the menus and then realized that we really weren’t sure what we were supposed to order.  We figured out the hot pepper prawns, we figured out the fish boiled in hot sauce (I asked if that was the bright red one), and then we had to decide on one of two eggplant dishes.  We ended up with the eggplant in brown sauce, which in hindsight obviously wasn’t the right choice because it wasn’t labeled as “spicy” (with the little chili logo)… I was craving the one we had at the dinner, which is the fish-flavored eggplant.  We were also surprised that we could order the fish in hot sauce at varying levels of hot!  We went with a 4 (see! I’m branching out with the hot stuff!) – we didn’t want to lose any flavor, but we also wanted to enjoy the meal without suffering.  Oh, and we got a pot of hot and sour soup, since that’s Travis’ barometer for Chinese food.

Our server seemed concerned that we didn’t order enough food, so she suggested we also get a cold dish.  We liked the cold dishes at the beer dinner, so we ended up with a plate of the seaweed salad, Husband and Wife (although, I feel like we had more brisket and no tripe), and peanuts, which were all good (and relatively safe) choices.  In the end, we had more than enough food and took home leftovers of just about everything.  The fish was perfect, just enough heat, plenty of flavor, and delicious over rice.

So, now that we know we can tailor some of the dishes to our wussiness, I think we’ll be back more often.  It’s certainly not far from where we work and would be an easy drive for dinner.  Of course, to get there, we do have to pass Buga…

Ba Ren Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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5 responses to “Ba Ren – spicy, then less so

  1. I still need to post all my photos somewhere!

  2. Oh, and I need to add that I appreciate your (and Jeff’s and Travis’) willingness to branch out to hotter food since I like blisteringly hot, but always sacrifice for the greater good. Ha ha.

    • I would say I am more willing than Travis, but at least he goes along without much fuss! I mean, at some point, we have to move beyond a 2! And I did order panang curry at a 3 the other day at lunch (too bad it wasn’t very good to begin with).

  3. Hi Leanne – Wow, I’m glad you went back to Ba Ren…….

    • I’m glad we went back, too! I think now that we know we can adjust the level of spiciness on some of the dishes, we’ll be more inclined to visit often. That fish in hot sauce is just delicious!

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