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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baton strikes again

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I was clubbed. Assaulted. Overwhelmed. Like a helpless animal brought down by a jaguar. The guy with the long hair and the tattoos and the Oakland Raiders cap did it to me. Punch after punch after punch. Ten punches to be exact. Ten punches that left me hurting, burning ... and impressed. How did he do that - so fast, so coordinated, so fiery? I can even tell you who it was. It was Danny Bowein. And, OK, he's no thug - he's a chef.

Danny Bowein has a reputation as a San Francisco underground "pop up" prophet, a perpetrator of ridiculous shizz. But Danny Bowein is not exactly under the radar any more. His face has been plastered all over TV screens lately, so ID'ing him is not so hard. He's had drinks with Tony Bourdain on The Layover and slapped noodles with Martha Stewart. He's practically a West Coast version of David Chang - that chef with a crazy combination of street cred and media frenzy (Chang recently showed up on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon getting slightly slizzered and talking about bourbon and the beauty of cheap American beer).

So where did this assault take place? Here in Atlanta, at round three of the Baton supper club, at the Gato Bizco Cafe. And this was an assault. Plates of food arriving at a brisk pace, each course seemingly bigger and badder than the one before it. Sichuan peppercorns, piles of peppers, mounds of smoky Tennessee bacon, a plate of fried rice just for the heck of it. More and more and more until everyone eating in the room was pummeled into submission. The tiny kitchen was a whir of activity, incredibly pumping out rounds of food in a manner that would leave many kitchen staffs speechless. How they were able to crank out so much food - so much good and interesting and well executed food - from an unfamiliar kitchen, in a tight time frame, I have no idea. And how the Baton team has managed to entice these buzzed about chefs to this tiny little kitchen in Candler Park for two-night stints? I have no idea on that either. Maybe it's the opportunity to come to Atlanta and hear "What'll ya have?" at the Varsity? Probably not, though Bowein did find time to hit the Varsity during his short stay (as well as Peter Chang's and Tasty China).

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, other than to say there were a couple of truly great dishes among that barrage of very good and very interesting - one was a Sichuan spiced catfish with boiled peanuts that was simply brilliant, another was an egg custard with foie gras and citron and chicken and apples that was simply crazy. All I can say is, should you be in San Francisco, do submit yourself to the assault that is Danny Bowein's cooking at Mission Chinese Food, and, while you're in Atlanta, get on the list for the next Baton supper club (email info@baton-limited.com). No telling who it will be, but I bet it will be another opportunity to be pummeled into a buzz of happiness.

Dark images from the scene of the crime

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