If you haven’t heard much about the newly opened Rooster and the Pig Restaurant in downtown Palm Springs, that is by design, according to Chef and Owner, Tai Spendley.
After decades working in “front of house” senior level food & beverage roles at trendy hotels and “hot-spot” restaurants in Chicago and Palm Springs, Spendley wanted to return to his roots. He opened his first solo concept this month in the spirit of small, back-alley, authentic restaurants he loves to visit when he returns home to Vietnam.
Rooster and the Pig Chef/Owner, Tai Spendley, chose the name based on an “Asian Astrology book that claimed that the signs of Rooster and Pig are a force to be reckoned with when combined in work."
The menu at Rooster and the Pig is anything but traditional. It is reflective of the authentic produce, herbs and traditional ingredients that Spendley travels each week to source from Bolsa, known as “Little Saigon” in Orange County. He drives to collect exotic ingredients such as wood-ear mushrooms, gailan (a type of Asian broccoli), and special varieties of Asian apples, mint, leaves and herbs. These ingredients imbue the menu with an air of intrigue, and are a source of delight to foodies in search of new flavors, textures and preparations.
A small taste of “Chao” (rice porridge) is served as an “amuse” to whet your palate with a warm, comforting, taste of Vietnam.
Instead of the ubiquitous steamed edamame, the start to a meal at Rooster and the Pig is “Chao,” served traditionally as rice simmered in chicken stock with fried shallots and fresh scallions. A vegetarian version is also served made with vegetable stock and black rice.
A signature dish on the menu is the FOB (Fresh Off The Boat), which is a play on a dish made at the oldest restaurant in Vietnam, Cha Ca La Vong. The flash-fried, lightly-battered cod, is served in a sauce made of fresh turmeric and dill.
Fresh Off The Boat wild cod is lightly coated with potato starch and a dusting of rice powder to create a light, fluffy exterior when flash-fried. This preparation is friendly for gluten-free diners, and a slightly sweet sauce made from turmeric and fresh dill adds a palate-pleasing flavor balance.
It can be tricky for diners with dietary restrictions to find Asian-inspired menu selections, but the offerings at Rooster and the Pig strive to meet the needs of a variety of palates. The Crispy Rice Paper Chicken Mushroom Rolls and the Savoy Cabbage Rolls are two examples.
Rice paper is used instead of traditional won-ton style wheat wrappers to prepare the Crispy Rice Paper Rolls. The filling of chicken, wood-ear mushrooms and glass rice noodles is delicate, while the deep-fried rolls are crisp and golden on the exterior with a slight “chew” from the texture of the softened rice wrapper.
All of the small plates on the menu are meant to be ordered to share with a group and each dish is prepared “a la minute” or made to order, so that the leaves are still on stems and branches and delicate rice wrappers and vegetables remain fresh and textures are intact. This care and attention can mean that dishes are served as they are finished and come out from the kitchen based on readiness versus all at once. This concept is designed to create an intimate, lively, casual atmosphere fit for foodies who don’t mind a wait for fresh and uniquely authentic fare. Open for dinner only, with the small space limited in seating, hurry to grab yours before word gets out.
Paleo-friendly, these rolls are unlike any I have experienced at a Vietnamese restaurant. The wrappers are softened Savoy cabbage leaves, which encompass a filling of shrimp, mushrooms and rice glass noodles in a lime-soy preparation. The rolls are pan-fried to create a golden, caramelized texture.
The space at Rooster and the Pig is intimate, clean and simple, acting as a canvas for the menu of rotating small plates to shine.
Rooster and the Pig Restaurant, 356 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, 760-832-6691; www.roosterandthepig.com
Lori Cohen-Sanford is a private/personal chef, cooking class instructor and owner of Nourishfoods Organic Meal Services www.nourishfoods.biz. Her food column, Tastes Around Town, will appear weekly on Wednesdays. Have a story idea? You can contact Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @nourishfoodsps.