Next came the appetizer. After much deliberation, I chose the small plate of Korean braised beef lettuce cups ($7). Served on butter lettuce, the delicious, tender chunks of spiced beef melded perfectly with the sweet chunks of pineapple, the long, thin slivers of crunchy jicama, the housemade kimchi, and the spicy chile sauce. At first I didn't know best how to tackle this colorful—yet awkward starter—but finally I rolled one up, opened wide, bit down, and let the flavors explode. Oishii.
After this successful nibble my stomach was nearly full, but curiosity wouldn't allow me to stop. I ordered a noodle bowl, Zha Jiang ($9), which yielded a giant serving of spicy ground pork, plump udon noodles, and slices of cool crunchy cucumber. Accompanying this trio were three extra flavorful frills: spicy chile sauce, pickled serranos (ouch!), and a sweet chile sauce to provide some much-needed balance to offset the melange of fire. I spooned in a little of each condiment, then stirred up my mishmash of flavors until the beautiful noodles were stained with red, covered in minced pork. With my chopsticks readied, I prepared to chow down.
The lovely creaminess of the udon, the undertones of the allspice warmly flavoring the pork, the sting of the serrano chiles, and the sweet and spicy sauces left me contented. (These giant noodles remain a favorite of mine as they remind me of the school cafeteria lunches I ate while teaching English in Japan). I immensely enjoyed slurping up these long, thick strands in this new fusion of flavors and textures.
With my stomach full, my lips on fire, and my curiosity satisfied, I sensed that this would not be my last visit to Chow. Other creative items on their menu—salt and pepper prawns with gingered vinegar; Laksa, a noodle bowl with seafood and rice noodles in a spicy coconut milk broth—would likely lure me back at some point in the near future. But for now, I was content with my zesty newfound discovery. Chow.
Also attracting crowds were the festivities brought by Art After Dark, a San Luis Obispo County Arts Council program. Taking place the first Friday of each month, local businesses showcase local artists, many offer up appetizers and local wines, and some offer live entertainment such as music and bellydancing. I wandered into several venues to admire the creative work of many local artists. My favorite pick of the evening goes to the History Center of San Luis Obispo (located across from the Mission and pictured above). Their current exhibit: Bells, Belles & Beaux, Wedding Traditions of SLO County, 1870's - 1950's, brought a unique display of vintage wedding dresses, evolving traditions, and a little-known piece of local SLO history to light.
Who says Friday nights in downtown San Luis Obispo are SLO? Not me!