Thinly sliced pork chops grill up fast and sweet, and get a potent dipping sauce.
Hawker Fare — it is far more than a restaurant and a cookbook.
It is the deeply personal embodiment of Chef-Owner James Syhabout. It is a love letter to his mother, a reckoning with his Laotian heritage, a symbol of respect for an often misunderstood cuisine, and a testament that fortitude, passion and determination can lead to greatness and awakening.
Syhabout may be known best as the only Michelin-starred chef in the East Bay — for his fine-dining Commis restaurant (two stars, thank you very much). But it is the down-home Hawker Fare where his heart lies.
That’s immediately evident in the pages of his first cookbook, “Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes From a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots,” of which I received a review copy. Syhabout wrote the cookbook with assistance from James Beard Award-winning food writer John Birdsall of Oakland.
It was published by Ecco, Anthony Bourdain’s publishing imprint of HarperCollins.
Blistered green beans at Hawker Fare in San Francisco.
With Chef Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok blazing a trail coast to coast, and San Francisco restaurateur Pim Techamuanvivit acquiring ever growing praise for her Kin Khao, Thai is just about the hottest cuisine around right now.
Now comes James Syhabout, Oakland’s only Michelin-starred chef, to add his stamp with Hawker Fare in San Francisco’s Mission District.
Syhabout’s original Hawker Fare has been going strong in Oakland, along with his more ambitious Commis. But this outpost, which opened about a month ago, is his first foray across the bridge.
When I asked him if he felt he was competing with the other celebrated Thai restaurants that have come to the forefront lately, he replied, “I’m competing with myself. I’m cooking a lot of dishes that I’ve never made before, based on things my family cooked in Thailand.”
Colorful mats as wall art.
Posters set the mood.
The dining room abuzz at night.
Recently, I had a chance to taste some of those dishes when I was invited to a media dinner.
The restaurant is done up as if you were eating at a night market in Thailand. Walls are decorated with bright-colored floor mats tables covered with slick oil-cloths printed with flowers and fruit, and the ceiling strung with strands of lights. All that’s missing is the humidity and the torrent of scooters.