Sunday in the park with foie

It was a lovely evening for a concert, and a slider, in the park… if said slider was chef Joe Youkhan’s PBFGLT—that’d be house-cured and smoked pork belly, seared foie gras, and, well, you know the L and T. 

Rancho Santa Margarita’s very well-attended summer concert series opener benefited from the presence of Youkhan’s new Tasting Spoon gourmet food truck, parked in a nice spot on the curb across from the city’s branch library. (And, coincidentally, next to my entrepreneurial neighbor’s Screaming Ice Cream bus, which seemed to be doing pretty good business too.)

While we didn’t stay for the concert, my husband and son and I were happy to see the Assyrian-Puerto Rican chef and his wife Pam, who runs the front of the house. We tried a bunch of stuff from the menu du jour, including the aforementioned luxury slider, a little $18 indulgence that was one of the best bites I’ve had in ages—totally worth the price of admission. That pork belly is fabulous on its own, too, though. A no-foie $6 version—PBLT on the menu—was as delicious, even without the ultra decadent rich-upon-rich layering. At an earlier event I’d tasted Youkhan’s pulled pork slider with the cravable mustard sauce he created for Beach Pit BBQ, picked as one of five favorite local sauces in Orange Coast’s June issue, and the meatball, whose humble name belies its complexity and careful make. All the Tasting Spoon sliders benefit from a soft, resilient brioche roll supplied by OC Baking Co. in Orange. I’ll have more about this bakery soon in Taste of Orange County.

Fried tidbits of squid ($8) with a zingy, panko-crisped crust were some of the best ever—and squid is one of my very favorite foods (and words; of course it was calamari on the menu). Sweet potato fries ($3) were a total surprise—crispy, greaseless, feather-light, with not a trace of the sodden, heavy interior that often afflicts this well-meaning riff on regular frites. A pizzaish flatbread ($7) with the flavor profile of a classic carbonara—there were lots of other topping options, too—was strewn with perfectly crisped bits of pancetta. Arancini, and I ask you, when’s the last time you saw this Italian rice-ball fritter on a food-truck menu, were another hit, and a bargain at three for $5. Perfectly fried, and I loved the flecks of herb in the rice mixture, and the combination of provolone and house-made sausage inside.

Truly, a menu with so many interesting, delicious-sounding things makes choosing difficult. But that’s a problem we can live with.

Look for more on chef Youkhan in our Food Lover’s Guide in the September print issue. The Tasting Spoon truck’s unmissable, beautiful, custom art wrap makes it easy to spot on the fly, but you can keep up with its schedule here, as well as follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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