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It’s January, so I’m picking tomatoes out of my salad.
Even with the spring-like weather last week, the only tomatoes you’ll get in northern Indiana this time of year came in a truck or a can. Neither does much to add to the flavor.
So I’m not sad when, at this time of year, tomatoes aren’t on the salads or sandwiches at Constant Spring, 219 S. Main St., Goshen.
Owner Jason Oswald goes out of his way to serve seasonal, flavorful bar food. Jesse Shoemaker and others in the kitchen focus on ingredients that are local and, therefore, not always available.
Tomatoes are replaced with apples, roasted beets or carrots, which can be stored into the winter.
This isn’t the first winter Oswald has done this, but he also recently tweaked the menu in other ways.
It now has cheese curds. They’re a bit greasy, but you can get cheese, fried in beer batter. They’re good. But not as good as the fried pickles, which are spicy and come with a spicy ranch dressing if you wish. They leave a tingle in your mouth. Both of those appetizers would benefit from a spicy ketchup like the chipotle ketchup served on a turkey burger Friday at 523 Tap & Grill in Elkhart.
(As an aside, there’s been a raging argument in the newsroom about the validity of ketchup. Katie Carpenter blogged about how she abhors the stuff. That’s fine. I could live without it but I don’t want to because I like the stuff.)
The appetizer list also has falafel and hummus. The hummus is appropriately creamy and the $5 plate is a nice side. The fried chickpea fritters are crisp and full of parsley. It’s a very nice small plate of food.
The Spring’s new menu also has a fish sandwich with a new supplier from the Great Lakes. And some of the specials of late have been great. A black bean burger was nice and some of the fresh sausages they’re now making in-house are full of flavor.
The one thing on the menu that didn’t impress me was the jalapeno cream cheese poppers made in-house. I applaud them for making their own, but the three that came in a $5 order just didn’t have much flavor.
I miss Jean Chen in Elkhart. She closed China Star and moved to South Bend in 2008 to open J.W. Chen’s Asian Cuisine, 1835 South Bend Ave. It’s near Notre Dame, across the parking lot from Between the Buns.
On a recent snowy evening, we made our way through her doors for an early dinner.
As she always has, as she does with nearly every table, she sat down and said, “What do you like?”
From there, she crafted an order, both of what we wanted and what she wanted us to have.
There was sizzling rice soup, Chinese broccoli and a taste of her spare ribs. Her menu is big and full of flavorful fusion dishes that don’t have MSG.
But off the menu, there are surprises. She brought us the spicy fish from the menu and a plate of fish in a black vinegar sauce. The first was good. The second was amazing.
And on the menu is a pork belly dish with cabbage or eggplant, but off the menu is one that has dried vegetables and pork belly (uncured bacon) that is fried, pressed, layered with the vegetables and steamed again.
It’s unctuous. It’s rich and hearty and yet doesn’t feel heavy or greasy. I can’t wait to have it again. It’s a great dish to share because of how rich it is.
J.W. Chen’s is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 271-2777
If you happen to be in Chicago, Chef Bill Kim has a new restaurant that offers some new flavors.
The owner of Urban Belly and Belly Shack now has BellyQ. Urban Belly focuses on dumplings and Asian noodles. Belly Shack is Korean/Puerto Rican fusion. His new place is “modern Asian barbecue.”
The restaurant at 1400 W. Randolph St. is funky and chic. The Thai-style fried chicken was crisp and tender because of the cooking method. His kimchi is used there as it is at other locations. But there is also food from a wood oven and an option to grill food at your table.
Our dish of tea-smoked baby back pork ribs with a hoisin-rosemary barbecue sauce was stellar. The ribs pulled away from the bone and easily topped steamed buns for little sliders. The ribs were tea-smoked, a method that is moist and gently cooks the meat, according to his menu.
You can read more at bellyQchicago.com.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at email@example.com, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog is at www.blogs.etruth.com/diningalaking/.