Since it’s inception Baton Supper Series, a pop-up dinner project in Atlanta, GA, has been incredibly adept at working with chefs that are pushing the limits of eating in America. Started by Moses Archuleta of Deerhunter, and his partner Bryson Tedford, their first installment included Tien Ho, formerly of New York City’s Momofuku Má Pêche, and their second included Hugue Dufour of Long Island City’s M. Wells.
Baton operates one Monday and Tuesday a month out of a small café called Gato Bizco, in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. Gato Bizco is a small breakfast space with an even smaller open, short order kitchen. It’s full of cat kitsch and adored by locals for turning out a good breakfast at the right price. The owner turns over his space to Moses and Bryson each month for them to curate a dinner with a notable chef. Baton asks that each chef serve their interpretation of American Southern food, thus leaving their mark on the space as the series evolves and passing the proverbial baton. Like all pop-up dinner projects, community is a central driving force and the meal is about more than just the food. For Baton’s third installment, they invited Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food.
Mission Chinese Food shines brightly in the field of emerging ‘postmodern’ restaurants. A restaurant within a restaurant, it exists in a Chinese take-out space in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, CA. It is the brainchild of Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint and represents a new breed that is effectively challenging the current styles and conventions of modern restaurants by stripping the structure down to its basic elements and creating forward-thinking food. A product of early Bay-area pop-up dinner culture and the European Bistronomy movement, Mission Chinese emphasizes remarkable adaptability, piercing efficiency, unwavering quality and accessible pricing. It inarguably functions as a model for what a restaurant is, can be and should be in the 21st century.
The difficulties associated with modern-day entrepreneurship, ultimately, allow a restaurant such as Mission Chinese Food to emerge. These difficulties include, but are not limited to, lack of capital and lack of affordable space, which set the stage for alternative food culture to thrive. A project like Mission Chinese Food happens because a community embraces its members’ ideas in light of such obstacles. It shares its spaces and resources. It supports a person and their idea because it cares about the quality of the community. This is happening all over the country, and I recently visited Atlanta, GA, where Baton was hosting Bowien, to experience a taste of both the food and community.
Bowien’s food at Mission Chinese is spicy and numbing, but not without balance. His precise techniques and intuitive palate allow the explosive flavors to make sense. His food is Sichuan at its core, but moves fluidly between regional Chinese and American Southern influence, allowing the unexpected similarities of said cuisines to stand out. Both, after all, are founded on rice as the base of a meal. Both include a cornucopia of pickled vegetables. Both have a fervent adoration and use of smoked meat, especially pork. And both include hot, spicy peppers. Mission Chinese’s menu for Baton was themed “meat plus three plus one,” a nod to the omnipresent meat and three plates of the American South.
Choice dishes from their slightly larger restaurant menu in San Francisco were presented in generous, family style portions and woven deftly with Southern ingredients, so the dishes came off as thoughtful and assimilated rather than confused. While it was all excellent, some of the stars were the Thrice Cooked Pork with Benton’s Tennessee Bacon and Sichuan Peppercorn, Griddled Shanghai Rice Cakes with Fermented Black Soy Beans, Pickled Mustard Greens and Tofu Skin and Catfish a la Sichuan, which included boiled peanuts, pickling brine and crispy, dry fried chicken wings. The delicious briny catfish was especially skillful at referencing pepper vinegar, a Southern staple, with its salient sour notes.
The motif of the series set out to explore the intersection of Bowien’s unorthodox Chinese food and traditional foods of the Deep South. Throughout the two evenings, the kitchen skillfully produced dish after dish of Bowien’s imaginings and continually hit the high notes with the clever marriage of the respective cuisines, ensuring a winning dinner in even the most makeshift of spaces. As for the net result, my observations pointed to a happy house of well fed and well cared for guests.
Photo Credits: Mark Andrew Gravel
Menu Credit: Taavo Somer