Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Nobody Woks in San Diego
For some reason, the lyrics to that 80s song "Walking in LA" stuck in my head when I was thinking of writing this post. That's how I arrived at the cheesy title. Anyway, a couple weeks ago I began my 2012 eating challenge schedule with a stop in San Diego on 01/03. I'd be meeting Matt Cohen for an interesting lunch.
J-Wok is located in downtown San Diego. Parking in the area is difficult as usual. By difficult, I mean everything is metered or in paid lots or structures. The restaurant itself was incredibly crisp and clean inside. I think I would have eaten off the floor, but I wouldn't recommend it.
It's hard enough finding an eatery with one eating challenge. J-Wok has two on the menu. The first is the 5 lb Pad Thai Noodle challenge, then with only one previous finisher and a record time of 35 minutes. The second challenge is the Man Vs Wok Spicy Challenge, featuring 30 Thai chilies ground into a small bed of noodles. Eat it in 15 minutes and its on the house.
We decided to order both challenges at once. This was definitely a first. Our server was taken aback, but the request was no real problem. In about 30 minutes we were facing four large bowls of delicious food.
It was an interesting situation. Since we were ordering two challenges together, management was lenient and gave us a 75 minute time limit for both challenges. The more pressing question was deciding which bowl to start with - the big one, or the hot one? Matt and I decided to begin with the 5 lb challenge.
This was my first encounter with a Pad Thai dish. I liked it, though obviously eating 5 lbs of anything is not going to be pedestrian. I needed 15 minutes to get through it, utilizing plenty of fluids, which set a house record at the time.
Then it was on to the spicy challenge. This dish was something else entirely. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake ordering it. Each bite was incredibly hot, and it only increased in intensity. The 5 lbs of food in my stomach prevented me from moving at top speed.. it was torment for lunch.
Something in my head told me not to quit. So I fought. Every bite a battle, saturated with either soda or water. The back of my throat burned, my tongue throbbed, my eyes watered, my nostrils flared (you get the idea)... but somehow I couldn't stop. If I was about to die eating, Cohen was about to die laughing. The expressions on my face were beyond description and I couldn't see them.
And it was all over. The burning sensations were excruciating for several minutes afterward. After the fire finally subsided, the staff congratulated me on what they considered to be an impossible victory. No one had ever taken on both challenges back to back, let alone completed them. 2-0 was a good way to begin the year.
But, as they say, all glory is fleeting. The following week my time record on the 5 lb Pad Thai Challenge was broken by Kevin Ross. He only cut me down by 30 seconds, but no matter. Kevin's the new man to beat.
So how did I round out my evening in San Diego? With a little more phood. A search on Yelp turned up a pho eating challenge at a restaurant called Top 10 Oriental Restaurant. This eatery intrigued me immediately. The name struck me funny at first, but I was more impressed by the fact that this place served both sushi and pho. Those are two of my favorites.
The challenge here is called the Big Stomach Challenge. That's pretty straightforward. Completely consume a Super Pho Bowl, including the broth, in 30 minutes to win a spot on the Wall of Fame and a $5 gift card for next time.
The pho was really hot. You don't get you any cooling time before the clock starts, and since the bowl is filled to the top you really can't dump in much ice to help lower the temperature. I made it a leisurely meal, only burning myself as required. There might be a house record but I didn't ask. My bowl was empty in 20 minutes and I hobbled out of there.
It's too bad they didn't have a sushi challenge.