UMass Amherst. I'm embarrassed at you for a few things- really, a Super Bowl riot? 14 arrests? But sometimes you do something that, like a delinquent child with beaming parents, makes me so utterly pleased that I can't help but forgive you for your previous misdemeanors. Baby Berk, UMass Amherst's first-ever food truck, took the campus by storm with its squat, colorful mobile food delivery and its rotating menu of specialty burgers. Recently, they've switched up the menu to bring chilly Amherst a south-of-the-border flavor with funky tacos made to order.
Last semester's slew of kimchi-coated, egg topped burgers wowed students looking for an easy lunch. This week, Baby Berk introduced their taco menu, where diners can buy each taco for $1.75 or three for $4.75. There are five tacos on the menu, four specialty and one classic. I had a $5 gift card toward the truck and a buck in my pocket, so I was only able to try four. My food was prepared quickly and was handed to me in a little under five minutes, record time for freshly made food.
The first thing I noticed was how small the container was that the tacos were housed in. While I certainly wasn't expecting burrito-sized tacos, I definitely didn't expect them to be in a container small enough to hold a side of fries, either. Each was a little larger than my cell phone and about half as thick. I did appreciate the fact that they were individually wrapped, but for their small size, they are tremendously overpriced.
My first selection was the vegetarian bok choy and tofu taco, filled with sauteed jalapeno and garlic, bok choy, scallions, tofu, and julienned carrots with a sesame ginger dressing. This taco was the first that I tried and really set the bar low for the others. Sparsely filled with a deluge of dressing that soaked into the flour tortilla, one bite was enough for me to toss it into the nearest trash can. The dressing was tasty and coated the vegetables well, making it into a small portable salad, but I was disappointed that none of the heat from the jalapenos came through and that there was very little of the two titular ingredients, bok choy and tofu. The taco was definitely dominated by carrots and scallion, which made for a savory but one-noted flavor. I also would have preferred to see double-layered corn tortillas in lieu of the flour ones, which, though fluffier, tended to crumble around the edges.
Luckily, my experience went up from there. Moving back to my native cuisine, bread and meat, I went on to try the pork nước chấm taco. Nước chấm is a type of common Vietnamese fish sauce, although this one lacked fish sauce but instead had a kimchi-like slaw, marinated pork, the same sesame ginger dressing as the vegetarian taco, and sour cream. While much better than the vegetarian, this taco had a strangely sweet flavor to it that the latter did not. Baby Berk certainly does pork right, this being a tender and moist specimen that would make even the most seasoned food truck chef shed a tear. Their toppings, however, need work. The pork didn't taste like pork as it did sweet apples and the dressing combined with the sour cream left a greasy feeling in my mouth. The slaw was delicious, but sparse.
The green curry chicken taco was easily my favorite of the evening, and the only one that I finished in its entirety. With a hearty serving of soft shredded chicken soaked in a flavorful green curry sauce, it was both savory and sweet with more than a touch of spice. I think the lack of fish sauce in the pork taco may have been replaced in this one- it was almost too salty and had a distinctly fishy aftertaste, though not unpleasant. I loved how spicy this one was, and the fact that it had fresh pieces of cilantro mixed in was also a definite plus.
The last taco I sampled was the steak wasabi, also the taco I was most looking forward to. Covered with fresh tomatoes and loaded with chunks of hot, medium-rare (WHAT?!) carne asada pieces and wasabi sauce was a dream to behold. While I was hoping this would clear my sinuses, it only registered as a blip of heat on my palate and tasted mainly of mayo and salt, which cleared away all the glorious, steak-y flavors and even overwhelmed the generous topping of fresh tomatoes. More wasabi flavor or even a wasabi marinade would have been appreciated.
While I was hoping all of these would be muy bueno, unfortunately, there's still clearly work to be done on the UMass taco front. I immensely appreciate the fact that Baby Berk went out on a limb to offer taco varieties other than chicken, pork, and steak with the same bland hot sauce and cold shredded cheese, but wish that they had executed their quirkier varieties with a little more precision. Nevertheless, I have faith in the little truck that could and am excited to see what else they'll churn out in semesters to come. Beep beep!
Labels: 6, hot, meat, restaurant