Food truck report: Pico House brings grain bowls made by a quartet of serious chefs

Loaded carne asada fries, excellent tacos, bacon ice cream sandwiches, fried chicken: These are the reasons why you typically spend  considerable time tracking down your favorite food truck. But four business partners, who have worked at some of the best restaurants in the country, are hoping you’ll apply that same food-fan approach to a couple of grain bowls.

Pico House, a food truck specializing in grain bowls that launched a few weeks ago, is brought to you by Chris Chi, who cooked at Blue Hill in New York City; Phil Moses, a veteran of Ray’s, Stark Bar and Bestia in Los Angeles; Gemma Matsuyama, who was a sous chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns; and Mavis J. Sanders, who also cooked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Blue Hill.

“Grains are such a great vehicle,” Chi said. “These grains come straight from the field to our bowls. It is a blend of soft and hard grains that really stand up to all the ingredients we put in the bowl.”

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The Pico House crew uses a mixture of ancient grains from Giusto’s in San Francisco and Central Milling in Utah. The grains are topped with things such as harissa-rubbed lamb; tomato chutney; fish sauce vinaigrette; and a daikon, shungiku (an edible chrysanthemum) and garlic confit purée. In other words, it might be exactly what you’d expect from those who have worked under chefs Dan Barber and Ori Menashe. 

There typically are four bowls on the truck. Most recently there was a Robertson short rib bowl, the Union lamb bowl, Crenshaw meatballs and Grandma’s pork. 

The expertly roasted lamb in the Union is lashed with a housemade harissa rub that includes fenugreek, black cumin, honey and red chile flakes, and is served with a sweet carrot purée and a cool salad of cherry tomatoes, mint, avocado and crumbled goat cheese. 

The Thai-inspired meatballs in the Crenshaw are half-chicken, half-pork and are served on a chickpea and coconut curry purée with a cucumber salad, pickled red cabbage, honey-roasted peanuts and the tangy fish sauce vinaigrette. And the grains beneath are chewy and satisfying — more filling than a bowl of rice. Or a kale salad.

If you’re an onion ring fan — and even if you’re not — order the pickled onion rings. Thick slices of red onion are pickled in red wine vinegar until just tart, and the golden-fried batter shatters with each bite. (These work so well you may wonder why more vegetables aren’t pickled, then fried.)

“I have to admit, this is our guilty pleasure,” Moses said of the onion rings.

And instead of your average soft drinks, you’ll find something called the “ugly fruit drank,” made with fruit from Murray Family Farms in Bakersfield. 

“Basically, there is an abundance of fruit that farmers can’t sell for many different reasons,” Matsuyama said. “It’s too ripe. It’s too ugly. We take this ugly, overripe fruit and turn it into a syrup, flavoring it with whatever herbs and citrus we’re feeling at the moment.” 

On a recent visit, there was a zippy peach and lemon version. Matsuyama will ask whether you want it fizzy: You do, because it’s more fun this way. The drink is served with a thick straw, which provides a way to take advantage of all the little bits of fruit on the bottom of the cup.  

Matsuyama is also behind the desserts on the truck — as well as Heavy Cream, the name for her pastry company. She’s doing her version of classic flavor combinations, including a PB&J cake, an airy yellow spongecake with a swirl of blueberry jam and peanut butter cream in the middle; and a dessert called Peaches & Cream — white peaches layered with balsamic cake, vanilla custard and lychee in a cup. There are also $1 ice pops, served out of little paper cups with popsicle sticks in the middle. 

The Pico Truck may have just launched, but if all goes according to plan, you may not have to chase those pickled onion rings for long. The partners say the goal is to open “one restaurant, then two, then three” Pico House brick-and-mortar locations in the future. 

I think food tastes better outside, after midnight. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_



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