EAT THIS: Nitrogen-Cold Popcorn at Jasper’s Corner Tap

Smitten Ice Cream famously uses liquid nitrogen to make its scoop-at-a-time ice cream. (Founder Robyn Sue Fisher won’t divulge every last secret about her method, but that nitrogen has to be colder than -230 degrees Fahrenheit, or it would boil away.)

Chef Adam Steudle at Jasper’s Corner Tap in the Tenderloin has gone down a similar Mr.-Wizard’s-Supermarket-Science route with his liquid nitrogen caramel corn ($8). Why? Chilling popcorn down to subzero temperatures freezes the caramel which, instead of returning to a Cracker Jack-like quality upon coming up to temp, becomes buttery and smooth again. (You don’t need to worry about a filling coming out, although you might have to eat through the fear.) Like virtually every salty-sweet popcorn creation, it’s impossible to resist wolfing it all down, and the serving size is neither bar-snack skimpy nor as large as the giant mixing-bowl portion of kimchi popcorn at the Alamo Drafthouse.

[jump] Jasper’s struggled for a long time to balance its aspirations with its geographical setting. Being at the corner of Taylor and O’Farrell, it’s named for Jasper O’Farrell, the 19th-century surveyor who laid out Market Street and much of San Francisco’s grid. But that location means an influx of Union Square tourists who might not go gaga over pig ears (however limey and delicious, $9) or Welsh rarebit ($9).

It’s a tough knot to untangle, so Steudle’s M.O. is to take accessible dishes and make one major change to them. For example, chicken and waffles becomes fried rabbit and waffles ($19), the biscuits and gravy comes with foie gras ($17), and the meatloaf is made of bison ($19). Those tweaks are par for the San Francisco foodie’s course, but the curious sensation of sucking on caramel-laced popcorn that was chilled to closer to absolute zero than to the human body temperature is a worthwhile novelty for everybody.

Jasper’s Corner Tap, 401 Taylor, 415-848-9055 or jasperscornertap.com

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