Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mai House, and a footnote on Iberian ham

November 7

Having just come back from Boston, and with work to do before going to Miami Beach for a food trade show called IFE Americas, you wouldn't think I would have felt restless on Tuesday. Still, after going to an early evening tasting of Iberian ham* at stk, and then going back to the office to finish up what I needed to finish up before hitting the road, I found myself grabbing a drink at Buddakan (the drink was called Solid and was a bourbon-based drink involving lime) I went to Mai House, Drew Nieporent's new place between Tribeca Grill and Nobu. Who do you think was tending bar (or "shaking" as he called it), but Robert Larcom, a relatively senior executive in Drew's Myriad Restaurant Group? I met Robert last year on a similarly spontaneous visit to Centrico, where he was similarly shaking.
He observed how tending bar exercises both creative and social muscles -- a sort of combination of skills required for the front- and back-of-the-house. I pointed out that it also required managerial skills since the bartender often plays a role of managing the restaurant floor. He agreed.
It was Mai House's fourth night of operation, and I'd gotten a press release just that day announcing that it was open, which was one reason why I decided to stop by.
It's unfair and unwise to judge a four-day-old restaurant, but I wasn't there to judge, just to look. And, you know, eat and drink.
I had my first taste in quite awhile of mangosteen, in the form of puree with vodka added to it.
The mangosteen is a terrific fruit from Southeast Asia (or it might possibly have originated in South Asia; I don't know). It has hard purplish or brick red skin and a thick, deep burgundy rind. In the middle of the fruit is a milky white orb of sectioned fruit, usually with one big section that contains the seed (a bit of trivia: count the flower scars on the bottom of the fruit and you'll know how many sections will be inside).
It's hard to describe how fruits taste, because they all taste like themselves, but mangosteens have a pleasantly sour sweetness and a silky-smooth texture that makes me miss Southeast Asia. You can find them in the Chinatowns of Canadian cities, but they're not yet commercially available (except, evidently, as puree) in the United States.
That is likely to change in the next couple of years. The U.S. and Thailand are moving forward with plans to allow the importation of Thai mangosteens, but the process is likely to take another year or two, at least.
Meanwhile, mangosteens are being grown in Florida, but it takes something like 15 years for a mangosteen tree to bear a significant amount of fruit. How annoying!
As you've probably surmised, I love mangosteens, but I don't think they're best represented in puree form with vodka added, so I next had a Mai-jito, Mai House's version of a Mojito, which instead of mint has lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf and curry leaf.
And I sampled chef Michael Bao Huynh's Vietnamese sausages with green papaya salad and his seafood lacxa garnished with a whole head-on shrimp.

*Iberian, as opposed to Iberico; I'm not sure what the distinction is, but apparently it's not mere semantics. I'd love for someone to tell me the difference.
Most hogs in North America and Europe are slaughtered after six months, but those that are to be made into Iberian ham live for nine months so they can put on the extra fat needed for their long curing process.
I have no idea if that applies to Iberico.


Anonymous said...

Let's see if I can make this short: Iberico or Iberian simply refers to the location: Iberian peninsula which includes Spain, and I believe, Portugal. So you couldn't have Iberico/Iberian ham from the U.S. only from Spain. The best Iberian ham are ones made from pata negra, or black-hoofed pigs, which are a direct descendant of wild boars and are only found in Spain. This last July finally a Spanish producer, Embutidos, got clearance from the USDA to import their pig products directly into the U.S. Previously, pigs were slaugheted outside Spain -- in countries whose slaughterhouse are USDA approved-- and then aged in Spain. Now the chorizos and salchicons are available; the jamons next year after they aged. Both pig products from the only acorn-eating pata negra and the ones that eat more are available. Does this make sense? (PS: I met you some time back at an NRA Show. I used to work with Brent Frei at Chef magazine) See ya! Lisa

Bret Thorn said...

Well yes, Lisa, that makes sense, but it doesn't quite answer the question I meant to ask, which is: What's the difference between Iberico ham and Iberian ham? The hosts of the party insisted that I was having Iberian ham, not Iberico, but I couldn't manage to figure out what the difference between those two was.

Anonymous said...

Iberian is "Iberico" in English. It refers to the peninsula of Spain and Portugal, but also, here in Spain, "Iberico" refers to a pig's breed. Most of the pigs of the Iberian breed are "pata negra" (black hoof), but not all of them.

Ibergour, a ham online store, has a lot of information about iberian ham.

But I'm afraid it will not arrive to the USA until the end of 2008.