Taweewat Hurapan and I go way back. He was one of the first chefs I profiled for Nation's Restaurant News, in 1999, when he was the executive chef of Rain on the Upper East Side.
He has a new restaurant, Hurapan Kitchen, which he runs with his son, Dejthana, who was chef at Rain on the Upper West Side.
If you happen to be on the fencing team at City College of New York, you've probably heard of the Hurapan Trophy, which is given to the school's best fencer each year. Taweewat, who was on Thailand's Olympic fencing team in both Munich and Montreal, also did a stint as CCNY's head fencing coach.
(He lost in the first round in Munich, but he made it to 19th place out of 160 in Montreal).
Back when I interviewed him in 1999, Taweewat noted that both fencing and cooking require timing and depth perception. He also said fencing "helps in reading people's minds, because in fencing you have to read your opponent's mind and also the judge's mind. So I can also judge the customers very easily."
My friend Yishane Lee, who works for Time Inc. Interactive, and I both are friends with one of Hurapan Kitchen's publicists, Ben Schmerler, from back when he was an editor for Zagat. Growing weary of bad pitches, Ben decided he could do it better and teamed up with Michael Gitter to form their own PR company.
He asked Yishane and me separately to check out Hurapan Kitchen, and we decided to go together with Yishane's boyfriend, Ray Garcia, who also works for Time Inc., as a computer guy.
I've known Yishane even longer than I've known Taweewat. We worked together in Bangkok in 1995-96. She edited my restaurant reviews.
I picked Yishane up in her Time Inc. office and we stopped by to chat with her colleague Hooshere, who, apart from being one of Time Inc.'s web people, is a singer of contemporary Armenian music.
Hooshere is involved in the relaunching of Entertainment Weekly's web site, so that magazine had just given her a collection of their favorite bits of entertainment for the year (books, DVDs and such).
I can't tell you what was in it, but I can say that I learned that Anika Noni Rose lives in the same building in Inwood as Yishane.
Ray had some things to take care of, so Yishane and I went downstairs to Cité for wine and dollar oysters (we started drinking Sancerre but switched to a California Sauvignon Blanc).
Yishane's a walker (actually, she's a marathon runner, but she walks, too), but it was raining, so we took a subway to Hurapan Kitchen, where Taweewat sprang out and introduced me to Dejthana, whom he said was the actual chef at this restaurant.
He also pulled out some sort of hand-held computer device and showed me a picture of the profile I'd written about him. He said he uses it as his bio.
The food at Hurapan Kitchen was different from what I remember getting at Rain, which seemed toned down to suit Upper East Side tastes. The new place definitely seemed more Thai, but the chefs also knew who they were cooking for and that two out of three of us had lived in Thailand.
Ray arrived just as the appetizers did, but don't worry, he's not one of those neglectful boyfriends. In fact, he's not even a boyfriend anymore: Within 24 hours of dinner, Ray gave Yishane a ring and became her fiancé.
Here's what we ate:
Maine lobster roll with spicy greens and tangerine glaze
Roti tuna roll with pickled ginger and caramelized pineapple
Tamarind Glazed Baby Back Ribs withwild mushrooms, basil and Szechuan pepper
Tom yam kung (spicy-sour shrimp soup with mushrooms, kaffir lime and chile-lemon grass broth)
Crispy duck salad with papaya, tomato, spicy pomelo
Crispy “fillet” of whole fish with sweet-tangy-spicy sauce (a word of explanation: the fish is flavored like a whole Thai crispy fish — along the lines of pla thod rad prik, say — but instead of frying it whole, the chef fried the fillets and then served them with the fried carcass curved around them, making it exotic looking and yet convenient to eat)
Braised short ribs with roasted potatoes, peanuts and massaman curry
Fried coconut ice cream with raspberry and mango sauce
Apple & banana spring roll with green tea ice cream
Hurapan Kitchen is one of a small but growing number of restaurants that offers both light and dark roasts of coffee. The light roast is a Brazil Sanos. The dark one is a Hawaiian Kona. I have no idea if the fact that Ben also represents the coffee house Joe has anything to do with that.