Monday, January 05, 2009

The best restaurants are the ones where they know you

January 5

You might remember that I spent the day after Christmas waiting to have dinner at The Spotted Pig.
The day after New Year's, I walked right in to Kurve and got a table immediately
Well, of course I got a table at Kurve; the place is pretty much always empty. It’s a good thing to remember if you’re looking for a place to eat, because remember the chef and owner is Andy Yang, who also is chef-owner of the delicious Rhong-Tiam.

Andy had e-mailed me:

“Hi Bret
I have a new duck menu and couple of appetizer and also a new Steak pruveyor
would like your opinion. Come in bring friends...
Let me know....
C u :)”

A week earlier, my great friend Jonathan Ray had called. He was going to be in town for a historians conference and would like to hang out.
So I combined the two opportunites and invited Jonathan and his wife Michelle to dinner at Kurve.
Boy, was it empty. I arrived on Saturday at 7 — teeth-clenchingly early for the East Village, it’s true, but there wasn’t a single person in the restaurant besides me who didn’t work there.
I’m not sure why Kurve is empty, It has gotten lousy reviews but that’s not usually enough for a place to be completely deserted. Of course the retro-futuristic decor doesn’t really fit with the East Village.
“Really? It would fit better in Midtown?” Jonathan asked. "Tell me, in what neighborhood would this fit in?”
Jonathan gets passionate about architecture. He does. You should drive with him sometime past some of the McMansions in his native Westchester County (Jonathan’s not a spoiled rich kid; he comes from middle class Mount Kisco).
He agreed that a place with Kurve’s design might be suitable in the Meatpacking District, but suggested Miami would be better.
But the drinks are by Sasha Petraske, the desserts are by Pichet Ong, and the food by Andy himself. That's good pedigree.
I always get great food there, but as Anna Teresa Callan loves quoting James Beard as saying: “The best restaurant is the one where they know you.”
I don’t know if James Beard actually said that, but Anna Teresa does pretty much every time I see her.
So Jonathan, Michelle and I just sat there and let Andy send out food and drinks until we’d tried everything he wanted us to try, discussing Top Chef (Jonathan’s a fan), and the state of Medieval and early modern Jewish historiography, because Jonathan, whose PhD thesis was on Jews in 13th Century Spain, is now working on a book on what happened to the Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th Century.
Apparently that book hasn’t been written yet.
Michelle doesn’t talk about history much, but she does talk about her genius students — she’s teaching gifted 11-year-olds in the DC suburbs — and global politics, and how much she loved Andy's wagyu beef burger, which she said was the best burger she'd ever had.
She gushed over all the food. She really did, and she’s not a gusher.
We also had chicken laab served in little cucumber cups; tiny little shrimp cakes; corn soup with apple wood bacon; beet soup; chicken wings wrapped with pandanas (a Thai classic, except they usually use cubes of thigh meat); tuna kratong-tong (an amusing play on a Thai classic appetizer that might be over the heads of most white diners); garlic skate wing; daurade served with the classic Thai sauce of vinegar, chile and fish sauce; beef tenderloin with a whole bunch of dipping sauces, but I focused on the jao, which I think is a Northeastern Thai sauce, although it could be Northern, sprinkled with ground, toasted rice.
Oh, we also had roasted lobster, and foie gras torchon topped with red currant jam, and I think I’ve forgotten some things.

I forgot the duck.
I thought that would be impossible: honey-roasted duck with fig sauce. I think it was Jonathan’s favorite, although he also claimed great affection for the burger.
Honey-roasted duck is a Sino-Thai specialty, typically served in a sweet soy-sauce based sauce with young ginger.

For dessert, Andy sent out Pichet's butterscotch pudding with baby bananas, caramel popcorn and salted caramel; dark chocolate devil's food cake with kirsch Chantilly, brandied bing cherries, shaved chocolate and cocoa pearls (I don’t hear Chantilly mentioned much — it’s just whipped cream, with some powdered sugar and vanilla of course); and green tea tiramisu with pink rhubarb and raspberries.
We were there for about three hours, on a Friday night. A few people had come in for drinks by the time we left, but it was still pretty quiet.
I’d say you should check the place out, because it’s conveniently located, you’ll have no trouble getting a table and the wagyu burger’s just $17 (a good price for wagyu burgers in New York), but I’m not in the business of recommending restaurants and Andy’s a friend of mine, so I probably get better service than you would, and maybe better food.
Maybe you should go in and introduce yourself, say you read about Kurve in Food Writer’s Diary and thought you’d give it a try.
It’s worth a shot.


ayang said...

Ate there recently. I'm Thai, the food was horrible, service shoddy and prices high. Not worth the trip.

Anne @ Pink Galoshes said...

Absolutely true! Great post!

victualling said...

James Beard said in 1970 that restaurants where he was known were his favorites. ("Whenever I’m asked what are my favorite New York restaurants I always answer, 'The ones where I am known.'") He gave Quo Vadis as an example.
Jan Whitaker