Monday, November 02, 2009

Books, Southeast Asian food and what not to say at dinner

November 2

I went to some good parties last week, including two book parties.

I don’t go to book parties much, because we don’t have much use for cookbooks at NRN — occasionally we can use art from them, but that’s about it — and I personally like to cook based on what’s on hand. If I have questions about specific technique I just grab my battered copy of The Joy of Cooking.

But on Wednesday, after going to the see-and-be-seen party at The Four Seasons to welcome its new chef, Fabio Trabocchi (the most interesting person I met was a writer and publicist with the unlikely name of Paxton Quigley, author of Armed and Female, a self-help book instructing women how to use guns to protect themselves), I went to the East Village for the launch of the Veselka cookbook. So I went from really lovely Champagne and foie gras and truffles to cheap red wine and pierogis, but I like pierogis and haven’t met many wines I can’t drink (I do remember one, boasting that it was made from 100 percent grapes! that was kind of hard to get down). So I chowed down on pierogies and borscht and meatballs and ran into my old colleague Craig Waters (his byline is C. Dickinson Waters, in case you want to look for it), who now works on the business end of Macmillan, which published the Veselka book.

Then yesterday I went to a packed event celebrating Marcus Samuelsson’s new book, New American Table. The party was sponsored and thrown by HSBC bank, which I remember from back when it went by its full name, Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation. Now, of course, it’s going for more universal appeal.

A lot of bankers were at the party, including a nice one with whom I spoke about travel to Southeast Asia. But some chefs were there, too, including Alfred Portale from Gotham Bar & Grill and Nils Noren from the French Culinary Institute, who for many years was Marcus' executive chef at Aquavit. Anita Lo, of the once and perhaps future Annisa and the current Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, was there, too, and I had a long chat with chef, consultant, writer, etc. Robert Danhi, who moderated a panel I was on a couple of years ago at the National Restaurant Show. It was about Asian food trends. Robert, who's based in Southern California, is married to a Malaysian woman and travels back and forth to Southeast Asia a lot. So we talked about his love for durian, my inability to appreciate it so far, the joy of a good mangosteen, and other things.

Marcus came by and ripped off my nametag in disgust, wondering why a bank would make us wear such things. He did it in a really friendly way, though. Marcus is good people.

I wasn’t so sure about people I’d met earlier in the week. At one dinner I sat next to a woman who expressed shock and almost disgust that I would admit to liking science fiction. She liked realistic things, she said, because she was a Virgo. I asked her, then, about her belief in astrology, and she readily acknowledged the contradiction, so maybe she wasn’t so bad. But still, who at a civilized dinner would show disgust for someone else’s taste? It’s not nice.

But speaking of Robert Danhi, I did have good Southeast Asian food at the Beard House last week, where Mohan Ismail, the chef of Rock Sugar, was cooking.

Rock Sugar’s a Southeast Asian restaurant in Los Angeles that’s the little brother of Cheesecake Factory. Ismail, who’s originally from Singapore — click here if you’d like to read a whole profile and interview of the guy, written by my colleague Lisa Jennings — but the salient point for this story is that he was on the opening team of Spice Market in New York’s Meatpacking District, and so was Pichet Ong, who was also at the Beard House, helping Mohan.

Pichet told me a little about his new dessert shop that’s opening soon on St. Mark's Place. He said it would be a masculine dessert shop, rather than all the frilly and feminine ones that are out there.

He said the only other masculine dessert place in town was Max Brenner’s, but Pichet’s consulting with Max these days, so he’s biased.

What I ate at the Beard House:

Hors d’oeuvre:

Crispy imperial rolls with pork, shrimp and shiitake mushrooms
Raw hamachi with sesame and tobiko
Crispy chicken samosas with cilantro yogurt
Stuffed naan with spicy ketchup
Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rosé NV


Green mango and papaya salad with crushed peanuts and crispy shallots
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Indonesian-grilled cilantro shrimp with corn, sweet potatoes, peas, coconut milk and chiles
L’Aventure Rousanne 2007

Tai snapper with gai lan, shiitakes, and padifield sauce (a rich chile sauce reminiscent of many chile sauces that top whole in Thailand, although this fish was filleted)
Side dishes for the table: Coconut rice with lemon grass, pandan leaves and cashews, and nonya sambal eggplant with sweet soy and chiles (“Nonya” is a Malaysian word for “grandmother” and also refers to the Peranakan cuisine of what are known as the Straits Chinese of Peninsular Malaysia, and Singapore, who are the descendants mostly of Chinese immigrant men who were imported by the British to work in the tin mines and married Malay women; the food is those women’s attempts to make Chinese food, which naturally included incorporating local ingredients, techniques and sensibilities).
Robert Sinskey Vineyards Los Carneros Napa Valley Merlot 2005

Singapore black pepper filet mignon with asparagus and shiitakes (you might think of shiitakes as Japanese — I know I do — but I once visited a shiitake farm in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands)
Roth Cabernet Estate Bottled Sauvignon 2006

Caramelized banana custard cake with milk chocolate ice cream, malted crème Anglaise and praline nut brittle
Saracco Moscato d’Asti 2007

No comments: