Friday, December 04, 2009

My week on the Lower East Side

December 4

It’s been a good week, not least because I got to chat with Brad Farmerie. Twice.

Brad is the warm and gracious chef of Public (and the adjacent Monday Room) and Double Crown. I first saw him at the first anniversary of Shang, Sino-Canadian chef Susur Lee’s restaurant at the Thompson LES hotel.

I hadn’t made it to Shang before, and the space wasn’t what I’d expected. It has a cavernous industrial looking lounge with lots of concrete. I think I’d imagined something sleeker and faux-Asian in dark lacquered wood like at Kittichai (faux because in all my years in Asia I’ve never seen anything designed that way — the closest to it being the Sukhothai hotel in Bangkok, which I think is beautiful).

The party had a good and eclectic turnout that included cookbook writers and journalists, bloggers and chefs, restaurateurs and radio personalities.

Okay, one radio personality that I know of — Leonard Lopate — whom I greeted while he and Drew Nieporent were catching up.

Among the chefs were Anita Lo and Seamus Mullen. Seamus greeted Brad with a warm but intense two-handed grab of the back of his neck. I’d never seen that before.

I’m guessing that Brad and Seamus bonded when they were contestants on The Next Iron Chef. I spoke with Brad about that a bit. He seemed to have just a hint of post-reality-TV ennui — wondering why he put himself through all of that, but maybe I’m imagining it. He did say that the winner, Jose Garces, was a great guy.

I ended up falling in with the New York Post’s Carla Spartos and her colleague Julie Frady. Julie mostly does layout, but she did think up the headline that the Post used when Dick Cheney shot that guy in the face while quail hunting: “The Buckshot’s Here.”

Oh, I do love Post headlines.

The celebration started late for a sit-down dinner — cocktails at 8, dinner at 9 — especially since they had many more guests than they had seats, so the dining was staggered.

I wasn’t really paying attention; I was talking to food writers Francine Cohen and Nancy Davidson when I was grabbed by one of the hosts and seated between Carla and Julie.

It was fun.

I had been wondering about the restaurant’s name. Shang, and the Chinese character in the restaurant’s logo, means “on” or “above” or ”high” or similar things. It’s the first character of the word Shanghai, which means ”on the sea.”

I asked Susur about that when he stopped by our table, and he said his intention had been for Shang to be a step up from his other restaurants. He said that, in fact, it turned out to be a step down from them.

I’m not exactly sure what he meant, but it seemed refreshingly honest.

Less than 24-hours later I was back on the Lower East Side at the relaunch party of Kampuchea, which has expanded and is now a dual concept place — one with slightly haute Cambodianish cuisine, and the other, in back, is called "The Norry at Kampuchea." A Norry is apparently a type of primitive Cambodian train made of bamboo, and that part of the restaurant is a cocktail-and-handheld-food venue.

Brad Farmerie was there, too, and so was his brother Adam, whom I’d never met before. Adam’s the co-founder of AvroKO, the design firm that owns Public (and the adjacent Monday Room) and Double Crown and designs other places. Their family resemblance is slight, most pronounced in their very straight noses.

What I ate at Shang (apart from assorted sushi during the cocktail hour):

assorted cold platter with aromatic duck, beef tongue, octopus and pig ear foie gras (I think I had that last item and I’m still not altogether sure what it is; I’m glad that I like mysteries)

crispy oysters with yuzu-smoked chile sauce and citrus

vegetable chop chop lettuce wrap with almonds

crispy Canton chicken with sweet & sour sauce and shrimp chips

caramelized black cod with Asian preserved vegetables, miso mustard and salmon roe

Mongolian braised leg of lamb and lamb chops with lotus crêpes, tomato jam and chutneys

pearl noodles with Hong Kong XO sauce

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