Friday, January 28, 2011

Lotus of wine

January 28

Ben Weinberg expressed amazement at Lotus of Siam’s wine list.

My old high school friend and enthusiastic wine writer was in town for a big Italian wine shindig called Vino 2011 and wanted to have dinner.

I missed Monday’s report in The New York Times that the Chutima family, who founded Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas and recently opened an outpost in New York, had given up on the Big Apple venture, apparently as suddenly as they announced they were opening it a few months back.

What can I say? I have to write about the whole country, so I miss a lot of local news.

Besides, it's a big-name Thai restaurant within easy walking distance of NRN's new offices on 17th and 8th. Surely it was worth checking out regardless of the ownership.

Ben had two fellow wine people and a bottle of Franciacorta in tow.

Franciacorta’s basically the Italian answer to Champagne, priced similarly, accorded nearly as much respect by many wine experts, but not remotely as well known.

That, of course, means Franciacorta’s much cooler to drink than Champagne, because only people in the know have the wisdom to drink it.

I hadn’t looked at much of what the critics and bloggers had said about Lotus of Siam, because as a general rule New Yorkers don’t have the faintest idea what they’re talking about when it comes to Thai food, so their opinions do not interest me.

I’ve since glimpsed some of the reviews and comments and don’t understand why people think they should be comparing what’s basically a fine dining restaurant in an elegant space on 5th Avenue with hole-in-the-wall food in Queens. They’re different.

People don’t drop $200 per person at Daniel and say, “well, I could have had a croque madame at La Bonne Soupe at a fraction of the price.”

Of course you could have, and indeed you might have enjoyed it more — it depends on your mood, the occasion, what you’re trying to get out of the experience.

Compare Lotus of Siam to Kittichai if you like — both are fine dining, both have lost their original chefs as Ian Chalermkittichai left the restaurant at 60 Thompson years ago, both offer fine-dining trappings — but comparing them to Sripraphai or Ploy Thai or Pam Real Thai Food or Won Dee Siam is silly.

If you’re with wine people, Lotus of Siam is appropriate.

Typically I drink beer with my Thai food, but I must say that my dining companions’ choices were excellent and made for a really fun evening — at eight or nine times the price of many other Thai meals I’ve had in New York, but wine can do that. It was money well spent.

Before I list what I ate and drank I will take a moment to comment on the very nice staff’s odd persistence in getting us to try the Koong Sarong, which they insisted was fantastic. It’s shrimp wrapped in bacon, rolled in a spring roll wrapper and deep-fried, and that’s exactly what it tastes like. It’s fine, but it’s not Thai.

What we ate and drank:

Pik kha kra pao krob — crispy fried chicken wings tossed with chile garlic sauce & fried Thai basil
Nam kao tod crispy rice — crispy rice tossed with Thai sausage, fresh chile, ginger, peanuts & lime
Nam prik hed — roasted chile, garlic & onion dip, pounded in a mortar (it was similar to nam phrik noom)
Northern larb — minced pork with spices and Thai herbs (without lime, unlike Issan laab).
Tenuta Mazzolino Oltrepo Pavese Cruase DOCG  Franciacorta 
Vincent Mothe Chablis, 2008

Kaeng khiao wan (green curry) with chicken
Moo krathiam prik thai — stir-fried pork with garlic and black pepper
Braised short rib penang
Julienas 'Clos du Fief,' Michel Tete 2009 (a fun and inspired choice by Doug Cook, creator of a wine search engine called able grape)

Koong Sarong (remember? the bacon-and-shrimp dish)
Sua rong hai (it literally means “crying tiger,”  please let me know if you know why) — grilled, marinated rib eye with chile-kaffir lime dipping sauce
Pla koong — grilled shrimp salad with sliced red onion, lime, Thai herbs and lettuce
Donnhoff Riesling Spatlese ‘Norheimer Kirschneck’ 2002

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Aaron Deal watch

January 13

Do you know why I report on every new job that Aaron Deal gets? Quite apart from the fact that he’s a talented chef who gets high-profile jobs, he tells me when he gets them. It’s a great way to get press, alerting the media.

Keep that in mind.

Anyway, Aaron, who most recently was in Chilhowie, Va., working at Townhouse for John and Karen Shields, has moved up to Boston, where he’s Tony Maws’ chef de cuisine at Craigie on Main.

There actually have been a number of high-profile chef changes recently, which, naturally, you can read about in Nation’s Restaurant News.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bizarre coincidences from Andy’s birthday party

January 10

You might recall that I went to an Icelandic fashion show the other day. I neglected to mention that there was a singer at the show, too. He just sang one song and it was hard to hear over the audience, which completely ignored him. I didn’t catch his name, and so I just let it go.

Then, there he was, sitting across from me on Saturday at my good friend Andy Battaglia’s birthday party.

He was Andy’s house guest, you see.

It turns out that he’s Snorri Helgason, a musician of some note in Iceland, where he’s the lead singer of a bang called Sprengjuhöllin.

Snorri lives in London, released a solo album in late 2009 and is doing some performances in the U.S. I’m not sure why he’s staying with Andy, but Andy is a music writer of some note (and the proud owner of two ukuleles), so it all makes sense in a way.

After we finished drinking at The Roebling Inn (I drank a fairly dark IPA from the Hudson Valley called Hurricane Kitty), we went back to the apartment of Andy and his girlfriend, Jennifer Prediger, and Snorri and fellow band member Atli Bollason (sitting on the far left in the video), who was visiting from Montreal, performed a song that I managed to find on YouTube and posted here.

It’s called “Worry till Spring” in English, but in Icelandic it’s “Verum í Sambandi,” which consular official Hlynur Gudjonsson tells me means “let’s stay in touch.”

More small-world stuff from the party: Andy’s girlfriend Jennifer is a documentary producer, among other things, and at Andy’s party I learned that she produced my friend Rachel Wharton’s “Let’s Eat” spots on NY1.

I often say that it’s not really a small world. In fact, it’s a big world with more than six billion people and encompassing every experience that every human being has ever had. Indeed, the world is not just the world, for most practical purposes it’s our entire universe. It’s huge.

But really, it’s a small world.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Icelandic food and fashion

January 6

I was not a high-ranking reporter at the fashion show I went to last night.

When I checked in they handed me a card with the letter ‘C’ on it, meaning I was to be seated in the third of three rows.

That briefly hurt my feelings until I remembered that I wasn’t a fashion writer.

I was at the show, at Volvo Hall in New York’s Scandinavia House (does it it surprise you that Scandinavia House has a Volvo Hall? I didn't think so), as a guest of Hlynur Gudjonsson of the Icelandic consulate, whom I met at a lunch a couple of years ago, just as his country’s economy was on the brink of ruin.

An Icelandic outerwear company called 66° North was holding a fashion show last night, and it was being catered by Lava restaurant at The Blue Lagoon, a hot spring that’s a short detour from the road between Iceland’s Capital, Reykjavík, and the national airport.

Hlynur and I agreed that the food was reason enough for me to go to the show.

Nordic food isn’t exactly all the rage these days, but there is a lot of buzz about it, largely due to my fellow food writers’ current love affair with René Redzepi, chef of the much ballyhooed Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. But there are other factors at work, too (I wrote about them last July).

So I sipped a cocktail made from Icelandic vodka and ate assorted delicacies. The one pictured above is brandade with tarragon mayonnaise and rye bread. The bread is crumbled on top and looks like dirt, as is the current fashion.

Speaking of fashion, I didn’t realize until it started that this was the first proper fashion show, with a catwalk and everything, that I’d ever attended.

And I realized what a terrible, miserable job being a fashion model must be. I mean, you’re basically a coat rack, but it’s still hard work. You have to stand up straight and walk smoothly and no-doubt spend hours waiting to put on the clothing and walk out on a runway for a few seconds so everyone can look not at you but the clothing that someone made you wear.

The models themselves looked beyond bored. They looked downright resentful — so much so that I wondered if they were instructed to look that way for some reason or if they just couldn’t help it.

My phone’s camera was not up to the task of taking pictures that brought out the models’ inner pain. The one on the right was the best I could do. But here are some good ones from the blog Her Campus.

What else I ate:

lamb filet with peanuts and basil

smoked Arctic char with celery root purée

fried langoustine with garlic and Jerusalem artichoke

dill-cured salmon with (honey) mustard on toast

skyr with blueberry and crumbles

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Food Writer's Diary readers like local ingredients, burgers not so much

January 4

Well reader, you spoke loud and clear about the trends you liked in 2010 and what you’d like to see less of in 2011.

You like local and seasonal ingredients and you’ve had enough of burgers and sliders.
The results are pasted below. If you’d like to see what a news story about the poll looks like, click here.

This is a big year at Nation’s Restaurant News. We were just sold to Penton Media, and we’ll be moving offices later this month, leaving Midtown East for Chelsea (17th Street between Seventh and Eight avenues, closer to Eighth Avenue — lunch recommendations are welcome).

This blog will be moving, too, and will be hosted at I'll probably be cross-posting at both sites for awhile, and of course I’ll let you know as all of that develops. It should mean that I’ll be updating this blog more regularly from now on, and I hope that’s good news for you.

Below, please find the results of the latest poll.

My favorite food trend in 2010 was:

local/seasonal: 38 (58%)
small plates: 12 (18%)
comfort food: 7 (10%)
pork: 7 (10%)
burgers/sliders: 1 (1%)

Total votes: 65

The 2010 food trend I hope to see less of in 2011 is:
local/seasonal: 3 (6%)
small plate: 3 (6%)
comfort food: 4 (8%)
pork: 8 (17%)
burgers/sliders: 29 (61%)

Total votes: 47