February 2, 2014
Dinner at Night + Market
The last time I had food that tasted like this was not in America, but in Laos, where I learned to rethink what I considered edible, to respect every possible source of nutrition. It reminded me that most of the Thai food we get here comes from very high up on the food chain.
You can go to Night + Market and eat delicious food that will make you happy and ask very little of you: sweet and spicy chicken wings, crab fried rice, pad thai and fiery curries. But if you’re an adventurous eater, there are flavors here that will really stretch your taste boundaries.
Some highlights from last night’s dinner:
Rice cooked with pork jowl and blood, and steamed in a banana leaf. Dark, funky and totally delicious, this is the manliest fried rice you’ll ever eat. I loved it.
Fried pig tails. If you told your friends that they were eating a newly discovered part of the chicken, they’d absolutely believe you. Nothing scary here: rich, fatty, sweet, spicy, these little tidbits are so much fun to eat. Utterly addictive.
Liver ceviche. This is liver as you have never had it before. Lightly cooked, the triangles are dressed in lime, fish sauce, chiles and herbs, which unapolgetically underline the essential nature of liver.
Catfish, pork fat, chiles and herbs wrapped in banana leaves and baked until the fish becomes as soft as custard. A bracing take on the rather tame hor mok; I couldn’t stop eating it.
Grilled strips of hog collar – wonderfully fatty – to dip into a jaew – the pounded chile paste that is the staple food of northern Thailand.
And finally, the most luxurious pork hock, slowly cooked in a dark soy concoction, deep, sweet and incredibly intense. That soy sauce tasted as if a million spices had gone swimming through and left their flavors in their wake.
Night + Market shares a space with Talesai, which was a pioneer in the eighties, bringing a new elegance to Los Angeles Thai restaurants. The latest member of the family is an indication of how much things have changed. This loud hip restaurant offers Thai food for an adventurous generation that has been to Thailand and understands that this cuisine has a whole host of new flavors available to anyone willing to take the next step.
February 1, 2014
Had dinner at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar the other night with a group of friends so interesting that I didn’t really focus on the food. I knew I liked it, but we were talking, and the place was so pleasantly casual that the food went past me like a dream. It did what good food is supposed to do; made a really good gathering better.
But the next day the dishes came back to me, one by one, and I began thinking that the meal hadn’t just been delicious; it was exciting. Chef Jeremy Fox has a fascinating food mind; he puts unexpected flavors together, teasing out a whole new way to experience ingredients. He thinks about textures too. His pork trotter, for instance, is a gloriously unctuous mess, rich little nuggets of flavor on a yuzu aioli. Crisp. Chewy. I’ve never had anything quite like it.
His beet and berries is another stunner. Quinoa with big chunks of beets and invisible strawberries that completely permeate the dish. I kept eating, almost unconsciously, thinking, “Why does this taste so good?” And then I’d take another bite, and then another.
But the dish I couldn’t stop eating was the tiny potatoes in giblet gravy. The potatoes were so delicious – some crisp, some soft, and served with something that seemed closer to a savory pudding than any gravy I’ve ever known. It’s hard to do something new with potatoes, but Mr. Fox has done it.
Now I can’t wait to go back and really focus on the food. What did I miss?
Went back for lunch at The Hart and The Hunter too. I might be addicted to that kale salad, with its apple, its caramelized pecans and its restrained bit of cheese. As for those biscuits…..
January 28, 2014
Sitting at G&B Coffee in the Grand Central Market, after eating lemongrass-laced Thai sausage with sticky rice and papaya salad at the Sticky Rice stand, drinking this impeccable little macchiato, thinking about all the wonderful food I've been eating while I've been here.
A few high points:
What might be the platonic ideal of lemon tarts at Cooks County (where all the food is a complete delight). Still thinking about that crust…..
Flour-steamed pork at Chengdu Taste (can't wait to go back).
Fried Clams! Fried Clams! Fried Clams! at Connie and Ted's
Not to mention these gorgeous shrimp.
Chicken skin and avocado sandwich at The Hart and The Hunter
The great cocktails at Mud Hen Tavern (my Iphotos are so dark I'm afraid of being accused of taking worse pictures than you know who….). And everything I ate at Jitlada, where I was so busy devouring raw crabs with papaya salad, noodles with pork and a fiery nam prik rich in tamarind, that I completely forgot to take pictures.
Next time I'll do better.
January 24, 2014
Curtis Stone loves to cook. He loves puttering around in the kitchen, loves playing with ingredients, loves watching people as they eat his creations.
Unlike so many chefs, cooking’s not a job to him. It’s a joy. And you feel that every time he slips behind a stove.
During the entire time Curtis and I worked together at Top Chefs Masters he’s talked about wanting to open a restaurant. He was always going out to look for the perfect space, always thinking about the menu he might serve.
Now he’s finally done it.
A caveat: I’m not a disinterested observer. I went to a family and friends preview, and like just about everyone who’s ever met Curtis, I wish him well. He’s a genuinely lovely person with deep intelligence and a real feeling for food. Still, I arrived at Maude (named for his granny, who taught him to cook), with serious trepidation; I was afraid I’d hate the place. I’d gone to the website and winced when I saw the pedigree of the people working there: The French Laundry, El Bulli, Robuchon, Alinea. It sounded pretentious.
I shouldn’t have worried. Is Curtis not Australian? The room is small and casual; it’s correct, but you’d still feel comfortable in a tee shirt. And the food? Seasonal, elegant in its simplicity, and completely flavor-forward.
The first course was a a quintet of tiny bites, beginning with a delicate little pile of orange sections topped with lime sorbet and ending with a single crisp mussel on an orange aioli.
Next there was a salad so small and gorgeous I wanted to wear it like broach.
The carrot soup – just a few little spoonfuls, was topped with a tiny sword of smoked parsnip, a crisped slice of serrano ham – and little green dots that swirled in the earthy flavor of carrot tops, the tang of chervil. It was a stunning expression of carrot, proof that a vegetable can have serious power.
Lobster crudo was another little jewel, another minuscule arrangement of color, flavor and texture, another balancing act that that managed to satisfy in just a couple of bites. Then a sliver of chicken terrine that looked like moss agate, snuggled up against a ferocious mustard ice cream. Three contrasts: temperature, texture, taste.
A fat raviolo of duck and smoked goose fat appeared, laced with lovely little red stripes of pickled chard stem. The final touch here was a dusting of grated duck egg yolk, a little miracle of molecular gastronomy.
Curtis clearly thinks in dramatic terms, and the menu was building, each course becoming larger than the one before in both size and flavor. We were exchanging subtlety for boldness, and as the flavors grew bigger, the presentation went in the opposite direction. We began with food for the eye and ended with food for the mouth: a slab of beautiful beef, a cube of beef cheek, broccoli, potatoes. Just a few bites, but they were big.
Cheese. Dessert. Wine. It’s all of a piece. What you sense is that this is a chef who knows exactly what he’s reaching for, a chef whose ultimate goal is simply to make you happy. And this is just the beginning: I can’t wait to see what Maude will be like once they all settle into the kitchen.