I laughed out loud when my dear friend, Thai chef David Bank of LAND in New York City told me brown rice is only fed to prisoners back home. Status conscious Asians can’t be seen buying or eating this less expensive variety. But here in America, consumers are paying a premium for brown rice, and he serves more brown rice than the pearly white kind in his two popular restaurants, which are frequented by trendy, health-conscious Upper East-siders and West-siders.
How many Americans appreciate sophisticated Thai food? Are they ready to eat something other than Pad Thai in a Thai restaurant?
One of the tasty dishes at LAND uniquely created by David is a vegetable dumpling appetizer. Unlike what most people assume from the sound of it, this steamed dumpling is a wonderful morsel of well-mixed ingredients with definitively Thai flavor wrapped by a tender opaque cabbage leaf accompanied by a special sauce. David wanted this to be one of his signature items, one that is unfortunately very labor-intensive, so he considers that a loss leader on the menu. It makes sense to have a dish people need to come back to your specific restaurant for, not just another generic pad thai that you can get a version of from just any Thai restaurant.
I love creative dishes, so I was very eager when Chef Ian Kittichai invited me to his restaurant on ultra chic Thompson Street in Soho. After reading his interesting and extensive menu, I relegated to asking him to pick for me because everything seemed tempting and inviting. The end result was an incessant flow of amazing dishes, totally “wow” and “mmm mmm” good. The presentation of his Grade A “Meing” tuna tartar served elegantly with crispy shells molded into fluted cups provided the perfect texture contrast. Rock shrimps in a beautiful smooth spicy sauce virtually bounced in my mouth. The chocolate baby back ribs with Thai spices are forever popular. Then came the green curry, and then came the duck! I was completely full, but then Ian kept feeding me. He insisted that I have to try his desserts, so 12 courses later, out came desserts, and his special cookies. I felt like I had everything I set my eyes on when reading the menu.
This is one meal I wish I could eat in installments. But it’s an eating experience that will go into my record books as one of the most delicious.