Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Mai House Restaurant - No Hopping Afterwards

This past weekend the idea was to do “restaurant hopping” in the City, so we had planned to visit several restaurants Saturday evening. That morning, it was working out and getting the normal weekend errands out of the way, then getting ready for the evening. It did feel odd not purchasing any food items when I visited the store earlier that day. Nonetheless, I would make up for it on Sunday.

We had dinner reservations at Mai House, a Vietnamese restaurant in TriBeCa and part of Drew Nieporent’s Myriad Restaurant Group. Drew’s famous flagship restaurants include Tribeca Grill and Nobu, to name a few, all of which are located within one city block. I like to eat dinner early, so the reservation was for 5:45 p.m., and since we were about 45 minutes early, we headed to Tribeca Grill for a cocktail first. I was surprised that the bar at the Grill was so crowded, but it started to clear out after 5:30 p.m. After enjoying a quick cocktail and watching a group of people finish a tour of the restaurant, we were off to Mai House.

We were the first patrons to arrive—and were the only diners in the restaurant for the first forty-five minutes. I’ve noticed that the one drawback of eating dinner early in a New York City restaurant is that the only “people watching” going on is the servers watching us. I guess it’s different in the theater district where they’re used to having more of a crowd early in the evening.

The restaurant’s entire menu was very appealing. They have a listing of specialty cocktails called “Mai Cocktails,” where they do a take on the traditionally named drinks, such as a Mohito or a Manhattan. An ‘jito is where they add lemongrass, kaffir lime juice, and curry leaves to the rum (versus the traditional mint); or the ‘hattan includes hibiscus, ginger and palm sugar with the bourbon. I couldn’t resist the ‘jito.

Since I have done a lot of Asian cooking, I recognized virtually every ingredient as it described the various dishes on the menu, including the drinks discussed above. For example, I’ve worked with kaffir lime leaves, tamarind pulp, lemongrass, ginger, chilies, pandan juice, quail eggs, and glass noodles… the list goes on—you should see inside my kitchen cabinets. Getting back to the meal. For an appetizer, I ordered the barbecue quail with sticky rice, kaffir lime and crispy shallots—Again, things I’ve made in the past—the quail, the sticky rice, and crispy shallots. (Currently, I have quail in my freezer—as I like to say, “quail on call” for when I’m in the mood for it at home). My friend ordered the wild boar nem sausage with a tamarind sauce accompaniment. Since I don’t eat anything that has hooves, I didn’t taste the boar.

Prior to bringing our appetizers, the server brought over an amuse bush, compliments of the chef. The muse was an order of seared scallops smothered in a citrus, yet spicy, vinaigrette. It was a nice start to what would become a very good and tasty experience.

For my entrée, I enjoyed roasted black cod, which was served smothered in a sweet miso glaze. The accompaniment was heart of palms, pickled watermelon and a kumquat vinaigrette. To my surprise, the fish was prepared perfectly. The cod glistened and the layers fell apart as I sliced each piece. Lately, I’ve been getting overdone fish at restaurants, so this was an extremely flavorful, pleasant and enjoyable dish.

My friend ordered the kaffir lime duck, served over a daikon pancake with an order of duck hash. I tried the duck (ducks don’t have hooves), which was prepared very well and tasted great. As a side, we ordered the duck fried rice, which was spectacular. The rice was made with a combination of duck confit, smoked duck, and a scrambled duck egg. We also had the sautéed water spinach and sautéed chayote as two side dishes, which were also compliments from the chef.

When finished with the main meal, we ordered the Vietnamese coffee. The coffee was served in individual glasses with a sterling silver single cup slow drip filter that slowly dripped the hot coffee into the glasses, where the bottom contained cream and sugar. A complimentary tart was served, so we finished the meal on a sweet note.

After leaving the restaurant, we made the mistake of moving the car out from a perfect parking space right outside of Nobu. (That’s one of the positives about going into the City early for dinner on the weekend—parking spots could be found on the streets—sometimes). There were two other places that we wanted to visit. First, we drove to Annisa, the latest restaurant to gain a Michelin star, on Barrow Street. After noticing the crowd, we didn’t bother to pull into the parking lot across the street that cost $45. We then drove to Ninja on Hudson Street. Ninja is the latest in “theme restaurants” where Ninjas jump out at the patrons while dining. There was more of a crowd lurking in the lobby waiting for the elevator, and that crowd most likely had kids attached to it. Let’s pass on that one.

It had been about 40 minutes in the car since we left the nice parking space in TriBeCa, and I was getting restless (and a bit tired). It was time head home and call it a night.
That was it for “restaurant hopping” this weekend. Although we didn’t visit three or four establishments, the two places that we did go to were fun. Then, again, there’s always next week!

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