baking

well, they can’t all be winners

A bad food day can be can leave you unsatisfied, but a bad week just leaves you discouraged.  This week, I came to such a point and had to just call it a day. First, we tried a new restaurant that was promising but proved to be lackluster. Then yesterday, a baking project failed miserably. The only saving grace for either endeavor was the spectacular presentation that hid the grim truth underneath.  So thanks to a tip from my friend Katey, I’d been trying out new restaurants thanks to some deals from BlackboardEats, a newsletter that offers discounts in SF, NY, and LA. I’ve had great luck at some of them (the heirloom tomato salad at Serpentine still makes me salivate just thinking about it), but Billy and my experience at Another Monkey was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I was excited to go because Thai food is by far my favorite cuisine, it had just recently opened, and the menu seemed to include some interesting twists on authentic regional specialities.  What I should have realized is that newness of the restaurant would color the experience entirely.

Let me start by saying that the restaurant itself is beautiful and chic with modern decor and sexy lighting with corners filled with Thai art and sculptures. They cleverly used groupings of upright copper or aluminum pipes as room dividers. Once seated, we were offered a great deal, a prix fixe menu for $30 that included a sampling of appetizers, soup,  3 small plates of curries with rice and a vegetable side, and dessert. Despite the bargain, we ended up eating maybe 1/2 of the food and left before dessert. And it wasn’t because we were overstuffed, either, and I rarely say no to dessert!  One hour and a long-nursed cocktail later, we received our first course, an appetizer sampler that was a beautiful platter of all the spectrums of brown.

Sure, most things were fried but in our case everything appeared to have been fried 15 minutes earlier. The crisp was long gone on the fish cakes, calamari and shrimp dumplings.  B did like the Chiang Mai pork sausage, although they were a bit leaden. And in what should have been a clue to us from the get-go, the spring rolls were dry and flavorless. Look, it doesn’t take much to make a good spring roll. Keep it moist and pack it with aromatics and the freshest ingredients and you won’t have your authentic Thai restaurant card taken away.

After 1/2 an hour we received some tom yum kung soup which had none of the steamy, savory quality (or flavor) that was expected. The next course was  a sampling of entrees. We had the pumpkin curry with tofu, beef with mango and cashews, and eggplant with shrimp and scallops in chili sauce. The pumpkin curry was adequate. As in, I would pay $5 for this for takeout at lunch but I’ll never remember that I ate it. The eggplant dish (usually my favorite) was lacking heat or complexity, two things I always associate with well-made Southeast Asian food. We also had a side of pea shoots with garlic that actually tasted fresh and was flavorful, but after chewing for 7 minutes I had to spit it out.  At this point, looking at the 2 hour mark, we decided to bail on dessert. The plus was that the cocktails were a definite hit. The lemongrass gimlet, made with vodka, was refreshing and delicious. I also had a strawberry Thai-style caiparinha made with jalapenos, which sounds strange but the sourness of the pepper really balanced out the sweetness of the drink.  Hopefully with time they’ll improve the food and service to match the decor and cocktails, but there are far too many places to eat here for me to go back and try again.

Luckily, I don’t own a restaurant, because I would be an inconsistent mess. Usually my baking experiments produce something edible, if sloppy-looking, but yesterday the opposite was the case. I’d made this tart of berries and lemon curd many years ago to rectify a prior culinary offense. As a poor student, I invited my friend Jeffrey over for dinner and then proceeded to serve him store-bought pasta with jarred sauce. I threw in the “poor student” bit above, but I admit that it was no excuse for a truly horrifying meal. So, at his housewarming party I tried to impress him with this tart (it’s made from scratch!) and it worked well enough to absolve me from humiliation. B and I had a cookout to go to and I thought this would be perfect for a gorgeous summer day. I love the tartness of lemon curd and the grocers are all bursting at the seam with fresh berries. And let me just admit that the results were inviting, no?

The truth is, it was a complete disaster. I could not for the life of me get the crust right. It’s a basic pâte sucrée, but in the 10 years or so since I last made this I have apparently lost all ability to make a pastry dough. (Yes, that’s the last time I tried). So I scrapped that and made an easy graham cracker crust which may or made not hold up its shape (I suspect the latter). The death-blow was the curd, though. I love lemon curd and it really isn’t that difficult to make. You just have to be careful to keep it stirred to prevent the eggs from cooking out and maintain a creamy smooth consistency. It’s easy for me to tell you this now because it is precisely what I failed to do. I could have saved it, I suppose, by straining it at the end but I even took a shortcut there as I was racing to get it to the fridge to have enough time to chill and set. In the end it didn’t matter, as the result is a grainy, slightly curdled lemon pudding that’s no where silken enough to call a true lemon curd. I plated it up, hoping that a nice presentation might sway me to serve it anyway, but no dice. I suppose I’ll only share it with B, where there is no judgement over grainy curd and pastry dough failures, and resolve to stow away this recipe for a day when I feel particularly invincible in my apron.

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