Saturday, March 8, 2008

Time Travel--With Food

Leap Day was pretty tasty this year. I had the happy experience of attending the once-every-four-years re-creation of City restaurant.
City was the creation of chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken back in the '80s. They deliciously brought together all sorts of ethnic cuisines under one roof--and in one menu. There were classic French dishes next to Thai, Mexican and Indian dishes. Throw in a couple home-style recipes and some awesome original California-inspired plates and that was City. Not only was the food exceptional, the place had this cool visual feel about it. It was in a "re-purposed" building. The wait staff had different colored jackets for the different stations: red for front waiter, gold for food runner, blue for busser (not sure if those were the actual colors, but you get the idea). The table settings were arty too: lots of little ramekins for condiments and salt/pepper. I remember there was a closed-circuit tee-vee in the bar area that showed what was going on in the kitchen. (Remember this was like, 1985 or so...Spago just opened a few years earlier with the open kitchen idea.) And the trademark crossed knife and fork on each place setting.

Needless to say, it was a pretty "cool" place and I loved going there whenever I had the chance to go up to Los Angeles. (I've always lived in the South Bay, which to me was the center of the universe, so a trip to LA was a special thing.) In fact, my last meal in California, the day before I moved to Maui, was at City. One of the driving reasons that I moved to Maui in the first place was to become a restaurant cook--an idea that was inspired by the work of Mary Sue and Susan.

So, yeah, I was pretty excited when I got the notice about this special dinner. I don't know why I hadn't heard of it before. The dinner takes place downtown at
Ciudad, their pan-Latin restaurant.

Dale unfortunately was sick with "the Uncle of all colds", so he had to miss. He'd never been to City--it was already closed by the time we met--and I had looked forward to sharing this with him. I use my "City" cookbook quite often, so he's had "virtual" City cuisine, just not the real deal.

Since I was smart and took Metro, I began with a Mojito. They make the best. (I can't wait for my mint garden to start again from its winter dormancy--that and my lime tree=Mojito Central in the summertime. Or Minty-Lime Coolers for those teetotalers amongst us.) The special menu had a three course pre-fixe menu at $45, as well as about 5 or 6 a la carte items for each course. In addition, there were a few Ciudad specialities, I guess for those diners that are Ciudad patrons that might not know City. I was torn between the pre-fixe and a la carte...I like the economy of the pre-fixe, but I really wanted to try the Thai Pork Dumpling Soup, which was not on the pre-fixe. Ach, what the hell--you can't take it with you, right? My waiter came to the rescue and said she'd give me the pre-fixe price anyway. Sweet!

I started with the potato bhujia--soft little pillows of spicy mashed potato topped with a cilantro sauce and yogurt. Pretty tasty. Next up was the Thai Pork Dumpling Soup. This is something I had never tried before, but it is in the City cookbook and has always intrigued me---why haven't I made it? Well, now I will! Very nice flavors. My only complaint of the evening was on this dish---the noodles were the flat kind, not cellophane, and either way, without chopsticks or the Asian "soup spoon" was REALLY hard to eat!

I ended with a signature City cupcake, which is a riff on Hostess cupcakes, except that you get real quality chocolate ganache and whipped cream and (hopefully) no trans-fats! Like THAT was on my mind?!?!

Ahhh....a blast from the past. I was pretty impressed that it appeared that Susan and MarySue were actually in the kitchen. I was seated next to a large table that the chefs came out to greet--hugs and kisses all around--and the chefs were in whites and aprons--it appeared that they were "on the line". So that was pretty cool. Definitely I would have liked a "total" re-creation of the old menu. Goat Cheese Avocado (why doesn't anyone but me like this?) or Potato Pea Curry? Ginger Tea (I made this for the ailing Dale on Saturday!) Here is a pic of the book. I had to laugh when it first came out--that a "major retailer" ( and I am thinking Williams-Sonoma) said they couldn't carry the book for sale because "it didn't fit in with their color scheme". Big Mistake.

How satisfying must it be that a restaurant (or really any endevor) that you stopped 15 years ago is still so high in the consciousness of your patrons? Congrats to Susan and Mary Sue for all their hard work and perseverance.

DAMMIT! I wish people would just come, sit on my patio and eat my food! OK, only 8 at a time and bring your own wine--everything else--I can do!

Here's Jonathan Gold's take on the evening.

You, too, can cook like Mary Sue and Susan recipes

Here is a story about the restaurants

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