Tiffin Project

Maenam – James Beard Dinner Redux

by Canucklehead on July 11, 2013

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I needed a breather. Even though I exist on the outer periphery of the whole food media thing – it amazes me how short the news cycles have become. Instant Yelp reviews, gossip at the speed of light, everyone aiming for insider information. And with Eater now hiring for Vancouver correspondents, things are only going to heat up locally.

Of course the twitter and chat are fun. But it’s also a little distracting – it’s supposed to be about the food, isn’t it? So when I heard about Maenam recreating the dinner they served at New York’s James Beard house, I immediately pounced at a last minute opening at the sold out event.

The dinners at James Beard house are the antithesis of the rampant raucous mile a minute Food Network food culture. Seriously talented chefs are invited to showcase their best work for a deeply knowledgeable and engaged group of diners. It’s not just about looking at food thoughtfully – but also the sheer joy and pleasure of enjoying a beautifully prepared meal. I gotta say it must be equal parts nerve wracking and exhilarating to cook at James Beard House.

Chef Angus Ang stepped us through his James Beard experience and laid out what we should expect as the meal unfolded, with courses matched with wine selections made by the supremely talented Kurtis Kolt. The meal was served family style – as is traditional for most Asian cuisines, which also encouraged interaction with your tablemates and lent a relaxed air to the meal despite the technical prowess on the plates. The execution was pretty darned near flawless, the cooking balanced and bright – the meal progression took you on a journey of deepening flavours, yet leaving you excited about the next bite.

Fresh Scallop Ceviche, pure clean freshness with cilantro pearls and a foam of cucumber and galangal.

Northeastern Style Beef Tartare, sweet raw beef served on pork crackling – I mean, come on!

Crispy Egg Net Roll of Lobster, caramelized shreds of coconut brought the whole thing together. Fantastic.

Thai Sausage Wraps in Betal Leaves, Caramelized Prawns in Crispy Cupcakes. Both delivered jolting bites of sweetness and an uncurrent of funky umami.

Then the larger courses started rolling out.

Hot and Sour Soup of Clams, bright heat and acid that brought out the sweetness of the clams. Nice!

Black Cod Noodles, the noodles are made from the black cod itself – giving them a distinctive rounded savor, which was nicely lifted by an ethereal green curry froth. The texture was not unlike Chinese yee noodles.

Crispy Sea Bream, I always love seeing the whole fish and the green mango salad and cashews were spectacular against the crispy fish.

Braised Pork Cheeks – such soft gentle rounded sweetness, served with the most pillowy steamed buns I have ever had. Maenam could have a side business just selling those buns.

Grilled Aged Prime Rib, the dry red curry provided deep subtle notes against the beef’s inherent sweetness and the snap of pickled ginger.

Coconut Shaved Ice – as I guy who grew up with shaved ice desserts, this is the best I have ever had. Ice made from young coconut juice – incredible feathery lightness, lifted by passion fruit and watermelon. It was the perfect ending to the warmly spicy meal. I think I had brain freeze twice – but I could not contain myself from wolfing down spoonful’s of it.

But can I tell you what put the meal over the top? It was the people that I met at my table. I was tacked onto a foursome who were some of the best dining companions I have had in a long time. They were welcoming, whip smart, and had eaten at some of best restaurants in North America. But most importantly it was clear that they actually like food. I can’t tell you how many people I run across who seem to like restaurants, the chefs, and the scene – but you cannot tell if they like food or eating. They were discerning – but not nitpicky, and took genuine pleasure in the meal.

I left feeling refreshed and recharged. A beautiful meal prepared with care and generosity (can you believe the whole thing was less than $100 per person?) – enjoyed with interesting and interested people. Dining out does not get much better than this.

Maenam
604.730.5579
1938 W 4th Ave
Vancouver, BC

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Canucklehead pays for all of his meals. Throughout the evening, he was mistaken for Russell Wong.

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