Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Asian Chefs Shine at East West Eats

Slowly but surely, Asians are becoming more visible in society. I’m seeing more Asian male broadcast anchors after years of the Connie Chung factor, and more Asian actors are being cast in mainstream TV roles (B.W. Wong on “Law and Order: SVU” and more recently Tim Kang on “The Mentalist.”)

In the Bay Area, there are several notable Asian chefs, but few of them get the widespread recognition enjoyed by the likes of Hubert Keller or Nate Appleman. But this past Sunday, many of the area’s best Asian chefs got some face time as they were featured in a fund-raising event at the War Memorial in San Francisco.

“East West Eats” raised scholarship money for the local chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association with an elegant party featuring small bites from popular restaurants such as Betelnut, Le Colonial, Namu, Poleng Lounge, Slanted Door and Shanghai 1930, just to name a few.

There were a variety of stations with the restaurants and chefs plating up their featured dishes. Also making the rounds were a few items created by a catering company called Living Room Events. Above, I tried the cod with grape tomato. It was light and beautifully presented on a lime-green lacquer tray.

It was kind of overwhelming seeing all the food there. I’ve been to food events where the food were mostly gone by the time I wanted to take pictures, but I was impressed by the crowd control and pacing of East West Eats. There was definitely enough food to go around. The Sichuan chili dumpling from Shanghai 1930 was tasty with a slight kick, and someone made a salmon/watermelon roll that was very easy to eat. The Slanted Door’s Vietnamese imperial rolls with peanut sauce was very straight-forward but filling, and the chef at Silverado Vineyards served up a Wild Oregon bay shrimp salad with microgreens and mustard aioli.

Poleng Lounge’s Tim Luym served up two dishes: a tofu vegetarian dish on a spoon and beer-braised beef tongue with mushrooms on a bamboo skewer. I tried the beef tongue cubed and loved the tenderness of it. Some guests were a bit put off by the beef tongue, but I thought it took a lot of balls for Chef Luym to serve it at a party.

One of the highlights of the evening was running into fellow food blogger Passionate Eater, who was there with her husband. Passionate Eater is always so funny when it comes to hunting down food, and she was also very helpful in helping me style my food before I photographed them. Here she is giving me a hand.

This is the third year of this East West Eats event, and the first time at the War Memorial (last year it was at the Ferry Building). The second-floor event room had a balcony that looked onto San Francisco City Hall. This is a great venue for events, IMHO.

Other fun bites were an ahi tartare from Ponzu with baked wonton chip. Namu’s Korean-style kimbap “taco” was very popular, although I questioned whether it was really a “taco” and not more of a deconstructed roll sitting on nori sheets. Still, it had incredible flavor and tender meat with this great sauce binding them all together. Le Colonial presented a honey-ginger glazed spare rib that was nicely cooked. The meat easily pulled from the bone, and I liked how the glaze wasn’t wet and sticky but more on the dry side which made it easier to eat with your fingers at a public event like this. There was a crispy aloo tikkis from an Indian restaurant called Maharani. It’s a potato cake but the one I tried was a bit soggy while others said theirs were crispy. I guess it depended on when you got there.

A nice spread of desserts was presented by Hilton San Francisco (I’ve been at other food events where the Hilton chefs made desserts so they must be proud of their pastry chefs). I was a bit bummed because you can see in this picture, which I snapped early in the evening, that there was a tray of French macarons (bottom left) but by the time I was ready for dessert they were all gone! Still, I tried the “chocolate pillow,” which was this super-soft brownie-like thing that was dusted in powdered sugar and it was fantastic.

The legendary Martin Yan also did a cooking demonstration. Yan and his “Yan Can Cook” cooking series on PBS is probably most Americans’ introduction to an Asian celebrity chef. Yan didn’t disappoint the crowd, showing off his chopping technique and trademark smile.

He did two demonstrations, and at the second demonstration Passionate Eater and I were able to get a seat in the front row. That meant we also got to try the dish he made, which was a shrimp pineapple stir fry. It’s your typical Chinese sweet-sour seafood dish, but I loved the freshness of his ingredients and the ease he showed in balancing the flavors.

There were many more dishes that I either didn’t get to try or didn’t photograph well. One of my favorites was the Vietnamese pho from Butterfly. The chicken soup with pho noodles was perfectly cooked and so hearty. It’s rare to find this type of dishes served up at other food events around town.

It was a fun evening of trying Asian classics with a new twist, and hanging out with friends. As word gets around, I bet this annual event will get even more popular, raising the profiles even more for Asian chefs.

Recent events I’ve explored:
Big Idea Party at YBCA
San Francisco Oysterfest


Carolyn Jung said...

You didn't get any macarons? Curses!!
Sounds like you got lots of other good eats, too. And kudos to Tim Luym for daring to do beef tongue. He probably figured that in a room full of Asian-Americans, the crowd would be a little more adventurous. One would think!

foodhoe said...

Sounds like a fun, informative time and the food looked great! Isn't PE the best? She helped style my plates too last time we hung out. I would so love to see Martin Yan chop like a madman in person

Anonymous said...

oh, another event I missed out. Is there a mailing list i can join for it? I need to go next time they have it!

Single Guy Ben said...

Anonymous, I don't think the AAJA Web site has the option to subscribe for a mailing list. They only plan this one event once a year. It's usually during the summer. I mentioned it in my Single Guy Planner a couple of months ago and will probably mention it again next year. So you can subscribe to my feed to make sure you get my heads up! ;-)

Mrs. L said...

Looks like I picked the wrong food event to go to recently as this sounded wonderful. Food, you actually got to taste food? Amazing :)