Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The "Stuff Ourselves Silly" Weekend

Last Friday hubby and I found ourselves standing outside the very first food enterprise in HK where I applied for a job. Go-gourmet is a gourmet catering pioneer. Owned and operated by exuberant, boisterous, talented New Orleans native Chef Lori Granito, it boasts of a well-equipped cooking studio in Sheung Wan where innovative team-building cooking sessions are hosted for large companies.
It is located on the ground floor of little boy's kindergarten, so while walking along Po Yan Street one afternoon I decided to drop by and see if they needed a kitchen assistant. I never pushed through with the job offered but great things have happened since then (but I'll leave this to another blog entry, some other day). Lori will always be remembered in our household though as the first person to ever offer me a job in HK, and for her support I am grateful.

Aside from catering and holding cooking parties, Lori has also published a cookbook (a very useful guide to entertaining, with marvellous recipes on every page), and is looking into packaging her Cajun and Creole mixes and spices for distribution in households and upmarket groceries. She also runs Magnolia, a private kitchen on the 2nd floor of her cooking studio specializing in homestyle Creole and Cajun cuisine, the only one of its kind in HK.

Which brings me back to last Friday with hubby. We booked a table for four that night at Magnolia. I brought by camera but the dim lighting made the pictures look dark and sinister, while the flash made them look garish. So I'll have to resort to words (when have I ever not?) to capture that memorable dinner.

Hubby and I were the first to arrive, and while waiting for our friends, a few other people started arriving as well. The concept of Magnolia is for small groups to be seated at a long, grand table and get to know each other while enjoying the food. Nothing too formal or private, unless you're a large group. That night there were two large groups so we had a room of our own, which was fine with my antisocial hubby. I sauntered to the kitchen and had a chat with Lori while observing the goings-on. It was like being invited to a friend's house for dinner. Lori hides nothingand shares everything. Her kitchen is open for scrutiny and she chats away while preparing her mouth-watering specialties. While we waited for the groups to be complete, we were served a welcome drink and some savory appetizers. The crackers with dip, crab claws and goat cheese cake were all delicious, although the dip, composed of a bottom layer of pesto, a middle layer of cream cheese and the top a deep red sundried tomato mixture, was something relatively simple and easy to replicate at home. The crab claws were made of shredded crab meat and spices, and eaten with a dollop of tangy and spicy cocktail sauce. A far cry from the starchy "fake" frozen crab claws you can buy at any supermarket. :) Almost like crab cake on a claw stick, it was flavorful but not overpoweringly so. The outside was a golden brown coating that hid juicy depths of crabmeat. The goat cheese cake was a tiny dice - literally as large as a dice-- of baked goat cheese with a savory crust. I thought it bland but the texture was interesting, the crust slowly disintegrating in your tongue followed by the slightly tofu-like cheese.

After these teasers we were asked to go up and settle ourselves in our respective rooms. At Magnolia they don't serve alcohol, but you are free to bring in whatever beverage you prefer and they chill and serve these. The other rooms brought beer and wine and as the night wore on you could hear them getting decidedly tipsy and garrulous. We, the sober ones, had to settle for water and Magnolia's version of Iced tea, which, to be completely honest, tasted like cherry-flavored water. A totally unsweet flavored water. We tanked up on plain old H2O instead.

Lori came in after a few minutes and told us about the menu for the night, how we should pace ourselves so we'd have room for dessert, and graciously swiped a can of Sprite from one of her staff so hubby could have a break from the water and "iced tea". First on the menu was gumbo soup with crawfish and okra, a spicy, hearty, slightly sticky blend of seafood-based broth and Cajun spices. Everyone loved it. I could never replicate it, I can't even name half the ingredients I tasted. The salad was a lovely plated mound of mesclun greens with a ring of succulent, fresh prawn and crawfish, drizzled with a remoulade sauce. Just the thought of that dressing is making my mouth water right now. I squeezed some lemon juice on the seafood and became silent while I enjoyed this seafood wonder. While the soup and salad were served individually, the main dishes came "family-style", in huge platters placed in the middle of the table. First came Lori's famous Cajun ribs, then shrimp etouffe and plain rice , smothered okra and tomatoes, a shredded chicken stew, cornbread with heaps of butter, jambalaya and fried soft-shell crab amandine. Ooooh, the sight of all those dishes elicited gasps of delight from us. I've never been to New Orleans and never tasted its cuisine, so this was a treat for me. The ribs were, as expected, fork tender and juicy, although, as hubby commented later on, the ones from Dem Bones in Canada were crazy better! I had to agree. The shrimps, sauteed with lots and lots and lots of onions and garlic, were wonderfully fresh and cooked perfectly, while the sweetness (from the soft cooked onions) of the etouffe mixture lingered on the taste buds. Hubby loved the soft-shell crab, which was crispy with a tangy and spicy chili dressing. I finished off the okra because it reminded me of a Creole atsara. For soemone who avoids carbs like the plague, I sure ate a lot of jambalaya and three pieces of corn muffin slathered with a killer amount of butter. Everything was different from what I usually cook or eat so I had fun trying to guess the ingredients of each dish. Before long it was time for dessert and although I did try to pace myself, I was a quivering mass of blubber by this time. I had a slight headache and my tummy felt like I had inflated it to impossible proportions. I had visions of gastric bypass surgery and told hubby I couldn't possibly have room for dessert but then the pecan pie arrived... and boy I never knew my tummy had the willpower to make space, but create space it did! The dessert was the pinnacle of the evening, the crowning glory to a night of good food and flowing conversation. It was HEAVENLY. Hubby and I didn't think we'd like pecan pie but this pie was sweet but not cloyingly so. The pecans were crunchy and honey-coated, the pie crust was buttery but light, and melted in our mouths. It came with a square of fried something - tasted like bread and milk to me but I forgot to ask Lori- with butterscotch sauce. On both sides of the pie were huge mounds of cream, one white, one dark (this the chocolate bourbon one with a strawberry pertly sitting atop). The chocolate cream was so light and airy and fluffly and reminded me of a low-fat mousse. I dipped the strawberry in what chocolate clouds must taste like and sat back, happy and sated.

After a night like that I thought I wouldn't have room for anything but crackers and yogurt the next day, but Saturday night was once again a night of feasting, this time at a teppanyaki table in Nadaman, Shangri-La's premier Japanese restaurant. Post to follow...


PV Beley said...

What a posting. Now this really made me hungry. So when do you start working with Chef Lori?

PV Beley said...

You sure had a prolific week writing entries in your blog. You have enough material to start your own food column in a HK magazine. I wonder why the HK Food Expo is not as exciting as it was about 8 years ago when most of the exhibitors were from the different continents of the globe.

mayapapaya said...

can you seriously make that pesto/ cream cheese/ sundried tomato dip? make some for me, puhleez?

glad you and yours enjoyed dinner at magnolia though. i'm amazed you could even contemplate another meal after all that, much less one at nadaman!

amz said...

i seriously think you should consider applying to a "real" publication--so you can be a food critic. you would love it! and you write so well that people would love reading it. if you can binge--and get paid for it...why not!!!!???