top 100: danji

danji

I’m one of those strange people who hates chicken wings. I’ve never quite grasped the attraction of eating with my hands and getting all messy for the sake of a few strands of meat and a mouthful of fatty, slippery poultry skin. Until the sticky, spicy, chili-flecked ‘k.f.c’ (Korean fire chicken) wings at Danji made a carnivorous convert of me, that is. Artfully piled five to a plate these honey-glazed wings are meaty and succulent, encased in a firm sheath of crispy skin. In place of the pure heat that too often overwhelms what could be a tasty tidbit, there’s a pleasantly lip-smacking piquancy that is divine – especially when paired with a cool glass of makgeolli, an unfiltered Korean rice beer that’s slightly sweet, like nigori, with just a hint of fizz. My only issue at this casually elegant version of a Korean tapas bar is that the plates are made for sharing. How do two people split five chicken wings? At one point I feared a stand-off, like a couple of dogs staking their claim. Good thing a silky bowl of wild mushroom jook and truffle oil arrived to distract us, followed by a plate of panko-dusted tofu with ginger scallion dressing hot on its heels. Dinner shifted into a new, less abrasive terrain. Like a palate cleanser, we had moved into the velvet course. I became doubly impressed once I realized how the kitchen had organized the arrival of our small plates. We had ordered everything at once and in no particular order. The chef had cleverly grouped our random selections into a composed menu of flavors and textures. Vermicelli noodles with beef and Korean pepper came next, alongside the most curious dish of the evening, spicy bulgogi beef rice cakes. I couldn’t discern the dish at first: it looked like gnocchi and kimchi with a fried wonton on top. Once the server explained that yes, we were close – the gnocchi was in fact a chewy rice cake; the wonton a vegetable dumpling designed to add some crunch – the dish made perfect sense: beef was an accompaniment, not the main attraction, as this was our rice course. It was also the course where we realized we were full. Poached sablefish with spicy daikon arrived to a palpable groan but we gobbled it up nonetheless. The buttery flesh was cut with the tang of a soy reduction, making for a star protein. Small plates can be deceiving, even more so at Danji, where anyone with a taste for a multiplicity of flavors will be easily seduced by the menu of a dozen and a half options. My sage advice: pace yourself; there’ll be plenty of time for bossam and spicy pork belly sliders tomorrow.

kfc chicken wings

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in the kitchen with noon

in the kitchen with noon

Because a visit to the local market did nothing but whet my appetite for Thai food, I press-ganged Chef Noon into a brief cooking lesson in the show kitchen at Paresa. Three courses plus dessert sounded a little daunting at first but with lots of room to spread out, ingredients at the ready, and the guiding hand of Chef Noon leading me step by step, it was enlightening. Nothing too fancy; just a beginners excursion into Rattanakosin, the modern era of Thai cooking, which happens to feature a strong Chinese influence: woks, deep-frying, noodles. Goong Sarong would be our starter, a simple yet visually impressive prawn marinated in pepper, salt, and coriander root, wrapped in vermicelli noodles and deep-fried. Next, we moved on to a red curry. The secret, I learned, is to first cook the curry paste in a little oil, add your meat – we used duck breast – then coconut milk and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat and stir in eggplant, grapes, pineapple, to allow the flavors to be drawn into the soup. Bring it to a boil a second time, adding chilis, basil, and a soupcon of ever-present fish sauce and remove from heat again. The whole process takes about five minutes. Letting the curry rest infuses the broth with the fruits and herbs, giving it a heady smell and marvelously rich taste. (And in so short a period of time – I was amazed.) Chicken stir-fry was the most easily accessible of the courses: deep fry lightly breaded chicken pieces until golden brown and allow them to drain on a paper towel. Heat a little oil in a wok, quickly frying peppers, onion, chili, and cashews. Season with oyster sauce and soy before mixing in the cooked chicken and voila, dinner is done. The results were more impressive than I had imagined, but dessert is where things really got creative. Tiny sweet Thai bananas battered in rice flour and coconut, deep-fried and served with a scoop of ice cream. There was enough batter left over that I thought I might show the chef a few tricks of my own. Thickening the batter with a bit more coconut I tossed spoonfuls into boiling oil, rolling the resulting pillows in a mix of white sugar and coconut. Beignets, I told her: fried dough balls. A bit frightened at first, Chef Noon and Fern, the curious Sales Manager who stopped in to watch us, soon gobbled them up, proving that in the kitchen we’ve all got something to learn.

mise en place

curry, soy sauce, spices, sugar

vermicelli wrapped shrimp

thai red curry with duck

chicken stir fry with cashew

deep fried banana

my beignets

fern with chef noon

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a step above the car clamp club

Why would anyone opt for a plain old room when the Ritz-Carlton offers an amazing Club Level option? You get a dedicated concierge, plus a private 24-hour lounge stocked with an ample bar, multiple food offerings throughout the day, and oodles of homemade treats. And all gratis, of course. To wit, todays east-meets-west breakfast of champions: an egg white omelette, shrimp dumpling, steamed pork bun, vermicelli, toast, watermelon juice, and a chocolate donut.

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