Last night I was lucky enough to be cooked for by a chef featured in The New York Times Dining section last week, Andy Ricker ("Cuisines Mastered As Acquired Tastes," May 29). Ricker is the proprietor of Thai restaurant Pok Pok in Brooklyn but, I should note, the experience occurred entirely by accident. I'd been invited to a cooking class and wine pairing in a place I least expected to find one: the eighth floor of Macy's in Herald Square. After weaving through the perfume counters to the elevators, my skepticism only grew as I got lost in the bridal section, wandered by some Waterford crystal, past the Au Bon Pain to a back hallway guarded by retirement-age security, and through a door next to the employee cafeteria.
But there is the De Gustibus cooking studio, a beautiful demonstration space packed with attentive diners, jotting notes with one hand, other extremity raised to ask questions about what's being bashed apart in the mortar and pestle or being sliced and diced on the cutting board. The walls are lined with photos of famous chefs who've taught here recently (Angelo from Top Chef) and forever ago (Emeril 10 years and 100 lbs. removed and a grinning Tom Colicchio with a shaggy mop, to name but two).
Now the things I truly didn't expect to happen: One, that my concept of Thai cuisine would be completely upended. And two, that Riesling is not the only wine that pairs well with it. In fact, just burn the damn rulebook on pairings. The three wines paired with the half-dozen dishes or so all came from New Zealand: Quartz Reef NV sparkling wine from Central Otago, Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc from Martinborough and, one of my all-time favorites, Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah from Hawkes Bay. The star dish of the night (a salt-crusted whole fish, recipe below) paired as beautifully with a minerally Sauvignon Blanc as with the peppery, powerful Syrah.
If you ever get the chance to attend a class at De Gustibus, don't hesitate. Grin and bear the mobs of tourists looking for Diesel jeans and everything DKNY. But, just as importantly, get yourself to Pok Pok and let this fresh, traditional, vibrant cuisine wash that soupy green curry chicken takeout you've come to expect of every Thai place out of your head forever. Same for all the "rules" about what wine to choose.
Plaa Phap Kleua
(salt-crusted whole fish with dipping sauce)