Friday, August 6, 2010

MACAO Trading Co.: A Transporting Experience

New York is a city that applauds itself for seeming inescapable: you get here and can't leave (want to or not), are endeared to it from a visitor's perspective, can't really replicate the New Yorkedness of it anywhere else, or you can't afford to stay here, but neither can you afford to move. It's these times when a restaurant like Macao Trading Co. is the most appealing. Located on the cusp of TriBeCa and SoHo, upon crossing its threshold it immediately feels like a red light district of East Asia, circa 1940s. And the food is no less transcendent, evolving from the talented hands of the Employees Only family and world-renowned chef David Waltuck of ex-Chanterelle prowess, to the capable hands of head chef Joshua Blakely.

Even if there wasn't (and I think there was), one pictures low-slung ceiling fans slowly pushing around thickly tropical air (it wasn't; it's perfectly cool and comfortable), with silk-clad women of dubious repute skulking in banquettes (there weren't those, either, but there were some perfectly lovely girls in silky blouses and shorts), and smoking long, cinnamon colored cigarettes (obviously, also absent given its ban seven years ago). Still, you feel that way. There are globes and buddhas, maps and valises, all beckoning you towards another time and place. The menu is a conglomerate of Asian and Portuguese inspired dishes, probably stemming from traditional recipes with a modern twist and some American tempering. And despite the sultry surroundings, food is served "family style", although with big appetites or a propensity for doggie bags, you could also wing it individually. Whatever its roots, most of it is delicious. We started with a dozen oysters, meaty specimens from Washington state. Inarguably fresh, but big enough to require a little coaxing on the way down- and they all went down. Jade dumplings, on the other hand, were a bit on the heavy side, though of good crab and shrimp flavor erupting from a jade green wrapper. Grilled Hawaiian blue prawns were sauced in a kicky garlic refrito joined with chopped, roasted cashews for crunch. Fresh lime juice sparkled in the dressing of a watercress salad, crunchy with shaved fennel and endive, slicked just enough to render the greens manageable with chopsticks, without being too slippery. Platters, plates and bowls are an eclectic mix of various china patterns, with colorful borders that charmingly frame unpretentious presentations. The African stew of organic chicken is a whole small bird, expertly braised in a redolent curry with a subtle nudge of coconut, bits of shredded spinach and smattered with whole leaves of fresh cilantro. Five meaty diver scallops nestle in a Malaysian style curry, heartened with toothsome bits of country ham and strewn with slivers of crisp pea shoots. For a carnivorous option, we opted for the Creekstone Strip (kudos on the sourcing, boys), a daunting 16 ounce slab cooked exactly to our
specification, and paired with chili-flecked braised kale that impregnated some of its spice into the meat's juices. We really
didn't have to be finishing all of this, in terms of sheer hunger, but it really wanted to be eaten. Even the side dish of dry fried green beans, plump specimens of the most brilliant green hue, which could've been cooked a tad more (when I see "dry fried", I think of a more tender, desiccated treatment) but flecked with such tasty bits of chili and peanuts, was licked clean. In fact, the restaurant was Point B after having attended a small wedding ceremony, where a gloriously gluttonous cookies and cream ice cream cake sacrificed itself for the cake-cutting ceremony, so dessert was an antipasto to the meal at Macao. There are some simple dessert options at the restaurant, (the fried milk with honey citrus salad sounded especially tempting), but with bellies full in inverse order, we settled with finishing off our lovely second carafe of summery Spanish rose, and reentered the reality of a swampy New York summer evening, that somehow, consequently, seemed perfectly wonderful.

1 comment:

  1. We are certainly proud of Joshua! Born & bred on the OBX & now making a name for himself in the big city. Way to go!