If you've spent any time at all on the East Coast, you will have had the obligatory bowl of clam chowder. Lots of them, really. And whether you're in the New England camp or the Manhattan camp, you will have had many bowls of truly awful clam chowder. As someone who spent far too many years choking down the cups of library paste that masquerade as clam chowder along the northeastern seaboard, I can tell you that, after awhile, you learn to stay far, far away from the stuff. But Wednesday night at A-Frame a bowl of clam chowder arrived that was enough, singlehandedly, to rehabilitate the dish entirely.
Sure, it wasn't classic New England clam chowder -- this is a Roy Choi restaurant, after all -- and was instead built with coconut milk, green curry, pancetta, lemongrass and Thai basil. God, what a difference. The heat was low and lengthened a bit after each spoonful, buffered by bites of toasted sourdough and not a small percentage of pancetta, which hid nicely in the empty clam shells. The coconut milk banished all the usual reminders of flour, creating a texture a Boston saucier would approve of. And lemongrass and green curry? The stuff would make cardboard taste good.
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When we emailed Kogi's Alice Shin to ask about the dish, she shot back: "No epic story that I know of -- just that Chef Roy wanted to take beach picnic-friendly items that we're very familiar with and have us taste them in a new way. I know he has a soft spot for Southeast Asian flavors and that he wanted to make a clam chowder that satiated the gut and was at the same time very clean-tasting." Now if Alice could only find a way to convert half the chowder shacks in Maine to Choi's recipe. If anyone could.