Last night's 15-course feast at RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen–16-courses if you count the surprise Singapore butter lobster chef Mohan Ismail snuck in–was enough to feed a small village. A village with a very sophisticated palate. The feast was orchestrated to introduce next year's new menu items.
Despite the restaurant's palatial (literally) space in the Century City Westfield mall, Ismail (Spice Market, Tabla, Blue Hill), makes you feel like you're sipping tea on his living room couch. “My mom thinks I work in a cafeteria,” he says, on the difficulty he has communicating with his mother in Singapore. It'll be a big surprise when she visits in winter and walks through the palace doors (see the picture after the jump). Ismail had no trouble learning her cooking skills, and incorporates many of the ingredients she once used into the RockSugar menu. And Ms. Ismail must have a strong affinity to soy sauce, as the pan-Asian kitchen carries 20 different kinds.
Invited to showcase his skills at the James Beard House in New York City October 27th, Ismail served some of the same dishes last night that he created for the cooking world's toughest judges. Familiar items such as crispy chicken samosas and Indian stuffed flatbread dipped in spicy homemade ketchup were plated alongside some of next year's newer items, among them: Singapore butter lobster with young ginger, Thai basil and chiles; and French fry-shaped Nyonya Sambal eggplant with sweet soy and chiles.
Though Ismail no longer does all of the restaurant's market shopping–he now has vendors for that–he still frequents Ranch 99 in Van Nuys for inspiration. Along with the upcoming menu, Ismail's next cooking class series will re-launch in February, exploring the flavors of Thailand. You might just find some inspiration of your own.
RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen: 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles; (310) 552-9988.