Everytime Jar chef/owner Suzanne Tracht and her chef de cuisine Preech Narkthong visit Narkthong's hometown of Bangkok, Thailand, they return with ideas for new dishes, antique silk purses and fairly crazy-sounding tales of two massages a day and 3 a.m. runs to eat from the hundreds of food stalls in Bangkok's famous Chinatown district.
"Research trip" was how they always categorized the Bangkok adventures, which I always thought was hilarious until I heard about Suzpree [pronounced SOO-PREE], Tracht and Narkthong's idea for an Asian-inspired restaurant serving fresh noodles, raw seafood platters and dumplings. They hope to open at the end of this year, but recently, Tracht and Narkthong had an idea: Why not give Los Angeles a taste of what they're working on by serving items off the Suzpree menu at the bar at Jar on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays?
The plan is for each item to be appetizer-sized and cost between $6 and $12. The selection of dishes will change from week to week -- Tracht, who I've known since she was a twentysomething sous chef at Campanile -- and Narkthong are working from a master list that the two chefs can't seem to stop building.
"I think we're at fifty now," Tracht says, "but I can't find the piece of paper..."
"Kabocha squash dumplings in a mushroom broth," I scrawl on my notepad as they rattle off dish descriptions. "Juicy oxtail dumplings; little pressed lamb sandwiches with onions and pickled cucumber; watermelon salad with Maryland lump crab; Manila clams with Chinese sausage and Chinese egg noodles; steamed asparagus with poached eggs and a little sherry; lamb burgers; braised Brussels sprouts with roasted peanuts; braised pork belly with apple mostarda; lobster roll with black-bean/harissa aioli; calamari salad with ginger, lemongrass and Oro Blanco grapefruit and mint...."
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I was able to try a cold soba noodle salad with roasted shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms; an eggplant salad with shaved red onions, cilantro, greens, mint leaves and a jalapeno vinagrette, and a soup with braised pork butt, rolled noodles, a bit of star anise and cinnamon that Narkthong developed after making repeated visits to the Bangkok weekend-market food stall of a brother-sister team who refused to give him the recipe.
The palm-sized char sui pork tacos with minced mango, red onion, thinly sliced jalapeno peppers and a squeeze of lime juice somehow combined uptown ingredients with rich taco truck flavor and I ate them so quickly that I wished I clocked how long it took me to make them vanish. On May 4, Tracht and Narkthong are serving the tacos at the gala dinner celebrating Women In Food for the 2009 James Beard Awards. But for now, they hope their menu additions make for the kind of jam-packed, communal Jar scene Tracht and Narkthong love to see.
"We want the bar to be full," Tracht says. "We want people to try EVERYTHING."
8225 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-6566 or www.thejar.com.