Anita Lo Keeps Her Mind Off Restaurant Fires With Gnudi and Noodle Soups
“This has been an incredibly bad year,” says Anita Lo. Last spring, Bar Q’s outdoor garden burned down as the weather warmed, and she blames the recession for the restaurant’s ultimate shuttering (“After Black Monday, we lost 70 percent of our business,” she notes). Then earlier this month, her flagship, Annisa, was taken out by an electrical fire, right before a debut on Top Chef Masters could have sparked new business. Things are looking up, however: Lo’s never had more press, thanks to two near-flawless wins as the NYC contender on Masters, and she hopes to reopen Annisa by early fall. She's also working on a cookbook and has just returned from a whirlwind trip to Asia with some other female chefs, including friend April Bloomfield. Since the fire has kept Lo off the line, she's had plenty of time to eat out — find out where in this week’s New York Diet.
Saturday, July 25
Saturday was my last day in Korea. I was coming back from Mongolia, actually, with a bunch of other women chefs. We had planned a trip last year. It was unfortunate timing because we just had the fire at Annisa, but it was fortunate for me just to get away and there wasn’t much I could do; I have my sous-chef here, and we’re just waiting for insurance and dealing with all that bureaucracy right now.
My best friend Laurie organized the trip. This was our first trip that wasn’t work-related; it wasn’t someone sending us somewhere to go cook. The other chef from New York was April Bloomfield; everyone else was from California. For breakfast, I went up to the hotel and I had a croissant and a couple different pieces of fruit: a tangerine and a piece of melon. And then I had an English breakfast tea with milk
For lunch, we went and had dumplings in some sort of gallery district.
For dinner we ended up at this Japanese restaurant, and we had a whole bunch of things: sushi, sashimi, yaki udon. We couldn’t read the menu; it was in Japanese and Korean characters. It wasn’t written out phonetically, or we could have ordered easily. We just had to get whatever we could figure out they had. I don’t remember the name. We had gone to a recommended Japanese-Korean fusion restaurant right around the corner, kind of upscale, and the reason we didn’t stay there was because they had minestrone soup in the middle of their menu. It was just really strange. Afterward, we went back to the hotel and had cocktails. I think I ate some peanuts.
Sunday, July 26
Sunday morning, we got up really early and went to the airport. I had another croissant on the plane and some fruit. We had a layover in Hong Kong. Laurie travels all the time for work, so she had a gazillion miles, and we were lucky enough to travel Cathay Pacific business class. For lunch, we were in the business-class lounge and they had some decent noodle soups.
Dinner, I had plane food, which wasn’t so good. They always start with fruit. I had a salad. The greens were fine, but they had made some lemon myrtle vinaigrette, which I didn’t like, and the balsamic vinaigrette, which I used, had some sort of fake garlic flavor. Then I had chicken curry over rice, which was terrible. The beer was good.
We got home at midnight or like 11 p.m. on Sunday night, New York time. I had some cabbage and pork soup. I make big batches of soup at my house on Long Island, and bring them back in containers and freeze them. This one had kielbasa with some other kind of pork — probably ham hock — lots of cabbage, potatoes, white beans, and maybe a little tomato.
Monday, July 27
I didn’t eat breakfast. I had my favorite falafel place over here, Taïm. I got a green-falafel sandwich on whole-wheat pita with everything, plus pickles and hot sauce. Then I had an iced tea around the corner at Doma.
For a snack, I had a butterscotch-and-pecan cookie that someone had at Annisa. We were there having meetings, just getting caught up on where we were. It’s actually easier for me to work from home right now. I still have a lot of other responsibilities — I go to Rickshaw, we’re still closing up Bar Q, my cookbook — but I am at Annisa daily.
I went to DBGB for dinner and I had bone marrow and pastrami, mackerel two ways, and tripe two ways. They sent out some pork rilletes, and then we had two different kinds of sausages — the currywurst with apples and mustard, and a Lyonnaise with some sort of cheese and sauerkraut — and ratatouille. I think I liked the mackerel the best. If you want to eat sustainably, and you want to eat something that’s wild and good for you, sardines and mackerel are pretty much the way to go. I think our country is so huge and most of it is landlocked, and I just think a lot of people aren’t used to having fresh fish, so there’s a lot of fear surrounding that. Then we had three different desserts; they sent out a bunch. We had a soufflé, which is fantastic — I think there was rum in it — and some strawberry tarts, and then the other thing was My dessert memory isn’t always that great, but my food memory is usually pretty good. It was a sundae! It was a cherry sundae. I had a couple of different beers. There was one on tap that was so good. It was very nutty. There were so many beers, I’m not going to remember [the names].
Tuesday, July 28
I had a bowl of Grape-Nuts with soy milk, Eden Soy original.
I didn’t eat lunch! I basically had to do a tasting of Rickshaw stuff, so tiny little bits of everything, just quality checks. We have two new buns on the menu that are going quite well, so I definitely tasted the pork and the beef that we’re serving with them, as well as the quality of the buns.
I went and had sushi that evening. I think sushi is always popular. Maybe people are talking about it less. The thing is, it’s expensive, and in a down market, I think a lot of people aren’t eating a lot of sushi. I went to Aki, which is in my neighborhood. We had a bunch of different sashimi and sushi as well as some seared Spanish mackerel with onions, and a squid spiral roll with uni and cucumber, which was delicious. [In the last episode of Top Chef: Masters], my uni dish isn’t really a signature dish, it was just something I could do in two hours that’s indicative of what I do. Combining potato and uni is my recipe; I can’t think of anyone else who’s done it, but it’s not that mind-blowing. It’s just a starch and uni.
Wednesday, July 29
I went and had a goat kati roll at a new Indian fast-food restaurant on Bleecker called Aamchi Pao. I had a vada pao as well, which is a bun with some sort of potato. The goat kati roll was great. I thought the vada pao was a little too much starch and a little dry, but then they gave me some chutney to go with it and it was nice. That was my breakfast.
For dinner, we went to the Spotted Pig. I had half of a burger, a couple of pieces of gnudi, half of a radish salad, and some broccoli with pancetta. I think the gnudi are just incredible. And April is amazing with vegetables, so I love all of her side vegetables. She does use some fat, which certainly makes them taste better, but it’s just the balance and adding things that taste good together. I would certainly collaborate with her on something, but I think we’ve both got our hands full right now — she’s opening the Breslin. But it was fun cooking with her in Mongolia.
Thursday, July 30
I had a Murray’s panino: The Bleecker Street Classic. I’ve been eating well the past couple of days. It’s salami, mozzarella, tomato, balsamic vinaigrette, and basil, on a pressed little ciabatta roll. And I had some iced green tea, from my house.
Tonight, I’m thinking about going to the East Village for Caracas Arepa Bar. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s inexpensive and delicious.