Dallas Chef Brings Thai Lunar Festival to NYC’s James Beard House Nov. 8

A seasonal feast that shouldn't be missed

Thai Lunar Festival

Nikky Phinyawatana, chef-owner of Thai restaurant Asian Mint in Dallas, is presenting a five-course dinner to celebrate Loy Krathong (a Thai lunar festival) at New York City’s James Beard House on November 8, and I was lucky enough to snag a media place at the preview dinner in Dallas this week. The meal featured authentic Thai flavors but was bursting with a creativity I usually associate with modern Northern Spanish cuisine.

Two dishes in particular exemplify that. Stuffed squid was a ring of the cephalopod's body stuffed with a chopped or ground shrimp and pork mixture. These rolls were set on a banana leaf and lightly drizzled with a piquant chili-lime sauce, then surrounded with a smattering of pickled garlic slices. Most compelling was the conjunction of textures and flavors here, but the visual composition on the plate also had a spontaneity that can only come from the most contrived kitchen planning. Thus far, I have thought of Iron Chef contestant Kent Rathbun as Dallas’ telegenic food king, but this was on par. During the NYC dinner, the kitchen team must be as careful as they were at the rehearsal dinner when par-boiling the squid. The natural rubberiness was reduced to al dente submission but no further, making for a textural gem. I hope Beard House guests will get the wine pairing that we did: an Alsatian riesling. Highly recommended.

Nikky Phinyawatana

Andrew Chalk

Nikky Phinyawatana

The Rosewood, Texas-raised wagyu beef was sliced and served medium rare on a mound of rice (which had been soaked in some kind of stock while cooking) and lump blue crab meat. It meant delicious, slightly sweet flavors modulated by the brininess of the shredded crab. To amp up the flavor onslaught, the hottest sauce of the night, panang curry sauce, was there in puddles to garnish all.

We live in an age of increasing personalization, and so it was with the visually arresting dessert. Lychee Flower Jelly was a gelatin dome encasing a flower, along with tapioca balls and finely chopped mango on the side. As every diner’s was different, there were lots of cellphone flashes going off when this dish was served.

Lychee Flower Jelly

Andrew Chalk

Lychee Flower Jelly

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If you are in New York on November 8, look into tickets to the James Beard house dinner. Phinyawatana has impressed me as a competent Thai cook in the past, but this meal was simply brilliantly conceived and establishes her as one of the best chefs in Dallas.