On Wednesday and Friday nights, small groups, couples, and singles flock to the Rubin Museum of Art on 17th Street in New York City to wander through five floors of exhibits, catch a show, and enjoy themed cocktails and small bites that are just as carefully curated as the artifacts and installations themselves.
One of the Rubin’s most successful and popular programs is K2 Friday Nights, which began in 2009. Named for the second-tallest free-standing peak in the Himalayas, K2 Friday Nights merge the Rubin’s cultural experience with a lively weekend social scene with film screenings, shows, and exhibits. In the K2 Lounge, find a special Pan-Asian menu accompanied by the evening’s DJ.
Acoustic Wednesday Evenings with Himalayan Happy Hour are more relaxed. We spoke with chef Ali Louzkada about why it’s the place to be, especially if you’d like a little culture with your dosas.
The Daily Meal: Let’s talk about the menu. The drinks, including mocktails, have names that relate to the art and culture in the museum. Tell us more about that.
Ali Louzkada: In terms of their titles, Pearl of Wisdom connects to our current series The Wisdom Matrix while the Paradise on Earth relates to our exhibition Monumental Lhasa. Some of the drinks are also inspired by ingredients found throughout India and the Himalayas, such as tamarind, chai, ginger, beets. My favorite drinks on the menu are the Tamarind Sour, Chai Bourbon, Ginger-Orange Oracle, and Beets Me.
What are some ingredients you work with in the food that people may not be familiar with?
We have a lot of ingredients that we use on our menu that people are not familiar with, such as spices and spice mixtures and combination of various whole spices and ground spices that make up a base of our dishes that we make in house such as methi leaves, onion seeds, chickpea flour, garam masala, and various chiles.
What are your three favorite dishes on the menu, how are they prepared, and why are they your favorites?
I’d have to say the pickled beet salad with saffron shrikhand, the sweet potato logs with herb-ranch dressing, Rubin Reuben Momo, and the truffle burrata with truffle pearls. I keep in mind the layers of flavors and textures as I build in every dish, and I like to hit all various taste buds and notes, such as sweet, sour, spice, and a touch of bitter. Those are the basics that I lean on while creating the menu at Café Serai [the museum’s restaurant].
Do you feel the food reflects the museum, in any number of capacities?
Almost every dish on the menu reflects the museum because all art work in the museum reflects the Himalayas. We use ingredients that are Indian inspirational and from regions nearby such as Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal, and China. The Rubin Reuben momo is also a fun play on the museum’s name. We incorporated the typical ingredients of a classic NYC deli Reuben sandwich into the traditional Himalayan momo for an interesting fusion.
Tell us about your background as a chef and your personal journey to the Rubin.
In 2004, I joined Tabla Restaurant and served as sous chef until December 2005. While at Tabla, I combined my Indian roots with modern-day New York fare. I was responsible for preparing authentic Indian cuisine at the Bread Bar as well as fish, sauces, and roasted meats. Two years later, I began working at Stephen Starr’s modern Asian restaurant Buddakan, where I served as sous chef and focused on using worldly flavors to create new menu presentations and assist with the development of innovative dishes. In 2011, I joined the Rubin Museum of Art as executive chef. Since then I have been able continue to lean on my experience growing up in India to create authentic Himalayan-themed menus.
And after dinner, you can almost always catch a show….
We have a few great music series, including our “unplugged” Naked Soul series, where artists choose a work of art in the galleries to relate to their performance. Notable performers and speakers have included Ralph Fiennes, India Arie, Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, Joel Grey, Ethan Hawke, Moby, Lou Reed, Joan Osborne, Patti Smith, Alan Cumming, Bill T. Jones, and Sam Shepard.
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