I’ve been wanting to try Patti Myint’s famous salad for quite some time. It just kept slipping my mind and wrangling enough people willing to take the challenge proved tougher than I thought. My Belmont days aren’t THAT far behind me and I’m still in horror of their parking situation. It keeps me from visiting the Myint Miracle Mile as much as I’d like. You have to hit International Market at the right time if you want to park legally. (If you CAN find a parking spot, run in and get the Tom Yum soup with shrimp and chicken. Stir in a side of rice… you can thank me later. Her epic salad isn’t her only good one, the Crying Tiger spicy beef salad is no slouch.)
Patti Myint’s salad at International Market (via Nashville Scene)
According to the diagram, the streamlined version differs from hers by the exclusion of mango, cucumber, tomato, lemongrass, shrimp and squid, pork with ginger, and plain garlic.
Arnold’s Restaurant Week version at Cha Chah. It’s a spectacular looking mise en place, even Iron Chef Garces would approve. (Food Network geek inside joke, sorry)
This meal was so reminiscent of my mother’s tremendous spring rolls. I was in HEAVEN. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks and could barely concentrate all day. Usually that sets me up for failure. Nothing ever lives up to that kind of expectation.
Until now. Everything about it was amazing and surpassed my alarmingly high culinary expectations
Let’s back up a little. Two weeks ago I got tweeted a restaurant recommendation from Tom Colicchio himself. Tonight I walked into Cha Chah and saw Kevin Sbraga sitting at a table by the bar. He’s the winner of Arnold’s season of Top Chef, DC. As we were seated I heard heavily accented English that could only come from Patti Myint. Turns out Patti was dragging Chef Sbraga across the street to sample HER version of the famous salad. Alright, now I’m really excited. Then I see Chef Vito. Then I see Arnold. Then the ever fabulous Metropolitan (pseudo Manhattan) arrives. The night is already awesome. Then I see that Vivek has tweeted that Tiffany Derry (also from Top Chef DC) liked the salad so much, she put it on the bar menu at her new restaurant, Private Social in Dallas. Talk about making a Top Chef addict’s night! At this point I’m smiling like an idiot and I haven’t even eaten yet!
(via Arnold’s Facebook)
Ok, I’m beyond ready. BRING IT.
They DEFINITELY brought it. First you get a nice tray of romaine hearts, leaf lettuce layered with rice paper, and a mound of rice noodles. It took considerable effort to stack and arrange those properly; even more to keep the rice paper at the right consistency throughout. I was impressed before my first bite.
2 cheese boards lined with ramekins of vegetables and a vast variety of accoutrements followed by two bowls of protein round out your experience.
Patti and Kevin returned at the same time the plates started arriving at our table. She told us to “Put in one of the meats and then ONE of everything else in the lettuce. Then eat it all in one bite. It’s the best way to savor the “flavor explosions.”
I’m a rebel and this one has both proteins. Shhh, don’t tell Patti.
When she came back to check on us, she noticed all of the mini lime wedges discarded on our plates. We mistakenly assumed that you were meant to squeeze the lime on the toppings… not so. You’re supposed to chew up the whole thing, rind and all. I never in my life would have thought a sweet lady would demand I chew and swallow a lime. Listen to your elders. The woman knows her stuff, it brought everything to a whole new level.
It was a LONG day. Please ignore my second chin & stringy hair and focus on the delightful Miss Patti.
From the background to the foreground, left to right you see:
Beef Pork and onions 2) chicken salad with rice noodles
row 2) sweet chili sauce, basil leaves, celery leaves, Thai chili
row 3) cilantro and Kaffir lime leaves
row 4) pickled garlic, toasted coconut, carrot, fresh pineapple
row 5) pickled ginger, roasted unsalted peanuts, red onion, tiny lime wedges (eat whole)
The chicken was good, but nowhere near as delectable as the
beef pork. I swear our server told us it was pork, but we were convinced our favorite protein was in fact beef. Matching to the labeled Patti picture, I’m pretty confident it was beef. Either way, it was hands down our favorite part of the meal and precisely like my mom makes it. Incredibly flavorful and rich, it’s well balanced by the bright array of veggies. Arnold’s comment proves in that it was, in fact, pork. Color me sheepish.
We were instructed to try one of everything all at once, at least once. Not a single one of us changed up the line up. Go round and round with the cute wooden tongs and load up that lettuce cup. We were never able to master the one bite thing, but we happily chowed them down in two. Not to say your skill can improve at dumping things in lettuce, but the flavors steadily progressed throughout our gluttonous eat-your-own-adventure. Every bite was better than the last.
I don’t know if Chef Myint knew I was a huge Top Chef fan, but I was positively delighted when he brought Chef Sbraga to our table. He was sweet, charming, and warm. We swapped notes on the Myint Empire’s delectable cocktails. Say what you will about the revolutionary Patterson and Holland Houses… the House of Myint’s been shaking up some inventive and fantastic drinks for years. I recall sneaking out of a night class between the exam and the lecture for a Lychee Martini across the street at PM. It’s one of my favorite acts of collegiate rebellion… you know besides spiking my Sonic diet cherry limeades in Business Management ;)
By the way, when I told Chef Sbraga he couldn’t leave without the Elk Osso Bucco if it was still on the menu, Arnold informed me it is for now, but they are having trouble sourcing it due to their high demand. So get your buns to Cha Chah TWICE in the immediate future.
Our sweet server, Evan, worked HARD for his money tonight. That poor guy barely made it back to our table with a few refills before we needed another round. I think we had 4 trays of lettuce. We were not shy, and they were happy to help us out. I finally told him enough with the small bowls of cilantro, bring us a big one. We killed that too. In an effort to keep up, Chef Myint finally sent him back out to collect our ramekins so he could wash them. Yeah, the owner was back there washing dishes… one of many reasons he’s a bad ass.
Check out a fraction of the damage…
I picked the perfect friends to accompany me on this incredible culinary adventure. We had a fantastic time and savored every bite. I begged Chef Vito to find some of their salted caramel so we could really make a lasting impression on the girls’ first visit.
I think they liked it, I know they’ll be back. I’m sure I will. :)
My only words of wisdom are:
- Thai chilis are by no means mild, do not try to be a hero.
- The pickled ginger is a bit overwhelming if you use a full slice, feel free to break it down a bit more.
- Short of a food allergy, there is absolutely no reason to not try every ingredient at least once.
- Do not be shy, they will bring you more so just GO FOR IT
- Standard table manners do not apply to this dish.
- Listen to Mama Myint and eat the whole chunk of lime.
- Thank the Myints for introducing you to this fantastic experience… and bring friends!
- Hurry to Cha Chah before you miss this once in a lifetime experience
- Haul your big camera and invite a proficient photographer if you can’t seem to capture decent low light food photos like me… Thanks Laura!
Arnold’s right. Everything is better with a hint of Myint.
ChaChah opens for dinner at 5 PM Tuesday-Saturday. That means you have 3 more nights to try this. Keep in mind it is $20 a person and you need a minimum of 3 companions to participate. You know, unless you want to shell out $100 and try this beast on your own… but then you have to explain to your conscience how you ate a three figure salad.