New York Gears Up for Malaysian Restaurant Week

Zak Pelaccio and his Fatty Crab empire definitely have pushed the boom of Malaysian food in the city. Or rather, Pelaccio has made Malaysian cuisine more popular to the masses that had never heard of Malay fish fry, chicken claypot, or the spicy curry dish java mee. Today the city kicks off the second annual Malaysian Restaurant Week, an event that runs until June 24 and includes not only New York, but New Jersey and Connecticut as well.

In the city you can get your Malaysian on with a three-course menu for $20.12 at popular establishments including Laut, Café Asean, Nyona, and of course, Fatty Crab, though both locations strictly offer the prix fixe deal for lunch, before 7pm or after 10pm. Also on the line up are some Asian-fusion restaurants that are offering a special Malaysian menu for the week. These include Top Chef contestant Angelo Sosa’s Social Eatz, Ian Kittichai’s Ember Room, Dragonfly, Wild Ginger in Midtown East, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market, though only for lunch. Not a bad line up considering the small number of Malaysian restaurants in the city, and, for you adventurous types, this weekend the Asian Food Markets in North Planfield, NJ will be hosting a sampling of the cuisine from 10am to 6pm.

What of the Now Todd English-less Ember Room?

When the Ember Room opened up in February 2011 in Hell’s Kitchen, it did so with fanfare, parties, and with chefs Todd English and Ian Kittichai backing the project. Not long after it opened, Ember Room fell into that same problem a lot of celebrity-owned restaurants do: the food, service, and vibe all rode on names and in the end, didn’t deliver. Basically, it sucked. Now Todd English has stepped down from the Ember Room, a move he did quietly a few weeks ago, and has let Kittichai take over the kitchen. So what will become of the Ember Room? Will it continue to smolder or will it gradually cool to stillness?

Perhaps English’s move is smart, he has after all been running restaurants since the 1980s when he opened Olives in Massachusetts. Since then he has quickly moved up in the restaurateur world, starting businesses, staring on his own TV show, and writing numerous cookbooks. Maybe he just heard Ember Room’s death rattle, after all, it’s not unusual for celebrity helmed eateries to fail when the restaurant doesn’t step up to the plate. For example look at Britney Spears’s short-lived NYLA in New York or J-Lo’s Madres in California. Some restaurants, like the Heath Ledger’s Five Leaves, remain strong even when the celebrity presence is gone, and that’s usually due to its solid food and service.

Kittichai, in his thick Thai accent agrees and says, “I want to make this restaurant more impressive, more fun about eating, more fun about experiencing. Like, trying the Ladyboy [cocktail].”Aside from the whimsical drink list and recognizable Asian-flare themed dishes like lobster pad Thai, whole striped bass, and juicy volcano chicken, Kittichai has worked to recreate the menu into something people, not just tourists wanting to eat at a famous chef’s restaurant, will make an effort to go out and try.

Under Kittichai’s command, the food offerings appear to have perked up, though it still remains safe for diners not really wanting something too different or spicy. The chef also tapped into today’s current trend of comfort-fusion food by adding dishes like green curry lasagna, Thai chili mac n’cheese, and Thai tacos with shredded chicken, coconut, and a sweet chili sauce.

In the end, perhaps English’s exit was a good thing. He might have brought the crowds but it is Kittichai’s name carries weight in food-conscious circles. So we hope: English is gone but the Ember burns on.  

Hell’s Kitchen Heats Up with Asian BBQ Joint Ember Room

You, me, and everyone we know, knows that Hell’s Kitchen isn’t a culinary hotspot. But things may change once Ember Room—fronted by Ian Chalermkittichai (of Kittichai fame) and Todd English—opens on February 7. Expect all sorts of Asian-inspired barbecue, custom-created Bombay Sapphire cocktails, and, finally, a restaurant that will put Hell’s Kitchen on the culinary map. We caught up with Chef Ian for the scoop.

Why should New Yorkers look forward to Ember Room? I think because it is a fun concept and will be an enjoyable dining experience. BBQ is a casual favorite amongst diners. A big highlight in the restaurant is our open kitchen, with a specially crafted one-of-a-kind wood-burning lava stone oven, with natural soap stone woks.

What will make it different from the other Asian BBQs in NYC? Well, I think because Ember Room will have different methods of BBQ cooking, especially since we have the unique oven in our open kitchen, which can roast a whole suckling pig. Our Asian flavor influences span Asia and don’t just focus on one region or country. Also, I think the fact that Todd and I worked together to create the menu and concept is pretty unique in NYC!

Who did the design? The venue was envisioned by the internationally acclaimed hospitality designer Roy Nachum, who is known for his cutting edge restaurant designs at Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality, 1Oak, and Mels Burger Bar. The concept is based on the inherent beauty of natural materials with its opulence expressed through contemporary design customs of both Asian and American cultures. The focal point is definitely the open kitchen area, centered around a custom-built Nobile oven fashioned from clay bricks, volcanic rock and natural stone. The “baby hearth” as we call it features seven roasting ovens, two stone woks and a grill.

Any staple dishes you created we should look for? The stone wok fried rice dishes, such as the Korean BBQ Beef fried rice or the Hot & Spicy Chicken Basil Fried Rice. Of course, I have also included my Chocolate Baby Back Ribs on the menu. Also the whole roasted suckling pig which is ginger hoisin glazed is something not to miss.

Why Hell’s Kitchen? The location is a great mix of residential, offices, retail and visitors. Its easy to get to and an up-and-coming food neighborhood. A BBQ restaurant, especially an American Asian BBQ restaurant, is a great fit for the area.

Any noteworthy cocktails? The Ember, which is gin, sparkling sake, muddled berries and some citrus notes, is definitely something special. The Tyku Saketini, which is Tyku Green and vodka based with cucumber, is wonderfully refreshing.