Here we are, on the cusp of the first public Laohaus adventure since the restaurant closed its doors in February. The social media has been abuzz and anticipation runs high for a Laohaus reprisal. June 1st and 2nd, Uptown 21 will open its doors to an adoring crowd for the Laohaus dinner take-over, 5 until late, and again on Sunday for a banging brunch from 11 until 3. When this shit went public the people went bananas. Bots phoned in the entire restaurant’s reservations in the first quarter mili-second and resold them for bank. Chef-owner Nick Benninger is already being forced to deal with yet another road closure in front of his restaurant – this time it’s crowds of Laohaus fans packed tight like its the mother fucking Beatles. Its like Madison Square Gardens the first time Jay-Z retired.
I was in the province last week for some matrimony business, and tried to get in contact with the boys. Chris said he was around, Charlie said he had to work. We made arrangements to meet in Toronto Sunday afternoon for a snack. I’d told Chris the address of a pair of my friends, said when to show up, and then wasn’t there for my own appointment. “Shit, still not there. Can you grab a coffee or something?” and my next text “I’ll be there in 10 minutes, don’t leave!”
What surprise do I find on the front stoop of the crib but Chris, Charlie, and Ricky hanging out, listening to Dipset and disturbing the peace. There was much rejoicing, plotting, recounting plans and events. Chris is on his Eat Pray Love, finding his way, focusing on his own shit. Then, five minutes into the catch up: “Yo, have you seen the menu?”
I hadn’t. Now I have. Let me tell you this: it’s fire rained down from the heavens, and the smell of petrichor after a drought. There’s been a thread of discussion over the last couple years about moving toward a more refined menu, about Chris’ Lao picks for a fancy affair, the dishes that stunt on your taste buds.
As has been discussed on the blog before, many Asian North Americans that cook professionally are trapped in a milieu of customer expectations that demand huge portions that are both fast and cheap. In the pinch between food cost and labor, demand is often met by batch cooked and hot held food, or relatively simple a la minute preparations. Diners are prepared to bring their money to French or Spanish restaurants with the expectation of care being delivered discretely to each ingredient, but leave “ethnic” foods for the lower end of their budgets. It isn’t that other cuisines lack the same technique, show stopping delicacies – rather the allotment of money people are willing to spend on the time and ingredients it takes to make them is decidedly less.
That being said, this menu is nuts. Oysters with jaew som, sai oua, ping seen jaew bee, yum goong is some next level. If I have one regret it’s that I can’t be there, but if you’re part of the crowd, eat those for me. But like all menus, it may be look ambitious but the strength will be in execution. But trust, this food will sing.