Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Irene Khin Wong, Please Open a Restaurant!

Recently I've been pining for Irene Khin Wong's cooking. I think it was the bad news from Myanmar that reminded me of her good food. Irene was the chef-owner of what I believe was New York's first Burmese restaurant, Road to Mandalay, on Broome Street, in the 'eighties. Road to Mandalay was fantastic, and based on meals there I thought I loved Burmese cuisine. After trying a number of other Burmese restaurants, in New York and San Francisco, I discovered that it wasn't Burmese food per se that I loved, but rather Irene's amazing touch that turned Burmese home cooking and street food into haute cuisine. Irene's remarkable and affable hostessing skills added yet another dimension. Her beauty and intelligence didn't hurt either. It was a tragedy when Road to Mandalay closed.

After the demise of Road to Mandalay I became friendly with one of Irene's brothers, who was a fellow computer programmer where I was working. When I was planning a trip to Vietnam in the mid-90s he told me that Irene was living in Saigon at the time. He gave me her contact info, and she graciously invited me to tea at her home in an upscale section of the city. Irene spent three years in Vietnam, where she worked as a culinary consultant and traveled around Southeast Asia picking up recipes and techniques. I met her toward the end of her stay.

When Irene returned to the states she started a catering business rather than another restaurant. With Saffron 59 she is now one of the most successful Asian caterers in New York, specializing in food from all over Southeast Asia. Her recipes have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Food Arts, and New York Magazine. Her clients have included major corporations, the Clintons, Donald Trump and Annie Leibovitz.

I'm sure she doesn't miss the headaches of day-to-day restaurant operation, but surely catering is similarly stressful. I really wish Irene would consider opening another restaurant. If she did, I suspect, given her current reputation, it would be considerably more high-end than Road to Mandalay. I could live with that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. R T M, was not just a great place to eat but oh so inviting. I've run into Irene @ the Burmese fairs in Brairwood and Henry street and she is still friendly and a joy to talk to. Boy do I miss her La Toke noodles...

11:42 AM  
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