Miso Ramen on Park Avenue
No pomp, no bravura. No security checking; no frisking. No need. The chubby, elephant-headed statue of Ganesha guards the Asia Society’s premises. One of Hinduisms most popular deities, Ganesha is the remover of obstacles; the deity worshipers first acknowledge when they visit a temple. Placed between the reception desk and the Garden Court Café, I wink at the statue before entering the café.
The glass-enclosed, sky-lit Garden Court Café is an oasis of calm. Pine trees, wrapped with holiday lights, reach up to the ceiling. Few people know about the place. I only discovered it after I took out a membership. I like to stop by around mid-afternoon. For once I am not in a rush and can relax. Most diners live in the neighborhood. They are well-dressed and speak softly. The menu represents the wide range of Asian cuisines which range from Chinese to Japanese, from Indian to Indonesian, to Korean and Thai.
The Asia Society is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the organization’s founding by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd. Both had been ardent collectors of Chinese ceramics, Japanese prints, and Buddhist sculptures who believed that art was the best way to understand East Asian society and culture.
That rang a bell. I started to look at the current exhibit of the Chinese-French artist’s painting, took a peek at the permanent collection, looked around at the gift shop and enjoyed my visits.
I decided to concentrate on a few Asian dishes, starting with the Bento Box I had seen my first Bento Box on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. I had no idea what it contained, nor did anyone back home. Today, most Americans are as familiar with Bento boxes as they are with pizza.
Following Chef Tsering Nyima’s recommended choice of Chinese Five Spice Braised Beef Stew, I hit the jackpot. The stew was so savory and so perfectly cooked, I wanted to find out more about it, and asked to take some home. The classic Five Chinese Spices, I learned are a blend of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel and black pepper. They are used in a slow-cooking style in which the meats are first browned, and then braised in a liquid of soy sauce and sugar. The sides consisted of baby bok choy, Jasmine Rice, lettuce with carrot ginger vinaigrette. The long grained white rice variety is cherished for its fragrant aroma. Grown in the mountain area of Thailand, jasmine rice was first cultivated for the royalty of the kingdom of Siam. Since I’m not a big fan of rice, I enjoyed the left-over Stew with a French baguette.
For my next culinary venture, I chose Miso Chicken Ramen. Here noodles take center stage. Ramen aficionados seem determined to get the noodles out of broth at record speed before they become overcooked and soggy. Chopsticks in hand, they lean close over the soup and start slurping. The fiercer they slurp, the faster the result. Five minutes seems the aspired time. Slurping aside, the dish contained poached chicken breast and thigh, shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, scallion and a boiled egg. It was so copious, I couldn’t possibly finish it. Against all ramen-etiquette, I asked to take it home.
For all I know, the noodles were none the worse for having been overcooked. The Miso, spiked by a paste made from fermented soybeans, was quite potent, albeit a bit salty.
I saved the best for last: Afternoon Tea. I fondly remember Afternoon Tea at the Ritz in London. It was so popular, reservations had to be made weeks in advance. At the Garden Court Café, a 24 hours in advance reservation will do, primarily to let the kitchen prepare some dishes that are not on the regular menu.
I had invited a friend and arrived slightly ahead of time. The café was empty. The hostess assured me that was no problem, since they knew we were coming. Everything was ready. Would I like some tea while waiting? I was curious about the Wellness Infusions listed on their beverages menu. The Ginger, Ginseng, Fresh Lemons, Honey promised to energize, lowers blood sugar and reduce stress; while Chai & Mighty, claimed to improve your immune system and heighten your energy. Before I could decide which one to order, my friend arrived. We ordered Earl Gray Tea.
Afternoon Tea Menu
Chef’s Selections of Petit Fours
Chef’s Selections of Scones
Curry Chicken Salad
Duck Spring Roll
Garden Court Grilled Cheese
It was a delightful feast. What was it that I enjoyed so much, I wondered? Then I realized: I was having Afternoon Tea in my home town without having traveled.
We said good-bye to the wait staff that had been patiently waiting to clear our table. We retrieved our coats, bundled up and walked over to The Frick Museum to attend the 5 o’clock concert.
Garden Court Café (212) 570-5202