When a favorite restaurant shuts down, a little part of you shuts down with it. And that little part is your stomach. Knowing that you’ll never again bite into John LeLucie’s burger at the Lion, or crunch into Union Square Cafe’s BLT, or pull off a piece of cotton candy at the Four Seasons are tough facts to reconcile.
We experienced utter shock and sadness when One Lucky Duck and its fancier sibling, Pure Food & Wine shut down last year. They had an offering on their menu called Spicy Sesame Salad, which kind of changed my life. I remember the day we met. I was doing a photo shoot at Milk Studio on West 15th Street. When it was time for lunch, makeup artist William Kahn suggested ordering from One Lucky Duck, just across the street in Chelsea Passage. I followed his lead and had what he was having.
To call this melange a salad was an understatement. It was a masterpiece. A dense mound of chopped cabbage covered by a crunchy layer of julienned jicama, beets and carrots. A few sprigs of cilantro gilded the lily, and then the whole thing was drenched in a mixture of whipped wasabi, sesame oil and soy sauce. Oh, and did I mention the sprinkling of black sesame seeds and dehydrated cashews?
The first few times I picked a Spicy Sesame up for lunch, I had to shut my office door because of the Barbaric sounds I made as soon as I took my first bite. This was around the time I’d joined Twitter, so I’d furiously type out some inane statement like “1luckyducksalad so GOOD!” from my hidden office lair. As if anyone gave a fig that I was loving my lunch…
Not long after the discovery, I decided it was time to take a crack at recreating it.
Re-creating is a fun challenge. The first time I ever attempted to re-create a dish was back in the Nineties. A friend had had her cocktail party catered and on one of the traveling trays were turkey pinwheels. I scarfed down about 40 in two hours, then set about attempting to make them from scratch a week or so later. To be fair, the bar was pretty low–tortilla wraps, turkey, tomato, arugula and aioli–but it was my first time. Once I figured out how easy it was to make aioli, the rest was a breeze. That was nearly 20 years ago, and it’s always a hit.
They’re not all hits, though. Our failures are as common as our successes, but, as they say, it’s the journey that counts.
No, that’s bullshit. Re-creating a dish is vital to achieve for the very reason I started this post: that dish may not be here forever because the restaurant from which it came probably won’t be! (I’m feeling very Malcolm Gladwell as I type this. Have you listened to his Revisionist History podcast? We’re addicted).
Of course, every once in a blue moon, the food gods smile down and a dish gets reincarnated. We used to swoon over Annie Wayte’s lamb burger at 202, Nicole Farhi’s restaurant in New York. When 202 closed in 2010, tears were shed and stomach’s growled.
Five years later, Wayte was at it again, this time at the White Hart Inn. When our friends Meredith and Conley Rollins took over and re-opened the beloved Salisbury, CT landmark, they hired Wayte, who happened to be their friend from New York. And, boom! The lamb burger was back. Bliss.
One Lucky Duck was still thriving when we decided to re-create the Spicy Sesame Salad a few years ago. Good thing, since I was stumped about the dressing. Finding the menu on line proved too vague, so I called from my cell, acted as if I was about to place an order, explaining that I was allergic to certain oils and thereby got the basics of the dressing.
The basics weren’t enough. For all of our chopping and mixing, we didn’t even come close to the magic. So, despite all that aforementioned “re-creating to success is vital” talk, we kind of gave up.
And then a miracle happened.
A young lady came to my office at W to introduce me to her new organic skin care line, S.W. Basics. Her name is Adina Grigore, and as she told me how she got into organic skin care, she mentioned that her mentor had founded One Lucky Duck.
I practically grabbed her by the lapels.”So, you’re telling me that you know the woman who created One Lucky Duck’s Spicy Sesame Salad personally???”
A week later, the recipe was in my In box, with a note from Sarma, its creator, joking that it was probably enough to fill a bathtub, so we took out our calculators and whittled it down a bit. Sarma’s salad had finally found its way (to our) home.
But we couldn’t leave well enough alone. We first added daikon to the ingredients, which ups the crunch factor even more. But the other day, we experimented even further. Actually, that’s a lie. We just got lazy, and decided to grate all of the ingredients instead of chopping them (Well, we kind of misplaced the julienne attachment in the Cuisinart…).
So, we grated, and it was gross, We ended up with a bowl of mush. To make matters worse, that mush sucked up the magical dressing, turning it into a soggy, crunch-less mess. Never again.
Some things are worth the blisters.
Spicy Sesame Salad, modified by us Serves 6
- 2 cups shredded Asian cabbage
- 1/2 cup carrots, julienned
- 1/2 cup jicama, julienned
- 1/2 cup beets, julienned
- 1/2 cup daikon, julienned
- 1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup sesame oil
- 1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 4 T wasabi
- 2 T sour cream
- 2 T chopped chives
- 1 t toasted sesame oil
- 2 T black sesame seeds
- 2 T raw cashews, chopped
Combine the first six ingredients in large bowl. Mix well and set aside. In small bowl, combine sesame oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, wasabi, sour cream and chives. Mix thoroughly, then pour over mixture in large bowl. Meanwhile, mix final three ingredients, then sprinkle over salad. You’re welcome.