This past Friday I had the pleasure of hosting another Sri Lankan Supper Club–this time in the nation’s capital at a fairly new space known as Montserrat House on 9th & U Streets (www. montserrathouse.com). Once again, those patrons who plunked down $50 for a full rice & curry meal with appetizers and dessert, went away, I believe, fully satisfied and with a much deeper appreciation of Sri Lankan food. It’s astounding that such a diverse metropolis as DC does not have a Sri Lankan restaurant–especially since there’s quite a few Sri Lankans in the DC/MD/VA area–so that would probably account for the dinner selling out pretty quickly. But aside from a handful of people familiar with the cuisine, few really knew what to expect, so I had to treat them to the typical kind of meal that we are accustomed to on the island. The menu, all of which comes from my book, Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking, was as follows:
black pork curry
fish ambul thiyal (sour fish curry)
parippu (lentils stewed in coconut milk)
mallun (sauteed greens)
eggplant moju ( caramelized eggplant)
Sri Lankan salad
Wattalapam (coconut flan)
Since all of the main dishes in a rice & curry meal are served together, Sri Lankans don’t usually eat appetizers, so I used some popular street foods, usually eaten as snacks, to pique peoples’ appetites. Cutlets, patties, and vadai are also, ironically, the most labor intensive part of the menu. With the Montserrat’s deep fryer out of commission for the evening, we also had the fry both the cutlets and vadais in small batches on the stove top. That’s how I usually do it at home, so while more time consuming, it was no big deal in the end.
Using a kitchen you’re not familiar with presents all kinds of challenges. For example, I didn’t bother to check and see if an oven I was heating up some dishes in was working. I only found out minutes before we were to begin plating that the food was still cold. Once again, improvisation is key, as we quickly heated up stuff in saute pans on the stove top. Though it did delay the dinner service a little bit, no one complained and, in fact, everyone was very happy with their meal.
I usually like to document everything that I make at these dinners, but because we had to get the food out to the 50 customers in a hurry, I only had time to snap a few shots of the finished plates.
I did, however, manage to get some nice shots of the condiments, which people could help themselves to at the table.
And, of course, no meal would be complete without a decadent dessert. In Sri Lanka, the overwhelming choice is usually wattalapam, a flan made of coconut milk, eggs, and jaggery (palm sugar).
I was able to mingle with guests after the dessert service, and the feedback I received from everyone made it well worth all the effort. I have to send a special shout to my servers, Greg & Gillian, and my sous chef for the evening, Wilma Consul, for all their help. Also shouts out to Eric and Elliot at Montserrat House for having a cool place and making this event possible.