Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pranna opening party

Oct. 29

I stopped by Pranna and was surprised at how huge the space was. There was a ground floor, a basement and also a second floor/mezzanine area accessible by several staircases in an intricate glass and steel kind of setup.

Yet with all this space, the place was PACKED.

The restaurant is a Manhattan debut for two of the partners, Rajiv and Payal Sharma, who previously had establishments in Long Island. They are partnered with executive chef Chai Trivedi (Sapa, Sitar Restaurant).

The information provided by Bullfrog and Baum said that Trivedi's menu focuses on flavors from Southern Asia with influences Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India.

I did manage to snag two bits of samplings in the hubbub. I tried out a lamb slider with definite Indian spices, another was a fried tofu appetizer with a bit of cilantro on it so I got where they were coming from.

I wound my way up and down between people, ducking under servers' trays. Somehow, like a marathoner, I found a glass of champagne in my hand without any recollection of doing so. I took a breather at the upstairs bar and quickly downed the bubbly stuff so I could grab another drink. I caught only the "Butterfly" in its two-word name over the din, but saw the guy muddle some kiwi before adding liquid and garnishing it with a rose petal. The flavor hinted at there possibly being some rosewater or other floral liqueur added to it. I took a deep breath to get ready to head back downstairs and quite possibly escape when I found out that Jonathan Pogash and Tad Carducci were there.

I told Jonathan of my plans to make an early escape and asked him if he knew who was responsible for the drinks here.

"Oh it's Willy and Aisha," Jonathan said.

"What? Really? I did not know this."

"Yea, Aisha was up here a couple of seconds ago, but Willy should be at the bar downstairs. You know Elba Giron? She's the bar manager."

Ooooh, it all clicked. I remembered Elba telling me about the new place she'd be working for when I saw her at an event for Sobieski Vodka. So this was the place.

I decided to maybe try and catch Willy Shine or Aisha Sharpe from Contemporary Cocktails then tuck and roll out and away from the increasing crowd.

As I wriggled and snaked my way around downstairs I walked right into Akiko Katayama. It was kind of funny, because after referring to Andrew Knowlton as, "You know, one of the judge dudes from Iron Chef: America?" to a non-foodie friend when I was recounting who I saw at the Blue Blazer Mix-Off on Monday, I instantly thought to myself, "Hey, I haven't seen Akiko in forever. I used to run into her ALL the time."

I told Akiko what a coincidence it was since I'd just been thinking about her earlier in the day. How'd she been doing?

"I was up in Washington making wine," she answered.

The past two months she'd been busying getting involved with the wine making process and learning about what actually goes down.

"I now have a better appreciation for what I'm drinking," she said holding up her wine glass.

I circled around trying to approach the downstairs bar a little better from a different angle and found myself again at the exact same spot. This time I managed to spot Willy through the dense crowd, and turned right to see that Jacques Bezuidenhout and Charlotte Voisey.

Willy finally saw me and came over.

"Hey, I found out, like, just ten minutes ago that you guys were doing the drinks here," I said.

Willy said he and Aisha had been working on the menu for about four months now to make sure it went well with the food and the concept. Besides developing drinks, they also trained staff members so that they can serve the drinks properly. They are contacted to work with Pranna for a year and will probably come up with some more cocktails throughout that year.

"This is not a club, it's not a lounge, it's a full restaurant," Willy told me.

I said I'd come back to try out the cocktail menu sometime when the place wasn't too busy. Willy said I needed to come in and try the cocktail with the food since they worked hard to make sure it all worked together.

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