Thought for Food

How did a second-generation Chinese woman from the Midwest end up cooking Japanese curries and South American ceviches in a Greenwich Village restaurant?

by Adeena Sussman Published Summer 2012
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Hook and line

Photo by Nicole FranzenLo typically heads out to her weekend home on the North Fork of Long Island after service Saturday night to recover for a couple of days, often entertaining friends in the business. She rises around noon and says very little until she’s fed the dogs and had her first cup of coffee. The kitchen is impeccable, the walls lined with the same white subway tile as Annisa’s kitchen.

Out the window is a view of the water, and Lo goes out on it almost every day, on a borrowed eighteen-foot Parker fishing boat with a center console that allows her to walk the perimeter while she fishes for striped bass and bluefish. “I find few things as relaxing,” says Lo. “I love it.” If she catches something, she’ll haul it in and make it the centerpiece of a meal back at the house, sometimes using ingredients from her garden, where she grows herbs and Concord grapes, gooseberries, tomatoes, and sour cherries. “If I had more time, or the birds weren’t faster than me, I’d make pie,” she says.

Lo keeps a copy of the Annisa menu on hand and uses her downtime to conceive and test new recipes, integrating seasonal ingredients with obscure ones. Often, she is inspired by her surroundings — she cooked the first conch she ever caught, then thought of how she would serve it at the restaurant. But always there is a twist, a global emphasis. Take the seaweed she finds on the beach, for instance: “In Japan, it’s called hijiki, but if you put lemon, garlic, and olive oil on it, it tastes Mediterranean,” says Lo. 

Food for thought

Midway through “Nash night,” all is smooth. The dining room is humming, and waiters bob and weave their way to the kitchen, where they pick up their next course and chat with Lo. Two years after the fire, a few staff members are new, but almost every single member of the old crowd returned, an exceptional show of loyalty in a fickle industry. Not that Lo is afraid to act like a boss. “If I need to explain something to you three times, I’m fine with that; it probably means I didn’t explain it well the first time,” she says. “But if I feel like there’s insubordination going on, we’ve got a problem.”

When Lo comes out of the kitchen, there is a flutter in the dining room, as diners crane their necks to get a glimpse of her, the TV star. But she is thinking about Nash. The plate from his first course comes back to the kitchen wiped clean. Lo makes a note, stuffs it into the Nash box, and then it’s back to the brains.

Lo gathers the rhubarb into two piles in front of her. One goes into a bowl with some sugar and white balsamic, a quick pickle in the making. Another is poached with wine and spices. Lo prods the dull-pink brains with her index finger, then carves a few ingots of rosy veal tenderloin from a cylinder of meat. She sears the tenderloin in a hot buttered pan, then dredges the brains in flour and flash-fries them, arranging the two proteins on a pristine plate. Next, she plates the rhubarb duo — poached with the loin, pickled with the brains — and adds a rich foie gras–laced sauce and another that’s earthy-silky with mushrooms and cream. Finally, a scattering of delicate morels, and the dish is ready for tasting.

Lo summons her cooks. They grab forks and taste the brains — crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside — together with the rest of the elements, a counterpunch of sweet, savory, tart, and rich. The feedback is unanimous: “Outstanding, Chef.”

She shakes her head slightly. “Needs tweaking; more acid,” she says, handing the plate to the dishwasher. “Work in progress.” 

Adeena Sussman’s writing has appeared in Food & Wine, Martha Stewart Living, Gourmet, and Manhattan Magazine.

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