Chef/Owner Mei Chau loves the color blue. She loves flamenco. And quite naturally, as a native of Malaysia of Chinese heritage, she loves multi-cultural cuisine. Born in a fishing village, and raised on the family farm, she moved to New York City to study art, and ultimately opened Franklin Station Café, a French/Malaysian bistro that enjoyed a 15-year run in Tribeca. In mid-April, she opened a new “home to feed my guests,” as she puts it, and brought all her passions with her.
There is lots of blue; there is World Music (flamenco, Brazilian, African, etc.) from 7 to 10 p.m. every Monday evening (no music charge), a Jazz Brunch every Sunday from Noon to 3 p.m., and best of all, there is lots of wonderful fusion food, with a wide variety of Small Plates — as well as Large Plates — that allow you to mix and match to your heart’s content.
This is a women-friendly brasserie. There may be a number of reasons why. Perhaps because Mei and her husband, Marc, whose photographs line the walls, have a created a warm and friendly environment for their global wine and food menu. Or because of their reasonable prices. Or because women often love to share small plates of food. Or a combination of all three. So I wasn’t surprised to find a string of single women up front in the Bar/Lounge section on a Monday night — enjoying a glass of wine and swaying to the lilting Brazilian music of guitarist Arturo Martinez and friends – as well as groups of women in the main dining area and Party Room at the rear of the restaurant.
Mei’s menu is constantly evolving, so we placed ourselves in her hands and she produced a delicious Tasting Menu. To accompany our first course, a light, slightly peppery heap of Truffles Mixed Mushrooms, Parmesan and Arugula Bruschetta ($10 on the Small Plate Menu), our ebullient waiter, Steve, poured a delicious glass of Italian Gavi, an exceptional white wine from the Piedmont region. It was a perfect choice.
Than we savored three more samples from the Small Plate side of the menu. My absolute favorite was the divine Crispy Calamari, with blood orange and soy reduction. This was unlike any calamari I’ve ever tasted – sweet, almost candied, but with great zip, due to the soy and orange peel. I think I could eat those calamari all day, and a small plate is only $10. My next favorite was Mei’s version of a familiar dish, Spicy Chicken Satay on a skewer with peanut sauce imaginatively presented in a scooped-out cucumber. And runner up, an interesting version of an Italian rice ball, Arancini with Porcini Mushrooms and Peas, accompanied by an unusual smoked eggplant aioli. Basically, I’m not an Arancini lover, but everyone else at the table adored it, especially the subtle smoked aioli, presented in a small, carved out eggplant.
Clearly, Mei draws from a wide variety of cuisines, according to her mood and what’s in the market. This is equally true for her international wine list created by Mei and Beverage Director Jeffery Palumbo. We moved to an excellent 2009 Sancerre for our next course.
Of the 14 Small Plates listed, ranging in price from $7 to$10, I can’t wait to go back and try the Gambas Al Ajillo (shrimp, garlic, parsley, white wine), Chicken Wings, paprika panko with a spicy orange sauce, Steamed Clams in chorizo white wine garlic broth and two Chinese dishes – Braised Oxtail Dumpling stuffed with basil, beansprouts and crispy shallots, and a Pork Bun stuffed with braised porkbelly, ginger hoisin sauce, and slow cooked daikon. There are salad plates, as well, that look extremely tempting, including Duck Confit Salad, and Asparagus and Beets with Frisee bathed in a French vinaigrette.
Large Plates range from Chicken and Apple Sausage ($16) and Pan Seared Red Snapper ($18) to Braised Short Ribs (26) and Prime Rib ($27), among others. But for our Tasting Menu Mei chose Turmeric Salmon in a fantastic coconut milk sauce that was both sweet and gingery. The salmon was perfectly cooked and melted, deliciously, into the sauce. To my taste, the pan-seared duck breast surrounding a bed of wild rice and cranberry raisin with a cherry port glaze was good but not outstanding.
The restaurant offers a choice of deserts including Tiramisu, Limoncello Truffle, Black Forest Cake, Fruit Salad and a variety of Gelati and Sorbetti. We were offered a generous slice of French Apple Tart with an apricot glaze, which was as rich and subtly sweet as it should be, and something not on the menu, but equally delicious, a Profiterole stuffed with chocolate and dripping with chocolate sauce. Hard to resist.
There is a Daily Chef’s Tasting Plate for $20, but if you would like some personal suggestions to guide you through the changing menu, ask for Mei or Mark. “My customers are like family,” says Mei. “I like to think of them as being in my home where I am the host and getting to know them.”
The restaurant is open for Lunch and Dinner and will soon open an outdoor café. (They expect to start serving breakfast in the Fall.) The back of the restaurant is available for private parties and special events. Check out the restaurant’s website for hours and menus: www.bluecaravan.com
Upper West Siders are lucky to have Blue Caravan in its midst. For the rest of us, it’s definitely worth a special visit.
467 Columbus Avenue (Between 82nd and 83rd Streets)
NY, NY 10024