Fan Review - Chef Hung at Solo
I thought your readers might be interested in hearing about what TC3 winner Hung Huynh has been up to these days. Well, he's been the guest chef at Solo, a very upscale kosher restaurant in Manhattan. He was invited by Solo's executive chef, Chef Hok Chin, as the restaurant boasts a "mediterranean fare accentuated with an asian rub." Just up Hung's alley, I thought!
When I heard that Hung was going to be the chef at a kosher restaurant, I convinced my husband to take me for our 20th wedding anniversary dinner. I was excited to finally have an opportunity to experience some of the dishes I could only view on tv. The menu is printed daily, and as we were being seated I asked the maitre d' if any of the dishes would have foam. He looked at me and said, "Oh no, we don't like that here, so he's not doing it." Sigh. And of course, this being a kosher restaurant, the dietary restrictions would prohibit Hung from cooking shellfish, pork and all kinds of dairy.
As we looked over the menu I had difficulty choosing. Everything looked fantastic. I was relieved when the waiter told us that there was a 5 course tasting menu. We I told him we on board, and that as a fan of the show I was hoping I could meet Chef Hung. He smiled and said "It's very possible."
The first course was seared spicy tuna with a hearts of palm and tomato vinaigrette. There were two sauces that were lightly smeared on the plate -- one was like an avocado dressing and the other a kind of horseradish. The tuna was thinly sliced and very rare, but the dish was very flavorful and tasty.
The second course came pretty quickly, which was a savory porcini mushroom soup with caramelized vidalia onion and white truffle essence. The soup was very creamy -- remember, since this is a kosher restaurant Hung would have to create the creaminess without any dairy. He certainly accomplished that as the soup was very light and I could detect the separate mushroom and onion flavors.
We told the waiter that we couldn't eat so fast and so the next course didn't come out for another 10 minutes. By this time the restaurant was starting to fill up -- we had a 6:15 reservation and now, about an hour later, it was becoming more crowded and noisy. A couple sat down next to us and they had the butternut squash soup and one of "Hung's seasonal sides" -- green asparagus with chopped egg vinaigrette for their appetizers.
We were then served grilled turbot with oyster mushrooms and roasted fish jus. This was the only dish that I felt the need to salt. But I liked the mushroom flavor alongside (actually they were under) the fish. As we ate our fish the couple next to us both had the dry-aged solo cowboy steak with steak fries and sauce au poivre for their entree. This was not one of the items on the menu with a little knife next to it (like an asterisk) indicating it was one of Chef Hung's dishes.
It was toward the end of this course that Chef Hung came out to meet us. He is just as short as I had imagined, with spikey hair, bright smile and sparkling eyes. I told him how much I enjoyed watching him on the show, mentioning that I was sure he was a more multi-dimensional person than how he was depicted on the show. He laughed and said "yes," and then he asked if we were ready for the premiere of TC4 that evening. My neighbor and I said we were and I asked Hung who he might suggest we look out for. He said he had not met any of the current cast but that he had heard a lot of good things about Ryan. (Note to self -- check out Ryan.) My neighbor had her picture taken with Hung and I had him sign my menu.
I then asked him how he was adapting to the kosher cooking restrictions. He laughed and said, "I ordered my vinegar but the rabbi made me send it back!" (All ingredients have to be supervised and confirmed as kosher, vinegar being no exception). Otherwise he said he was enjoying being in New York City and cooking at Solo. My husband and I told him how much we were enjoying the tasting menu and he bowed, smiled, said thank you and went back into the kitchen.
I was surprised more people didn't want to interact with him, but when I later went to the ladies room I saw some people going up to the kitchen door asking to meet him. I was happy that he came to us and I didn't have to stress out the decision to go find him.
Our next course was veal tongue with a fennel puree and a few beet cubes. To be honest, I didn't remember all of the dishes when they were initially being described, and neither did my husband. Nor did we recognize anything on the printed menu describing what we were eating. But whatever we were eating tasted amazing! It was soft and tender with a strong meaty taste. I couldn't eat all of it so I gave the rest to my husband. I was taken aback when I later learned that it was veal tongue, but I liked it and am proud to say I ate something I would not have ordinarily ordered.
The fifth course was roasted black angus filet with butternut squash puree, two cipollini onions and a red wine-beef reduction. So this is a "reduction!" The meat was quite rare but still had a wonderful roasted flavor, and the sweetness of the butternut squash and onions were a nice accompaniment to the beef. It was delicious. Again, I gave about a third of it to my husband because I was pretty full.
When we finished, the waiter gave us the dessert menu saying that it was included in the tasting menu price. This actually turned the dinner into 6 courses. I won't talk about the desserts since Hung didn't make any of them. Suffice it to say that I took mine home, wrote my name all over it and put it in the fridge hoping that no one would eat it before I got a chance..
Complimented by reviewing some of the highlights of our 20 years together, my husband and I had a fantastic 2-1/2 hour experience. I highly recommend going to meet Chef Hung and eating his amazing food. But you have to hurry! He will only be at Solo until March 31st. Reservations can be made through opentable.com. You might get sticker-shock (Zagat's term), but you won't be disappointed.
Thank you Geri for sharing this wonderful experience with all of us!