Jane Stern on catering to an Oscar-party crowd: Phone it in
The people who amaze me most are Special Forces soldiers, surgeons and anyone who can fix my computer. To that list I would like to add the formidable hosts who can invite 50 people over and produce a great meal.
I am a pretty good cook, yet I panic at the thought of more than four guests wanting me to feed them. I suspect I am not alone. Why slave over a hot stove when you might do just as well buying everything ready-made and enjoying your own party?
One of my stalwart party-food places is The Little Kitchen of Westport. This nice restaurant is steps above the run-of-the-mill Asian restaurants that proliferate in the area. Yes, you can find the good old standbys, but I like Little Kitchen because it offers a slew of lesser-known dishes that are fancy enough to feed a tasteful, yet hungry crowd.
To give it a test by fire, the editors of Sunday Arts & Style and I ordered a takeout meal designed to appeal to Fairfield County’s more sophisticated palates at a chic soiree, like an Oscar night viewing party. The first hurdle was making the dishes visually exciting. When you have a caterer doing the work you can be assured that the plates and platters will be as beautiful as artwork. There will be color and balance and visual appeal galore. This is not so easy when you “takeout.” Here is what we came up with.
Because Little Kitchen is more “trans-Asian” then purely Chinese, we had some good options. Sushi is well made here, bite-sized and very pretty. When the words “rainbow roll” were suggested, what could be more on point? The roll features three kinds of raw fish, yellowtail, bright pink salmon and pure white tuna jazzed up with nubbins of avocado, cucumber and wasabi.
It would be very possible to throw a whole sushi or sashimi party by ordering takeout from here. If you do, I would recommend the Naruto roll with yellowtail, salmon, tuna and crab neatly wrapped in paper-thin cucumber, or the Momiji Roll, a light option of mesclan greens and diced mango with white tuna wrapped in soy bean paper.
The Little Kitchen of Westport
423 Post Road E.
Because we wanted to appeal to a broad variety of tastes, to all ages and to men and women alike, we balanced the light dishes with more filling ones. The suggestion of small hearty pieces of barbecue ribs in a shiny soy-based glaze was spot-on and utterly delicious. The ribs is one of those dishes I guarantee every piece will be devoured. You can’t over-order them.
We liked the egg rolls, which are made here and are quite different from the generic great egg rolls often seen. These are grease free, slender and very flavorful. Another bite-size option is a crispy spring roll, even lighter and more delicate than its egg brother.
We found the beef satay to be delicious; it is sided with a nice dipping sauce, but the beef was a bit hard to chew and resisted sliding off the wooden skewer. Perhaps the chicken satay is more yielding. In either case, the peanut sauce is addictive.
One of the more successful options was the scallion pancake. A Chinese classic, it is a fried circle of dough encrusted with green onions. Cut in small wedges, it is great finger food. Another winner was the vegetarian fried wontons perfect with robust hoisin sauce for dipping.
We wanted to throw in one slightly larger than finger food offering and opted for the lettuce wraps with a filling of minced chicken and pine nuts. We liked the lettuce if only for another lively splash of color, but it was surprisingly easy to eat: the lettuce forms a natural cup that holds the filling.
What we adore (but could not hold in our hands) is the Little Kitchen’s great sesame noodles, the tangerine beef, or a nice red gooey plate of sweet and sour shrimp. Of course, you are welcome to try any of these items on the extensive menu at the Little Kitchen. They are all available for takeout, but are not the most portable party foods.
To serve this food for a party, you should transfer it from their containers to attractive serving platters, or you could do as I do and enjoy them straight from the container with a plastic fork. It is a party for one!
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern.