Adam and Jackie Feldman were talking hopefully about a “soft opening” this Saturday for their two newest restaurants — the Malaysian/Southeast Asian bistro Rasa and the Latin American cuisine Arepa — in The Truck Stop, the new freight container dining complex north of the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge.
Soft opening. Good luck with that.
As the two most original restaurants here in ages, Rasa and Arepa have got buzz on the island. Buzz all over the island.
My studied opinion? They are going to need a couple of traffic cops to handle all the soft traffic.
Just to back up a bit: Truckstop is the creation of local filmmakers Ben and Joanna Popik. It is inspired by the food truck phenomena that has held American foodies in thrall for years. Only, Ben and Joanna grabbed brand new shipping containers — four of them — and have distributed them around an artfully landscaped lagoon-side lot, about a mile north of the bridge.
The containers have been remodeled from the inside out — two as the restaurants Rasa and Arepa, one as an ice cream shop and one as a bar. They are all connected by decking and there are tables in the central courtyard and more tables out on the dock that reaches into the lagoon. A great setting for romantic sunset dining?
The Popiks will operate the bar and ice cream shop and the Feldman’s, owners of the island’s top restaurant Casa Picasso, are creating Rasa and Arepa with Malaysia-born chef Hasni Ghazali.
It will be a very food truck-like experience. Walk up to the open window, place your order and come pick it up when you are called. Tables fill a central courtyard and all of the plates and takeout containers are biodegradable.
Right now, The Truckshop has the feel of a Broadway stage with opening night bearing down. The crew is still painting the containers, installing the bathrooms, finishing up the kitchens — the crucial grill top for Arepa was installed only Thursday, minutes before the first test meals were created. The cast of cooks, bartenders and servers — under the direction of the writer-director Hasni — are all rehearsing their parts, even as the menu (think of it as the script) is being finalized and rewritten simultaneously.
The producers, Jackie and Adam and Ben and Joanna, are running around sorting out logistics, finalizing details, perhaps wondering why and how they got into culinary showbiz in the first place . . .
Well the fuss ends Saturday at 11 a.m. and the curtain goes up for the “out-of-town tryouts.” Each restaurant will only offer five items. The number will double next week, as everything settles down and staff is totally familiarized with the kitchens and ingredients.
On Thursday, the staff prepared items from the menus of both restaurants for the first time for a small group of people. I was one of those lucky people and I’ve got to say, the food was spectacular. Flor Bradley from Wine De Vine brought a selection of wines to see which would pair best with each dish.
We started off with dishes from Rasa, including popia thot, a vegetarian deep-fried springroll and chicken satays with a coconut-peanut sauce.
Next came a series of noodle dishes — Mee Goreng (Egg noodles with choice of beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu), Mee Hoon Goreng (rice vermicelli noodles with the same choices) and Kuew Teow Goreng (broad rice noodles with the same choices). All of the dishes come in either mild, medium spicy or hot — your call. And if you are the double-spicy-hot kind of diner, just ask.
One of the biggest treats was the Mee Sup Istmeowa (translation: Special egg noodle soup) aka, a peanut noodle soup. Just know that the bowl is brimming over and the dish is delish. The soup was followed by a curry chicken with rice, pineapple and cucumber.
Just about the time we were wrapping up the dishes from Rasa, the bar showed up with one of their creations “El Duderino” (in honor of the great movie “The Big Lebowski.” It is a homemade horchata and rum slushie with a slice of vodka-infused pineapple. I assure you that the day will come, soon, when I will take a pitcher of El Duderino out to the dock and sip slowly as the sun goes down.
Dishes from Arepa came next and they are still a work in progress. The arepas themselves — similar to a cornmeal johnnycake — are perfection. Look at them as a deliciousness delivery system. Hasni and his crew are still tinkering with the right combinations of meat, cheese, sauces and all that will go into the arepas. The scorched steak arepa, right off, was a big hit. Others arrived and flavores began to swirl in my head. A spicy shrimp dish called “El Diablo” arrived and I didn’t have a cubic inch of stomach to spare.
I was just done. Satiated to the max. A man’s stomach can only be filled with so much goodness.
I’m grateful for the opportunity though. Because it will take me weeks to recreate all the meals I sampled in a couple of hours on Thursday.
And, believe me, I intend to do it.
And now, a sampling of the fare from the Truckstop’s eateries: