Street food, as the name implies, tends to cater to eaters close to the ground, not just those who choke down bugs on sticks and other comestibles too offal to mention, but those who enjoy the concrete informality of noshing on roti, satays, falafel, chaats, pretzels, tacos and many other snacks while standing on their own two legs.
Street food, in other words, is not something found at clubby, wood-heavy luxury hotel bars. Until now.
Taking a cue from the gourmet food-truck movement, Omni Hotels & Resorts recently introduced a Simply Street Food menu to 30 of its lounges across the country. I had a chance to sample the menu last week at the Omni Shoreham and chat with executive chef Dan Murray, and while at least one of the dishes struck me more as comfort food, I walked away impressed with the chain's efforts for, well, street cred.
Much of this has to do with the methodical way the Omni went about developing the recipes for the menu. Omni chefs and their counterparts from properties that are part of the Global Hotel Alliance took part in a contest to create refined, easily replicable recipes that, if selected, would become part of the Simply Street Food menu. In all, chefs from 56 countries submitted more than 160 dishes, including one from Murray at the Omni Shoreham.
"We did a pupusa," Murray says. "We took local ingredients. Like we have Chesapeake Bay blue crab, the best around, and then some of the Talbot Reserve white cheddar from Maryland. . . We thought it was dynamite."
The pupusa, alas, did not make the cut (but general manager Pete Sams says the Salvadoran snack may make an appearance at the Omni Shoreham in the spring). Six other street dishes, however, did pass muster and make it onto the final Simply Street Food menu. (The menu is available through March.)
Below are the six dishes (recipes here for ambitious home cooks) and my first gut reactions to them. (All prices are from the menu at the Omni Shoreham.)
1. Acaraje de Orixa, from chef Josemar Passos, from the Tivoli Ecoresort Praia do Forte hotel in Brazil: I tasted this Brazilian/West African dish well after it had come out of its dip in palm oil. The deep fried exterior had turned soft, transforming this stuffed fritter into a limp bite. When paired with some extra miniature smoked shrimp scattered on the plate, however, the dish's plodding, earthy flavors brightened significantly. ($12)
2. Citrus Ancho Braised Lamb Tostado, from chef Scott Mole of the Omni Bedford Springs Resort in Bedford, Penn.: The orange and lime juices in the braising liquid elevate and provide a citrusy contrast to the black bean puree and rich lamb leg. This dish has more depth of flavor than Mario Batali's 100-layer lasagna. ($12)
3. Famous Peddler's Char Kway Teow, from chef Andy Oh of the Pan Pacific Orchard hotel in Singapore: A stir-fry dish that's popular in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, char kway teow is typically a combination of flat rice noodles, Chinese sausage, shrimp and a type of clam known as the blood cockle. The Omni interpretation subs out crabmeat for the clams and includes an essential element of any good char kway teow: lard. The result is a fiery, toothsome, surprisingly unctuous dish. ($12)
4. Chicken Musakhan Sandwich, from chef Moh'd Alaa Allaham at the Emirates Palace in the United Arab Emirates: Think of this Middle Eastern snack as a tahini-less variation of chicken shawarma, in which the meat is not shaved off a rotisserie but sauteed on a griddle with garlic, onions, sumac and garam masala. Wrapped in pita bread with lettuce, tomatoes, cornichons and a house-made ketchup, the sandwich is a satisfying mouthful, due mostly to the moist, aromatic, full-flavored thigh meat. ($15)
5. Duck Empanada with Smoked Tomato Mayonnaise, from chef Gene Moss at Omni La Mansion del Rio in San Antonio: Empanadas have their roots in the Western side of the Iberian peninsula, Portugal and Galicia specifically, but they have proven to be highly suggestible to influences, whether Buffalo chicken from New York or the beef-and-broccoli combo from Chinese-American restaurants everywhere. This version is stuffed with duck confit and marinated cabbage, deep fried and then served with a smoked tomato mayonnaise. It's as rich and delicious as it sounds. ($12)
6. Short Rib and Vermont Cheddar Sandwich, from chef Gerald Tice from the Omni Parker House in Boston: Bone-in short ribs braised in veal stock and red wine, a slice of Vermont cheddar cheese and caramelized onions, all sandwiched between buttered and griddled brioche. What's there to dislike? It's sweet, sharp, buttery and beefy; the only thing missing is the Lipitor. The main issue here is the sandwich's validity as street food. So far, my poll of former and current Bostonians (a sample of two) has had mixed results. One person gave me a blank stare, another professional mouth suggested that Tice's inspiration may come from Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese truck. But you know what? Who cares. I'll have another! ($17)