The Grossly Biased Guide to the Berkshires

An opinionated guide to the wonders of Berkshire County, MA

The Grossly Biased Guide to the Berkshires random header image

New Flavors

October 16th, 2007by Kate · 1 Comment

Econo Lodge, route 7, Lenox/Lee border

On a warm September night, we set off on an expedition. We wanted dinner in a place neither of us knew, a dinner we would remember. Ethan has lived here for more than a decade, and I spent four years here as a reporter — finding a wholly new place wouldn’t be easy. But we found it.

In an Econo Lodge on the border of Pittsfield, between a karaoke DJ and two kids dancing, we found a Malaysian chef who makes even her rice crackers fresh.

Of course, we didn’t set off to find her. In the way of expeditions, we set of looking for a farm stand in Monterey that takes all its ingredients from the farm across the road. We left at dusk and spun down Route 7, talking about its new neighborhoods, the South American market where we had beans and plantain and pork rind this summer, the liquor store that sells strawberry-flavored cigars.

South into Great Barrington, I kept realigning the map. I left only three years ago, and the town projects I followed have grown or died, the officials have changed over, the farmers’ markets have moved. I can’t remember without thinking, anymore, which turn by the memorial will take you to the Rose Theatre.

But we could find the road to Monterey, between us. We passed the congregation of Hevreh, as they came to Yom Kippur services. They were so many, they overflowed down the road and into the fields, and they walked quietly past, moonlight touching skirts and sleeves, sombre and joyful. Rachel was celebrating too, in her own place.

Route 23 through Monterey has no lights. We looked out of the truck cab at what would have been a broad river at the foot of the mountain, if we could have seen it. We passed nothing open. Ethan remembered the road from Geek Corps trips and knew how little there was to pass. We settled in to talk until it brought us to Route 8 again.

It surprised us into stopping once. After rolling dark road and open dark fields, broadly open and barely lit by the headlights, we flashed by the Grouse House and put our heads in. It has a stone walkway over stone and running water, and skiing stories in the doorway, and the kind of menu that goes with skiing stories and five locals in the bar — shepherd’s pie, meat-loaf, liver and onions.

But it was not a summer menu, and our shoulders didn’t prick, and we went on. The road went on, and we had been gliding down it an hour since we left, circling back in a wide arc into Lee, and we were hungry. We came back to a place Ethan had pointed at as we went by, not long after we left, when going on appealed more than staying still. It was light and pointed and set back from the road: Flavors Restaurant, in a motel that advertises its Friday karaoke nights on local radio.

The dining-room was classic — tables set wide apart, booths along the wall, durable colors. A boy and a girl, about eight, were dancing on a stage in front of a cardboard skyscraper, and falling off, and turning cartwheels.

Ethan told me that Malaysian food combines Chinese, Korean, Thai, Indian and other Asian traditions, and we traced them on the menu. We began with pickled salad. The waitress warned us that it would not taste like an American salad.

“I bet I’ll love it,” Ethan said.

He did. I treat spices with great respect, and so did I. The cabbage, vegetables and chopped peanuts had a kick and a sure, subtle blend of sweet and sharp and sour. Get an extra glass of water if need be, but trust me, dare it. It’s worth it.

We shared dumplings with peas, and a mild curry with naan. The flat bread had scallions and a hint of sweetness. For a main course, we split a wide, heaping bowl of noodles and bean sprouts and vegetables and peanuts, with plenty of salt tang for me, though I can tell that the tradition encompasses many more robust flavors. The waitress offered Ethan a bottle of hot sauce.

We looked at each other and laughed. Not because of the red chairs and the DJ singing country music, not because of the free energy of the children dancing, not because of ourselves — we laughed because the food was so simply amazing. The rice crackers had the unmistakable crisp lightness of fried food straight out of the pan. The spicing was deft, the vegetables just cooked and full of flavor, the sauces smooth and intense. Fresh food freshly cooked has no substitute.

We laughed because this was what we wanted — the skill of the chef, the dumplings rolled by hand, the frank family on a Friday feeling, the Sox game playing in the bar. This place mixes cultures as easily and irresistibly as live music.

The waitress brought the chef out to meet us, because we told her so often how good it all was, and Ethan talked with her about local Asian markets. She told us she could order what she could not find locally. All that limits her cooking, now, is that she takes care smells from the kitchen will not disturb guests at the hotel.

We hope she will expand and grow confident as the restaurant catches on. We hope, as the weather grows colder, that more people will come in for curry and fried rice. I would stay at her hotel just to hang out in the kitchen.

Tags: food

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jude // Oct 16, 2007 at 11:35 am

    Wonderful story!

Leave a Comment