Entertaining is ritual for me; time set apart. But I can't break the bank. Today, my bandmates are showing up. They always seem to want to rehearse at my house, and almost always come with appetites. I’ve got twenty dollars and not much time. It doesn’t have to be big, it just has to be good. Small plates are king.
First stop: Haknuman Meanchey on Forest Avenue, a jam-packed Asian grocery where one of my favorites is the fried tofu. It’s just like the appetizer at your favorite Thai restaurant, and at a mere $1.49, is perfect for my budget. I find versatile bok choy, or Chinese cabbage. I find a bundle of scallions, and next to it in the produce section is a small plastic-wrapped tray of dark green leaves. I turn to ask, “What is this? It looks like–” “Lime leaves,” a customer next to me answers. She proceeds to spend the next ten minutes telling me how she uses them in her cooking, and running around the store shouting praises for the little black chickens in the freezer section. I love this place. With a massive chunk of ginger and a perfectly ripe mango, I head for the register, where I shell out a mere $7.17.
A few doors down is the Fisherman’s Net, specializing in local catch. Their selection is often just a half-dozen or so items, but is top-notch for freshness. Today I’m looking for sea scallops, the half-dollar size chunks of sweetness that my girlfriend Stephanie can’t get enough of. I’m in luck, though at $11.99 a pound, I can only afford about a half-pound, to still have money for drinks. The math is right, and I leave with eight large scallops for $5.73.
My last stop on the way home is that central landmark on Forest Avenue, the RSVP. With not much of my twenty-spot left, I need to come up with something clever and cheap. Running with my Asian theme, I find a bottle of Ozeki sake for $5.29. As I wait at the register, I paw through the basket of questionable citrus on the counter and add the best-looking lime to my purchase.
I hurry home to put this all together before the guys show up. No luck - they are already there, waiting for me. Grabbing the bok choy, I chop off the green leaves from the white stalks and wash the leaves well, patting them dry with a paper towel. Then I roll them into little cigars and slice quarter-inch pieces that I throw into a bowl with salt, pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of sake, and a small squeeze of the lime. I place this in the center of a large plate and top with sliced chunks of the mango, which has already let its sweet juice go all over my cutting board.