It’s often in the corners of Brooklyn where under-the-radar food events take place, or so I felt a few Sundays ago—the weekend of the blizzard, to be exact—eating Burmese food at a retro diner in Greenpoint with a couple dozen strangers. The event in question was Lucky Number 6, an almost monthly pop-up dinner organized by two Brooklynites on a mission to bring the underrepresented Southeast Asian cuisine to New York.
The concept of Lucky Number was born out of a serendipitous meeting between Tyler Drosdeck and Michael Sablan. Drosdeck, whose background is in art, handles everything from operations to publicity while Sablan crafts the menu. Sablan has culinary roots in Asia—he’s currently a chef at the Bangkok-centric Baby’s All Right, and his past kitchen experience includes Mission Chinese and Northeast Kingdom. His grandfather is Burmese and his mother, though raised in the States, was born in Burma, now Myanmar. Drosdeck, for his part, traveled to Myanmar and Nepal in 2014 and met Sablan at a bar a few weeks upon returning to New York. The two bonded over a love of Southeast Asian culture and after hosting the first Lucky Number pop-up in July 2015, traveled to Myanmar in September in the name of research.
Burmese food is a hybrid of regional influences because Myanmar is a conglomerate of over a hundred ethnic groups. “It shares similar flavor profiles with more popular Southeast Asian cuisines like Thai, Indian, even Chinese,” explains Sablan of how the country’s geography further impacts its cuisine. “Still, Burmese food is quite unique given its proximity to those countries.” One definitive ingredient, given its coastal locale, is shrimp, which made an appearance in almost every course at the pop-up. “Fresh, dried, fermented, any which way,” he says, adding that fermentation is a major technique used for both function—to preserve a product without refrigeration—and taste. “It’s that fermented funk of sea brine and soy beans that give Asian foods their savory umami palate.”
February’s dinner was the duo’s sixth at Sunview Luncheonette, a one-time restaurant on Nassau Street that now serves as an event space. Sablan, with the help of chef Steve Ortiz, served a five-course menu that played on popular dishes like mohinga, a salty fish soup, and lahpet thoke, fermented tea leaf salad. The dinner highlighted the many salads characteristic of Burmese cuisine, which unlike Western salads that are a combination of different ingredients, center around one core flavor. Aside from the aforementioned tea leaf salad, there was a citrusy pomelo salad with shrimp, red amaranth, and fennel, followed by a samosa salad served over a South Indian-style tamarind and lentil broth. My favorite dishes came towards the end: a tangy fish curry with coconut lemongrass rice, and of course, dessert, a sweet black rice pudding made with sour coconut cream.
Lucky Number is as much a product of the Brooklyn ecosystem as it is an homage to Burmese culture. Drosdeck and Sablan partner with nearby Greenpoint Fish & Lobster for many of their seafood dishes. Though February’s event was the last one at Sunview Luncheonette, they’re in the process of finalizing a spot for a March dinner, and for a permanent space. Pop-ups, like food stands and trucks, allow cooks to introduce crowds to their specialty before committing to a full-service restaurant, and Drosdeck and Sablan are still experimenting, to see what works. One thing is for sure: “We want to bring the intimacy that the pop-up dinners have to a restaurant setting,” says Drosdeck.
To find out when the March dinner opens up, sign up for Lucky Number newsletter. Tickets are $50 and include beer and speciality cocktails.