Our friends Chie and Dean invited us to have lunch today at their place on 83rd and 1st. Should you have the good fortune to know them and ever be invited over, say yes.

Chie is one of these accomplished, self-taught home cooks that can dazzle and impress and make it all look effortless. I like to think I can impress on occasion, but make it look effortless? Not so much. Chie is an architect that moved to New York from Japan about six years ago. We met in the bathroom of the office building our companies shared. True story.

Her meals are more like feasts really, multi-course spreads that unfold from Japanese appetizers to clever interpretations of American classics. I didn’t know what to expect this afternoon but knew enough to come hungry.

Our co-companions lucky enough to share in the fun were Manuel, Satomi, and Dean’s cousin Leah. (Leah – I’m going to email you for that quinoa recipe; Manuel and Satomi: where is that chicken recipe?) At Chie’s, you dine around the living room table, on the floor, kneeling on pillows, in the Japanese style. The table clutters quickly with a cheese board, drink glasses, salad bowls, plates. It’s homey and festive and not fussy, which I love.

For our first course, we were served a beautiful salad of greens, cherry tomatoes, orange segments and shrimp. Before I could sop up the dressing at the bottom of the bowl, Dean swept in with bowls of steaming tomato fish chowder. It was the perfect afternoon for such a bowl of warm comfort – a gray, chilly spring day in Manhattan that called for something savory and nourishing. Garlicky, salty, packed with vegetables, this fish soup had flecks of creamy cod strewn throughout. I stopped listening to the conversation completely and focused on figuring out what all the ingredients were.

But before I could, Chie was making room on the table. I love this part. It means lunch isn’t over and there’s more deliciousness to come. Just when you think, OK, maybe Chie went easy on us this time, maybe we’re actually going to have a light lunch, or dinner. Then you realize you just finished your appetizers. Cue: stomach growl.

Out came a platter of mini beef burgers and fried cod burgers with pesto, served with a side of caramelized onions, on tiny brioche buns. The cod burger, which I had, was lightly battered with panko and pesto then fried in about 1/2 inch of oil. As I was licking my fingers, feeling satiated and starting to wind down the meal, more table clearing. I should’ve known. We’re being fed by Chie. Out comes Japanese pumpkin quarters with sweet potato piped on top. We made room on the table, I made room in my belly, and dug in. For dessert: classic Marino’s Italian ices from the corner deli. Phew – ice was about all I had room for.

Chie’s Fish Chowder

In a large stock pot, heat 2 tbsp olive oil, then add 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped celery rib, 1 chopped fennel bulb, and 5 cloves minced garlic. Add 1 cup white wine, put the lid on, and let that steam for about 10 minutes.

When the vegetables soften, add either 4 c diced fresh tomatoes, or if no good fresh tomatoes around, 1 32-oz. can diced San Marzano tomatoes. Add fish stock (or chicken/veg. stock), about 2 c, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil then turn down and let simmer for about a half hour. Shortly before serving add any type of white fish (cod works well) and once it starts cooking break it up with your spoon or a fork so it falls apart into the soup.

Once the fish is cooked, remove from heat and serve. Could also add fresh herbs if you have on hand. Basil would be good, chervil, tarragon, or chives. Serve with sliced crusty bread.