mokuola dexee diner@emquartier, bangkok

This is the Hawaiian diner experience dressed up for Emquartier, the posh new shopping mall on Sukhumvit Road. Deep-fried chicken pieces with a pepper dipping sauce and something mayonnaise-y that wasn’t memorable. As if the carb count wasn’t high enough, it’s emphasized with not one but two carbs. Our meal came with rice and French fries. AJ and I ordered Chicken teriyaki and Japanese curry chicken. The curry sauce tasted like it came out of a box. Don’t misunderstand me; I do like diner food–it’s a food group unto itself. Except when the prices aren’t diner-style. The average dish was Baht 200 each. The dessert alone was worth the trip to disappointment. We had the Tropicana, a crisp pancake (like a waffle without the holes) topped with a tower of whipped cream and served with fresh fruit, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry coulis. This is not the kind of place to go if you’re on a low-carb, low-fat, low sugar diet.

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pasta imaginaria

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After the Smetana-Janacek concert at the Music College Music Auditorium (MACM) on Saturday afternoon,  we went to Music Square for dinner. It’s become a tradition to eat at Paolo’s on Saturday night, so in his honor we went Italian.  This is fettucine with black pepper sauce, disconcertingly sweet and tasting more like Chinese noodles than pasta. We loved the music, and we love Czech names–who can top a name like Pavel Sporcl (Sporkel or Shporkel)?

banh mi boy!

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This is the barbecued pork banh mi sandwich. It has a surprise inside it: crunchy pork rinds! The bread is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. De-licious! So if you’re in Bangkok, follow that food truck Banh Mi Boy!  But hey, you can make your own banh mi or Vietnamese submarine sandwiches. I just love to try another cook’s version.

@ sra bua: exploring molecular gastronomy in bangkok

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At Sra Bua (pronounced sah BOO-ah) we discovered the magic of food meticulously and scientifically prepared. This was a marathon of eating that began at 7 p.m. and ended three hours later. I wanted to try the full tasting menu and Andy didn’t, a difference of 3 dishes. And when Andy and I finally got up from the table, we felt sated but not uncomfortably stuffed. It was a time to enjoy eating, all my senses were on alert, and I became aware of each sensation, the taste, the sight, the smell, and even how food sounded in my mouth. Familiar tastes, I learned, can be rediscovered in different combinations.

In the beginning, we sat at small tables with comfortable chairs and cushions to  enjoy the nibblings and street food, in other words, the hors d’oevres. The fun began with a cool refreshing lemongrass-and-pandan tea that was lightly sweetened. We proceeded to enjoy a soy roasted cashew nut meringue, prawn cracker with chili-tomato dip, and kaffir-lime scented lotus root. The meringue was an unexpected take on the Japanese soy-sauce flavored crackers. Prawn crackers, so ubiquitous in Asia,was freshly paired with a chili-tomato dip. The lotus root was a disappointment, however, lacking a strong flavor identity. After these nibbles we moved on  to the street food offerings. Bangkok’s street food is hard to top so I wondered what we would see next. Each course was eagerly anticipated!

Up next was smoked sausage served on traditional bamboo skewers. It was paired with prawn bread with sesame, which wasn’t much of a stretch from its original Chinese incarnation, shrimp toast. Thais love Japanese food, so the umami flan’s arrival was a fresh idea. Nestled in a wonderfully delicate but flavorful miso soup, the tofu-like flan was a new way to present something traditional. It was paired with a sashimi-style tuna wrapped around a pork bone, a great serving idea but the spiciness of the seasoning drowned out the delicate taste of the fresh tuna. The next course was both hot and cool. The hot was the tom yam, a spicy Thai soup. It was paired with a cool foamy galangal with fresh baby lobster. Andy loved the soup; he said he broke out in a sweat, his own personal Scoville Scale. I couldn’t taste anything but chili so I gave him my soup to finish.

Andy decided to try an Argentinian Malbec from the wine list. Like the courses on the tasting menu, it seemed to be a sampler too. Moderation rather than excess seemed to be the theme of the evening; leave room for the next course and the next…By this time, we were invited to move to a booth for the main courses. It was intimate, and covered with silk and cotton embroidered cushions, but I was three feet away from Andy at the other end of a silk table runner. Too formal. I wanted to sit beside him, not opposite him,  so the server simply set a place mat for me next to Andy. Everything in its place!

The first entree was scallops with a tamarind and lemongrass sauce drizzled over it. Scattered on the plate were five or six tiny shrimp like creatures that were amazingly crunchy and tasty. Now I know how a whale feels when it eats krill! The scallops were grilled and served with orange-colored purees dotted on the plate like an archipelago of islands. You couldn’t see what they were originally, but the taste was unmistakably carrot and pumpkin. Then I had marinated codfish with tiny red disks of beetroot on top and little gray-green pearls of kaeng khio wan or green curry on the side.  The beetroot was slightly sour and tart, like pickles. The green curry was amazingly good with the beets and the codfish. It was a surprising combination but it worked. Because Andy’s tasting menu was not the complete one, he did not get these last two courses.

No Thai meal would be complete without the services of a kroke or a mortar and pestle. At tableside, the server pounded the ingredients for a sauce and drizzled it all over the larb  duck or duck salad. It came in two little onion cups joined by a savory meringue that connected the two cups of ground duck flavored with lime juice and fish sauce. It was the traditional paired with the new, meringue instead of a bed of lettuce. Next up: Kiin Kiin Egg with wild mushrooms and holy basil served in the egg-shell on top of a bed of salt. It didn’t need the salt so I presume it was there just to hold up the egg on the plate!  The last entree was the braised beef. It had the delicate flavor of palo powder; the Chinese call it Five Spice Powder. It was reminiscent of braised pork leg or khao khaa moo. The beef was served with sweetbread, a papadum on top, and a spoonful of sweet and sour pineapple sorbet on the side. The sweetbread’s flavor was somewhat nondescript, but the coolness and tartness of the sorbet was a nice contrast with the strong flavor of anise seed.

Though I savored each course, I felt finishing each one would bring me closer to my true joy: dessert. I looked forward to The Snowball. It arrived at table, a spun sugar confection on a white plate. The server poured coconut cream on it and my snowball vanished on the plate, dissolved into the coconut cream. It was like magic. Then I ate a spoonful of  the dessert–and tasted the gritty sugar of the snowball at the bottom of the spoon. This was a variation on two Thai desserts: roti sai mai or pancake with spun sugar, and ruammit literally “little bit of everything.”

The servers were well trained, courteous, and professional. They were very well-informed about the restaurant and its history and could answer our questions about the menu. Our server told us that  the menu is changed every three months. Chef Nielsen flies in from Denmark to create a new menu. The servers are then invited to taste the new menu, which is what makes them so knowledgeable about its preparation. The management did offer Andy a complimentary dessert–The Snowball–because we complained about the slow service. It did take three hours to eat the entire meal.

We went to Sra Bua for an early celebration of Valentine’s Day. I would go back to try a new menu, but only for another very special occasion. And if we have the stamina to eat for another three hours.  In any case, this is the place to go to enjoy a leisurely meal, European fashion, with home-grown Thai ingredients. Another thought is that it would be great if the Chef could make recommendations from the wine list.

I wish I could say that the second dessert, the banana cake, transported me to gastro-heaven, but it was a dense disappointment. It tasted like convenience-store banana cupcake in a cellophane wrapper. There was too much coconut (coconut again!) and not enough salted ice cream and caramelized milk. Perhaps I was full by then, but I found the petit fours with tea (me) and coffee (Andy) not worth the picture. The petit fours arrived at table in dramatic fashion, inside a large lacquered binto box. But inside each layer were just two macarons, two marshmallows (covered in that ghastly coconut again), and two chocolate pepper cookies each the size of a US cent. Over dramatization. Not a worthy end to the meal that was, in retrospect, uneven in quality, preparation, and presentation.

scenes at the mall: a northern Thai village dining experience

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We went to Seacon Square for lunch today and discovered a recreation of a northern Thai village market in the mall’s atrium. We took off our shoes and sat on the mat around a khantoke or pedestal tray, eating food we purchased from the hawker stalls: somtam, roasted sticky rice, khao soi, and more. It brought back memories of our trip to Chiang Mai six years ago.

jade garden@the montien hotel

A couple of weeks ago when we were at the Montien enjoying Hainanese Chicken Rice, we passed another in-house restaurant called the Jade Garden which serves all you can eat Chinese dimsum for Baht 300 (about US$10.00) per person. To enjoy it we ate only a bit of toast for breakfast so we were ravenous for dimsum. We tried to do it justice.

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I didn’t care too much for the fried cakes but the steamed dimsum was delectable. Everything had shrimp in it which was great because it was fresh and steamed until it was just done. The best was the shrimp wrapped in fish with slivers of ginger–the ginger wasn’t overpowering, just a discreet note to remind you it’s there to counter the blandness of the seafood. There was soup, too, but rather indifferent. Maybe that’s why I forgot to take a picture! I ordered the wonton soup, shrimp of course, but the soup itself  lacked the delicate dimensions of flavor you get when it steeps in ginger and scallion. It looked and tasted like a Knorr bouillon cube–salty and flat. Now, I don’t mind Knorr because I use it as a shortcut when my recipes call for stock, but when a soup is on display, you don’t want that shortcut. For dessert we both ordered the sesame dumplings in warm ginger syrup. I love it. The syrup is spicy and warm and the dumpling, when you suck on it, pulls apart on your tongue leaving a wonderful sweet sesame grit. It’s like eating sand if it were edible and made of sesame and sugar.

 

hainanese chicken rice at the montien

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We went to the Montien Hotel for lunch on Wednesday. We ordered their specialty: Hainanese chicken rice (khao man gai). This is the Thai take on the traditional Chinese dish. Starting clockwise at the top: the four dipping sauces. First, a yellow bean sauce and chilies, next to it a soy, ginger, and chili sauce, below that a sweet soy sauce, and last of all, ginger with Chinese rice vinegar (chikcho)–a much milder-tasting vinegar than Western varieties. The bowl of garlic rice was fluffy and moist, and the chicken soup had been lightly flavored with soy sauce. It included two pieces of daikon cooked until they were tender but not mushy. (BTW, the Montien gives seconds on the soup). And finally, the pièce de résistance: the chicken itself, one whole skinless and boneless chicken breast,  braised to perfection and resting on top of slices of cool fresh cucumber. Those chocolate brown squares at the top of the plate of chicken were two squares of pig’s blood cake (leud moo). Well,  I’m no Andrew Zimmern, so I passed on the blood cake and could not tell you how it tasted. But I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the meal.

back in bangkok

Greyhound's Coconut Piek
Greyhound’s Coconut Piek

I’ve been off the blog for some weeks now because of the move from New York to Bangkok. I’ve been cleaning out my kitchen cupboards since I got back, and when my cleaning lady came yesterday, she did the heavy work of cleaning the exteriors. The very next two days we got here, we went to IKEA Bangkok to buy some shelf units called Varierra to extend our storage space–we have a tall cabinet for glassware with only one shelf. All the glasses and mugs were nested. So untidy, not to mention a lot of breakage.

Last night I cooked a meal in my clean kitchen. I miss my Calphalon cookware which was duly packed on August 15 and is sailing over the Pacific by ship, not due to arrive until sometime in October. While I make do I have been re-visiting my favorite places to eat. Of course I had to go to Peng Kee at Seacon Square for my crystal cake fix (Kanom Goh Sen or Mochi Sticks). That was after I had a bowl of fresh homemade noodles at Chiseng Lamian. Other foodie adventures: We went to Bangkok Hospital for dinner at Fuji; some of the best restaurants in town are in hospitals. They make the medicine go down easier. Then I went upscale to Greyhound at Emporium where Asian fusion is their claim. I had the Coconut Piek (literally “wet coconut”) for dessert, a visually stunning concoction featuring saku or sago a delicate shade of Blue Curacao blue but without the Blue Curacao, served with salty coconut cream, slivers of fresh young coconut, and a scoop of coconut sherbet for sweetness’ sake. So delicious. 

nutella bars made with oat crisps
nutella bars made with oat crisps

Since our arrival in Bangkok, I’ve been shopping at the supermarkets and looking at the prices. For instance, avocados here are more expensive than New York. What would be a local substitute for an avocado, I wonder?  I’m determined to find something not only budget friendly but also tasty! My first attempts at finding substitutions are conservative if not successful. I transformed my TJ Cocoa Almond Bars recipe into Nutella Oat Crisp bars. Substituting oat crisps for graham crackers resulted in crumbs that are dry and crunchy, making these chocolate bars taste like Nestlé crunch bars. The oat crisps, BTW, came from IKEA. IKEA, you’re my everything! This morning I turned leftovers into breakfast. I did a riff on the Egg McMuffin with a fried egg and a stick of gai yang (grilled pork) sandwiched between two broccoli-tomato fritters. It was good!

fried egg and gai yang (grilled pork) sandwiched between two broccoli-tomato fritters
fried egg and gai yang (grilled pork) sandwiched between two broccoli-tomato fritters

Since good food is the stuff of (my) life, my blog is going to shift focus. Still writing about preparing and eating food  but now I will also write about adapting my favorite recipes and new to local ingredients.