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Best Food Neighborhood in Bangkok


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Dinner another evening was at Thanying. As usual, pictures can be found HERE.

I recently read that it is considered polite in Thai culture to leave some food on your plate, indicating both the host’s generosity and the guest’s lack of greediness. Sadly I received no such memo before indulging in eight days of unbridled gluttony in Bangkok. Having been a lifetime member of the Clean Plate Club, it appears I’ve now outed myself as officially the rudest person to ever visit Thailand. I suppose, then, I can tell you all about a meal I had the other night at a place called Thanying.

The restaurant proudly offers “Genuine” Royal Thai Cuisine, purportedly a more sophisticated version of central Thai cooking, with as much focus put on elaborate and artful presentation as on the taste of the food. But with the maddening inconsistency I experienced with Thanying’s food, one begins to fear for the government’s stability. Were I fed such things with any regularity, I’m afraid my resignation from office would not be far off. But lest you think I am exaggerating, let me get into more detail about my meal.

Not surprisingly, I opted for the longest set menu, in this case Set Menu C, priced at 990 baht (though it miraculously shrank to 900 by the time my check was delivered at meal’s end). What sounded on paper like a leisurely, multi-course affair was in fact more like a military assault, with the infantry arriving on multiple plates. The first of these fronts was a set of four hors d’œuvres: gai haw bai toey, fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves; tod man goong, deep fried shrimp patty; khao pode tod, sweet corn fritter; and gra tong thong, minced shrimp with corn and green peas in pastry shell. My first bite of the sweet corn fritter suggested that these four treats must have been meant for me. Perhaps as a punishment for some horrible transgression in a former life. Both under-salted and under-seasoned, it was utterly devoid of flavor, but at least pleasantly crispy. The same could not be said for the fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves — it was, frankly, horrible. So dry as to be a choking hazard, I wondered just how long the poor bird had been incinerated as it went gentle into that good night. Things improved, at least, as I moved on to the deep fried shrimp patty. The wonderfully crisp and remarkably grease-free shrimp fritter was fashioned into a round shape that brought donuts to mind. Tender and almost fluffy on the inside, my only complaint was, again, under-salting. And if they thought I was going to dip that thing into the gloppy sweet-and-sour sauce that was served alongside it, they were sadly mistaken. But luckily, it appeared that my karmic debts had been paid by the time I worked my way to the last bite, a small pastry shell containing a mixture of corn and minced shrimp (unless my faculties of of both sight and taste were failing me, there were no green peas to be found). This was quite tasty, the natural sweetness of both ingredients coming through and the pastry shell, with the thinness of a tuile, providing a great crunch and a salty top-note.

Next I moved on to what was thankfully the only thing served to me in a martini glass during my time in Bangkok: yam som-o, or pomelo salad. Mixed with fried garlic, fried shallots, chicken, pork, shrimp, and a bit of grated coconut, there was a nice interplay of contrasting textures and temperatures. The harmony of the bitter, sweet, and salty flavor elements also made this an enjoyable salad, notwithstanding the tacky lettuce leaf garnish.

I had asked, nay begged, my waiter to make my tom kha gai spicy. If there were any restaurant at which I had to fear dumbed down flavors, I figured this was it. (The signs were all there: Too much English being spoken. Too many foreigners. And was that… classical music playing?) My request was, apparently, not made in vain, as the coconut milk soup with chicken, galangal, and lime emerged with a beautiful hue of orange, a clear sign that plenty of chilies were afoot, er, uh, afloat. The soup beautifully danced the line between hot and sour, one minute sending my taste buds in one direction, and the next moment in the exact opposite. This was a pretty large bowl, and one I quite enjoyed cleaning.

Next came the main courses — four of them, to be exact. First to be eaten was the goong narng tod gra tiem prig thai, deep-fried prawn with garlic and pepper. Bangkok’s residents are a blessed bunch, to have these huge freshwater prawns swimming in their rivers. Though it was senselessly beheaded before its dip in a peppery tempura-like batter and a quick bath in hot oil, the prawn was impossibly juicy. Topped with small slivers of fried garlic, it was also utterly delicious. Could they perhaps bring me a huge platter of these?, I wondered to myself.

Keeping with the assumption that the fried goods were the most time-sensitive, I then moved on to the pla gaow sarm ros, deep-fried garupa topped with spiced chili sauce. The fish was wonderfully crisp on the outside and moist on the outside, while the vinegary chili sauce (which seemed to me much like sambal oelek) added a fiery punch. Even with the generously ladled sauce on top, I gobbled this up quickly enough that it never got soggy.

The next dish was naw-mai farang pad nahm man hoi, stir-fried asparagus with Chinese mushroom in Thai oyster sauce. Comparatively less salty than Chinese oyster sauce, with a more pronounced oyster flavor and no MSG, I found Thai oyster sauce to be a pretty tasty condiment. Even so, these stir-fried vegetables were, well, boring. The asparagus was crisp; the mushrooms, both chewy and slightly soggy. But with so many other interesting vegetable preparations found in Thai cuisine, I found this Chinese-style stir fry to be a waste of time, and stomach space (as if that were actually an issue). I could have easily done without it.

The same certainly can’t be said for the gaeng kiew hwaan nuer yang, green curry with beef tenderloin. This was easily the best dish of the evening, and frankly, the one that almost made the restaurant seem like it was a worthwhile stop in retrospect. A classic green curry of chilies, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, shrimp paste, kaffir lime peel, coriander, cumin and turmeric, it was bursting with flavor and complexity. The generous slices of tender beef were nice and juicy, and the abundant fresh basil scattered on top gave it a wonderful aroma to the very end. There was no nobler call for the ridiculous (I’m talking 8″ tall) cone of khao, or steamed white rice, that was set before me than to accompany this wonderful curry.

Providing the end to this roller coaster ride of a meal was one of the classic Thai sweets: sangkaya fuk thong, coconut custard steamed in a small pumpkin. The previous day, I had bought (for only 50 baht!) a fantastic version of this: silky custard filling the entirety of a whole small pumpkin, topped with a mound of delicious golden threads, or egg yolks cooked in a sweet syrup. This, unfortunately, bore little resemblance to that wonderful treat. Thanying’s version was overly firm and incredibly bland. With a flavor and texture more like bad tofu, it was quite disappointing. And the coconut ice cream, complete with its overly-large ice crystals, did nothing to save it.

Like any meal, my dinner at Thanying had its ups and downs. But considering the expensive-for-Bangkok prices, the fancier surroundings, and my anticipation of a delicious first try of royal Thai cuisine, I was ultimately disappointed. Nearly all of the appetizers, a main course, and the dessert were all forgettable. And while the hits that separated these misses were nice, such wild inconsistency is frustrating. With the most elaborate set menu, or, as the website puts it, “a long and thoughtful compilation of traditional favorites at moderate prices”, there should be no such variation. Advertised as a veritable Greatest Hits collection of central Thai cooking, this meal could have (and should have) been much better. Considering that fact, and considering all of the wonderful eating opportunities that Bangkok has to offer, overall I can’t say that I would recommend this place.

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The restaurant proudly offers “Genuine” Royal Thai Cuisine, purportedly a more sophisticated version of central Thai cooking, with as much focus put on elaborate and artful presentation as on the taste of the food. But with the maddening inconsistency I experienced with Thanying’s food, one begins to fear for the government’s stability. Were I fed such things with any regularity, I’m afraid my resignation from office would not be far off. But lest you think I am exaggerating, let me get into more detail about my meal.

Well, there are a lot of coups in Thailand (the monarchy is a constitutional monarchy, though, so need to fear for the goverment's stability based on the royal cuisine--plenty of other reason to do so, though!).

I wondered about Thanying having read about it somewhere (NYT, maybe?). My father grew up with Royal-style cooking, and so that's what we ate at home, as well. For my mother, most Thai places (in Thailand and out) don't match my dad's cooking, and she misses it terribly.

I guess I'll have to strike Thanying off our list. Such a shame, since I was hoping to surprise my mother with "cooking just like dad's" the next time we were in Thailand.

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I wondered about Thanying having read about it somewhere (NYT, maybe?).  My father grew up with Royal-style cooking, and so that's what we ate at home, as well.  For my mother, most Thai places (in Thailand and out) don't match my dad's cooking, and she misses it terribly. 

I guess I'll have to strike Thanying off our list.  Such a shame, since I was hoping to surprise my mother with "cooking just like dad's" the next time we were in Thailand.

I don't remember where I came across a recommendation for Thanying in the first place, but I want to say it was here on eGullet. Their website claims they've been mentioned in the NYT, though, so that could be where you read about it.

How wonderful it must have been to grow up with Royal-style cooking! I'd bet you can put together a wonderful Thai meal just like your father. I'm a firm believer that that kind of stuff almost always gets passed on in one way or another.

Maybe a la carte is the way to go at Thanying, but based on my one meal there, I found the place to be kind of a joke. I'll definitely look for another Royal-style place the next time I'm in Thailand, though. I feel like my one meal was not at all representative of the potential of that particular cuisine.

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Dinner report from Celadon now. Pictures, as usual, are HERE.

After my disappointing meal at Thanying the night before, I still stubbornly wanted to prove that high-end dining in Bangkok could compete with all the wonderful casual places and the great street food I’d been having. There seemed to be no better candidate for this task than Celadon, in the luxurious Sukhothai Hotel. But given my experience that hotel restaurants are rarely anything special (one great meal at Alain Ducasse in New York notwithstanding), I was somewhat skeptical. Still, I was anxious to experience what Travel + Leisure called in 2006 the best restaurant in Bangkok.

It certainly provided a beautiful setting, the restaurant flanked by a lotus pond, and large windows letting in plenty of natural light. Sitting down and examining the menu, it took all of two seconds to choose the Dok Kluaymai set, the longest tasting. (If Google is to be trusted, this is Thai for “new banana flower”) Much to my surprise, the waiter then sneakily asked: “Still or sparkling?” Uh, come again? Was I really getting The Water Question in Bangkok? Caught off guard, and unable to remember whether or not Bangkok’s tap water is potable, I broke down and ordered the stupid $9 bottle of water. Bastards! But time food heals all wounds, and it wasn’t long before mine started to arrive.

The first snack was thod mann talay, a trio of small deep-fried seafood cakes served with pickled vegetables. These were marvelously crispy and devoid of any greasy feel whatsoever. Already quite flavorful on their own, the seafood cakes were even better when eaten with the crisp pickled vegetables, which were soaking in a mixture of vinegar and chilies. A hot start in every sense of the word.

Next up was a plate of poo nim yam som-o, pomelo salad with grilled soft shell crabs. While this salad is traditionally made with shrimp and chicken, the soft shell crab was a nice stand-in. Regardless of their method of preparation, I always find these creatures to have such great textural contrast, the tender and naturally sweet crab meat hiding underneath a crispy/chewy/crunchy exterior, and this was no exception. The slight bitterness of the pomelo was balanced by the heat of dried chilies, the sourness of lime juice, and just a bit of sugar. Fish sauce added depth, while the tiny bits of peanut and the fried shallots sprinkled on top gave every bite a very nice crunch.

Then came some soup, in this case tom khaa hoyshell yang, an herbed soup of grilled scallops in coconut milk. The lemongrass and galangal hit my nose before this was even on my table — it was that aromatic. An ingredient that is often overcooked, these scallops fell victim to no such crime. With nicely charred grill-marks on each side, they were still tender within. The broth was spicy, sweet and slightly sour all at once, providing further validation for my developing theory that Thai cooks are essentially infallible when it comes to soups. (I will let you know if anyone successfully disproves this.)

While the menu appeared to list eight separate courses, several main courses came at once. Thai food is meant to be served family style, apparently, so I decided that I would have to pick up the slack and eat more for the family members who were not able to join me. Gluttony, you say? I prefer to think of it more as filial piety. But in any case, the first of the aforementioned main courses was phad phak ruam, stir-fried assorted vegetables with oyster sauce. The vegetables — carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and baby corn — were cooked well, right on the cusp between crisp and tender. The oyster sauce spiked with small bits of sautéed garlic was fairly flavorful. Overall, though, this was a dreadfully boring dish.

Next up was plakapong phad medmamuang himmaparn, fried seabass with cashews. This was the first time I had seen bell peppers in Bangkok, and also thankfully the last. I’m not particularly fond of that vegetable to say the least, and this dish was no exception. Even the onion, mushroom, and dried hot chilies unfortunately provided little distraction. The generous chunks of fish were moist and flavorful, and nice in combination with the cashews. But to me, the vegetables were largely unnecessary.

The only real standout of the main courses was gaeng kiew warn goong lai, a green curry of tiger prawns. With coconut milk, hot chilies, marble-sized Thai “plate brush” eggplants, bamboo shoots, and lime leaves, the broth was hot, sour, sweet, and delicious. The prawn, though, was even better. With only the tail protruding above the surface of the soup, I didn’t expect the huge crustacean that lay below. A beautiful prawn about 6″ long had been butterflied, peeled, and lightly grilled. Juicy and flavorful on its own, it also soaked up the flavors in the curry, and the result was fabulous.

The last of the four main courses was ped phad normai prikthai dam, wok-fried duck with black pepper sauce. I laughed to myself when this course was set before me, not because I was happy to see another stir-fry — I wasn’t –but because I’d been confusing the words for “duck” and “spicy” in Thai all week. Same spelling, different pronunciation. I never did quite get it right. Anyway, this ped was pretty good, easily the best of the three stir-fries. The duck was not overcooked as I had feared based on the cooking method, but rather a bit pink and quite tender. The pencil asparagus was crisp, and provided a night bright contrast in both texture and flavor for the duck. And the large chunks of mushroom added an earthy background flavor. Not a knockout dish by any means, but pretty good as far as stir-fries go.

Dessert was a simple combination of two treats I’d enjoyed several times from street vendors — kluay thod ai-tim kati ruammitr, or a small fried banana served with Thai style coconut ice cream. The banana had been soaked in a sweet pink syrup before being battered and fried, lending it an artificial color but amazing flavor once I bit into it. Still very warm upon arrival, it contrasted nicely with the cold and creamy coconut ice cream. Speaking of ice cream, if you think Ben & Jerry’s invented mix-ins, think again. Traditional Thai style ice cream has all sorts of goodies — basil seeds, millet, red beans, and laht chong (bright green noodles flavored and colored by pandanus leaf) often among them. This version simply had corn, chunks of young coconut, and the aforementioned laht chong. Rather than distract from the creaminess of the ice cream, I found these additions to be quite enjoyable. They kept the dessert from being too monotonous. This provided a happy ending to the meal, even without, say, an entire box of chocolates like you might get elsewhere.

As I sat and sipped my jasmine tea at meal’s end, I considered whether or not it had been worth it. Considering the price of over 1500 baht with tax and service added, this was certainly not a cheap meal by Bangkok standards. And can you imagine spending over $50 on Thai food in the US? Outside of New York, good luck. I say all this not to complain about the price, but simply to assert that it ought to be reflected in the food. For that kind of money one expects a clear level of refinement, and I certainly found it in a few of Celadon’s very well-executed Thai classics — fried fish cakes, pomelo salad, tom kha soup, and a great green curry. But for me, having three of the four main courses stir-fried was not only repetitive, but a cop-out. This was a disappointing lull in what was otherwise a very solid meal. Perhaps the intense flavors of the Thai kitchen don’t lend themselves well to the slow, choreographed progression of dishes that often characterize tasting menus. Or perhaps chef Khun Veera and his crew are simply content with singing the same notes over and over. Whatever the case may be, this was a very good meal, but one that I think could have easily been great with just a few small tweaks.

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I'm happy to say that it is looking increasingly likely that I'll be in Thailand for the first two weeks of June, give or take. When I've traveled to other cities on major vacations (Paris, Barcelona) and whenever we go away for extended weekends (New York, Provincetown) I pack up a basic cooking kit and spend at least part of my time cooking meals with items procured from local markets. (We always stay in apartments with kitchens, obviously.)

I'm starting to wonder whether or not this makes sense in Bangkok, which will likely be our home base. (Not at all planning to do this if we visit Sukhothai, Chiang Mai, Pattaya, etc. btw.) The main reason is that the street food situation in Bangkok seems impossibly inexpensive and delectable, and I can't really imagine lugging a mortar and pestle halfway around the world to pound out pastes for a couple of hours while I could be eating four meals on the street during that time.

Is it worth it to plan to cook while in Bangkok? If so, what neighborhoods would be most appropriate?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Is it worth it to plan to cook while in Bangkok?

With so many cheap, great eats, and such tight quarters, many Thais don't cook!

Rich Thai people have cooks, whose entire lives are spent pounding chilis--way too labor intensive to do yourself.

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and I can't really imagine lugging a mortar and pestle halfway around the world to pound out pastes for a couple of hours while I could be eating four meals on the street during that time.

I agree with what everyone has said, and can't believe that as a child and teen, I took such great cheap street food so for granted.

But, as to the mortar and pestle. At the markets, you'll be seeing washtubs full of such succulent and redolent curry pastes that you'll want to save your space for smuggling, not a mortar and pestle!

You'll never eat so well as from a noodle cart, or a tiny little hole in the wall.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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too bad i didnt see this earlier tupac im expat in bkk, left the kitchens at alto and limpero in nyc to move here,,,,,, got alot of cool eats here, most wont ever show up on these boards or in guide books,,,,, next time your on your way here let me know,

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too bad i didnt see this earlier tupac im expat in bkk, left the kitchens at alto and limpero in nyc to move here,,,,,, got alot of cool eats here,  most wont ever show up on these boards or in guide books,,,,, next time your on your way here let me know,

Ahem...I'll be in BKK next winter, probably, and my BKK cousins are too posh to eat at the places I want to eat at. Hint hint... :wink:

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too bad i didnt see this earlier tupac im expat in bkk, left the kitchens at alto and limpero in nyc to move here,,,,,, got alot of cool eats here,  most wont ever show up on these boards or in guide books,,,,, next time your on your way here let me know,

Ahem...I'll be in BKK next winter, probably, and my BKK cousins are too posh to eat at the places I want to eat at. Hint hint... :wink:

Well ill be here with a brand spanking new restaurant by that time,,,,, and more new cool places to eat,,, my favs are the monster river prawns,,,, then they make fried rice with the delicious bright yellow internal organs,,, mmmm speaking of,,, gonna go to the river now

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too bad i didnt see this earlier tupac im expat in bkk, left the kitchens at alto and limpero in nyc to move here,,,,,, got alot of cool eats here,  most wont ever show up on these boards or in guide books,,,,, next time your on your way here let me know,

Ahem...I'll be in BKK next winter, probably, and my BKK cousins are too posh to eat at the places I want to eat at. Hint hint... :wink:

Well ill be here with a brand spanking new restaurant by that time,,,,, and more new cool places to eat,,, my favs are the monster river prawns,,,, then they make fried rice with the delicious bright yellow internal organs,,, mmmm speaking of,,, gonna go to the river now

Mmmmmm...Silver Spoon at Tha Thewet used to do those exceptionally well. I wonder if that places has finished falling into the river yet?

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too bad i didnt see this earlier tupac im expat in bkk, left the kitchens at alto and limpero in nyc to move here,,,,,, got alot of cool eats here,  most wont ever show up on these boards or in guide books,,,,, next time your on your way here let me know,

I sure will, tb86! Not for nothing have I been checking around online for cheap flights every day. :cool: The city made an absolutely wonderful first impression. I wonder what the summer is like there... I'm not sure I can wait for the (relatively) cooler, presumably drier months to roll around again!

I miss the old L'Impero and the old Alto. I'm sure chef White is a talented guy, but I feel like his menu lacks some of the simplicity and clarity of Conant's (his wonderful polenta, for example). Following the experience at those two NY restaurants, What kind of project do you have planned there in BKK?

I just wept a little inside as I thought about the river prawns. Even just grilled and served with the piquant dipping sauce. So good.

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Yeah, was sad to leave alto and limpero,,,,,,, loved working with scotty, but whites stuff didnt really vibe with my style of desssert,,, so i had to leave the place, but the whole situation enabled me to move here so i cant be too sad about it... As far as living here,,,, i dont know that i will be able to return to the us. My girl who is born and raised in bkk and me are doing a multi tear company kiar society,,, were launching kiar chocolate soon we just finished package design and are working on flavors as we speak its gonna be local flavor driven thai tea, ice coffee, galangala, keffir, green curry, red curry, lemongrass, pandam ect. We are also searching high and low for a sutiable space to do a small fine dining restaurant kiar eat, were really troubled by the quality of western food here,,,,

terrible but its all done by old germans, austrians ect the " hotel guys " the food is going to be local market driven food so almost all thai ingrediants with modern western techniques... should be good fun. We are looking in thonglor area but who knows. Living here is great but we have ways and means that 99% of the population does not have , i hopefuly will never leave here.... let me know when your around oh yeah its always hot here, so time of the year dosent really matter its either hot or a little hotter

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Kiar Eat and Kiar Chocolate both sound great, man. Best of luck with each of those ventures. Can't say I ran across any market -driven Thai with modern Western techniques during my short time in Bangkok. But I'd love to see that vision thrive for you there. Hopefully it's just what the city's been missing. I'll be back as soon as I can for sure, and when I do, I'll look you up.

P.S. I just put two and two together and figured out this was probably your handiwork. I'd say Bangkok has some fun things in store from you...

gallery_18974_1420_83027.jpg

Cheers

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  • 3 weeks later...

haha, yup gotta love the truffle ice cream...... thats version 5.0 , hopefuly you got to have 6.0 but it was only around for about a month before i left,,, getts better each year Cant wait to have a proper home for it again, always next season

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  • 2 weeks later...

Chote Chitr is closed until March 25th which has put my Bangkok trip in a disarray since I had planned at least a couple of meals there. 45 mins in a cab to get there and to find it that it is closed for the week I am there, talk about disappointing. Anyway, since I can;t make it, any suggestions as to the "second" best place in a similar category? Want to focus on sea-food.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Chote Chitr is closed until March 25th which has put my Bangkok trip in a disarray since I had planned at least a couple of meals there. 45 mins in a cab to get there and to find it that it is closed for the week I am there, talk about disappointing. Anyway, since I can;t make it, any suggestions as to the "second" best place in a similar category? Want to focus on sea-food.

If you want something in the older parts of town, you could try Je Ngor's kitchen. They've very good fish, but it is more of a Chinese restaurant. I've been to the one on Sathorn, which is more modern, but the old place was still there last year, somewhere off of Charoen Krung towards Yaowaraj. It's on Nancy's maps.

Another good bet is Taling Pling, off of Silom on Soi Pan by the Hindu temple. Again, a modern interior, but they do some nice things with seafood. A friend even gave me their cookbook.

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