Tim Foolery

Next: World’s 50 Best – The Experience

Next.  The brainchild of Grant Achatz, whose restaurant Alinea, has been ranked Best in the World for several years. Next, located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, offers a tasting menu dining format where tickets are sold in lieu of reservations.

We’ve been to Next five times before this visit. In general, Next really delivers. We’ve had times where a course (sometimes multiple) miss the mark but only one time where service was bad. The service you get, like everywhere, really depends on the servers. We’ve had some phenomenal servers who were so knowlegable and passionate about the menu at hand. We’ve also had servers who would come out and set the food down and just disappear. They wouldn’t provide guidance on the course (what was being served or why it was selected). You lose a lot during a menu like this if you don’t get all the background and history.

During our most recent visit, our servers fell into both buckets. The courses that had a full and proper delivery and description ended up being the ones we liked much more too. Is it all in my head? Probably.  We actually had a really good service, save for a couple courses where the food or wine was delivered without comment – we had to flag down another server to get the details on the dish.

Next changes their menu a few times a year, 50 Best Restaurants is the third and final menu this year. The 2018 schedule will be released in mid-November.

Ticket prices vary based on day and time of reservation. Our tickets were $285 each for a Saturday reservation at 20h45. Wine pairings were extra – three different levels of wine pairings were available. We chose the standard pairing – the top of the line pairing would have added another $495 per person. I’m sure the wines would have been phenomenal, but we couldn’t rationalize this add on.  As it was, our dinner, with wine pairings, tax and tip came in at just under $1,000.  This meal isn’t an everyday occurrence, but a truly special experience.

We find ourselves using the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list quite a bit when we travel. Most recently we used the list to plan dining in Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Bangkok. Last year when visiting Peru and Bolivia, this list was the cornerstone of our fine dining experience. We ate at three restaurants on this list in Lima alone. Two of which were brought in for this menu (although Maido didn’t actually make our tasting – perhaps the menu will change a bit throughout its run). The best restaurant meal I’ve ever eaten was at Central in Lima and they presented an early course at Next.

When designing this menu, the chefs at Next worked with the chefs represented on their menu. The honored chefs sent recipes, detailed techniques and even videos to show how to properly prepare and plate their entrants. Some chefs even sent ingredients (one even sent seeds to grow the beets!) – others offered substitute ingredients (some of the shell fish was hard to source in proper quantities in Chicago).

Ok, enough lead in, right? Let’s get into the meat of this, shall We? We arrived a couple minutes after our reservation time and were immediately seated. Our table was properly set (a napkin and a tweezer plus water glasses). The table was also adorned with a rose for each place setting and a small bowl with some moss and a couple leaves. Having done this type of dining before, we were confident this would be our first and second courses.

We sat eagerly awaiting the start.

Before we get to far into this, I should let you know that I don’t like poached eggs. I really only like eggs if they are baked into something (cake, for example) or mixed into something else (eggs scrambled into a stir fry). Fine dining tasting menus almost always have a poached egg included. I usually just eat around it. When booking this meal, and filling out the survey, I notified the restaurant I didn’t like poached eggs. A couple emails back and forth (so they could understand if it was an allergy, or if I’m just a pain in the ass – it’s the latter) we were all set.

Our first wine pairing wasn’t a wine at all, but a cocktail with an apple base and foam topper. It was a great pairing with the rose and leaves on the table. As we progressed through the courses, a new wine would arrive. We were given some high level details on the drink (it was all wine, except for the first cocktail), then told how many courses the wine was pairing with. The most courses we had with a single wine was three, but they were good about topping you off if you were running a little low.

I won’t bore you with an analysis of each of the courses and the pairings. But you can see the photos I took of each course. I try to be respectful of other patrons, so I never use a flash (although others were). The lighting at Next was a bit low and my Samsung S6 Edge, which usually does a pretty great job in this situation, struggled a bit. You can also see that I forgot to take a picture of one dish before I dug in….Sorry!

Rose
Rose, Apple, Pomegranate
Quique Dacosta | Alicante, Spain

Jerusalem Artichoke
Walnut, Rye
Geranium | Copenhagen, Denmark

An Oyster’s Frozen Kiss
Oyser, Radish Flower
Mugaritz | San Sebastian, Spain

Eggs Benedict
Caviar, Asparagus, Ham
Eleven Madison Park | New York, USA

Marine Soil
Sea Urchin, Jicama, Razor Clam
Central | Lima, Peru

Squid
Bagna Cauda, Artichoke, Squid Ink
Mirazur | Menton, France

Tartare
Bison, Sunchoke
Estela | New York, USA

Tartare
Bison, Sunchoke
Estela | New York, USA

Badger Flame Beat
Blue Hill at Stone Barns | Pocantico HIlls, USA

Riso Cacio e Pepe
Parmigiano Reggiano
Osteria Francescana | Modena, Italy

Langoustine
Wasabi, Mango, Thai Vinaigrette
Restaurant Tim Raue | Berlin, Germany

Monkfish
Aubergine, Fermented Peppers
De Librije | Zwolle, Netherlands

“Vuelve a la Vida”
Scallop, Beef Tongue, Salsa Bruja
Quintonil | Mexico City, Mexico

All Parts of the Pumpkin
The Skin, The Seeds, The Flesh
Attica | Melbourne, Australia

All Parts of the Pumpkin
The Skin, The Seeds, The Flesh
Attica | Melbourne, Australia

Squab
Parsnip, Almond, Lavender
Next | Chicago, USA

Squab
Parsnip, Almond, Lavender
Next | Chicago, USA

Memory
Foie Gras, Black Truffle, Chives
Restaurant Andre | Singapore

Apples
Chanterelles, Granite
Relae | Copenhagen, Denmark

Chocolate
Milk Chocolate, Blueberry Yogurt
Alinea | Chicago, USA

The course I was looking forward to the most, Central. They did a really great job with the razor clam and leche de tigre. Despite my complete and irrational aversion to poached eggs, I really loved the fare from Eleven Madison Park. Instead of a pickled yolk, my egg was cooked though and tasted amazing with the ham, asparagus and Cavier. One of my favorites of the night.  Speaking of favorites…what was mine you ask?  I really loved the Riso Cacio e Pepe. The risotto was made with parm broth and it was spectacular. The course that really made the night for me was the langostine. It had a puffed rice and wasabi coating that just attacked your taste buds. I wish I had a couple more of those. Utterly phenomenal.

For those of you who have sampled this menu at Next, what was your favorite course? If not, which of these courses are you most looking forward to? What about your favorite menu at Next?

Thai Airways Royal First Class – Ground Services BKK

The beauty of flying First Class doesn’t start once you walk down the gate, with good airlines, it starts long before.  Thai Airways is known for this great service and their First Class Ground Service at BKK (Suvarnabhumi Airport) was one of the reasons we planned our return trip like we did.  We could have returned on Air China or ANA for the same number miles (we didn’t pay cash for this flight, but cashed in United Miles) and left around the same time.  If you aren’t flying Thai in Royal First you don’t get access to all the amenities that Thai flyers get.

Our Uber dropped us off at the door near the First Class Check-In area at BKK and we see this beautiful sight.  Other than the woman at the door (and the three armed guards with assault rifles, just out of frame) no one was around.

I envision the Pearly Gates of Heaven to be like this.

We walk towards the Royal First Check In area – located away from the hustle and bustle that is BKK.  It was around 20h00 and the rest of this terminal was buzzing with activity.  We make it about half way to the check-in podium and the woman guarding the door greets us and asks for our names and the City we are traveling too.  Less than 10 seconds later she flags over two young men who grab our bags and lead us into the Check-In Area.  This woman asked for our passports and said that we would be checked in here and it would take about 10 minutes and that we should relax. Before we could even make it into the Check-In area a couple asked this woman for help (they were flying business on ANA) and she quickly told them that she was with her Royal First Passengers and that surely someone “over there” could help.  She wasn’t rude, but she was forceful.

We were whisked to a small seating area while our checked bags were weighed and our boarding passes were printed.  She asked if we needed anything as we sat at the small seating area.  I, of course asked for a glass of champagne…and Mike thought I was nuts.  Why would anyone need a glass of champagne while you sit and wait for someone to check you in for a flight.  To that, I say “Who wouldn’t want a glass of champagne….”  We sat here and chatted – both excited for the experience the next 24 hours would give.  I finished about half my glass before our escort showed up to take us to the Royal First Lounge.  Our escort handed us our passports and boarding passes, but took our hand luggage.  She quickly escorted us through the First Class Security area, which was a bit of a clusterfuck because the security guards required us to carry our own bags and remove our electronics.  I don’t care about that, but you’d think that they’d have this process down a little better.  Carrying our own briefcases is fine.  We were the only ones going through the security checkpoint when we were there.

Once we cleared security, we hopped on a golf cart and were whisked down to the lounge.  I’m not usually a golf cart in an airport guy, but it was a pretty long haul and I had a lot of things I wanted to do in the lounge.  Unlike in the US, the Thai golf cart driver just honked the tiny horn and floored the cart.  I know we clipped a couple people as we shot by, but the cart did have a Thai Royal First sticker, so I guess that was okay.  One of the people the cart clipped turned and apologized to us – which is probably just a polite gut reaction, but c’mon, we hit you with a cart, you should not apologize.

We make it to the lounge and are handed off to our Lounge Attendant.  She tells us that she’ll be taking care of us during our stay and that she will personally come get us when it is time to board the plane.  Sometimes these folks won’t get you until the very end of boarding and you can feel a bit rushed once on board.  I’d rather get on a bit early, get settled, maybe even change into my new pajamas, get a glass (or two??) of champagne – basically, I want a leisurely start to my First Class experience.

Our Attendant took us into the lounge and helped us find a seat.  She was very apologetic for it being so busy.  The Royal First Lounge has traditional lounge seating areas, plus private rooms.  We passed by several that were occupied – of course, I asked if we could have a private room and she was hesitant.  At first I thought she was saving those for families or larger parties, but as we continued to walk through the lounge, I saw a couple with just one person hanging out.  Then, as if it were timed by God himself, we came across a private room that was being serviced.  The empty glasses were being taken out and a woman just finished sweeping the floor and wiping down the tables.  SCORE.  We got a private room.  These rooms don’t have doors and one side is all glass that opens up into the rest of the lounge, but it is still just for us.

When flying Royal First, passengers get access to complimentary massages too.  You can get up to 60-minutes of spa treatments.  You can do a full body massage (with or without oil) or two 30-minute massages (shoulder and foot) or you can opt for just a 30 minute massage, if time is limited (again, your choice is shoulder or foot).  Business class passengers can choose one of the 30-minute options.  Before our Attendant left our private area, I asked her about massages and we were in luck – two 60 minute spots were available immediately.  We were told to leave our bags in our area in the lounge (which really concerned me, but I grabbed my wallet and passport and left my bag there).

The Spa is actually in across the hall from the Royal First Lounge and we were escorted over and quickly checked in.  Things were moving very quickly and efficiently.  The massage area is quite large and separated into two rooms.  You have the main area with your massage table and a separate area where you change and can shower, shave, etc.  I wanted to take more photos of the massage area, but my masseuse seemed to be in a hurry and I didn’t want to keep other patrons from having a massage before their flight.

I popped into the changing area and found XL Disposable Underwear, which were still a bit tight (I’m 1.82M/6′ 84kg/185lbs), but fit so much better than those disposable undies in Myanmar.

Wearing XL Underwear isn’t an ego booster…

The massage was good and the room was quite quiet, considering how much was going on just outside the room.  It did take me a bit longer to get relaxed – I think it was because of how much running around we were doing just to get to this point.  She did a great job though.  I chose the Full Body Massage with Oil.  After the massage I took another shower (so far this day, I had a shower before breakfast, a shower at the St. Regis spa…yes, I had a massage earlier in the day, a shower before we went to the airport, as we weren’t sure if we’d get a massage or not and I couldn’t wait until Munich for a shower) and headed back to the Royal First Lounge.  Our Attendant was waiting for me to finish and walked me back to the Lounge.  I assume they pinged her and said that I was done and that she didn’t just wait there for 75 minutes…

The private area of the massage suite at the Thai Airways Spa.

The toilet, agape, in the Thai Airways Spa.

The Robes were a nice touch, but not really needed.

I made it back to the Lounge and found an elderly Thai woman (in full Thai Airways Uniform) sitting on a folding chair to the entrance to our private lounge space.  She wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t reading. She was just sitting, perfectly straight.  She thanked me (for what??) and folded her chair up and walked away.  I was told that she was there to watch our stuff and keep unauthorized people out of our room.  Hmmm.

I sat down and before I knew it, our Attendant brought me a glass of champagne, a still water and a menu for food.  The Royal First Lounge does have a full and proper sit down restaurant (white table cloth type of place). I’ve heard that the food there is authentic and amazing, but after Nahm for lunch and Gaggan for dinner the prior night…and a full dinner on the plane, I couldn’t bring myself to eat a sit down dinner…so I just ordered some fried spring rolls.  Hey, it’s still vacation, right?

Champagne and fried spring rolls. A lovely combindation.

By this point it was about 22h30.  Mike had returned from his massage and we relaxed in the Lounge.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 00h50, so I thought we’d head over to the gate, which wasn’t very far from the Lounge at around 00h00, but our Attendant really didn’t like that idea.  She asked, then begged us to stay.  She said the flight was a bit delayed because of mechanical issues and it was a bad idea for us to just go stand at the gate. As she said when we first came in, she reminded us to sit and relax and she’ll get us when it is time to leave. Fair enough.

At around 00h40 we decided to leave. We just felt uncomfortable and the lounge was getting pretty empty.  When we walked up to the Lounge entrance we found six other passengers in our same boat — uncomfortable that we were still in the lounge just minutes before scheduled departure.  Most of these people were German…

Our Attendant finally agreed and they collected the final people for our flight and walked us to the gate. No one had started boarding yet.  It was mayhem.  Our Attendant had stayed in the lounge and our new guide was a bit frustrated.  We had a couple folks who couldn’t follow simple directions – they got lost on the way to the plane and he had to go find them.  After a few minutes waiting in the gate area, our guide pushed through the crowd saying something in Thai, something in German then “First Class Passengers, please move”… ouch.  I loved it though.

Thai Airways 747. This bird took us from BKK to MUC. It was a bit rickety, but still the Queen of the Skies.

The gate area was surrounded by glass and doors into a glass wall lead to the gate itself.  We were escorted directly past the glass doors and then spent a few minutes hanging out – watching all 300 of the other passengers glare at us as we moved to the front of the line. I’m sure they could smell the champagne and massage oil on us as we moved by.

I really enjoyed the Royal First Lounge and the full 60-minute massage.  I do wish I could have tried the full restaurant.  I also wish I had a bit more time in the Spa.  There are rooms that have full bathtubs where you can have a massage then a nice long relax in the tub.  The problem here is that I really shouldn’t be spending so much time in an airport lounge, right?  I’m on vacation in an amazing city like Bangkok, I should be out and about.  Maybe next time I can schedule a longer connection at BKK (as long as I arrive or leave in proper Royal First, otherwise, I don’t get access to all the amenities).

Have you visited the Royal First Lounge in Bangkok?  How was the food?  Did you spend enough time in the lounge or did you need more?  What massage option did you go with?

Nahm – Fine Dining in Bangkok

Our first real meal in Bangkok this trip was at Gaggan and was wonderful. The modern redefined Indian cuisine was a great kickoff to our brief time in Thailand, but now I was really in the mood for proper Thai food — and I don’t mean that standard Pad Thai or rolls that are ubiquitous in American Thai restaurants.  We had booked space for a later lunch on our day of departure – our 13h00 reservations would allow us plenty of time for a meal, then some relaxation time back at the St. Regis.  I still needed some time at the pool and a cocktail or two before we began the 24 hour trip back home.

Nahm was just 2.7 kilometers from the St. Regis, but we weren’t going to walk this route – again, this is Bangkok and it is hot and humid and this day, it was raining intermittently.  We hopped an Uber and were at Nahm in about 10 minutes.

Nahm is located in the Como Metropolitan Hotel, on the first floor.  We arrived about 15 minutes before our reservation – traffic in Bangkok is notoriously bad and unpredictable.  We were told that we couldn’t be seated until closer to the time we booked and the area for us to wait was actually in the hotel lobby.  We loitered in some comfortable chairs for about 20 minutes. As a side note, the employees working at the hotel were very attentive, they brought us water, then refills and different people kept coming up asking if we needed a taxi or anything else.  Just based on this limited interaction with the folks at the Como Metropolitan, I’d stay at this property in the future!

We were seated a few minutes after our scheduled reservation and were greeted by a lovely middle aged Thai woman.  She brought bottles of still and sparkling water and took our wine order. We each had a a crisp white wine – I chose a very dry Riesling, which would pair perfectly with the spice in the food.  Our server said she was from Southern Thailand, which can have some of the most notoriously hot food – but Thailand in general is known for their spicy cuisine.

The amuse bouche was the traditional betel leaf, which I love more than almost anything on the planet. A local restaurant in Chicago serves betel (my first time ever eating it was at Herb) and I just can’t get enough of it.  If you aren’t familiar with it, basically, it is toasted coconut (and I’m not a coconut fan), chilies, peanuts, lime and sometimes prawns or a prawn paste.  It is eaten in a single bite and is absolutely amazing.  I will say that the betel leaf we got at Nahm was almost identical to what we get at Herb (here in Chicago), which made me feel great about dining at Herb.  If you haven’t been, you must go.

Betel Leaf Amuse Bouche. Elegant, spicy, flavorful and my favorite way to start a Thai meal.

We decided to split a smaller salad as we knew we were going to be light on the vegetables for the next 24-hours.  Airplane food isn’t great when it comes to fresh garden work.  The salad was a big mix of different fruits and vegetables and everything was at the epitome of ripeness.  Sometimes I really regret living in a place (Chicago) where fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t available from your garden year round.

Thai Vegetable and Fruit Salad

For my entree, I decided on the Spicy Curry of Minced Prawns.  Our server asked if I like spicy food (which I do) and that was it.  She offered no other guidance…yeah, you know where this is going, don’t you?

The Spicy Curry of Minced Prawns with Yellow Eggplants and Holy Basil.

The mixed vegetables added a cooling effect on my wonderfully spicy lunch.

The mixed vegetables were delivered first and we were told those were designed to help reduce the heat that my lunch would be inflicting.  Not an uncommon thing to see, especially in Thai cooking.  Our entrees were delivered and they smelled amazing!  Mine was a big bowl of thin broth and just a ton of shrimp, vegetables and spices.  The first bite was heaven.  Then the spice started to kick in. WOW.  Then the fire continued to build.  I ate another bite, which cooled me off, then my mouth was turned into a three alarm fire again.  I downed the veggies, some water and wine – yes, I know that water and wine don’t really put out a spice fire like this, but I was desperate.  I made Mike take a bite of my curry.  I think he thinks I’m a wimp when it comes to spices, but I’m not. I love spice – I love flavor more though. You can often get a meal that is just so spicy you don’t get any flavor – I’ll steer clear of those.  This wasn’t like that, the flavor was intense and balanced…the spice level was extreme.  He had about three bites and agreed that it was very spicy and he went back to his milder fish curry.

I continued my journey. I drank water. I ate vegetables. I continued the curry. At a certain point, I decided that I’d just eat this curry and not try to put the fire out until I’m completely finished.  I ended up eating about 75% of the curry – I was actually pretty full…you know I had some betel leaf, a salad and about two gallons of water in my attempt to put the fire out.

The server comes back (my water was being refilled by a busboy) and laughed a bit at me.  Not in a mean way, or at least I didn’t take it that way.  She says “I told you it was spicy” – and well, she didn’t, but she implied that.  Her next sentence floored me.  She said that she loves spicy food, but this prawn curry is just too hot for her. You know, that’s a key piece of information that she should have shared with me when I ordered.  I may not have changed my mind on my order, but at least I would have known that a woman from an area of Thailand with traditionally spicy food, thinks this is just too hot.  C’mon!

Not even half way through my meal and I look like I’ve been through the gauntlet.

I didn’t get a choice for dessert, she brought me some dessert soup with mango and said that this would help with the heat.  It did.

Tropical Fruit in Scented Syrup – the Mangoes helped put out the fire.

Oh boy, this was a sweltering meal.  I really enjoyed Nahm.  The food was great although I can’t say if it should be on the list of Top 50 Restaurants in Asia (I haven’t eaten much in Asia).  I likely wouldn’t return to Nahm on my next trip to Bangkok – there are so many great restaurants and our visits are traditionally just a day or two.  I’ve got to get out and try new things when I’m there.

Some of you may be asking “Wait, weren’t you traveling for 24 hours shortly after this meal?  Did you have any, uh, um….issues, especially with a teeny tiny airplane bathroom?”  For those of you who thought that….gross.  For those who didn’t…sorry.  For all – no issues whatsoever!  It was was mouth burn, not anywhere else.  Now that that unpleasantness is behind us (ha)….

Have you eaten at Nahm?  Did you have the Spicy Prawn Curry?  How do you put out the mouth fire of Thai food?  Where do you recommend I visit during my next trip to Bangkok?

Peach and Goat Cheese Pizza

The past couple of weeks it seems like my social media feed has been full of people making peach pizzas.  Peach and ricotta. Peach and Mozzarella.  Peach and Goat Cheese.  Peach with tomato sauce. Peach with pesto.  I will admit, I never thought about a peach pizza until recently, but I don’t know why.  I love pineapple on pizza, so why wouldn’t another fruit like peach be a logical next step?

I decided that this weekend I was going to make a Peach and Chevre pizza.  I scoured the interwebs for the perfect recipe, but nothing really grabbed me.  Now I can go off recipe for quite a few things and those are usually Italian options.  Each fall I make a huge batch of bolognese sauce that keeps me going through the winter.  I don’t follow a consistent recipe with that.  When I make a homemade pizza, I go off book too.  This recipe felt a little more daunting – I really didn’t know what I wanted to taste with this meal.  But hell, as I always say, if I try something new and it sucks, I can always just order…well….pizza.

I knew I wanted peaches and goat cheese (chevre), so we hit the farmer’s market for the peaches and stopped by Whole Foods for the pizza crust and some chevre.  I decided to keep it pretty simple. I wasn’t going to mix and match cheeses, I wasn’t going to layer in some tomato sauce or pesto.  I wanted to really focus on the two main ingredients: peaches and chevre.

I started off by preheating the oven to 450F (230C or Gas Mark 8).

I rolled out the Whole Foods whole wheat pizza dough into a quarter inch thickness (rectangular, only because getting the dough perfectly round never really works for me…) and brushed with the good olive oil.  I say good olive oil because we perpetually have two kinds at home – the kind that we use in every day cooking and is kept in a bottle with a spigot next to the stove and the other olive oil that is usually used to make salad dressings or as a final finishing touch to something.  Yes, I used the good oil here.  A light brushing over the top was the perfect base to this culinary canvas I was dreaming about.  I should say that at this point I had already  put this dough on a cookie sheet with a silpat liner (we use both the fancy French version as well as the Amazon Basics version – I find they work exactly the same).

Perfectly Ripe Farmers Market Peaches on Freshly Oiled Pizza Dough.

I sliced up two peaches – about 1/4 inch thickness and placed them all over the freshly oiled pizza crust.  I wasn’t sure how much chevre I’d need so I grabbed an 11 ounce size at the store (I used just over half, but could have used more) and crumbled it by hand over the pizza.  I then decided to cut up some fresh scallions and sprinkle over the top.  Finishing it off with some freshly ground pepper and some sea salt.

Next step: crumble a bunch of chevre all over the pizza.

I tossed this bad boy in the oven and cooked initially for 10 minutes – just to see how it worked.  It wasn’t done, but the critical thing to remember is that chevre isn’t a moist cheese, so it doesn’t melt like mozzarella.  I ended up cooking the pizza for about 18 minutes until the crust was brown (not too golden), the peaches were soft and the chevre was very tender and just starting to brown.

Into the oven at 450F (230C or Gas Mark 8) for about 15 minutes.

While the pizza baked, I put a half cup of good balsamic (we don’t use much balsamic, so I think we only had the good stuff around…I think it was the good stuff because it resided next to the good olive oil) into a sauce pan over medium high heat to reduce it. I wanted a nice thick balsamic drizzle over my pizza once it was done.  Cook the vinegar until you are left with about 2 tablespoons of the reduction. I also ran out to the garden and grabbed some basil (both traditional and purple).  I ran it under some water (pretty haphazardly) dried it, rolled it into a tube and quickly ran a knife though it.  A quick chiffinade was all I needed to do here.

Reduce your balsamic vinegar to about two tablespoons.

The timer rang and my pizza was finally done.  My first thought was “Damn, this needs something. More cheese?  More peaches?  A traditional sauce?”  I let it cool for about five minutes then sprinkled the basil and cut it into squares.

Voila! With the fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic reduction, this pizza was ready to go! I didn’t snap a pic of the jalapenos because I ate the pizza too quickly!

I was very pleased with the flavors – the peaches were so sweet and still held their shape, despite the slicing and the heat of the oven.  Drizzle your balsamic reduction over the entire pie and dig in. As I finished my first slice, I decided to walk out to the garden and grab a jalapeno pepper.  I sliced the pepper (about 1/8″ – 1/4″) and placed the raw peppers on my pizza.  The peppers were just what this needed.  It added a great kick to the pizza and paired just perfectly with the peaches.

Want to follow my lead? Here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • One portion store bought pizza dough (or homemade if you so choose)
  • 2 tablespoons of the good olive oil
  • Two ripe peaches cut into 1/8″ slices (discard the pit)
  • Two scallions – thinly sliced (both white and green portions)
  • About 6 ounces of chevre – although feel free to use more
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil – chiffanade
  • One jalapeno, sliced very thin
  • Salt and Pepper (freshly ground, of course) to taste
  • 1/4 cup of the good balsamic vinegar

Do you make pizzas with fruit fresh from the farmers market?  What would you add to my recipe?  Send me pix of your summer pizza creations – I can’t ever get enough pizza options!

Gaggan – Fine Dining in Bangkok

Our time in Bangkok was limited. We were using this time to relax from more than a week of schlepping through Myanmar and in addition to a wonderful luxury hotel, we wanted some phenomenal food. Thai cuisine is one of my favorites – and spending so much time in Myanmar, with their bland, forgettable food, we needed something amazing. The 50 Best Restaurants in the World list has lead us to some great places and the first thing that popped up when we looked in Bangkok was Gaggan (#7 at the time). While not Thai, but a modern take on Indian, we decided it was a must visit.

We booked reservations a few weeks before we left Chicago and were able to get seats at the chefs table doing the tasting menu. Gaggan, the restaurant, is captained by Gaggan Anand and has been open since 2010 and according to Wikipedia, his plan was to re-envision Indian food into a refined, fine dining experience — he truly succeeded. The interiors of the restaurant are muted, with lots of whites and beiges, it just helps to bring your focus to the food.

The old townhouse that has been turned into one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World.

Our reservations were at 21h30 and we were fortunate enough (and quite by chance) that we could walk from the St. Regis to Gaggan. It was quite humid – it is Bangkok you know, but the walk was less than 10 minutes and it would have been utterly insane to take a taxi. We arrived shortly before 21h00 – I mistakenly thought we’d be able to grab a drink at the bar, but no such luck. We arrived early and waited about 10 minutes then were escorted upstairs to the large horseshoe bar area surrounding the kitchen.

Chefs and Assistants preparing for service at the common kitchen/bar table. 23 Courses do take some preparation.

We were the first to be seated. There were eight other people joining us upstairs for the amazing tasting menu.

The menu was delivered almost immediately when we sat down. There were no comments or directions, just the menu. Just Emojis. Just simple color printings on velum. Just emojis…A ton of them…25 to be exact. A 25 course tasting menu starting at 21h30 now seems like quite the daunting task. Remember, 15 hours ago we were hopping on a bus, heading to the airport in Heho, Myanmar for our two flight trip to Bangkok.

The menu was delivered on velum and only showed a single emoji for each course. no further guidance was given until the course was delivered.

Unfortunately there wasn’t an option for wine pairings with dinner. We could select bottles or by the glass if we wanted though. We asked the sommelier (who wasn’t a Master Sommelier) for guidance and this was by far the most disappointing part of our entire trip. His response: “Well, I’d suggest you get what you like.” Ok, I get it. With this many courses, we aren’t going to pair a new wine with each of the 25 courses, but with an emoji menu, we need some guidance. We didn’t get any. When we asked about a specific wine, we were told it was good and we should get it. When I asked if it made more sense to start with a glass of champagne first, then jump into a white or would the champagne do well for the first few courses, his response, was the same – “Do what you want.” If he would have said something about the first 16 courses are quite varied so a traditional pairing won’t work, but I’d recommend two to three glasses (even all at the same time) and then pairing them separately with the various courses, I’d have bitten and got three to four glasses of wine. As it was, we ended up with two glasses each. I was looking for the full experience here and the sommelier really did not deliver.

Chef came out and welcomed us all, asking us to introduce ourselves to our fellow diners and say where we were from. There were a couple Americans dining with us, but none who still lived in North America. We were surrounded by mostly people living in Bangkok. We were then told that the first 15 or so courses would be quick-fires (single bites that come out in rapid succession – which does lead back to the trouble with proper pairings), then we’d move into slightly larger courses, but nothing would be a full and proper meal course.

The first plate was set down in front of us at 21h28 and another course would be dropped every 2-5 minutes. It started to feel like a whirlwind. Everything was so tasty – great texture, great flavor combinations and a truly one of a kind delivery.

A (Spice) B (Citrus) = C (Cola)

Yogurt Explosion

Bombay Bhel

Eggplant Cookie

Chili Bonbon

Green Peas Mushroom Roll

Idly Sambar

Charcoal Prawn Amritsari

Aloo Gobi Caviar

Citrus Waffle Goat Brain

Closeup on Citrus Waffle

Amazaki Liver

Uni Ice Cream

Chu Toro (one of my favorites!)

The team prepping the Akami Tartar

Akami Tartar (a close second!)

Close Up on the Akami Tartar

Tomato Matcha

Pork Vindaloo Cutlet

Scallop Curry Cold

Quail Chettinad – Caged

Quail Chettinad – UnCaged

Chef prepares the fish course – I’d never expect the fish course to require a blow torch…

Post Torching Fish

Cedar Wood Paturi (sorry for the blurry pic!)

Lamb Kebob Hot Dog

Crab Curry Chuwanmushi – a bland picture but an amazing course.

Beetroot Blue Cheese (YES PLEASE!)

Basil Chocolate Butterfly

Strawberry Ghewar

The final course, the Strawberry Ghewar was delivered at 23h12. We were full. We were sleepy. We were pleased to have visited Gaggan. The restaurant will be closing in 2020, so if you have a plan to visit Bangkok, I highly recommend you stop by and pay Mr. Anand and his team a visit. After he shutters Gaggan in Bangkok he’s moving his restaurant to Japan — yes, it’ll be on my short list for sure.

Before we departed, we were given the full menu – and by full menu, I mean one with words. Not an elaborate menu, mind you, but one that provided much more detail than the emoji menu we encountered upon our arrival.

Our final menu, complete with emoji and description.