Tim Foolery

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Monthly Archives: August 2017

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.