February 18, 2017

Bangkok 2017 day 1: the most anticipated dinner of the year?

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I'm blessed to be able to call Gaggan Anand a friend.  I've been a big fan of his cuisine since first getting a taste of it about 2½ years ago, and my fondness has only increased with my visit to his restaurant last year.  He's been extremely nice to me both in person and over social media, and I'm very grateful for his kindness.

I always knew that I would take Hello Kitty to Gaggan on this trip, but when I found out via Instagram posts from the two chefs that Hasegawa Zaiyu (長谷川在佑) from Den (傳) was going a 4-hands dinner with Gaggan in Bangkok, it didn't take me long to ask my friend to save seats for Hello Kitty and I at this special collaboration.  And since the Great One was gonna be in town at the same time, we decided to go to the special event together.

I had never had the pleasure of dining at Den, but given all the glowing reviews from the Great One and plenty of other friends, it's been on my list of places to hit in Tokyo for some time.  This would be somewhat of a preview...

We knew we were running about 20 minutes late, and was pretty embarrassed about our tardiness since I figured everyone sitting around the counter at the Lab would be served at the same time.  Thankfully more than a few of us were running on Bangkok time!

Looks like everyone in the kitchen has their uniform on, even our visiting chef.  Which reminds me... someone still owes me a shirt!

Gaggan has switched to an all-emoji format for his menu, so it wasn't a surprise when I saw this in front of me...

Monaka, by Den - a meal at Den always starts with their signature monaka (最中), where the filling includes foie gras marinated in white miso for 10 days.

Out of the bag and plated...

This version also had some (dried?) Thai mango and iburigakko (いぶりがっこ) - radish that was smoked and then aged for 6 months.  There was also some yellow curry in the middle.  Loved the contrast between the soft, creamy foie and the crunchy radish.  The mango also was a little more crunchy than I had expected.  The flavor contrast between the sweet and sour mango with the smoky, savory radish and foie was also very interesting... helped along with a little kick from the curry.  This might look like something one can polish off with a few bites (or in my case, two...) but there's a whole lot going on here.

Eikun Murasaki no Eikun Junmai Ginjo Muroka Namagenshu (英君 紫の英君 純米吟醸 無濾過生原酒) - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%.  Sweet on the attack but dry mid-palate, and surprisingly dry and spicy on the finish.

Mushroom ghewar, by Gaggan - traditionally a sweet dessert like the one I had at Golden Peacock, Gaggan's done a savory version.  Apparently the crispy ghewar was made by frying milk fat, and used to hold smoky mushroom mousse with mushrooms "growing" out of it.  Inspired by the classic dish of methi matar malai (मैथी मटर मलाई), this also included a big "green pea" on top which needed to be eaten in one bite.  This was pretty nice, and the green chili powder at the bottom provided a little bit of a kick.

Sake dashi, by Den - this was "Japanese tom yum"... with a dashi (出汁) base and sake kasu (酒粕), lemongrass, chili, and plenty of ginger.  Quite a strong kick, this one...  Instantly warms the body.

French fries, by Gaggan - this is basically Gaggan's new twist on aloo gobi (आलू गोभी).  Freeze-dried deep-fried potato balls with dehydrated cauliflower chips on one side, and cauliflower purée topped with caviar on the other.

We were meant to skewer the potato balls with the stick, then dip it into the cauliflower purée and add some caviar on top.  Definitely pretty cool and got similar flavors as aloo gobi.  Oh and Gaggan freely admitted that putting caviar in there was just so he could charge more money... LOL!

Primosic Ribolla de Oslavia Riserva, vintage unknown - nose was oxidated and came with very familiar flavors.

DFC, by Den - the "Dentucky Fried Chicken" is yet another signature dish from Den.

The box opens to reveal a deep-fried chicken wing.  I had seen countless pictures of the dish, and was a little disappointed that it did not come with a doll of Hiyoko-chan (ひよこちゃん), the mascot of Nissin chicken ramen (日清チキンラーメン)...

The wing has been deboned and stuffed with glutinous rice and peanuts, deep-fried, and smeared with some green chili paste on top.  Pretty tasty for sure, but the basic idea has been in Cantonese restaurants for quite a while.

Den has been known to print the faces of their diners on the DFC boxes to provide that personal touch.  Tonight the boxes carried the faces of Zaiyu and Gaggan.

Charcoal lamb, by Gaggan - lamb was my favorite dish on my last visit, so I had very high expectations for this.  This time the charcoal dish no longer had a mystery ingredient.

The tempura batter covering the lamb kebab was mixed with ash from vegetables (Narisawa-style?).  As expected, cooking the lamb sous vide made it very, very tender.  There was definitely enough fat there to make every bite incredibly satisfying.  Then you've got that deep-fried batter on the outside.  Arguably my favorite dish of the evening.

2014 Lapierre Morgon - nose seemed a little stewed prunes?  Nice with just enough acidity here.

Fake Peking duck, by Den - the emoji says fish, but I was confused by what I saw on the banana leaf in front of me.  Deep-fried pieces of snakehead (雷魚), shredded spring onions, strips of cucumber, flowers were joined by dengaku miso (田楽味噌) and placed on top of a piece of very stretchy and sticky rice paper.

After we wrapped it up ourselves, it was time to chomp!  Kinda interesting, as the combination of the miso, spring onions, and cucumber did taste a little like the ingredients inside a Peking duck pancake.  Except here the protein was crunchy, but I couldn't taste any distinctive flavors of the fish itself after deep-frying and being overpowered by the other flavors here.

Strawberry uni, by Gaggan - served with a quenelle of miso and horseradish sorbet, with some (curry?) oil.  The miso was definitely pretty salty.  I think I prefer last year's version with the deep-fried rice cake.

2015 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco - oxidized nose with acetone notes, a little dry on the palate, not really sweet.

I thought Gaggan had announced that we'd be eating with our hands, but then we got chopsticks...

Som tam, by Den - interesting take on the classic Thai dish, served in a the bell of a banana flower.

This was made with only Thai fruits, and inside one will find rose apples, mulberries, deep-fried banana, julienned green mangoes, marian plums, peanuts, and dried shrimps.   The acidity and the kick were there, so the flavors were pretty authentic.

At this point a very distinctive aroma started filling the space around us, and I knew that Gaggan was starting to cook his curry.  These were the spices that went into the pot...

Soon the two chefs would show us their pots - Zaiyu with a pot of rice, and Gaggan with his curry pot.  Gaggan started asking everyone what size they wanted: S, M, or XXL.  Guess what size I asked for?

Mazegohan, by Den and Gaggan - the mazegohan (混ぜご飯) was made with Siam Ruby Queen corn, which were beautiful and crunchy.  Topping was a curry made with a combination of Thai swimmer crabs and Hokkaido crabs.  This was really fucking good.  After all the food we've had tonight, I started regretting getting this XXL bowl about halfway through it.  But it was sooooo damn good that I couldn't just dis the chefs by leaving anything behind, so I powered through it with Hello Kitty's help.  Now THIS was something I could eat everyday!

2012 Albert Mann Pinot Gris Hengst - off dry, with nice ripeness on the palate and a slightly bitter finish.  Good length.

Coconut Den - the first of two coconut desserts.  This was also known as the "emoji dessert", each serving was drawn with a different expression.  Now why did they give me an angry one?!  Do they know me better than I know myself?!

Anyway, this was a mochi (餅) made with coconut milk that was cooked until it became sticky, and mixed with kuzu (葛) and tapioca pearls. The expressions were drawn with caramelized palm sugar, and it was surprisingly salty.

Château Jolys Cuvée Jean, vintage unknown - sweeter on the palate with deeper flavors, more marmalade, and slightly bitter.

Coconut Gaga - a quenelle of coconut and curry leaf ice cream with candied ginger, pomelo, desiccated coconut, kaffir lime leaf chiffonade, apple blossoms, tamarind sauce, and lightly torched chili marshmallow.

While I have to admit that I was happier with more of Gaggan's dishes, nevertheless I was very, very impressed with Zaiyu's ability to come up with dishes within half a day, using local dishes that he had just gotten himself exposed to.  As I told Gaggan tonight, that takes some serious SKILLZ, and it showed me the potential of what a meal back home at Den could be like.  Bravo to both chefs for what they put together tonight.  It was certainly a lot of fun!

P.S. In spite of all of our efforts, neither the Great One nor myself have succeeded in paying for our meals at Gaggan.  When I asked Gaggan for seats at tonight's dinner, I told him specifically that he needs to let us pay for dinner since we are not eating for free.  Well, I did see some sort of a bill at the end of the dinner, and offered up my credit card.  A few minutes later, a waitstaff returned to tell me that it was for the "wrong table", and Gaggan once again refused to let me pay.  I didn't want to make a big fuss in front of the other guests, so I thanked him for the treat.

Thankfully I had come somewhat prepared, as I carried a small package of precious cargo as a gift to him for his upcoming birthday.  In retrospect I should have given him a bigger package...

P.P.S.  A few months ago, Gaggan posted a few pictures on Instagram of him visiting Dewazakura Brewery (出羽桜酒造).  I commented that I really like the sake that these guys make, and he remembered.  During dinner tonight, he asked sommelier Vladimir Kojic to bring out a very special bottle as a gift to me.  As far as I know, this is not available commercially.  A sparkling sake that has been aged below freezing for 15 years at the brewery.  Truly and very special and thoughtful gift.  I will certainly treasure this bottle and share it with some very special friends.

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