February 22, 2017

Bangkok 2017 day 5: decoding Gaggan Anand

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Having sung happy birthday to the birthday boy in front of a crowd at the unofficial after party in the wee hours of this morning, the Great One, Hello Kitty, and I are back at Gaggan.  At our Gaggan x Den dinner a few nights ago, after giving him a special birthday present, Gaggan Anand very kindly invited the three of us back for dinner tonight.

When we arrived for our 6 p.m. seating, sommelier Vladimir was in the house but looking a little worn out from party last night (or should I say this morning?).  Gaggan was nowhere to be found, but we all know he had a rough night after the unofficial after-party he threw after winning the top spot of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for an unprecedented third year in a row.  Thankfully he showed up soon after, and actually looked pretty together - unlike the picture he posted on social media.  We were once again seated in the Lab area of the restaurant, which was deliberately kept at about half capacity in light of the staff suffering from some serious lack of sleep...

We were treated to the latest menu, which was now represented by 25 emojis - one for each course.  The number of courses has increased since I was last here, and the portion sizes have gotten smaller; meanwhile according to Gaggan, the flavors have become more focused and pure.  It is interesting to note that about 40% of the menu was developed for Gohgan, his frequent collaborations with La Maison de la Nature Goh.

But first, a little bubbly to start...

2008 Drappier Grande Sendrée - a little yeasty and very ripe on the palate.

A (spice) B (citrus) 🍋  = C (cola) - scented mist billowed out of the box carrying our enamel mugs, and we were asked to guess the content of the mug from the fragrance.  Turns out this was just a combination of lemon and spices with a little salt that turned into cola... but a savory one.  So we started our dinner with 咸檸樂...

Yogurt 💥 explosion - this is Gaggan's signature dish - one of his earliest creations and inspired from the time he spent at Ferran Adrià's elBulli.  I've always loved this, and probably always will.

Bombay 🌾 bhel - the edible "plastic" was a little acidic and savory, with a hint of spices.

Eggplant 🍆 cookie - made by burning eggplant in a tandoor, then freeze dry before pulverizing and pressing into shape.  Made into an "oreo" but with onion jam filling.  The jam was delicious with both sweet and savory notes, and the smoky flavors of the eggplant cookie were really nice.

Chili 🌶 bonbon - the updated version of Gaggan's pani puri.  Still tastes pretty much the same, though... with the chocolate shell helping to temper the liquid filling of coriander water, cumin, chili, ginger, and other spices.

Green peas 🍄 mushroom roll - a smaller version of what we had 4 nights ago at the Gaggan x Den dinner.  Still love the combination of the sweet peas and the mushrooms.

Idly 🍚 sambar - light, fluffy, and ethereal.  The idly sponge cake seemed denser this time, but the texture was still lovely as a chiffon cake.  I still love the sambar-flavored foam and curry leaf.

Coriander nest 🍏 green apple - cinnamon, crunchy exterior made with shredded apple, with apple purée/gel inside, and fake apple snow sprinkled all over through a sift.

Charcoal 🌑 prawn amristsari - this time the charcoal tempura (天ぷら) shell - made by mixing burnt eggplant skin into rice batter - served as a coating for the minced lamb inside.  The filling was a little fatty and had curry leaves inside.  Loved it.

2014 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py - nice acidity here with some tannins.  Nice leather notes.

Aloo 🥔 gobi caviar - another variation of a dish we had 4 nights ago.  The freeze dried potato ball was very, very dry... and I prefer the earlier version.  Still tasted like aloo gobi, though.

Citrus waffle 🍊 goat brain - this tasted like those lemon wafers that one can buy from supermarkets, except the texture is much denser.

Amazake 🍶 liver - the paper-thin wafers are made from amazake (甘酒), and a little bit of chicken liver mousse was sandwiched in between.  Yum.

 Uni 🍦 ice cream - what's not to like about a little cone with mango sorbet and a couple of tongues of sea urchin (雲丹) on top?  Both ingredients are creamy and sweet.  Then there's that little dab of wasabi (山葵)...

Chu 🍣 toro - Oops, we did it again!  When we were asked what our dietary restrictions are at the start of our meal, we decided to reply "none" - since there were only a handful of things we don't eat and we didn't think Gaggan would be serving them.  Well... when Gaggan showed us this beautiful piece of Oma (大間) tuna belly (中トロ), we knew it was too late to turn this one down...

The tuna had just been flown in today so it had not been aged, but the texture was unlike any other piece of tuna belly I had ever tasted...  It was so, so, so marbled, springy, and bouncy that I could feel it fight back against the pressure from my teeth.  And it was just like jello... and buttah... Seasoned with kombu (昆布) salt and freeze-dried yuzu (柚子) rind instead of soy sauce, and draped over a dashi (出汁) meringue made with roasted Thai rice that simply crumbled and vanished into thin air... leaving only the memory of its flavors.

What an amazing bite.

Akami 🌮 tartar - after the fatty tuna belly, it was now time to taste the leaner flesh from the tuna's back.  The akami (赤身) was chopped into tartare and became the filling of tiny tacos made from khakhra (ખાખરા).  Nice kick here...

Tomato 🍵 matcha - once again, Gaggan served us his matcha (抹茶) made not with tea but with tomato... although no solids this time.  Tomato consommé was poured on top of freeze-dried tomato powder in our bowls, then whisked to create the foam.  Love the spicy kick from chill.

Pork vindaloo 🍖 cutlet - the first of five curries tonight.  This tonkatsu (とんかつ) was made with pata negra Iberico suckling pig, crunchy outside with a soft and juicy center, with onions and a little bit of spice from Japanese mustard.

2015 William Downie Pinot Noir Yarra Valley - a little forest and leather notes.  Higher acidity.

Scallop 🥘 curry cold - curry #2, and probably my favorite dish of the evening, with the Oma tuna coming a close second.  The Hokkaido scallops were placed between layers of fresh Hokkaido kombu for 2 days to marinate - similar to kobujime (昆布締め).  The dish contained all the ingredients for a curry, but (almost) none of it was cooked - Gaggan called it a "raw curry".  You've got some curry leaf oil, an emulsion made with coconut milk and salt, some chili oil...

Totally awesome.  Mind blown.  How can this pile of ingredients - cold to the touch - taste like the best curry I've ever had?!  When people talk about food being "emotional" or having an "emotional moment" while dining, surely this is one of those moments.

Quail 🐥 chettinad - curry #3, made with tamarind, black pepper, and other herbs - no tomatoes or green chilis.  Roasted in a tandoor (but, as Gaggan stressed, not done tandoori-style).  Yum.  Never met a quail I didn't like.

Cedar wood 🐟 paturi - Gaggan started by taking a torch gun to our food, setting it on fire and letting it burn for a while...

What we got was Thai sea bass done as a Bengali mustard curry, wrapped in a layer of cedar paper inside a banana leaf.  So while the banana leaf burned, the cedar was heated to give off a wonderful fragrance.

Made with this Indian mustard oil from a brand called "Engine"...

Lamb kebab 🌭 hot dog - inspired by his trips to New York City last year, the "hot dog" came with chutney on top instead of mustard.  Inhaled in one bite.

Crab curry 🦀 chawanmushi - #5 and the last curry of the meal.  This was essentially the same as the "raw curry", but done at a hot temperature and replacing scallop with crab.  Crab curry chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) with basmati rice inside.  Very, very delish... but the curry rice from the Gaggan x Den dinner simply cannot be topped...

Beetroot 🧀 blue cheese - OK, this is what happens when you decide not to articulate your dietary restrictions - you get hit with a multitude of them.  Both Hello Kitty and I have a dislike for beetroot, but I'll eat it when it's served to me.  Here we've got the earthy flavors of beetroot paired with the pungent blue cheese, with a mulberry on top adding acidity into the mix.  No points for guessing correctly that this was my least favorite dish of the evening.

Basil chocolate 🦋 butterfly - apparently inspired by the moss on a wall Gaggan saw while in Japan, we have a Thai basil sponge cake, with lime mousse and black pepper sorbet.  Very colorful and pretty.

Strawberry 🍓 ghewar - the ghewar was filled with pastry cream and topped with a half of Japanese strawberry from Shizuoka (静岡), a layer of elderflower jelly, and a dab of gold foil.  This was sooooo sooooo delicious... like an Indian version of the ubiquitous Japanese strawberry shortcake.  I could have easily eaten three more of these, but I wanted to save some room for our "second round"...

The ghewars were fried in ghee, and the holey texture was achieved when one of the Italian chefs suggested that they replace water with San Pellegrino as an ingredient.

There wasn't a second seating tonight, so we sat around and just hung out at the Lab.  Vladimir and Gaggan very kindly offered me more wine, but I was happy with my alcohol intake.  So... at some point, Gaggan decided to offer us some of his tea which he referred to as "the Romanée-Conti of tea"...  He asked his staff to fetch a couple of boxes, one of which had something like "DON'T EVEN THINK OF TOUCHING THIS EVER" written on the outside.

And this was the other box... with a gyokuro (玉露) from Uji (宇治) that was awarded the top prize in last year's competition.

The tea leaves were rolled by hand.  I told Gaggan that I don't have the right experience and therefore am unworthy of this tea, but when someone offers you a cup of this, it would be impolite to refuse...

Warm water was poured into the pot and Gaggan counted the seconds until it was ready to be poured...

This was beautiful and elegant.  The flavors were very subtle and mild, but with incredible length that just kept going on and on.  A second pot was made, and already we could taste the higher levels of tannins and the shorter finish.  Truly a privilege to have been able to taste this.

When it was finally time to go, we were offered a ride to one of Gaggan's favorite street food stalls around Silom.  When we got out of the car, I saw Gaggan and Vladimir talking to Chef Prin Polsuk from nahm.  When you have the chefs from the top two restaurants in Thailand - according to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, that is - at the same street food stall, you know that's some good shit!

Gaggan asked me whether I ate offal, and the answer was of course "Yes"!  So I stood in front of the stall and made a motion with my hand, signalling that I wanted everything to the right - starting from pig's liver.

Kuay jap nam sai (ก๋วยจั๊บน้ำใส) - all the pig offal came served in a clear broth with flat rice noodles rolled up, and we've got liver, intestines, tongue, kidney, and roast crispy pork.  It was simple, hearty, and awesome.

It was past 1:30 a.m., and some of us were fading fast after a late night last night.  We bid farewell to Gaggan and company, thanked them for the hospitality, and told them we'd be seeing them soon...

P.S.  We knew that when Gaggan invites us for dinner, he wouldn't let us pay.  But we tried to, anyway... The Great One and I snuck downstairs and asked for A, the affable restaurant manager.  Not unexpectedly, he refused to accept payment and told us that we can pay next time.  Knowing there is never a "next time", we asked to record his promise on video so that we could hold him to it when "next time" came around.  A ran away from us...

Thankfully, though, both the Great One and myself had come prepared, and we each brought a bottle of Champagne as a gift to Gaggan on his birthday.  Of course, the bottle of bubbly from the Kat was better than mine...

P.P.S.  I finally got the shirt I wanted from Gaggan...

1 comment:

JL said...

You might be familiar with the Kuay Chiap served in Penang, Malaysia.

The difference....might be the darker broth, and the use of coagulated duck's blood.


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