February 22, 2017

Bangkok 2017 day 5: I'll have what Califa had

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Paste was always going to be on my agenda for this trip, having heard good feedback from both the Great One Lick My Toes and Haokoufu last year.  Then I found out that my friend the Hungry Tourist also loves this place, so that made things even more interesting.

I preferred to be "under the radar" on my first visit to a restaurant, so I turned down the Hungry Tourist's offer to join him for lunch the day I arrived.  Instead, I had Hello Kitty reserve a table in her name, and tried not to be too public about when I would be dining here.  Alas, I slipped up and failed to keep things under wraps.

Our original booking for 4 eventually turned to 7, and as I called the restaurant to ask for a bigger table, the person answering the phone immediately asked me whether the Great One was coming (she was not), and proceeded to ask whether I was still coming.  So we had been outed... probably by my friend the Hungry Tourist, who was obviously trying to help one of his favorite restaurants make a good impression on us.

With 7 of us - and most of us visiting for the first time - we decided to forgo the challenge of ordering from the menu, and asked for the chef to arrange everything for us - omakase (お任せ).  Effectively, we did a "I'll have what he's having"... and in this case we were having what my friend was having on his visits just days before.  We found out afterwards that the kitchen had been told to dial down the heat, knowing that I don't like my food really spicy.

Our welcome drink was made with bael flower, elderflower and pandan.  Smelled of honey, too.

Crispy smoked prawns with roasted coconut and cashew nuts, served on rose apple (กุ้งเสียบผัดหวานกับชมพู่) - pretty nice.  There's just enough heat here to make things interesting, but not enough to blow my head off.  The slice of rose apple helps temper the heat, which is good.

Watermelon and ground salmon with crispy shallots, roasted galangal powder (ปลาแซลมอนแตงโม) - love how everything comes together here.  The sweet and juicy yellow watermelon complemented the sweetish flavors of the salmon floss, which then contrasted with the beautiful raw salmon roe.  The final touches are added by Thai basil leaves.  Just a wonderful dish.

Tapioca dumplings of royal project smoked trout, toasted peanuts, coriander and pennywort (สาคูไส้ปลาเทร้าต์จากโครงการหลวง) - definitely tasted the smoky flavors, and the texture was interesting with crunchy peanuts inside the glutinous and sticky steamed wrapper.

Roasted duck, nutmeg, curry paste and saw tooth coriander served on rice crackers (หน้าตั้งแขก) - I love things served on crunchy rice crackers, and here they've got shredded duck, peanuts, raw red shallots, deep-fried shallots, and chili.  Crunchy and tasty, with some heat but once again not overpowering.

Korean pen shell with chilli and Thai herb cream (Pen Shell เกาหลีกับซอสครีมสมุนไพร) - the pen shell came with a steamed custard.  The spices tasted almost like mushroom powder, and the garnish included some fragrant dill flowers.

Smoky southern yellow curry of Gulf of Thailand red spanner crab, hummingbird flowers, Thai samphire and turmeric (แกงปูจั๊กจั่นปักษ์ใต้กับพริกไทยดำ, ดอกแคและใบชะครามจากสมุทรสาคร) - this was always gonna be tasty.  You just can't go wrong with crab curry.

Lon of Gulf of Thailand red spanner crab, Nan province salted duck egg, fresh coconut cream, hairy fruited eggplant and lime leaf (หลนปูจั๊กจั่นกับไข่เค็มจากน่าน, กะทิสด, มะอึกและใบมะกรูด) - the lon was definitely more on the sweet side, with a lighter, thinner consistency.  Kaffir lime leaves and white turmeric stood out in terms of flavor.

Old style hot and sour soup of crispy pork leg, chargrilled shallots, jack fruit seeds, roasted tomatoes in a smoky chicken broth (ต้มยำเม็ดขนุนและขาหมูโบราณใส่หอมแดงเผา) - chicken feet and smoked pork leg... very nice.  Definitely very smoky.  Nice acidity and heat here in the tom yum (ต้มยำ) soup.

Northern Chiang Mai salad of fresh water river prawn with roasted banana chilli, char grilled tomatoes and pink mempat (ยำกุ้งแม่น้ำแบบเชียงใหม่, พริกหนุ่ม, หอมรมควัน, มะเขือเทศย่างและสาหร่ายเผาเสิร์ฟพร้อมกับน้ำยำ) - a recipe from 1905.  The prawns seem to have come with some sort of caviar - perhaps its own?  The tomalley in the head was sooo sooo damn good...

Mee grob crispy noodles of river prawn, pickled garlic, Asian citron zest, & garlic chives (หมี่กรอบกุ้งแม่น้ำ) - this wasn't part of the "Califa menu", but I've been trying out mee krob (หมี่กรอบ) around town so I wanted to see what they can do.  This was very light and airy, not quite ethereal.  Can't really taste the oil that's been used for deep-frying.  Pretty good.

Stir-fried ocean blue crab, fresh curry powder, organic eggs, spicy chilli jam, pickles and fennel (ปูผัดผงกะหรี่กระเทียมโทนดอง) - probably everyone's favorite dish today.  Made with rendered shellfish oil.  Much deeper in terms of flavor, and once again the heat was very well-balanced with creaminess and sweetness.

Chanthaburi province noodles with red spanner crab, curry paste, fresh coconut milk and dried scallop floss (เส้นจันทน์กะทิผัดปู) - supposedly similar to pad thai (ผัดไทย) and made with the same type of noodles.  Coconut milk and curry paste are added to spanner crab meat and crab liver.  Sprinkled with dried scallop floss on top.  Obviously this was more creamy and spicy compared to pad thai.

Ox tongue and snake fruit stir-fried with smoked fish powder, hot basil (ฝัดเผ็ดสละกับลิ้นวัวและปลากรอบทรงเครื่อง) - the flavors were pretty heavy here, with liberal use of kaffir lime leaves.

Chargrilled organic pork loin, smoked eggplant and tomato relish, fennel seed, glazed with wild honey (หมูออร์แกนิกย่างกับเมล็ดเฟนเนลและน้ำผึ้งป่า เสริฟ์กับน้ำพริกมะเขือเผา) - a beautiful-looking piece of pork.  Guess who picked up the bone and gnawed on it?

This was nicely charred and caramelised on the edges.  The fat was really wonderful and tasty.  The relish was a little hot and sour.

We were too full from the meal and turned down dessert.  Looking back though, I definitely should have taken their durian cheesecake...  So we had these dark chocolate truffles with orange and Thai rum.  Very nice way to end our lunch.

I really liked this meal, and in fact it's probably the best Thai meal I've had across my two trips recently.  I can't speak to the "authenticity" of the flavors, although it would seem that Chef Bee has done her homework and some of the recipes appear to be old school.  But what's key for me is that there were no fails today across the range of dishes we had - some were even standouts.  For me, this would be the fine dining Thai restaurant of my choice in Bangkok.

The only issue I had with our meal today had nothing to do with the food but with logistics.  There were too many of us sharing the same dishes, and as everyone wanted to snap pictures of the beautifully presented food, it took a little time for everyone to have their turn.  As a consequence, the temperature of the food wasn't ideal.  It was also a little frantic and at times confusing as to who has or has not taken a photo or tasted the dish.  I would imagine that a smaller party with fewer dishes would have delivered a calmer, more relaxed experience in the serene dining room.

I'll try that next time I visit Bangkok.

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