Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Compliments of the Chef - Food in Bangkok

At an International conference this last month, I ran into two Indian guys. It was lunch time and there was a buffet. They were angry at the lack of vegetarian choices when I pointed out a special vegetarian buffet on the side. The two guys rushed towards it and helped themselves to bland fried rice and sautéed vegetables. One guy pointed towards ‘vegetable lasagna’ and asked what it was to which the other guy replied “That’s also a curry, you can mix it with rice”.

I was about to shake my head and judge them when I remembered what a giant loser and pain in the ass I was many years back. On my first day at college, I shocked my friends when I told them that “I never had a samosa in my life”. My friend Appu, immediately set to task. During the first few trials, I would carefully dissect the samosa, removing all the potato curry and sliding it over to Appu’s plate while eating the shell with pride. Curry puff got a similar treatment. I would chew along the perimeter, careful not to touch any bit of the curry and triumphantly declare that I was getting better. 4 years of college and many trials later, I learnt to love samosas and curry puffs, but I was still a very picky eater. When I first moved to the US, I used to eat only at Indian restaurants. A good part of my courtship with Saru was spent on him trying to make me eat a bagel and cream cheese.

As I sat to have dinner at an award winning French restaurant, I realized that I had come a long way from my picky self. I do not profess to be a foodie, I am still conservative in my food choices, but I am definitely getting bolder and expanding my horizons with every new trip. Of the nine meals I had in Bangkok (Good grief..I am counting my time in number of meals instead of days!!), 8 of them were Thai, so one night, I decided to eat French food. The Reflexions is a modern French cuisine set in the very opulent Plaza Athénée hotel. The menu was dominated by meat and seafood. Nothing in the appetizer/soup section looked that great and I wanted to save space for dessert, so I ordered a main course of fish and settled down taking pictures of the place and pretending to be deeply engrossed in a restaurant guide of Bangkok.

The bread basket arrived soon enough. The wafting aromas of the warm bread made me realize how hungry I was, so I took a quick picture and dug in. Not surprisingly it was great. A few minutes later, the waitress came to my table

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm" She said while placing a beautifully decorated mini-appetizer -"Quail egg mousse with red pepper salad"

"Quail egg mousse?" I asked, just to be sure. The old Vam would have politely sent back the dish, but the new Vam decided to give it a try. "I will spit it back in the plate if I don't like it". I told myself and took a tiny Lilliputian bite and it was not as gross as I thought. I ate the rest of it while complimenting myself on the achievement.

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm" The waitress came back again with a large bowl of soup. -"Lobster Bisque with Truffle emulsion and cream topping"

Lobster? This time, the question was for myself. I never had lobster in my life, but I heard people rave about it. In the spirit of my new found courage, I decided to give it a try. I took one sip and almost kicked myself in the foot for never trying lobster. The soup was without doubt one of the best soups I EVER had. I was expecting a fishy soup, but this had a very intense earthy flavor. I finished the entire bowl and wiped it clean with bread!

I was just getting ready for my main course, when I saw the waitress bring another dish towards my table. "Another complimentary dish? This is insane!!" I told myself. This one had some ice-sculptures on the plate and a small open tin can. The lid on the can read "Caviar"!!!!!

"Compliments of the Chef Ma'm".

CAVIAR?? Are you kidding me?? There was just no freaking way I was going to eat tiny little fish eggs!! uh uh...No way!! Forget it! Haute cuisine to Hell!! I am sorry, but THIS is where I draw the line.

Smiling at my vigorously shaking head, the waitress said " This is watermelon caviar topped with passion fruit seeds ". Whew!!! I heaved a sigh of relief and happily accepted it and went on to photograph it. Lighting was poor and I took so long trying to photograph it without flash that the sculptures started melting!! Taking the cue, I tasted the caviar. It was quite delicious, but a LOT of work to eat water melon, I have to say!

Then came the dish I actually ordered "Roasted Dover Sole with wild mushrooms duxelles, roasted baby artichokes and truffle emulsion". The Sole was tasty, but nowhere in comparison to the awesome lobster bisque. Saru looked at this picture and said " Jeez, what did you do to tick off the chef??? He spit all around your fish!". Only my husband can come up with something so disgustingly imaginative!! It was light cream!!

Chef Thibault walked up to my table. " I hope you enjoyed the food. The main course was going to take a while, so I sent you the soup and stuff". I thanked him profusely and asked him how he made the soup. Remove the claws and cook the lobster head in the broth until it reduces to a soup consistency. I think I was happier not knowing how it was made!

Then began the long process of selecting the dessert. The chef described everything on the menu (in that utterly cool French accent, complete with sound effects and hand gesticulations to explain texture). I was so taken by the performance that I ordered "Degustation or Tasting Menu" . It included small portions of pineapple ravioli, raspberry tartlet, vanilla lime sorbet, caramelized Vanilla mille-feuille and my favorite Moelleux au chocolat.

>I liked the warm pineapple ravioli. The tartlet was just OK and the sorbet horrible. I have never liked sorbets. I think they are weird food masquerading as desserts and should be banished from this section. This one was lime sorbet and would have been great as a mouthwash flavor... if you ask me!!! The big surprise item was the mille-feuille. It was a small pastry with thin, delicate, buttery layers of puff pastry filled with soft, luscious vanilla cream (cream, not ice-cream). The pastry layers and the vanilla cream melt, the minute they touch your tongue. "Food Porn is what this is", Saru said when I described it to him.

I saved the best for the last- the warm chocolate lava cake! The key to a good lava cake is good chocolate. You know you are eating bad chocolate when it tastes like Bournvita (I challenge you to try Domino's Rs.25 chocolate lave cake and a Bournvita shake and tell me if they taste different). Based on what I have tasted over the years, you do not want to skimp on the budget when buying Chocolate. More expensive is almost always more tasty. Needless to say, the lava cake at this upscale restaurant was beyond fantastic. I loved it so much that I did something very uncharacteristic of me - I ate slowly savoring every bite. When I called Saru later that night to describe the experience, he did not believe me. He knows that I am not dainty when there are fruits or desserts next to me. I am the type of girl that eats grapes, 2 at a time (one on each cheek), so that when I bite into it, the taste explodes in the entire mouth at the same time.

The very first bite of the lava cake was so amazingly fantastic that I did not want the sensation to end. Warm spongy cake with soft, smooth, velvety chocolate... almost induces a state of ecstasy!! The cake and the sorbet were the only items left on the plate and as I was staring at them, I came up with a brilliant plan!! I ate a small spoonful of the lemon sorbet. It was so horribly yucky that it completely erased the taste of chocolate cake and cleansed my palette. I sipped some water and then went back to the lava cake and took a bite. Voila! It was a repeat of my out of the world first-bite experience. I went back and forth between the awful sorbet and the awesome cake and had the first bite experience for the entire cake! I am so thankful that the restaurant was almost empty that night, otherwise, people would have stared at the crazy Indian lady whose facial expressions kept alternating between an "ewwww gross" to "OMG...this is heaven" multiple times in the 15 minutes it took me to finish dessert.

"The perfect animation of that would be Homer Simpson alternating between "ewwww..." and "ummm..." said the husband before jumping into character making weird sounds and distorted facial expressions!

What was your recent food experience? Leave a comment!