Before heading off for a trip to Thailand, I got the names of 2 restaurants in Bangkok from previous posts. We visited both to significant disappointment. We went to Thanying and Baan Khanitha for two bad meals and then proceeded to Lai Cram and Royal Kitchen for two meals that were stunning. In this post, I write about the 2 bad meals first and end with the good ones.
Thanying bills itself as serving royal Thai cuisine. I've heard that in some cultures there are truly dishes that have only been cooked for kings and that to taste these dishes actually can be quite a treat. Many chefs to royalty pass their secrets on to their own children who also end up in the employ of the monarchs or to young apprentices, and thus recipes are kept out of circulation. So I went to Thanying with some high hopes. That was too bad on my part. There wasn't anything at Thanying that I hadn't had before so I was disappointed that there wasn't really any novelty. This was really more a misalignment of what my own imagination concocted as being royal Thai cuisine.
Nevertheless, we ordered 3 appetizers: shrimp cakes (tod mun goong), beef salad (yum nuea), and fried catfish (yum pla dook foo). Flavors were standard, average, and didn't stand out in any particular way. The catfish was too sour and a bit greasy.
Ordered two entrees: a beef sauteed with vegetables and chili peppers and a green chicken curry. Again, neither was exceptional. Finally, we ordered a coconut ice cream to share which was a nice way to end our meal but again, average.
This restaurant caters primarily to tourists and was priced accordingly. Our dinner cost about USD 30 and it was perceived by both of us as a lot of money (relative to the Thai cost of living) for little value. IMO, there was a lot of hype around this restaurant and very little substance.
Another restaurant that we tried was Baan Khanitha. Not only did I read about this restaurant on chowhound but an expat friend of mine living in BKK said this was a great place as well. In addition, the restaurant was cited as being the #1 place in BKK for 5 years straight. I'm not sure who or what organization that accolade was coming from but it was a piece of info. that I'd heard. This was the worst place I had eaten at in years, on either side of the globe.
When we first walked in, my stomach sank as I saw a very expat crowd. As we were seated, we waited a bit too long for our menus which didn't actually come until after our drinks had arrived. When we were ready to order, our waiter didn't understand that my husband was looking for a recommendation for an appetizer and proceeded to send another waiter over to assist us. What we didn't realize at this time is that the first waiter didn't tell the second waiter what items we had already ordered. We only discovered this later as we sat waiting for our entrees and they didn't come.
One of the appetizers that we ordered which was a pomelo shrimp salad was excellent. That was it. We both ordered 2 soft shell crab entrees which were both fried, oversauced, and soggy when they did arrive (to much apology from the waiter). When we ordered coconut ice cream for dessert, the ice cream that arrived tasted curiously more like vanilla than coconut. As there had already been confusion with our order in the past, we checked to make sure that our ice cream was truly coconut. When this happened, the waiter came over and explained that we were served a premium coconut ice cream and they would bring out another one. At this point, I wasn't sure what was going on because the waiter was making such of fuss over us when all we were trying to do was verify that it was coconut. Nevertheless, our bowl was whisked away and then two bowls appeared 5 minutes later. Our waited explained that they had brought out a scoop of the original ice cream and another coconut ice cream that seemed to have corn and melon in it as well. I never understood what was happening but we ate all the ice cream in front of us.
When we were finished, our bowls were cleared away and my husbands's order for coffee never came. He then decided that it was taking such a long time and he asked the waiter to cancel it. The waiter came over and was very apologetic. He told us that he was the "small boss" of this restaurant and that at tomorrow's staff meeting, the missed points of service would be discussed. He apologized again and expressed his sorrow that he would be losing a customer in us as the service had been very poor. He even told us how he'd lost another customer tonight as well because of some fried rice issue (I don't know, I was just sitting there listening). Anyway, he was definitely contrite enough and by that time, it was late and we just wanted out. We assumed that after he left our table, our check would be on the way. Wrong again. We waited about 10 minutes on our check as we couldn't seem to find our waiter and anyone else we asked couldn't seem to make him or our check appear either.
When our bill was finally brought to us, I checked the math and sure enough, they had double billed us for out entrees. It took a while for this to be pointed out, acknowledged, and corrected again. When the waiter finally brought our corrected bill, he didn't even say anything. He was clearly embarassed at the ineptitude of the entire evening and I don't think he could have actually apologized anymore than he had at all of those other times.
I do not understand how either of these restaurants have gotten such good reputations. I've had significantly better meals on the street and haven't been as disappointed as I was with these experiences. Looking back, I consider them to be a waste of precious eating time.
Now on to the good stuff: Lai Cram and Royal Kitchen.
The Lai Cram we went to is in the Thaniya Plaza off of Silom road. I had been here 10 years ago and can still recall the lemongrass taste in my memory. The restaurant much to my delight was still there and still had great food at a reasonable price. We had lemongrass soup with shrimp (tom yum goong), fishcakes (tod mun pla), yum pla dook foo (again the fried catfish), green chicken curry with rice noodles (khanom jeen), ground spicy chicken salad (laab gai), coconut ice cream, and tuptim grob. Tuptim grob is a dessert that I don't know an english translation for. It's a dessert that is made of small balls of water chestnuts that are rolled in a gelatin. The balls are over ice with coconut milk and some kind of syrup. It's nice combo of chewy and crunchy, milky and not too sweet.
Anyway, the lemongrass soup here is like none I've ever had. My husband disagrees with me but I think it's got a perfect and amazing balance of sour and spicy. It's got both flavors in high concentrations but is not too much of one or the other. It is just perfectly balanced and truly sinus clearing and lip burning!
My husband's favorite dish was the grren curry. He said that he'd never tasted curry like this. I believe everything they make at Lai Cram is from scratch so there isn't any use of prefab curry pastes or noodles. It's all fresh and it makes a taste difference. The curry again was a perfect balance of heat tempered by the creaminess/fattiness of the coconut milk. This dish was also great with the rice noodles so every last drop of curry adheres to these noodles and you don't miss anything!
Everything was satisfying down to the soul and the only thing that I missed was the ice cream. They used to make coconut ice cream with young coconuts which they don't do anymore. I loved this ice cream because it had slivers of baby coconut in it which is very very tender to the point where it's almost melt in your mouth. Alas, they don't make their ice cream that way anymore :<
Royal Kitchen is on Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thonglor) and is around Soi 5-8, on the eastern side of the street, across from the toyota building. There used to be one off of Sathorn road but they closed that one down and the one on Thong Lor is the only one left. Royal Kitchen does dim sum, and boy does it do dim sum. This also was a place I had gone to 10 years ago and I was surprised at how it had changed. My uncle told me that it had actually expanded so that there were 3. However, with the crash of the economy, they consolidated again back to one. I remember at the original one on Sathorn, there were silver chopsticks and silver chopstick stands. Now they've been replaced by plastic. Nevertheless, the dim sum was the best I've ever had.
Royal Kitchen makes all their dim sum to order. Ordering is done off a pictorial menu and then items are made as they are ordered. What did my uncle order for us? Ground shrimp patties wrapped in paper thin sheets of bean curd which are then fried, fried wontons, har gow, siu mai, a round dumplng containing ground shrimp and vegetables, fried shrimp balls, chao si bao with roasted red pork and another with a sweet yellow bean custard, and finally egg noodles with shrimp and vegetables. Normally, I don't order fried dim sum as I find the taste a little off if it doesn't come straight out of the fryer. All the ones we had were greaseless, searingly hot, and amazingly crunchy. My fave was the shrimp wrapped in the paper thing bean curd as the exterior was as crisp as it could be while the minced shrimp was practically melting inside. I also tend to be wary of har gow though I love this little dumpling. I don't care for it when the translucent wrapper is too thick and takes on a gummy texture. These wrappers were also paper thin so that you could see the shrimp inside, like a little gem. This dim sum was the best I have had since I was last there and I can't wait for another visit!