Khao Sarn review
- beetlebug Jul 12, 2002 11:24 AM
Yes, I'm giving in to posting... I have to get over this paranoia. And, I was so pleased with last night's dinner. So, from my stomach memory, here goes last night's menu...
1) Appetizers - The first thing that rolled out was the miang kum. This appetizer was as delicious as previously posted. The flavors of the dried coconut, shrimp and miscellaneous herbs on top of that spinach leaf, was really quite amazing. Not only the flavors, but the varying textures. It was crunchy and chewy at the same time. The flavors and textures competed with each other, but not in a distracting way. Other appetizers included the papaya shrimp salad, which was one of spiciest things I have ever tasted. Initially, I really liked it, however, when I went home, I found papaya salad on my white silk pants. The novelty of the salad has worn off (but unfortunately, remain on the pants). The spiciness was, at times, overpowering, but there was a pleasant crunchiness to the salad. There was also an appetizer of sweet beef and sticky rice. I ended up blending the sweet meat and sticky rice with my papaya salad. That combination was phenominal. The nuclear shrimp, was alas, not that nuclear. Probably because I had just eaten the salad, and I don't think my piece of shrimp had the hot peppers. I believe CFox also agreed with me on the spice level. Rubee, however, almost coughed up a lung when she bit into hers. The shrimp was nice and sweet, almost like amaebi.
2) Main dishes - There were a number of cold courses. they included this catfish and chicken (larb kai). the catfish was really interesting. It didn't look or taste like fish. It was fried and puffed up. It was interesting, but neither that, nor the chicken made a huge impression on me. That's because the hot dishes came out, and they were spectacular. My favorites, in no particular order, were the salmon in the banana leaf (haw moak), the braised pork (moo pa lo) and this ground spicy chicken (gaprow). the salmon was very similar to the amok royale at Elephant Walks. Think of catfood in a banana leaf cup. It doesn't look that appetizing, but when you take that first bite and the flavors of fish, coconut milk and basil fill your mouth, it's enough to make me swoon. Also, the braised pork was delicious. I think I like it because it's comfort food done well. Pieces of pork, slow cooked for a long period of time, that the meat is practically falling apart. Lastly (of my favorites), was the ground spicy chicken dish, it looks like the cold chicken larb dish, but hot, spicy and flavorful. I don't know what why I liked it so much, other than that I liked the way it tasted, the spice, the basil, everything.
3) Other dishes - Seafood in the coconut - it was well done but not that exciting. Chinese watercress - again the same, it was nice having greens, but it's something I eat a lot of and a good staple. There were two different kinds of whole fish. I can't rave about these because by the time I got around to them (I was distracted by my favorites), they weren't at their best. The fishes were a couple of minutes overcooked and slightly dry. There was a chow fun dish that had a nice flavor, but the noodles, I think, were a little gloppy. Then there were these two egg noodle dishes sitting in a curry sauce. One had chicken, the other had tofu. The noodles and sauce were tasty, but the tofu was a little tough to eat. The skins were too thick.
I can't think of what else we had. I know that there was a lot of tasty food and it was a really fun night. I rolled out of there and woke up full. Bottom line... chowhounds really know how to have a good time. Thanks to galleygirl and others who organized the menu.
"Catfood in a banana leaf cup"! LOL! I'ts a good thing I didn't think of that at the time, because the haw moak was my favorite of all the many tastes presented to us. I, too, swooned. I thought of it as a sort of salmon mousse, only better.
I also found the miang kum quite delightful. If you've never had this before, here's the drill: you dollop a little of the sweet sauce on your tidbit-covered spinach leaf, roll it up according to the helpful instructions of your dining companions, pop it into your mouth, start crunching -- and that's when your eyes pop open in astonished pleasure. Lovely.
I'd like to put in a good word for the steamed bass. Not really a novelty, just simply delicious. It wasn't overcooked, I think, but perhaps had dried out a bit by the time it got to you. It was much better than the fried fish that came out later -- that did seem overcooked to me.
It was way cool meeting so many of the hounds, both the newcomers to the area and the locals who were dining with us for the first time. I wish I'd had more time to hang out.
Beetlebug, I'm glad you finally decided to come out of the chowhound closet. I really enjoyed your post. Hope to see more bulletins from your discriminating palate in the future.
What an impressive posting debut!
ALSO loved the stewed pork dish, nearly had my head blown off by the heat in the papaya salad. Not for the faint of palate! I really liked the shrimp and the scallop I fished out of the coconut container. Would definitely experiment with more noodle dishes on another foray to Khao Sarn.
So much fun putting faces to names! The Coyotes were certainly made to feel most welcome in Boston.
It should be noted that the papaya salad sample you guys had wasn't representative of the usual papaya and shrimp salad that comes from Khao Sarn's kitchens.
What you all actually ate was Som-Tum GalleyGirl Style. In actual fact it is difficult to convince the kitchen to make the salad as spicy as it was that night. It takes persistence, dedication, commitment. The natural inclination of the kitchen is to protect over-eager diners from themselves when it comes to degree of spice. GalleyGirl, however, has needled them to such an extent that either they trust she can grasp the fruit of the Spicy Hot Molten Death Tree, snap off a couple peppers, and casually chuck 'em in her mouth as she calmly watches the one which escaped burn a hole through the soil, or, given aforementioned needling, the kitchen has simply lost its inclination to protect her.
If you go back to Khao Sarn and you want your papaya/shrimp salad as spicy as it was the other night there are three ways to get it:
1) Speak Thai
2) When you order it look confident, tell them you want it extra spicy, and produce 2 forms of ID : a chowhound passport and a wallet-sized photo of GalleyGirl. (note: simply asking for it extra spicy will _not_ be sufficient. Further, upon seeing the GalleyGirl visage and realizing what you are actually asking for, they may require you to sign several waivers.)
3) Go to the restaurant several times and each time ask for the papaya salad as part of your meal. Each time you order the papaya salad ask for it extra spicy. Each time when the waiter/waitress comes over to ask how your meal is answer, "Very good," (brief pause), "but the Som-Tum could have been spicier." Your Som-Tum will get iteratively spicier until you too have achieved GalleyGirl Style recognition in the kitchen.
However you did not warn of the minor downside(??). Once having established the level of heat you can stand you will always be expected to always eat at that intensity and therefore need to be careful not to bring poor unsuspecting novices to the same table as you in case they never recover.
As always Psmith, accurate analysis with brilliant wit. I for one will miss your posts.
Thanks for the great roundup. I loved the salmon mousse too (liked it more than the amok at Elephant Walk).
A small group of us stuck around for drinks and dessert. I ordered the thai custard, a rich sweet eggy slab served over long grained glutinous rice that was saturated with unctous fragrance of coconut milk. Heavy but heavenly. I loved the way the sugar sprinkled fried shallots on the side played against with the rice and custard. It was intriguing interaction, and the somewhat more savory and slightly salty sweetness of the shallots gave an earthier tone to the rich and sweet custard and rice, spinning all kinds of flavors together in an unsual but satisfying way.
Beetlebug - great post (and now you know you are committed to write more often!). The Miang Kum is always one of my favorites. It's such an intriguing blend of bright tastes and textures, with the roasted flavors of coconut and peanut, along with chunks of ginger, chili, fresh lime, and dried shrimp. I can't remember all that we had but I think I tried everything.
Chicken Larb - this is another of my favorites and I love their version here - the ground chicken absorbs all the flavors of the lime/fish sauce/chili and fresh herbs. Moo Wan/Nuer Wan was something I never had before - caramelized, sweet, tender pieces of grilled meat. And I agree with Beetlebug - the combination with the papaya salad and sticky rice was delicious. Ahh -- the papaya salad. GalleyGirl did a great job with getting it extra spicy . Did anyone else besides me notice the waiter's involuntary eyebrow raising/warning when he said it was ordered "extra spicy, extra hot"? :) It was certainly fiery, but as one of the first dishes brought out -- and the hottest -- it deadened the tastes of the two to three dishes that I had following (of course, I just had seconds later on!). Let me preface that I'm a huge fan of heat, but being that spicy, I would have been better off eating it as a condiment. For example, I didn't get to really appreciate the sweetness of the shrimp, which I had next, although that could also have been due to the chunk of hot chili I got! I love noodles and liked both of the noodles dishes we got - the Khao Soi (egg noodles in a Thai curry) and the Pad Kee Mao (a broad rice noodle dish stir-fried with basil and chilis). I was really looking forward to the latter and it was very good, but, as Beetlebug mentioned (we were sitting next to each other), by the time that dish made it to our end of the table - it had congealed slightly, as rice noodles tend to do. One drawback to such a large, friendly group at one long table was that some of the dishes were affected by sitting a bit before one remembered to say "hey, what's that one?"!.
I personally liked the crispy catfish, and I knew what to expect as per GG's previous description of it as being "thready and crunchy", its novelty, and the fact that I'm one of those 'anything fried is good' afficionados. It had a much 'airier' texture than I expected with a barely discernible taste of catfish, that can only best be described by Mr. Coyote's observation of 'catfish croutons'.
Other highlights were the Hall Moak. The mousse-like consistency with the flavors of Thai red curry, salmon, and coconut was something I never had before and was delicious. I also loved the Moo Pa Lo (country style braised pork stew) that seemed to have been a favorite of many hounds. That Asian technique of braising pork until it's meltingly tender is just addictive.
The Gaprow, a stir-fried dish with chili and basil, is something I will definitely order again. And I have to say another dish I loved was the hollow watercress. It was so sweet and tasty with that crunch of freshness, that I couldn't stop eating it. It also reminded me of something my Vietnamese mother made when I was young, which was nice.
Both the fried fish and steamed fish are favorite dishes that I have had at KS before, and so I just limited myself to a bite of each so others could taste.
It was great meeting so many new Hounds - JEM, the Coyotes, Limster, Beetlebug, the Zebs, Cheesecake, AGM - did I forget anyone? I only wish I had more time to chat!
Also, I have to comment on how wonderful the restaurant itself was - EVERYONE at Khao Sarn was so accomodating and so patient. If you haven't been to this restaurant yet, please go! They have a love for what they do, and love sharing it with patrons who have that same adoration for delicious Thai food. And, of course, they were duly impressed with not just how much we ate (!), but how spicy we wanted it.
Okay, where are we going next?
Thanks for posting, Beetlebug, you really hit the ground running! Thanks for the "fundraising" assistance, after all that sake (mine!).
It was kind of like a bar mitzvah, but without your relatives, and with better food! So many people to talk to that I hardly had a chance to eat! After chatting with everyone, I did find a few threads...Everyone seemed to think that all the flavors we tried were totally different...Some said they had tried 5 or six things that they had never experienced before, and some Asian hounds spoke of flavors that they hadn't experienced since they were kids. Those who had been said only Lotus of Siam was better, and none in Boston.
A round-up of the favorites included the Miang Kum, (of course!), Haw Moak, Moo Pa Lo, Yum Pla Duke Fu, Stir Fried watercress, Gaprow, and Khao Soi Coconut.
I have noticed that if you build it with Pork Fat; they will come.. If you cook any parts of a pig long enough, the Boston hounds will eat it! So, when Yoshi suggested the Moo Pa Lo, I remembered the happy noises that were emitted in response to the last long-cooked pork dish we tried, and ordered two...The Thai version of meltingly-braised pork, with hard-boiled eggs and fried tofu seemed to please everyone.
The Salmon Haw Moak was another favorite. I later learned that the slivers of salmon give off just the right of protein when lightly cooked, and it combines with the coconut milk to form that mousse-love texture that surprised everyone. It was nothing like the banana-leaves stuffed with rice that I expected...I have fear-of-coconut milk, so this was a tough sell for me, but the flavors were so much richer than I expected, and the slight bitterness imparted by nappa cabbage, and a Thai spinach(?) were perfect with the slight oiliness of the salmon.
The Thai-style hollow stem watercress is also called convolvulous, I think, and it grows wild in Vietnam..Probably why your Mom made when you were a kid, Rubee..Whenever I see it at Super 88, it's just labeled "Special Vegetable", and costs an arm and a leg...Maybe if enough of us beg, they'll put it on the menu! Lots of sliced garlic, and some heat...A wonderful vegetal taste.
I personally loved the Pad Kee Mo, really wide, chewy, rice noodles, (always love that papardelle-ish texture), the hot pepper , vegetables and basil leaves made it as good as I had hoped...
I also enjoyed Yam Pla Duke Fu, the "fluffy catfish", steamed, fried, then tossed with Green mango, peanuts, chilis and red onion. Maybe because last time I had it, I wasn't prepared, but this time I went right for that combination of tart dressing and crunchy catfish...Perfect with sticky-rice.
My biggest regret is that I didn't get any of the whole fish. The Pla Neung Ma Now, steamed Bass with three peppers, is one of my favorite dishes that KS does, as I've posted here numerous times...But both the platters were BARE when they got to me (okay, the skeletons were bare!), so I know SOMEONE else must have liked them! Likewise for the Plad Pra PIk, fried whole fish in chili sauce...The sauce was great, not too spicey, a little sweet and pungent, but I fear I must make a return visit to comment further.
Yoishi suggested the Khao Soi Coconut..A fresh, young coconut with the seafood cooked inside, I was surprised at the nutmeg and curry in the coconut milk, and loved the way the milk tenderized and sweetened the calamari, my favorite part.
It is rumoured that the kitchen kept asking, "Are foreigners really going to eat this?", when they saw the choices and spice-levels we ordered...We're not foreigners, we're chowhounds! And the cooks in that kitchen did themselves proud, in serving up a tableful of creative and tasty dishes that gave us a chance to sample things we would have ventuered into if we had been ordering entrees on our own. If we had ended less casually, I would have suggested applause!..And can I say, once again, how wonderfully everyone at KS treated us? Although, that was no big surprise to me, because they make having a salad a sake at the bar a pleasure whenever I go in there!
And don't forget, this was, in part, a fundraiser to celebrate, several months ago, the 10,000th post on the Boston Board...I am pleased to announce that the Boston hounds raised $170 for chowhound.com, the check is in the mail today!!
re: chuck s
Well, papaya salad can be as hot as you want. I've one recipe for it that basically says add as much fresh chile as you want and that it's not uncommon to get one that's more chiles than papaya.
I was very pleased the kitchen did not wimp out. It made this chilehead very happy.
David "Zeb" Cook
Many grins re: "foreigner."
Actually, I *am* a foreigner -- from Singapore (guessing that that's less "foreign" to them). I should start using that as chow credentials there if that's what it takes to persuade the kitchen to cook things the way they did.
P.S. I could almost swear they stole the stewed pork recipe from grandma but somehow forgot about the chestnuts and ultra dark soy sauce.