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Valentine's Day Dinner at Nahm Bangkok

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To celebrate Valentine's Day, we splurged on the special occasion set menu at Nahm, a restaurant helmed by an Australian with the controversial mission of "striving for authenticity" in a "decaying" Thai cuisine. In appropriate Greek tragedy fashion, Chef David Thompson recently suffered the loss of his London restaurant's Michelin star. Nonetheless, an Australian couple and their expat friends we met at Sky Bar had recommended Nahm to us as worthy of being our fancy meal out in an otherwise budget-minded stay in Bangkok. So we dressed up in some of the new clothes we'd acquired in Vietnam and set out with open minds and mouths.

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The restaurant's dining room is lovely, and also offers an outdoor option. We settled at our table and were offered the choice of complimentary beverages -- all sweet, as probably befitted the occasion -- and opted for the sparkling wine with crushed raspberries. The first hors d'œuvre didn't appear on the menu, but is probably Thompson's most well-known (what you'll see in the photographs of the NYT and CNN articles linked above): ma hor, a minced pork, chicken and prawn paste served on pineapple wedges. Its fame is deserved, as it makes for a delicious start to the meal and encapsulates the salty/sweet/sour/spicy interplay of flavors that is supposed to characterize the best Thai food.

Most of the many other dishes brought out also succeeded in delighting us. The rest of the hors d'œuvres were brought out in rapid succession, with the taste of spicy chiang mai sausage quickly contrasted against the subtler quail eggs. The main courses were set on the table all together, and we were given plates of rice with which to eat them.

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Among the entrees, the oyster salad, stir-fried fish dumplings and braised lobster with sugarcane were especial standouts; the lobster was so incredibly good that I sat there with it in my mouth, barely chewing, to make it last. My distrust of fish bones kept me from enjoying the minced pork & prawn, deepfried cured carp and fresh vegetables quite as they were intended -- the server instructed us to eat them all together -- but just the creamy mince wrapped in a lettuce leaf was good enough. (You can see a picture of the trio in the first link of this post.)

There were two dishes that forced me to concede some justice to Nutchanand Osathanond, the critic who declared Thompson's food to be "drowning in spice." While this isn't true of the majority of what we ate, even my South Indian-American's tongue got singed by the fish soup and the jungle curry. Unlike the oyster salad, which is hot but easily tempered with a little rice (or by sipping a coconut cocktail like that pictured above), the soup and curry were relentlessly burning. I could make out that the jungle curry was using a higher grade of chicken and vegetable than what you'd get at a street cart, but otherwise it seemed frankly pointless. Why make the one item of Thai food that everyone has had already? I've found it to be a standby of menus from the Secret Garden hostel in Quito to cheap'n'cheerful lunch cafes in Sydney to the Blue Tongue hotel in Phnom Penh. There was nothing innovative in Thompson's version, and the spice really was so overwhelming that I couldn't taste anything else and eventually gave up. However, the dessert made up for the jungle curry's uncreative assault on our taste buds.

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The maprang and "Thai cup cakes" (kanom krok) were cool and sweet without being excessively so. The sugar-bonded crunchy tangle leaning against the bowl -- it wasn't listed on the menu and I can't find it in the complimentary cookbook we were given, so I don't know what its name is -- was the candied element of the dessert.

On the whole, this was probably one of the healthiest episodes of gluttony we've ever gone through together. Compared to the prix fixe meals we've had at Don Alfonso in Macau, or Gaston y Astrid in Quito, or Momofuku Ko in New York, it didn't leave us weighed down with bread and pasta, nor foie-gras stuffed with animal fats. If it hadn't been multiple servings of rice and glasses of water to try to cool down from the fish soup and chicken curry, I think we would have been right at the point of pleasantly-but-not-overly full when the Thai petit fours came out. These were mostly coconut flavored, tasty without being special, with the exception of one hollowed cookie with a peculiar smoked aroma. Having perused Thompson's Thai Food tome, I discovered that in addition to perfuming of sweets with jasmine flowers, Thai cooks also smoke some desserts using candles.

A secondary benefit of the dinner was that we got sample a couple of the excellent drinks on Metro Bar's list, which supplies Nahm's clientele. We hope to return to the Bar soon, and I suspect that Tony will be posting in more detail, particularly about that coconut "C3 martini."

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2 Comments

Liars, I thought you got each other bath salts.

Lovely. I like reading about menus - particularly when they are like this. I've never been to the London one (and am now somewhat interested), although I suspect I might have trouble with the spiciness of more dishes than the two you highlight.

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