Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Billed as Bangkok’s “first-ever” port wine dinner, an event on April 9 at the Dusit Thani Hotel will feature the Royal Thai cuisine of the hotel’s Thai restaurant, Banjarong, and port wine from the W & J Graham vineyards in Portugal. The five-course dinner will be prepared by the hotel’s Executive Chef, Erwin Eberharter and Benjarong Chef Surasak Kongsawat. And Mr. Jorge Nunes will be on hand from the winery to provide information about the ports that will be served that evening.
Pairing Thai food with any type of wine is a daunting task as the varied flavors in most Thai dishes, as well as the spiciness that is usually present, present real challenges to anyone attempting to come up with the perfect wine for a particular dish. Adding to this challenge is the sweetness that is associated with ports so it should be very interesting to see what the chefs come up with to make this combination work.
The main point of interest is whether or not the recipes of Chef Surasak will have to be altered to accommodate the flavors of the port. As a matter of principle the chef is very strict about only cooking his dishes according to quite traditional recipes. I purposely did not contact either of the chefs or Food & Beverage Director, Mohamed Elsayeh in advance to find out what will be done with the food as I prefer to be surprised on the night of the event. It may be that the chefs will create some dishes that are not on the regular menu of Benjarong – or not. We’ll just have to wait and see what they come up with.
In any case, it will be an interesting evening and it will even be topped off by an after dinner cigar and port session in the open-air area right outside the restaurant’s glass wall that borders the inner courtyard of the Dusit. Two things are definite about the evening, however. The first is that it will be a very high-quality affair as are all the Dusit wine dinners. The second is that the reasonableness of the price – 1,000 baht plus tax and service (about $30) – is bound to attract a good crowd to experience this culinary first in Bangkok.
Monday, March 30, 2009
There are also product launches and fashion shows and many other types of catering events that involve clients such as Chanel, Christian Dior, Mercedes, Toyota, Lancome, M.A.C., Central Pattana, Central Trading, ICC, Sansiri, Martha Stewart Furniture, the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, Adidas, Reebok, L’Oreal and many more. Although these demanding, high-profile clients hold events that vary greatly in terms of scope and theme there is always one element that they value above all else from White Cafe Catering – reliability. The events are always produced on time and as promised and that is something that is vital to anyone responsible for any kind of event.
There are other things that set White Cafe Catering apart from other caterers and that is their approach to selecting just the right food for any event. As Benya Nandakwang, co-owner and chef says, “If you tell me who you are, I can cook for you.” This is why the company’s team of account executives collects as many details as they can about the client and their wants and needs. With this information they can better design a menu and setting that will give the client exactly what they want.
The food that White Cafe can deliver covers just about any type of cuisine that you could want and it is all prepared using only the finest of ingredients. This is another underlying philosophy of the company – quality is important. As Benya says, “Choose the best ingredients.” This is why their client roster is so impressive. Their clients are people who demand quality and depend on White Cafe to deliver it again and again since many of the company’s clients are regular customers and have been for years.
Another factor that has made the company so successful since its inception in the year 2000 is an intangible one that nevertheless may be as important as anything else these talented people provide their customers. That’s the element of creativity and as Benya puts it, “daring,” that the company thrives on. They love to try something new and different, something they’ve never done before and it’s this intangible yet vital element that helps set White Cafe apart from many other catering and events companies in Thailand and makes their events just that much better than their competitors.
A Great Time
So if you’re thinking about how to make your event be a memorable one your first call should be to White Cafe Catering. And not just for the food either. They can help plan all aspects of the event including the theme, and with their huge variety of props and decorations they can create just the right atmosphere for your guests to enjoy great food and drink. Don’t provide your guests with a good time; call White Cafe Catering and provide them with a great time.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Wine dinners are tricky affairs from the perspective of an attendee. You never know exactly what to expect unless you have an intimate knowledge of a particular winery and its products as well as some idea of what the hosting restaurant is like. So you often have to take things on faith, which makes the decision on whether or not to attend the dinner based a great deal on the credibility of the establishment hosting the event. It seems obvious that the Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok has quite a bit of credibility in this regard because their latest wine dinner on March 20, featuring Chateau Ste. Michelle winery from the U.S. state of Washington, resulted in a full house at the hotel’s top-floor French restaurant D’Sens.
Not knowing what to expect from the winery, but knowing the restaurant, I wasn’t sure what to look forward to but knew that at the very least I would experience a great dinner since the restaurant has a reputation for top-quality nouvelle French cuisine, having been originally created, along with the hotel, by the Michelin award-winning Pourcel twins from France. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle were as delightful as the food and were expertly paired with the dishes by the hotel staff – probably F&B Director Mohamed Elsayeh, Chef Julien Lavigne and D’Sens manager Thomas Delledalle.
Whoever was responsible, the end result was very enjoyable and the wines themselves were certainly the best I have ever tasted from the state of Washington. Many people think of Washington and have visions of an eternally rainy Seattle in their heads but Chateau Ste. Michelle is located in the eastern half of the state where the annual rainfall technically qualifies it to be a desert. This means that irrigation allows the winemakers to give the vines exactly as much water as they want and makes controlling the growth of the grapes much easier, the same advantage that California and Australian winemakers have.
In fact, the style of the wines that were served at this dinner reminded me of these other two wine producing regions with great fruity reds in the form of a 2004 merlot and a 2005 cabernet sauvignon and a 2006 chardonnay that was crisp, smooth and refreshing. Also served was a 2007 riesling which went well with the first course of various crab concoctions and a methode champenoise sparkling wine that was poured during the cocktail period before dinner. And a blanc de noir rose finished off the evening with the chocolate-based dessert and its restrained sweetness perfectly complemented the confection of the dish.
All of the pairings, as mentioned, were successful and this is the real test of any wine dinner. The chardonnay was matched with turbot ravioli accompanied by a coco bean puree and chorizo cream and this versatile wine with a citrus character balanced the cream sauce well. The cabernet offered a nice counterpoint to the earthy, slightly salty taste of crispy frog legs with wild mushrooms and the merlot was well-suited to the seared lamb and seared foie gras that it was served with, the strong fruit flavors and licorice undertones accenting the richness of the foie gras.
The restaurant itself contributed to the success of the evening, perched on the top of the hotel and providing panoramic views of downtown lights and activity. Together with the muted shades inside the restaurant and the plush surroundings it created the perfect atmosphere for a night of hedonistic pursuits. Taking things on faith can sometimes end up with less than stellar results but the Dusit Thani proved again that it is a place to be trusted when it comes to fine wines and food and the wonderful interaction that can be created between them.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
The recent ITB travel show in Berlin, the largest in the world, ran from March 10 to 14 and provided Thai travel industry analysts and experts with conflicting signals as to what the future holds in store for the country’s beleaguered hospitality sector. On the one had it appears that the short term picture looks bleak but on the other hand the long-term prognosis is tending towards the positive. At least that’s the impression that can be gleaned from reading quotes from the head of the Thai Hotel Association (THA) and the Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA) along with thoughts gained directly from Greg Duffel, the CEO of the Pacific-Asia Travel Association (PATA), both of which are located in Bangkok.
Mr. Prakit Chinamourpong, the president of the THA, was one of the more pessimistic of the industry leaders in regard to the reception that Thai hotels received at the show from European buyers stating that, “Buyers were asking some Thai travel agents and hotels to revert to 2008 rates and hold them until March 2011. Some five-star hotels faced the prospect of selling a room at Bt400 per night, down from what they thought was a bargain Bt1,400 a night.”
ATTA president, Mr. Apichart Sankary added that European travel agents were asking for bigger discounts to stimulate bookings, but in the case of the UK market there is evidence that tour operators are cancelling summer programs to Thailand as the numbers have dropped below breakeven. He also suggested that the government should focus its tourism marketing efforts on local media in each targeted country and concentrate on niche segments such as the family market. He recommended cuts on regional media spending, citing wasteful advertising in CNN and other TV channels that spread across continents but lack depth in individual country markets.
Mr. Duffel of PATA had similar thoughts in regard to the marketing efforts that should be adopted by Thai hotel operators stating that niche marketing will be very important this year. He also felt that repackaging of the hotels’ products was something that should be done and that a more forceful sales effort in general was going to be needed. He noted the increased recruiting of hotel sales people as a positive sign that hotels were aware of these factors and willing to do something to address them.
In the short term Mr. Duffel also felt that while the numbers do not look good now that could change as the year goes on, one reason being that travelers are now booking their holidays in a much shorter time frame with many now waiting until only a couple of months at the most before making a commitment. Traditionally, travelers book much further in advance especially for long-haul destinations which is what Thailand is for European tourists. He felt that there were several reasons for this, including currency fluctuations which might cause people to wait for a better exchange rate as well as overall fears about the economy.
However much doom and gloom has been forecast for the immediate future the long-term outlook for travel in general is good and for the Asia-Pacific region it is very good. Mr. Duffel also attended the recent International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin which ran from March 9 to 11 and there were some positive indications from that gathering. Most importantly, the ongoing hotel projects in the region are almost all proceeding as planned although some projects have been slowed to a small degree. New projects are a problem as bank financing is difficult to arrange but this is not affecting the ongoing developments.
Additionally, although RevPar is down in the region by 30-40% right now it is matching 2006-2007 levels so overall profits should not be greatly affected. Another positive sign in the region is the growth of low-cost airlines which will spur intra-region travel and is what is generally agreed upon as being one of the most necessary elements that is needed to offset the large losses being suffered in the European markets.
So the way forward looks to be one of some difficulty but with a light at the end of the tunnel. More hard work will need to be done in the sales arena, more niche markets will have to be discovered and exploited, hotels will have to repackage their offerings and re-energize their sales forces and government agencies will have to work more closely with hotel operators and national airlines. If all of these efforts can be maximized then 2009 will not be a disaster and 2010 should be a solid year for the Asia-Pacific hospitality industry.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Madison is a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok that is known for great steaks but an upcoming promotion that runs from March 20-29 will shift the focus to seafood imported from Europe and Australia. This is not something completely different for the restaurant since there are eight seafood dishes on its regular menu ranging from Canadian lobster to Tasmanian salmon but the promotional menu created by chef Anchalee Ponrungsit presents dishes that are quite a bit more elaborate than the regular offerings which tend more to simpler grilled preparations.
A week before the promotion I was able to sample a representative selection of the dishes that were to be served on this special menu and came away with a new sense of respect for Chef Anchalee’s abilities and the restaurant’s attention to detail, the driving forces behind this consistently superior dining spot.
The regular seafood menu contains some appetizing dishes but as mentioned above, in a much simpler vein than the creations that will be served during the restaurant’s promotion. Creativity seems to be the main theme that guided the chef’s preparations for this special offering and it came through in a number of the dishes we were served during this special tasting. It was evident from the first dish we were presented with – three shot glasses that contained sea urchin in various sauces. The ingredients of these silky smooth shooters varied from champagne to a Tabasco-based red sauce and a vegetable-laden concoction and provided a very intriguing start to the evening’s menu.
Two salad-like dishes followed, an oyster and black mussel combination that contained crunchy white radishes lightly covered with a mustard oil that gave the dish a tangy vinaigrette-like taste, and a blue jellyfish, octopus and scallop mixture that was accompanied by cucumbers and capsicum. Jellyfish does nothing for me but the delicious scallops paired with the vegetables were enough to recommend this dish and the oyster/mussel creation was very tasty with the light sauce complementing and not drowning out the taste of the seafood.
Baked sardines on a tomato tart with capers and a tomato salsa followed along with a pike quenelle with yabbies, small lobster-like tails, in a coulis made from the yabbies. We were also presented with a mixed seafood stew that was basically a bouillabaisse with a lighter sauce and contained scallops, shrimp, mussels and razor clams – something that you very rarely see in Thailand. A braised smoked cod with vegetables and crisp pancetta and mud crab with a ginger, leek and black pepper sauce completed the evening’s fare.
All these dished were beautifully presented and imaginatively created. The black cod’s smoked flavor was accented by the pancetta, an Italian bacon, for example, and the seafood stew again had a sauce light enough to keep it from smothering the delicate seafood flavors. And the yabbie coulis was delicious enough to warrant cleaning the bowl with a piece of the restaurant’s excellent bread.
Other ingredients that will be featured during the promotion include halibut – in a Wellington preparation with braised cabbage and a truffle emulsion – spiny Atlantic lobster poached in a sorrel sauce and a baked whole orange sea perch among a number of other interesting looking preparations including also a home-made crab soufflé.
And the meal was made all the more enjoyable since it was accompanied by an excellent champagne, a Pascal Cossy Brut Reserve that will also be served during the promotion. So although you may have enjoyed great steaks here in the past, for 10 days you can also taste some inventive seafood dishes at Madison, a restaurant that is able to effortlessly present wonderful cuisine no matter what the ingredients may be.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Following agreements with brewing mega-companies Carlsberg and Foster’s, owners of many other international brands, Fluid Asia Pacific Managing Director Rob Murray introduced the new lineup of his company’s brands which include some of the top-quality brands from the U.K. and Australia. Fluid Asia Pacific has also concluded distribution deals with other U.K. brewers and producers of alcoholic ciders that have rounded out its line of upmarket products.
Products now available from Fluid Asia Pacific in major Thai markets include Tetley’s Smoothflow, Weston’s Cider, Stowford Press Cider, London Pride bitter, Kronenbourg 1664, Foster’s, Pure Blonde, Victoria Bitter and Crown Lager. Additionally, recent meetings with representatives of Carlsberg in Bangkok have led to further agreements which will increase the level of Fluid Asia Pacific’s involvement with the international brewing giant and result in more of the company’s brands being available in Thailand.
The brands currently being imported vary in availability in regard to draught or bottled status but eventually all of the brands are scheduled to be available in draught format since Fluid Asia Pacific considers itself the leader in draught beer in the country with more brands and more advanced technology than any other importer or local producer. The company’s customers include pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels in Bangkok, Phuket, Samui and Pattaya, where the company has offices, and in some other select markets such as Chiang Mai where there is a large expatriate population. Their products are now being made available in other parts of the country as well as demand is starting to ramp up as the word gets out.
Concurrently, the company has just launched its new website, www.fluidasiapacific.com which allows consumers to find their favorite brands at the many locations they are available at throughout the country. There is also an event section on the site which lists the upcoming beer promotions and events where Fluid Pacific Asia’s brands will be sponsoring various beer brands. In addition to the main site Fluid Asia Pacific also has its own social networking site, http://thaidraughtbeer.ning.com which provides more information about he company’s events and promotions. It will also contain photos and videos about the company’s events and products and allow consumers to post their own information and connect with other beer lovers in the same way as Facebook, MySpace or any other social networking site.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
There are a number of countries that Thailand has had strong historic ties with and Italy, along with, for example, the U.S. and Denmark among others, has been one of these countries. This stretches back to the 19th century when Italian architects and urban designers helped design the canal, or klong, system in Bangkok, as well as some of the larger public places and wide sweeping boulevards, that helped Bangkok to become known as the “Venice of the East.”
This special relationship has endured to this day due to many factors, among them the efforts of some people to maintain and strengthen it. One of these people is Enzo Perrino, the owner of Café Buongiorno, an Italian restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 33 who also engages in many other activities including the promotion of his Biscotti brand of cookies and other Italian products. However, on March 6, Mr. Perrino put on his Italian goodwill ambassador hat and hosted a wine dinner at one of Bangkok’s premier Italian restaurants in Bangkok – Rossini’s in the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel – that celebrated Italian food, wine and culture.
Actually, Mr. Perrino has been conferred the title of cavaliere by the Italian government which is the equivalent of a knighthood in England and which was given to him for his efforts to promote Italian culture outside of his home country among other accomplishments. On this night he fulfilled his role admirably, guiding the dinner’s attendees through a tour of some of Italy’s regions as they sampled foods and wines representing these areas.
The Rossini staff did an admirable job of assisting Mr. Perrino, especially Chef Gaetano Palumbo from Sicily and food and beverage director Giuseppe Fornillo from Florence. Also integral to the success of the evening were the wines from Italasia, a Bangkok company that imports many Italian food items and wines as well as many other products, and who supplied the wines for the evening’s festivities.
The seven-course meal that Chef Gaetano created touched on a wide variety of Italian foods from venison carpaccio to roasted rack of lamb and hand-made raviolis, each accompanied by a wine that was selected to complement the particular dish. And each course was also accompanied by a brief narrative from Mr. Perrino who showed on a map of Italy the region that the dish represented along with some background information on the region and its culture. The event was actually titled “A Journey In Italy, Culture, Tradition and Lifestyle Wine Dinner” and it lived up to is billing, providing diners with more of an experience than most wine dinners.
This evening was a special one and was enjoyable on many levels with great food and wine, interesting cultural information and engaging conversations. It’s events like this, along with the many other efforts of Mr. Perrino and the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit – which has hosted many Italian special events in its Rossini restaurant – that will keep the strong Italian-Thai relationship flourishing here in Bangkok, the Venice of the East, for years to come.
Truly unique restaurant concepts in Bangkok are few and far between even though the size of the industry here is quite large and as dynamic as you would expect in a city the size of Bangkok. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of good restaurants here because there certainly are but unique is a different story. So when a relatively new place displays a style that makes it stand out from the crowd it’s worth talking about. Such is the case with Bamboo Chic in the Le Meridien Hotel on Surawong Road, a hotel that has had a very extended soft opening period and is now starting to generate some buzz.
Bamboo Chic is one of only two restaurants on the property and may have benefited from that fact: there’s been plenty of time to concentrate on it almost exclusively and the food and beverage people have obviously used their time well. With its modern design, a look that includes clean lines and an open, yet unobtrusive kitchen, the dining room could be just about anywhere in the world and be at home. The chic part of the restaurant’s name is definitely serving notice with the look of this large, open space that nevertheless manages to create a feeling of intimacy. The music is in the foreground but not intrusive and varies from light techno background to female vocals, at least during our dinner which took place in the earlier part of the evening.
And the food is certainly on the chic side of things as well as the chefs try to walk a fine line by combining Japanese and Chinese cuisines while at the same time incorporating western ingredients like imported beef and foie gras among other interesting items. The results were quite satisfactory from our perspective as the dishes managed to both engage our taste buds and provide interesting visuals at the same time. I especially admired the way the chefs arranged the wafu beef and foie gras main dish, making it look like a miniature bonfire with the wafu slices resembling logs and the foie gras anchoring it together in a neat little piece of edible architecture. I’m not sure if this was their exact intention but it was my impression.
It really wouldn’t have mattered what it looked like, however, because the flavors overshadowed everything else. This Japanese beef and the foie gras combined with avocado tempura – quite a rarity itself – sautéed mushrooms and Japanese truffle sauce created a powerful mélange of tastes that was the highlight of the evening. The Foie Gras Splendor was no weak spot on the menu either, comprised of foie gras rolled into a long sushi-looking roll that was sliced and contained more truffle sauce and avocado along with mayonnaise, cream cheese, celery and lettuce. The vegetables added a satisfying crunch to counteract the creamy textures from the other ingredients and the results were again delicious.
There are many varieties of food on this menu and one dinner is certainly not enough to experience the full capabilities of these talented chefs. There are plenty of beef choices here, both Australian wagyu and regular Australian beef, and numerous other dishes including duck and chicken to accompany the seafood main dishes – like the five spice roasted black cod we also enjoyed – and the large selection of sushi, sashimi, noodles and soups that make up this eclectic menu, and we wished that we could have tried many more of them.
However, that’s another visit or two, which will probably be your reaction as well after you take a look at this unique place and experience its food. This is no ordinary Bangkok dining spot and it’s a welcome addition to a city that can always use another top-notch restaurant to add to its roster of interesting places to enjoy fine cuisine.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Having lived in Thailand for over 13 years I’ve seen some sights that are certainly unusual, at least from my western perspective, but today I was surprised by a sight from our rooftop pool in Bangkok as I looked down to a vacant space just up the street from our building. There I could see a large group of people spread around looking at what looked like clotheslines with some sort of little boxes hanging from them. That was the most I could make out at the distance I was but when my wife took a look (she’s Thai) she informed me that what I was looking at was a “bird show,” as she put it.
I was intrigued by the sight so after we were done swimming I took my two young daughters with me and went to see what all the fuss was about. What I was found was actually a competition for bird-owners who had all paid 300 baht (about $9) to enter their birds in the hopes that theirs would be judged to have the best voice. There were over 200 birds entered into the competition and the little boxes I thought I saw from my roof were actually their cages hung from wires attached to poles that had been erected around this vacant lot just for the day.
The birds were all one species, nok bai lot, and I couldn’t get a decent translation into English – there may not be one at all – and they were small different-colored songbirds. To my ears it was basically a cacophony of sounds but the judges, who walked around with clipboards and took notes, apparently are seasoned professionals who know what these tiny birds should sound like and are capable of judging which sound the most authentic to the species. The winner stood to win a trophy and 10,000 baht – equal to many monthly salaries in Thailand – as well as the chance to advance to some sort of upper level competition that would cover a wider area of the country.
This completion in my neighborhood was one of five that was happening in Bangkok on this day and eventually a national competition will be held in the town of Nakorn Pathom during the Songkran holiday period during April 13-15. According to the people we talked to, there are about 100,000 people nationwide who participate in these competitions. Whose bird eventually won? We didn’t stick around for the finale. It was hot and the sound of 200 birds chirping got to be a bit much after a while but it was another interesting little aspect of Thai life that I had never experienced before.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
In Bangkok, this city of numerous Indian restaurants, there is another to consider as Flavors, an Indian eatery in the Pathumwan Princess Hotel at MBK, just opened its doors several weeks ago. Opened by first-time restaurauter Rakesh Manglani, an Indian businessman from Dubai, Flavors is attempting to carve out its own identity in a market crowded with many varieties of both Indian food and style.
Flavors appears to be taking a middle road between the most traditional Indian restaurants in the city and the most adventurous. With a lengthy menu that is almost half vegetarian and a décor that is original and contemporary this restaurant doesn’t seem to be taking cues from any place else but rather is charting its own course through the Bangkok culinary world.
Opening a restaurant at any time and anywhere is a risk in the best of times – the failure rate of new restaurants is about 90% – but it is particularly difficult in bad economic times as we are now in the midst of. However, as a wise man once told me years ago, explaining why the food business was a good one to be in, “people have to eat.” That is true and since many people like to do more than just eat – they like to eat well – Flavors’ chances are probably as good as any other new place opening now.
Those chances are made better because of a couple of things that it has going for it: good food and a clear vision. One of the biggest reasons most restaurants fail is that they either have unremarkable food or an unclear idea of what their identity is. Flavors seems to have both of these well in hand as I found out on a recent visit. The food is quite well done and the owner’s vision for the restaurant seems to be firmly in place, which is unusual for a first-time owner.
As mentioned, the menu is large, with over 100 items and features a sizable section of vegetarian food which will appeal to people of any persuasion. Try the dal of the house, Dal Flavors, and you’ll see what I mean. I almost couldn’t stop eating this buttery-flavored, smoothly textured Indian standby. Cooked for about 12 hours it was one of the best examples of dal I’ve ever had. And another standard Indian dish, the fish tikka was also impressive. There are several dishes you can order to test the skill of an Indian chef and this is one of them. Cooking chunks of fish in an oven this way is not easy and there’s a fine line between having moist, tender fish tikka and dry, tough fish tikka. Flavors’ chef obviously knows where the line is because his dish was just about perfect.
Other dishes, such as the chicken madras from southern India and shahjahani jhinga (shrimp cooked in the oven with a cashew-nut based gravy), were also well done with the shrimp tender and moist like the tikka and the chicken also tender in its spicy, flavorful madras sauce. Other dishes on the menu run the gamut from northern Indian favorites using mutton, chicken and shrimp to the many vegetarian dishes and a variety of soups and Indian salads.
In an atmosphere that included both booths and chairs decorated in bright gold, orange and purple upholstery and antiqued wood everywhere, Flavors presents an upscale, contemporary look that is spread over several different sections and offers areas that are somewhat private as well as others that face onto the glass wall that runs the length of the restaurant overlooking the busy thoroughfare outside.
Judging from this initial look at Flavors it seems as if it has a good chance to be a survivor in the intensely competitive Bangkok restaurant scene. And anywhere else in the country Mr. Rakesh may want to locate another Flavors location since it also seems that his ambitions may run in that direction. Wherever he chooses to operate he’ll do well if he remains true to the vision he’s started here and maintains the identity that Flavors now has.
Monday, March 2, 2009
There are many cuisines that are readily adaptable to the practice of pairing wine with food but Thai cuisine has never really been considered to be one of them by many food and wine experts. At a recent wine dinner that featured Springfield wines from South Africa at the Basil restaurant in the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit Hotel in Bangkok, however, a small step was taken to disprove that notion. It wasn’t a large step but it was one that pointed the way towards being able to pair wines with some Thai dishes, something I have not seen done successfully before.
The major problem with pairing wines with Thai food is, in my opinion, the challenge of finding a wine that will work with the multiple flavors that are the trademark of most Thai dishes. With many western dishes the challenge is much easier. A beef dish or a fish or poultry dish, for example, will generally have one or two dominant flavors that can be matched to a particular wine that will accentuate and enhance the flavors on the plate. A Thai dish, on the other hand, can have four or five strong flavors – and usually does since that is one of the cornerstones of Thai cuisine – making the selection of wine much more difficult. How do you find a wine that can complement all of these flavors?
I’ve attended wine diners in the past that attempted to pair wines with Thai foods but they mostly just succeeded in displaying how desperate winemakers were to promote their wines as being compatible with Thai food so as to boost their sales here. I was never convinced that the pairings that were presented were, in fact, done successfully and in most cases the results were just plain bad.
I came away from this dinner at Basil with a slightly changed attitude. I’m not completely sold on the broad notion that wines can be successfully paired with Thai food because I think that there are many Thai dishes that will never be compatible with wine. Cold beer, yes. Wine, no. However, the people behind the wine dinner at Basil – F&B Director Giuseppe Fornillo and Basil Chef Thanida Lamba along with Springfield winemaker Jeanette Bruwer – managed to put together a six-dish meal that featured some of the winery’s more interesting wines along with some of Chef Thanida’s contemporary interpretations of Thai food in a way that made sense.
To really pair up well with Thai dishes the wine that is accompanying them must have strong identities and well-developed characteristics. Weak, wishy-washy wines need not apply for this task. As such, the vineyard’s Firefinch Sauvignon Blanc 2007 that started off the night, with its crisp, citrus overtones was a match for the appetizer course which consisted of three dishes that featured both tart and sweet flavors – deep-fried crispy spring rolls that included a sweet dipping sauce, a spicy prawn salad with green apples and a tart mango salad with crispy-fried cotton fish. The wine worked well with all of these dishes as the flavors were concentrated and the wine was strong and well-defined.
The next two courses featured seafood – snowfish and seabass – with the snowfish as part of a spicy sweet soup and the steamed seabass accompanied by lemongrass and vegetables. The smooth nature of the Wild Yeast Chardonnay 2005 that was served with them also worked well, surprisingly for me, because I didn’t think that the wine would match well with the spiciness and sweetness of the soup. Perhaps it was the subtle pineapple and pear flavors in the wine that helped out.
The last two dishes of the evening were a grilled lamb rack with a mussaman curry and grilled rib-eye beef with a sweet basil sauce. These are by no means traditional Thai dishes although the sweetish mussaman curry from the south of Thailand is a mainstay dish from this region and, of course, basil is a common Thai herb, as you can surely tell, given the restaurant’s name. However, these dishes are contemporary versions of Thai cuisine and, it must be said, superbly done. No matter, since the wines, the Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 with the lamb and the Work of Time 2002 (a blend of four grapes: cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet) with the rib-eye were both well suited to their respective dishes. The touch of sweetness with the lamb was offset by the depth of the cabernet and the sweet basil sauce was also complemented well by the beautifully-blended Work of Time.
What this dinner proved is that there is a way to put together great combinations of food and wine using Thai dishes. Not just any combinations will work but a carefully thought-out menu put together with well-made wines of strong character can succeed. This dinner represents a small step that could lead to more successes in this type of endeavor. I doubt, however, that anyone can come up with a wine that will make som tam taste better. Sorry, if you don’t know what this Thai staple is. You’ll have to look it up.