DG and I decided to come here for lunch as consolation for having to work last Friday (the downfall of working retail). We’re pretty lucky that this is the closest restaurant to the Van Ness office and Piperade is closest to the Union Street office. Such choices! The interior is dramatic with high ceilings and architectural elements that makes you feel like you are hanging out in a secluded courtyard. On weekdays the pace is always quiet and sedate and the service is generally very friendly but can be painfully slow and forgetful, it’s almost as if they are loathe to intrude in your conversation and tend to leave you alone unless beckoned…
We started off by ordering Crispy Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp with Tamarind Sauce because there’s bacon and it says crispy. They arrived fresh from the fryer wrapped with beautifully sheer crispy rice paper through which dark green herbs were visible. In the center of the dish was a mound of carrot and daikon radish shreds that had been pickled in a lightly astringent mixture of vinegar and sugar.
Inside of the crispy roll, the shrimp was enclosed with a thick slice of bacon that was cooked to the British definition of done, which means it was still rubbery and the fat was not rendered crispy and had an icky gristly texture. The flavors were good, shrimp and bacon and tamarind go together with a fascinating blend of sweet, tart and salty; it was mostly a textural problem with the rubbery bacon that could not be overcome by the allure of the freshly fried wrapper.
The Crispy Lobster Ravioli with Mango and Coconut Sauce was an delicious combination of crisply fried chewy shell wrapped around the delectable savory filling, mingling together with the luscious rich sweetly tart sauce.
Hmmmm, we should have had two orders of these and skipped the bacon shrimp crispy rolls… This was also served with the same tangle of pickled carrot and daikon, which adds a light crunchy fresh element to the dish and was almost like a dessert when mixed in with the coconut mango sauce.
Sweet Dungeness Crab Soup with hand-cut noodles was pretty much hot and sour soup with black mushrooms, crab and a few noodles like short strands of udon.
Wokked Tournedos of Beef Tenderloin, sweet onions over peppery cress. This is Chef Khai’s rendition of shaking beef, cubes of tenderloin that are marinated in a sweet garlicy mixture then stir fried over high heat so that the sugar caramelizes but the center of the cubes are juicy and rare. It’s served over sharp spicy watercress and tossed with a tart and savory dressing that is delightful.
We ordered but were not served Banana Blossom Salad with Chicken and Grapefruit until we asked about it after we finished sharing the entree. It arrived promptly, beautifully presented with a with an exotic flower on top of a shower of crispy fried shallots over the thinly sliced blossom. The shallots added depth and complex aromas that helped balance the scales which always was tipping between sweet and sour. The only other time I’ve had this dish was in Bangkok and while this preparation was less fiery and harsh, perhaps toned down for the American palate, I enjoyed it very much.
Here’s a picture of a banana blossom I took while travelling in Northern Thailand last spring. The blossom is the purple budlike thing at the end of the corkscrew um protruberance… pretty weird looking.
A couple of weeks ago, I came here with DN and had the Seared Salmon with Fresh Mango and Tamarind Sauce that is one of my favorite dishes. It is seared crispy on the exterior, while leaving the flesh so tender that it melts in your mouth. It has a tartly sweet and savory sauce that bursts with rich and smoky flavors and is topped with thin slices of fresh green mango which are lightly tart and crisp, the perfect accompaniment.
DN shared some of the deliciously crisp pea shoots that came with her dish. They are barely cooked and tasted like they had been simply dressed with sesame oil and wilted under the heat of the basa.
Seared Mekong Basa, Scallion Flowers and Spicy Lemon Sauce
The food is well prepared and fresh but you have to be careful when ordering as most of the dishes have a palate numbing tendency towards strong sweet and sour sauces.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to order dessert which is too bad as I keep hearing that the mango soup and the lemon mousse are not to be missed. It’s a good thing this is so close to the office..