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Baan Lao, Chaîne des Rôtisseurs

This would be my first Thai fine dining experience. So, what better a time and a place than with the international gourmand organization: Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, (that I am a member of). Many in attendance today were inexperience in Asian cuisine, so this taste of Thai would be new for them too. Therefore, we would be going on this adventure together. A private dining experience for only 20 members, first come first served. And not only did I make it in, but was seated across from the Vancouver Chapter’s Bailli (head/lead/queen), and two highly acclaimed and well decorated Chefs who have earn their fame and medals from leading Team Canada to victory in the Culinary Olympics.

All guests gathered at this Steveston Village’s waterside restaurant for a light reception before dinner. Opened a year ago during the pandemic, the smaller restaurant space has already seen much notoriety. Purposefully straying from the downtown Vancouver core, they have dining enthusiasts traveling to Richmond for a taste of Thailand.

As guests filtered in, we were greeted with glasses of Summerhill Pyramid Winery’s 2000 Cipes Ariel from the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs private vault. A bubbly that tickled.

And as we mixed and mingled by the kitchen past, we were given glimpses into Chef Nutcha’s kitchen operation.

Our first roving appetizer was petite and spoke volumes to the detail our Chef puts into each dish. Bershire pork on a pineapple. These were uniformly crafted with an even dollop of pork, on a placemat of cilantro, seated on a medallion of rawer pineapple. The pineapple slice was creatively cut so that guests had a handle to grip it with. Salty and sweet, a wonderful first impression to open the palate with.

This was followed by a second roving morsel, that I unfortunately missed out on. Deep fried pork wontons that they called “money bags”, each carefully tied and fried to look fresh, while keeping their ruffled shape. Served in a sweet and spicy dip, you basically grab one of the porcelain spoons they were served on and slurp.

Dinner began when everyone was seated, and hot towels were passed out by way of tong and tray. A lovely gesture that foretold the quality of service to come from the restaurant’s Director of Experience. It was already clear that this would not just be a dinner, but a full experience. And my apprehension for pre-spending $280 on it slowly lifted.

One of a kind place settings on white linens, and a heartfelt welcome introduction from Chef Nutcha greeted each individual, at their assigned seat. And as the first glass of wine was poured, our table noticed the detailing in the glassware as well. It was revealed by Baan Lao’s General Manager and Chef Nutcha’s business partner and husband, that all their glassware is custom designed, and engineered by 3 different glass artists. One does the glass’s goblet, one does the stem, and the third works on the base. Then they are pulled together for one of the finest pieces I have handled. Light weight and elegant to the touch. A great sensory feel that had be reassessing my current favourite Reidel Magnum Overture glass.

In the glass was a Chenin Blanc Organic wine from Chateau De Suronde, Anjou FR 2018. It was poured early for a toast: “Viva La Chaine”, but the intent was to have this paired with the Pomelo Salad below. Here, the wine’s citrus notes and sweetness matched and simultaneously contrasted the fragrant fruit and sweet prawn below.

Our first course was a showstopper. The room literally went silent as our Amuse Bouche came table side by way of bamboo. A young lady dressed in a traditional sheath dress, gingerly walked before us with a scale of sorts. Two baskets on either ends of a pole, a balancing act many (including myself) could never hope to muster. On either sides, a cylinder of red rice grains housing our introduction to the multi-course meal before us. This show was enough to get me flustered and excited to see what was to come next.

Rice cracker with tomato Thai Chilli. The cracker was prepared using organic Hom Mali jasmine rice picked from Baan Lao’s own personal rice fields. This and majority of our meal had ingredients harvested from and sourced out of Thailand; to really add authenticity to the meal. The rice is cooked, then blended with kaffir lime leaves before being dehydrated for over 16 hours. Then the process is completed with a deep fry in organic sunflower oil, creating what we had before us today. An airy cracker making the ideal base for crushed cherry tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh squeezed lime juice, cilantro, and chilli pepper rings. Garnished with fresh dill and edible pansies, both from the Baan Lao gardens.

But the signature piece and the one that caught everyone’s attention was the hand roasted, wild organic insect that crowned it. Guests were either enthralled (like myself), or put off enough to remove it from their morsel. The bug collection included grasshopper, cricket, silkworm larvae, or forest scorpion. A great source of protein and a touch all unique to Baan Lao.

This was one bite that gave you everything. Every flavour it the arsenal of Thai cuisine and every texture in harmony. Its starts off citrusy and tangy, and smoothly transitions to latent heat from the bird’s eye chilli, a flavour and profile we will revisit throughout dinner, which seems to be their signature style. Although done with slight variations to have it feel like a reinvention.

Our appetizer came with a dry ice smoke show. Housed in a specialty double walled bowl that was clearly another custom design. It featured a hole at the base, to be able to house bricks of dry ice that fumed and had puffs of smoke pluming as the servers glided across the room to set it before us. No added flavour, but all the pageantry I wanted for a more interactive dinner.

Pomelo salad with mangrove black tiger prawn. Pomelo flown in from Thailand, tossed in a wild anchovy sauce with organic sugar, lime juice, red onions bell pepper, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and fresh chillis. Topped with organic coconut flakes, hand roasted raw wild jungle peanuts, deep fried garlic, and organic mint. With the final touch of Ocean Wise organic wild sockeye salmon caviar for garnish.

The very distinct flavour of fish sauce paired perfectly with the sweetness of the citrus fruit. For the unexpected pairing, this was my favourite dish of the night. I just wished the prawn was more tender, it was dry and slightly overcooked. A softer shrimp would have stood out less against the juicy beads of pomelo.

Our second appetizer was Grilled Organic beef tenderloin with Thai Chilli. Twenty four hours marinated Sumas Mountain’s organic beef tenderloin, grilled for a hint of smokiness. Served with paper thin slices of cucumber, cilantro, shallots and grape halves. Topped with raw glutinous rice from Chef Nutcha’s family farm in Thailand that is hand roasted and crushed with mortar and pestle before being used as a sprinkle over top. The dish is finished with mint for garnish, and a dressing of wild anchovy sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice.

This was highly delicate and beautiful as a steak dish. Sliced this thin it is difficult to hide over cooked and tough beef. Perfectly pink, it texture paralleled the cucumber. The plate ate more like a summer salad given the freshness of the herbs and fruit. Another dish that helped to open the stomach, while giving us more of the familiar chilli we had before.

This was paired with Summerhill Vineyard’s 2018 Reisling, based out of Kelowna. The wine picked up the freshness of the dish with notes of key lime and ripe peaches.

Guests were then very considerately given a palate cleanser of lemongrass, pandan, and butterfly pea flower. A stunning elixir made fresh on the day with the above-mentioned ingredients. The bespoke element was the syringe used to inject lemon grass juice into the cup, causing the drink to change from blue to purple. A little nod to our chef’s former profession as a nurse. It was suggested that the injection be done directly into the glass for the most vibrant effect.

I am a big fan of pandan, but many in the party, including very well trained chefs were unfamiliar with this herb, so this was a nice one to feature in such a memorable format.

Our first main was Mangrove black tiger prawn phat thai. A highly refined and elegant take on this well-known and beloved Thai dish. It is a classic our Chef recalls preparing for her family as a child, and one that she now proudly states that she has perfected for Baan Lao. You won’t be missing it from their rotating menu, as many former guests have specifically requested her to make it available at all services. It is also their most photographed dish from off of the menu, and we can see why.

The silky rice noodles are bundled up neat in a net of egg that is drained and strained before being hand piped in this specific criss cross pattern. Surely this is the prettiest pad Thai. As for taste, it was delicious, but nothing outside what I have tried before, just better conceived and perfectly prepared with all familiar ingredients.

This came together with Meyer Family wine from the Okanagan Valley, their 2019 Pinot Noir. A lighter bodied red with plenty of tannis that made a fine match for the noticeable tang of tamarind.

Our second main dish was the Wild sockeye salmon green curry with organic jasmine and riceberry rice. Listed as one of their signature dishes featuring a wild sockeye salmon fillet marinated for 24 hours in organic extra virgin olive oil, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. The salmon is sous vide slowly and gently before being grilled over charcoal, to better enhance its natural flavours. Topped with fresh organic herbs from the Baan Lao gardens.

Adorned with Ocean Wise Acadian green caviar and 23k Italian gold leaf. It is presented cloche-ed, then revealed in unison for the most impact. Just before having a vial of green curry sauce poured over it, table side.

Having the best salmon I have ever tasted to date at another La Chaine event, I cannot help but compared what we had here. And the salmon fillet at Baan Lao was dry, you had to saw with the edge of your fork to cut into it. Thankfully having it in conjunction with the creamy curry helped to add moisture to our bites. And the fresh basil and accompanying basil crumbs were highlights that distracted from the fish.

This was another perfectly portioned dish. The curry was so rich and fragrant. But with so much flavour, it needed a base. Therefore I was most appreciative of the rice, being able to have it as a base for the curry was classic comfort dining. And being accustomed to rice and curry, I would have been disappointed without it. The rice was hand-picked by Chef Nutcha’s parents in Thailand and expertly prepared by her today. I found myself scraping the plate clean on this one.

This we enjoyed with Etna Rosso, Pietradolce, Sicily, IT 2019. The slight heat you get from the curry goes well with a medium red, as to not battle it out within your mouth. The wine is paler in colour, yet full of character with sour cherries and sundried tomato notes.

In between courses we had a lovely Roselle sorbet as our second punctuating palate cleanser. Hibiscus roselle tea brewed in house and made with fresh squeezed lime juice and organic coconut sugar. Tart and tangy, bright and crisp, this did the trick.

Dessert was 3 in one. Mango sticky rice, organic coconut ice cream, and organic coconut jelly; presented in a stunning platter than looked like a diorama. Here guests learned sticky rice is a staple in Thai cooking, and are predominately seen in their desserts. Coconut glutinous rice prepared with coconut milk, topped with a rosette of hand-carved, fresh mango slices. And homemade coconut milk ice cream with coconut milk jelly.

For those familiar with such desserts, it delivered exactly as anticipated. A stunning presentation and a fine final course. You eat with your eye first, and they did not go hungry here today.

Served in conjunction with a dish of fresh, seasonal, hand carved fruit and “Luk Chup”. “Luk Chup” is similar to Italian marzipan, but made from mung bean paste instead. In our case, made to look like a chilli pepper, that made for a fun little easter egg to our meal.

And our dessert course was paired with Summerhill’s 2015 Pinot Noir ice wine from Kelowna BC. A sweet, syrupy wine with the flavours of red fruits.

Our meal concluded with a hot mint tea steeped with real mint. Fresh and organic, handpicked from their indoor garden and steep in hot water. A refreshing end to leave the mouth and your taste buds feeling refreshed.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend this set meal more. I have never walked away so satisfied with the price, feeling like I got my money’s worth. Great as a first impression and first time with all the showmanship. However not what I would spend again for a second time around, unless the menu has completely turned over the and the design elements of the dishes continue to surprise and delight.

Baan Lao’s goal is to be the No.1 restaurant in North America and based on tonight’s dinner they were well on their way. Our chef and culinary team took the time to explain all that went it to each dish. The work and intricacies, so that we would fully appreciate what we had before us, and it worked. I cannot recommend them more.

$150 A taste of Baanfe Lao
$70 Wine Pairings
$60 Tea Pairings

4100 Bayview St, Richmond, BC V7E 6S8
(778) 839-5711

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