Shovel Time: Langbaan
I wouldn’t have expected one of my favorite, ok, maybe my total favorite, meal in Portland to be tough-reservation Thai, served just a few nights a week, across the street from the bar I used to frequent two decades ago with the boyfriend who was the age I will be in five months. Why not four shovels? That gif could use some airtime.
Langbaan is a pop-up of sorts, a side piece of PaaDee, with a theme that changes monthly. January, my month, was Central Thailand, which could’ve been boring potentially since that’s region most Thai restaurants in the US draw from. I’ve only been to Central Thailand, yet knowing myself I’m still going to say it’s my favorite, leaning sweet and rich with great balanced heat. It’s not like Langbaan was going to put out chopsticks and bowls of overly coconutty green curry with the option to substitute tofu. (If it were my show, I’d be a dick and make pad thai, a really awesome pad thai, but that would be more of an NYC move not Portland. Pad Thai is notably absent from PaaDee’s menu, as well.)
Wine pairings can be done, though it’s perfectly acceptable to start with a a Rye and Cherry (Jim Beam, Roi René rouge, lemon, Amarena cherry syrup, Angostura) and continue on with a sour cherry beer just because cherries are the one fruit you really love.
Miang som-O: A bite of pomelo, shallot, chile, lime, and ginger, with super regional, untraditional steelhead and roe, that you wrap in a betel leaf.
Kanom krok: A crisped rice shell filled with a scallop in a most wonderfully scented coconut cream infused with lemongrass and galangal.
Hor mok puu: It took more than a few seconds to deduce that my notes reading “hot mom convert” was an autocorrect. I’ve always found hor mok to be too heavy on what tastes like raw curry paste, cloying with the perfume of lime leaves, kind of rough and jarring with the soft mousse texture. Actually, a little queasy-making. This rendition was perfect because there was more heat than expected, a theme that carried through most of the dishes (part-way through the dinner I noticed the gentleman next to me at the counter, a regular and the only other solo diner, was sweating like crazy), plus recognizable chunks of dungeness crab to break up the silkiness.
Gang lieng plaa meuk: This soup of kabocha squash, sponge gourd, and winter melon looks delicate, and it was, though peppery with a tingling heat, plus intrigue from powdered shrimp and squid stuffed with pork.
Yum pak: All bitter, sweet, and earthy, the salad of carrots, pears, sunchoke, basil, ginger, tamarind, and white sesame was the most far afield from anything recognizably Thai.
Yum neua: I made the bold decision half-way through to Instagram this tuft of a dish, never liking to bombard anyone with more than one or two photos from a tasting menu unless explicitly doing a high-flying play-by-play (and I don’t think I’ve ever done that). The wagyu culotte mixed with vegetables and aromatics, in no way a standard beef salad, was insane. When I tasted this arrangement of beets, eggplant, mizuna, pomegranate, mint, and shallots jumbled over a luscious cut of meat, then drizzled with beef fat, I was sold on the whole concept of Northwest Thai.
What could be perceived as entrees, the three remaining savory courses, all arrive together with jasmine rice.
Chu chee hoy laii: clams in chu chee curry, kaffir lime, basil, red pepper.
Kor muu yang: pork jowl with a jaaw dipping sauce that was so powerfully spicy and funky, it was intoxicating. (God, I almost said haunting, my most loathed food descriptor. Boo.) I was completely full (not one of those I could eat a Big Mac afterward types, nope) but loved this so much I just kept eating it with rice after the rich meat was gone.
Lon goong: Shrimp in coconut cream with herbs that was a little messy to wrap in the lettuce.
Lod chong: One of those icy Southeast Asian desserts, black sticky rice and pandan noodles, with apple, taro, and coconut and jasmine creams, that makes total sense on a blistering hot sidewalk, but seems out of place in drizzly 50-degree American winters. That said, I liked it.
Kanon ta-go: This I loved, though, even if it falls into that dubious vegetables for dessert camp. Water chestnuts and corn, you know?
Dig into the coconut cream, though…and the tapioca pearls are hazy blue. Sweet. I’ve been obsessed with butterfly pea flowers, and their natural blue dye properties, for years.The first time I went to Malaysia over ten years ago, I made a point of seeing the flowers at a Penang kueh factory up close. (I also wanted to write about how they have started showing up in cocktails along with the revival of blue drinks, but I didn’t because I’m too busy with life, and then as usual someone finally did.) This morning I reached into my purse and snatched my hand back after feeling gritty unidentifiable grit in the corners that turned out to be a forgotten pinch of dried butterfly pea flowers one of the chefs brought out for me to play with at the end of the meal. I’ve spent February daydreaming and shirking and falling in love, and this cache of flowers reminded me how much fun I had in Portland and to get back into the blogging even if only for my own posterity.
Langbaan * 6 S.E. 28th Ave., Portland, OR