Protests be damned – one still has to eat. With a couple of friends in town from San Francisco, we headed out Saturday evening to Ruen Mallika, a long-standing Sukhumvit area restaurant that specializes in Palace Cuisine, a particularly rarified form of Thai cooking that reflects the highest levels of attention to detail and quality.
Located in a rambling old home that dates back over 100 years deep down Soi Sukhumvit 22, Ruen Mallika is hidden in a corner of the Asoke neighborhood that reminds you that Bangkok isn’t all Skytrain stations and air conditioned malls. Still, there is an air of sophistication and traditional Thai hospitality at the restaurant, which is beautifully decorated, that makes you feel like your are a guest of honor in a court regent’s home.
The menu is a huge binder with the largest, glossiest, sexiest photos of Thai food I have ever seen. Even a strong man will risk back strain with this menu. Tawn ordered for us, a bit too much food but perfectly balanced choices that, together, formed an exquisite dining experience and a wonderful final night with which to celebrate our visiting friends’ engagement.
After being seated in the fan-cooled garden, the kitchen sent us an amuse bouche of gratong tong, “golden baskets” – crispy fried shells filled with corn, green onions, ground pork, and pepper.
As an appetizer, we ordered a platter of chan chu butsaba – literally “My name is flower” – a selection of flower tempura in a long dish that fills the center of the table.
These delicate blossoms, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce, include (from the purple, clockwise) dok gulap (rose), dok kajorn (asclepiadaceae), dok khem (needle flower) and dok leelawadee (plumeria or frangiapani).
Interesting story about the plumeria: When Tawn was growing up the flowering tree was called ton donlantom, which means “very deep sorrow tree”, and was often planted near graves. But people liked the beautiful flowers and the shape of the tree, especially in the beach provinces where it is common (it is the flower of Phetchaburi Province) so the tree was rebranded by the Royal family as ton leelawadee, which means “beautiful motion tree”. This is well-suited to the graceful shape of the branches.
Our first course was a curry – Penang plaa salmon – Salmon Penang curry which is not very spicy but has a rich flavor enhanced by the thinly-sliced Kaffir lime leaves. Something that sets Royal (or Palace) Thai cuisine apart from regular Thai food is that the dishes have more complex layers of flavor. For example, the Kaffir lime adds a subtle citrus note to the top of the deep bass of the curry.
The salmon arrived with khao pad Amphawa – Amphawa style fried rice. Amphawa (home of the nighttime floating market I’ve written about) is a town in Samut Songkhram province known for its coconuts. This fried rice includes mixed seafood and fresh young coconut meat served in a coconut shell. Notice the beautiful “flower” garnish, which is carved from a pumpkin. This dish is served with a glass of fresh coconut juice, which was poured from the coconut before the rice is served.
We then enjoyed the soup course, a variation on a classic Thai soup called tomka plaasalid. You may recognize this as the “tom ka gai” soup – chicken and coconut milk soup – that you enjoy at your local Thai restaurant. However, this version has a special Royal Thai cuisine twist: it is made with plaasalid, a sundried small whitefish that gives the soup a distinctive smoky flavor, and tamarind leaf tips, which give a sour, tangy flavor to the soup. To top it off, this soup was made with freshly squeezed coconut milk, which is every bit as rich as cream.
We then enjoyed kai tune – a baked egg custard that has a shrimp, pork, thousand-year old egg, and garlic mixture on top. Very delicate and silky, this dish was simple in construction but rich in flavor.
We had a second curry, this one a gaeng ped pbed yang, a grilled duck curry. This dish has grapes (or sometimes lychee) in it, providing a foil to the gamey flavor of the duck. The small green spheres are baby eggplants (not green peas as some foreigners expect) which lend a bitter crunch to the dish.
For dessert, classic “street vendor” style ice cream. Homemade coconut ice cream served on a sweet bread bun with kidney beans, palm hearts, and candied sweet potato. This is often served with a splash of sweetened condensed milk, although in this case the restaurant kept it plain.
And of course, being the tail end of hot season, how could we not enjoy some khao niaw mamuang – sticky rice with mango?
Paul, his fiancee Hey Jung, and Tawn battle over dessert.
you make me so jealous.. i have a thing for thai food.. the truth is, i don’t ever want to know how to make my favorite cuisine or such.. because once i know how to make it.. like french food.. i get sick of it.
I’m about to go to sleep. I hope to dream about the food in this entry. Oh wow. The Tom Ka Gai is a favorite of mine but it looks nothing like what I see here. Now I feel like I’m sitting in economy look at first class. The only gripe I have are those lovely fruit carvings. It always seems a shame to just use food as a decoration and then throw it out afterwards. (not just in this cuisine – but in many)
@ElusiveWords – They can be reused throughout the day, I would imagine. Then chopped up for stock!@Made2Order – I can appreciate that idea of not learning how to make the things you like the most, so you can never get sick of them.
Can I assume that the price for the dinner is a bit higher than the usual fare?
Man… and I was JUST fiending for a Salmon red curry today……. *tears* my laziness ultimately won out and I stayed home instead but now I wish I’d taken the initiative to go out and eat it!
Nice and delicious dishes. Love those floral decorations. How much was the dinner? Chris, I have full faith in your food recommendations on my next visit!
Bangkok has some very nice restaurants! yummy looking.
Kai tune looks awesome.The whole meal looks awesome.Yeah how’s the price???
the bouche looks delicious.. i’m a sucker for anything with corn and green onions and ground pork.. and that’s all of it together!I WANT THAT EGG CUSTARD AND THE GRILLED DUCK CURRY NOWWWWW :[ after reading this entry.. i swear.. the next time i go to a thai restaurant i won’t end up getting pad thai or pad see ew again.. i definitely want to try some of the curries….and goddd that egg custard!!
Ok, I didn’t read the entire post and it’s mostly because the food is so darn good to look at! Great photos!
@ElusiveWords – @CurryPuffy – @yang1815 – Alcohol excluded, we paid about 600 baht (less than US$20) per person. Gary, did I not already have your full faith?@moolgishin – There’s always tomorrow, right? =D@stevew918 – It was very yummy, yes.som tom – green papaya salad), a soup, a curry, a stir-fry (with lots of veggies), and rice. @Dezinerdreams – Glad you got distracted! Ha ha…
Wow. That is a lot of food… and a lot of food porn. ::fans self:: Very hot!
It looks so good. I do miss the food.
wow… as if i wasn’t hungry already this morning, this just made things worse. now i really have to grab a quick snack to stop my stomach from grumbling before i head out for my run!
@kunhuo42 – Sorry, Aaron. Have a good run, though.@amygwen – Better come back for more… once the protests settle down, of course.@Passionflwr86 – Too hot! =D
I’m intrigued by the flower tempura. Do the different flowers have very different flavors?I love that the Royal Family changed the name of the plumeria tree. It’s so interesting that they were able to change the entire context of the tree just by changing the name of it.The sticky rice and mango looks amazing!
Yeah how’d the flower tempura taste? Would you order it again?
ohhhhhhhh i am so hungry the duck and sticky rice would be my favorites along with the coconut soup and golden baskets. nothing that delicious around here. maybe if i drove downtown los angeles but that is not gonna happen. they need to get some decent rail systems around here.
Guess I’ll have to find time for a vacation. First one in eternity. I agree that the western media is way over blowing the safety issues in Thailand. That said, be safe my friend. BTW, food looks great.
@Toro69 – Glad you liked it. Will do everything we can to be safe. Word here is that the army has moved a lot of troops and armored vehicles into the city overnight and are about to make a push.@grannykaren – Oh, if only they would build some more rail in LA. Sadly, I’m not sure that will ever happen!@yang1815 – It was fine. A little tempura goes a long way, especially with the very delicately flavored flowers.@TheCheshireGrins – The differences in flavors are there but are subtle. Plus, they are kind of masked by the frying.
I always love your photos and food porn A+! We ate at a new spot in town the Cambodian-Thai Restaurant (not a real catchy name but accurate). I always judge a Thai restaurant on the quality of their Pad Thai but my husband got the Chicken Penang Curry- it was a little hotter than I liked but still good. Then I see these pictures and sigh. I really would like to try the sticky rice dessert. It is on my list.
@christao408 – Oh, of course Chris, you are my foodie ‘guiding light’ in the Land of Smiles. Well, not sure if everyone is smiling right now….haha~
@murisopsis – Come visit!@CurryPuffy – Nobody is. It is getting bad.
Great food and photos of said food! 🙂 If I weren’t done with my lunch at this time, I’d fly out to Thailand and get some of what you photographed! 😉
I like deep sorrow tree better The food is making me drool and hating my salad now.
@NVPhotography – Given the political violence right now, you might want to wait a few weeks! =D@Wangium – Salad-hater! Ha ha…
@christao408 – I’d love to but… I think I’ll have to wait a few years (until retirement and the political unrest subsides). But you know I’m making a list of the places to go and the things to see (and eat). hehe!