On March 16 and 17, an event space in Bangkok called Opposite hosted a pop-up restaurant called Lard-o-Licious. A friend of mine served as sous chef and invited me to the event. While some of my non-pork eating readers may be turned off, I was really excited to attend this dinner.
Opposite (second floor of the building on the right) is located off Sukhumvit Soi 51, a small alley just a short walk from the Thong Lo BTS station. It is also just one soi over from our condo. The pavement in front is uneven and badly in need of replacement. An international school is down the street and a few restaurants and massage parlors fill out the rest of the neighborhood.
Opposite is thus named because it is located directly across the soi from a bar/restaurant called WTF, owned by Somrak Sila and Christopher Wise, the same people who own Opposite. The space is about 60 square meters (600 square feet) and has a kitchen and bar area. It is perfect for gallery exhibitions, dinners, parties, performances, and other such events.
When I arrived I found my friend Brian Bartusch, on the left, helping chef Jess Barnes prepare dishes. The well-inked Jess hails from Melbourne, Australia and has worked in a wide variety of restaurants both there and in Bangkok including at Grossi Trattoria and Bed Supperclub. He will be the chef of Quince, a new Modern Australian restaurant set to open in May on Sukhumvit Soi 45.
Sneaking a peak in the kitchen, I saw some watermelon salad with toasted pistachios and some homemade pickled vegetables.
Plates and plates of freshly made bread, with which to slather up all of the good flavors that would follow.
As we arrived, there were plates on the tables with liver and Thai brandy pate with house made mustard fruits on crostini. I really enjoy pate (perhaps thanks to my paternal grandfather who fed me lots of liverwurst when I visited as a child) and this met expectations.
The space was arranged with three long tables running the length of the space, a small temporary bar mixing white sangria as guests arrived, a screen showing a loop of food-related videos, and lamps made from used plastic rice bags. The lamps echoed traditional northern Thai paper lamps and were a colorful touch.
Before dinner started, the organizers of the event said a few words then local illustrator Kathy Macleod showed us a 7-minute animated video providing a brief history of pork. I filmed it and have embedded it above for your viewing pleasure. Unfortunately, I didn’t seek out her permission to share the video but hopefully this counts as fair use. Please see her facebook page for more information about her comics. (Link to video on YouTube for high definition version.)
The first course was composed of four dishes. Shown here are steamed buns (similar to Chinese style bao) filled with pulled pork shoulder, red cabbage slaw, and prawn mayonnaise. These were very fun and the pork was flavorful and tender, albeit a little under-seasoned. I ended up eating only about half the bun for fear I would fill myself too quickly.
Also on the table were jars of head cheese – confit pork terrine served with olives and pickled vegetables. The name “head cheese” makes some people squeamish. Really, there is no need. It is basically made with the various scraps of meat from the animal’s head, much in the same way that sausage is made from various scraps of meat from elsewhere in the body. The head cheese was very flavorful and tender.
The next dish was roasted bone marrow with Italian parsley salad and shallot jam. Bone marrow is another one of those dishes that some folks have a problem with. Anthony Bourdain called it the “butter of the gods” and, in my opinion, he isn’t far off. It is rich and fatty and flavorful. While you might think that your cholesterol shoots through the roof just as soon as the platter is set down in front of you, the good news is that bone marrow is rich in monounsaturated fat as well as protein.
The final dish of the first course was a watermelon and mint salad served with rosewater, pistachio, and feta cheese. I was pleasantly surprised to see this dish, considering that I’ve made variations of it twice in the past month and a half.
The pacing was leisurely – the entire meal took over three hours – so we had time to visit with other people at the table and to get up and wander around. One of the interesting things about family style seating is that, of course, you end up meeting people sitting next to you whom you’ve never previously met. The drawback in this situation was that there were a lot of people who already knew each other and Tawn and I were outsiders, but folks were very friendly. I spent a good portion of the evening chatting with the owner of Bed Supperclub, who was seated directly across from me. I will say that in my advancing age, it is increasingly hard for me to carry on conversations in moderately loud environments.
The second course also featured four dishes. The first was smoked pork loin served with cabbage and sticky juices. The menu said it was served with puffed grains but I didn’t see those. There was wild rice served on the side to absorb the yummy juices. This dish was fantastic – very tender and flavorful.
Another interesting dish was the pork cooked in milk, served with white beans and lovage. Lovage is an herbacious perennial plant – a fact I had to look up. Braising the pork in milk worked very well to make it exceedingly tender. The dish was very enjoyable although it was lacking a little bit of salt. Tawn pointed out that, despite not being a Thai dish, a bit of fish sauce and a few Thai chilies would have complemented it perfectly.
A third dish was eggplant, labne and soy bean salad, with romesco sauce. This may have been the highlight of the evening. It had tremendous flavor, hearty but not heavy. Labne is yoghurt which has been strained to remove the whey.
The final dish in the second course was fennel, citrus, spring onions, celery, and holy basil. This was a combination of flavors I really liked but the fennel was tremendously tough which made it unpleasant to eat.
Our meal was accompanied by a trio of wines from a Thai vineyard called Monsoon Valley – a 2011 Colombard, 2010 Shiraz, and a 2010 fortified Muscat. All three were pleasant. Thai wines have been slowly improving and while they still have some way to go, I’ve been having more of them in the past year or two that impress me. There were also two home-brewed beers made by Brian, one a pale ale and the other a toasted coconut malt.
For dessert we had a bittersweet chocolate and blood cake (more of a mousse, really) with hazelnut pastry and tangerine ice cream. The big question at the table was, “Is it real blood!?” I went to ask the chef and, sure enough, it was real pig’s blood. A mixture of equal parts of chocolate and pig’s blood are blended and cooked. I think cream is added, if I recall correctly, along with some gelatin. It is then chilled overnight and foamed to lighten the texture. How did it taste? Fantastic. You would never had known there was blood in there – it just tasted like a very rich chocolate mousse.
All in all, the meal – which was about $65 per person inclusive of everything – was quite a reasonable price for a special occasion dinner. There was plenty of food and wine and the menu was both tasty and creative. I enjoy when food can engage me intellectually as well as in the more traditional ways such as through flavor, smell, and texture. I’m looking forward to the next pop-up restaurant event at Opposite as well as the opening in two months of Quince, Jess Barnes’ new restaurant here in Bangkok.