Food in Bangkok: Karmakamet Diner

Hot new “must try” restaurants in Bangkok are like dandelions: they pop up frequently but don’t last long. One recent flowery addition to the local dining scene, Karmakamet Diner, stands a chance at staying around, at least if their brunch is any indication.

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Karmakamet is a local brand specializing in high-quality and beautifully packaged perfumes, aromatics, and candles. They started with a small shop at Chatuchak Market and grew slowly. Eventually, a small tea shop opened at Central World Plaza and then not that long ago a cafe opened in Silom.

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In the last few months, they have opened their first full-blown restaurant in a stylish converted warehouse tucked just behind Emporium’s second car park structure. The building resembles a greenhouse-cum-factory with views of the pretty garden through windows glazed to keep the sunlight from being unbearable.

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The interior space is richly designed with lots of vintage-looking details. Most of the dandelion restaurants in Bangkok also feature fetching interiors, but Karmakamet Diner seems to have been more thoughtfully designed than most. It really is a pleasant space with interesting things to notice whichever direction you look.

Of course, my primary concern in any restaurant is the food. While I haven’t been there for dinner yet, I have had weekend brunch there three times over the past six weeks. Each time the food quality was consistent, the presentation attractive, and while the dishes are relatively pricey, I find them a fair value given the quality, portion size, and beautiful setting. Let’s take a look at what I tried – rest assured I dined with other people and didn’t eat all of this food myself!

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Home made granola with fresh fruits and yogurt. Tasty, although it is granola so I’m not sure that I can expect anything amazing.

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The crab-avocado sandwich has a spicy truffle mayonnaise, rocket, hard boiled egg, and tomato confit. This was a tasty sandwich although the use of plain thick-cut white bread was a bit of a letdown. Something whole grain would have been nicer.

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Panini with roasted vegetables, melted cheese, pesto, and a ridiculously tasty portion of ratatouille. A pretty simple dish but well-executed. The choice of bread was very good.

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The croque madame was one of the highlights. Layered buttered toast with Gruyere cheese, ham, bacon, and sous-vide egg, topped with melted Mozzarella. It is every bit as rich and decadent as it sounds. Perhaps not for the high of cholesterol!

2014-02-10 05A pasta dish featuring capellini with cod roe and garlic. This was a nice dish, pleasantly salty from the roe. There was also a very spicy crab pasta (not pictured) that was enjoyable and, true to its promise, very spicy.

2014-03-01 5Penne with N’Duja, an Italian spicy sausage that seems to be quite the favored ingredient here in Bangkok these days, along with Burrata cheese. The sauce was really tasty, though, and the pasta was properly cooked.

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Eggs Benedict – available with either ham or smoked salmon, or with salmon patties as a substitute for the English muffins. I tried the ham and the salmon patty versions and enjoyed both. The eggs were perfectly cooked with firm whites and liquid yolks. The Hollandaise sauce is smooth and velvety although just a bit more tart than I like. There is a careful balance to achieve with the acidity, maybe a matter of preference more than anything else.

2014-02-10 03The “full breakfast” features just about everything you would consider to be a breakfast food, plus a bit of mixed greens salad. It is a huge portion and makes you glad that food is generally served family style here in Thailand. As a side note, food at Karmakamet Diner did come out family style in a hodge-potch manner. Diners ordering individual plates be forewarned!

2014-03-01 2The so-called “can’t resist pancake” – the pancake is buried under duck confit, sautéed potatoes, crisp bacon, and sour cream served with a side of maple syrup. My first reaction (before taking a bite) was “what the heck is this mess?” After I tried it, all was forgiven. The pancake is really just there to absorb all the tasty flavors from the bacon, duck, and syrup.

2014-03-02 3For dessert, we shared a massive slice of French toast surrounded with fresh fruits and topped with an orange sauce and maple syrup. Shared among four or six people, it is just the right amount of sweet with which to conclude the meal.

Service was generally attentive and responsive. One thing that I greatly appreciate is that the kitchen properly warms the plates before putting food on them. Especially for dishes like Eggs Benedict, a cool or even room-temperature plate will cause the sauce to quickly form an unappealing skin. The plates were warm, almost hot, to the touch. Bonus points for attention to that detail.

Without having tried the dinner menu, I’m not yet sure if Karmakamet Diner is just another pretty dandelion restaurant, soon to fade with the changing trends. But if brunch is any indication, I think they may blossom into something much more lasting and substantial.

Deep Fried Sous Vide Bacon Dinner

My friend Nat prepares the most fantastic dinners. A few weeks ago he bounced an idea off me: sous vide unsliced bacon and then deep fry it. Before I knew it, a date was set and a dozen guests invited.

The Preparation

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Nat was at the market and they had a whole, uncut bacon – smoked pork belly. He bought it, certain that it would make an interesting sous vide main course. Sous vide cooking is a technique where the food is vacuum sealed in plastic bags which are then cooked in a water bath for long periods at a relatively low temperature.

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Not certain how long would be ideal, he ran a test batch with three bags, pulling a bag out every 24 hours to check the texture. Seventy-two hours was perfect.

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After pulling the bags from the water bath, they were plunged into an ice bath to halt the cooking. Once cooled, the slabs of bacon were removed from the bags and patted dry with towels.

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The final step, to ensure a nice, crisp exterior, was to deep fry the pieces of bacon for a few minutes.

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The end result, a soft, silk chunk of bacon with a crispy exterior. The day before dinner, Nat asked my suggestions for a sauce. I suggested a lychee sauce since it was lychee season and the astringency of lychee would cut through the richness of the bacon. What I received for my suggestion was the assignment to cook the sauce! 

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Once I arrived, I started turning fresh, seeded lychees through a food mill in order to extract all the juice. This was cooked in a pot with chicken stock and chopped onions and allowed to cook for an hour before I seasoned and thickened the sauce.

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A nice rocket and tomato salad was prepared to garnish the dish. Bitter greens in a vinaigrette would contrast with the rich bacon and sweet/tart lychee sauce.

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One item was sitting on the counter, waiting to be turned into amuse bouche – appetizers. Do you recognize these?

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Poaching on the stove is a dish of tiger prawn quenelles, made by taking a choux paste (same one you use for cream puffs) and mixing it with finely ground, raw prawn meat and seasonings.

The Dinner

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As usual at Nat’s house, dinner brought together a wide variety of guests, people with different backgrounds, occupations, and interests – all of whom share an appreciation for good food.

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Charming salt and pepper shakers.

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Amuse bouche: escargot in garlic crust. Very tasty!

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Soup course: chilled leek and lemongrass soup. The lemongrass was very subtle, just sneaking up into your nose when each sip of soup was already swallowed.

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The tiger prawn quenelles served with a prawn roe sauce and steamed asparagus. Very light texture with rich flavor.

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Palate cleanser: mojito sherbet.

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Main course: Deep fried sous vide bacon with lychee sauce served with a rocket salad with soy vinaigrette. Alas, the plate was a little cool and my sauce thickened a bit too much by the time I took this picture. Nonetheless, the meat was very tender and the sauce’s flavors worked nicely with it. Of course, the serving could have been a third this size and we would have been fine!

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Linda and I pose for a picture mid-dinner, only to discover a moment later that Cha had inserted himself into the shot!

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For dessert, sticky toffee pudding with a toffee sauce and homemade yamazaki ice cream. Decadent!

 

Summer Bounty – Bacon Lettuce and Tomatoes

The best part about living back in Kansas City is that I can get really good summer produce.  Every Saturday I go to the Farmers Market in Overland Park and buy some yummy veggies and fruits.  Right now is peak season for peaches and tomatoes – corn is pretty good, too.  A few weeks ago it was all about the blackberries, but that’s over.

 

The Farmers Market is especially important because, due to heat and drought, my tomato plants never really bore much fruit.  I am not ready to become a full-time farmer.

 

This afternoon I fixed my favorite summer meal – one that I’ve been eating almost daily for the past two weeks – a Bacon Lettuce and Tomato sandwich!  Once I move to Bangkok, I suppose that I’ll trade this in for a BBT – Bacon, Basil, and Tomato.  There is a recipe in this month’s issue of Sunset magazine.

 

Artfully arranged, don’t you think?