Thursday night’s Thai Me Up dinner was awesome. We sat on the patio at Malai Kitchen, which was wrapped in big plastic sheets to prevent entry from unwanted pests. Across the tables were giant banana leaves and little pools of candlelit petals. Wine glasses sat next to the eager guests, who were being chatted up by Yasmin Wages, proprietor of Malai Kitchen, and her band of merry men and women working that night.
But tonight was all about the advertised guest chef, Paul Singhapong. Now retired, Chef Singhapong comes back every once in a while to dazzle the uninitiated with his creativity and style. Together with Braden Wages, Yasmin’s husband and chef, it was bound to be an adventurous evening. Yasmin had invited me and photographer Leah Clausen as guests.
As one of those previously mentioned uninitiated, I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised.
The Amuse Bouche was the first course, a Conway Royal oyster in a Nuoc Nam mignonette. The oyster presentation was something else. Very pretty. I tossed it back and let the juices swirl and coalesce. It was nice and savory. The mekong shooter with lime juice really drew out the sweet and salty flavor.
Next came the Pla Kung, a bowl with sweet prawn, mint, and lemongrass ceviche. The slice of watermelon was refreshing, and I noticed I was alternating bites of it with the kick from the Thai chili. But the best part was the crispy prawn head, which was packed with flavor.
After that, it was the Hoy Phing. It was a plate of banana-wrapped, grilled bay scallops with red curry and coconut. You could definitely taste the curry in these scallops, but it was a nice with the coconut, which helped to provide a balance with the strong curry flavor.
Tom Yum Hua Pla
This one was interesting. It was Tom Yum Hua Pla, which is a hot and sour soup made with fish head. I don’t eat too many fish heads and I’m a child, so I giggled when I looked at its cooked eyeballs looking back at me. I took out its eye and ate it. It sort of brought everyone in the room a little bit closer together. The fish head in general, I mean. Not my eyeball devouring. The soup tasted just as advertised: hot and sour. The Thai basil was a nice featured flavor. The wine–a 2011 Livon Friulano–worked to cleanse the palette and prepare it for another spicy bite.
Kha Pong Dang Tod
The Kha Pong Dang Tod was a dish with grilled red snapper, with a crispy corn patty, and green curry sauce. I could eat this forever. Everything about it seemed to mesh—
the curry sauce, the corn patty… and the Grand Cru Burgundy didn’t hurt, either.
Finally, it was time for dessert. It was Koi Tod, a bowl of fried coconut tempura bananas with coconut gelato. The fried bananas were crispy on the outside and a sweet, gooey mess inside.
I lovingly sipped on a cup of weasel coffee from Vietnam. It’s called weasel coffee because the beans are eaten by weasels and then “released.” Workers sift through “new releases” to retrieve the partially digested coffee bits. It’s really good, so I didn’t mind the backstory.
As we sat, enjoying our weird weasel coffee and rubbing our warm bellies, Chef Singhapong and his crew arrived at the front of the patio. The guests put down their mugs and applauded their efforts.
“We like to play and come up with stuff,” Braden Wages said to the room. The chefs were appreciative of the open mindedness of the guests, allowing them room to flex their muscles and create something unique and flavorful.