Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dishing On Bangkok Restaurants


(more photos here):

Thailand is known for its unique cuisine -- savory yet sweet in every bite, sauces smooth as Thai silk and a spiciness that emulates its hot climate -- and Bangkok's restaurant scene is no less unique or phenomenal. With Michael, we experienced some of the best the city has to offer one dish, drink and location at a time, and we simply HAD to share the details!

Bangkok has one restaurant in particular which takes 'atmosphere' to a new level.~> read more

 At the top of the Banyan Tree Hotel rests "Vertigo", a restaurant and bar soaring above the building's 58 floors with nothing to stop you from touching the stars but the smoky curtain of Bangkok's pollution. You arrive via elevator at Floor 58, then wind up two chic, narrow staircases lined with Asian art and alight on the roof, where the view and sheer surprise of its open atmosphere take your breath away...possibly even giving you vertigo. Never, ever before have I been somewhere so elegant and so quiet, so elevated and so open to the world! OHSA wouldn't like it, but we loved it and couldn't get over the fact we were dining at silk covered tables in between four beacons of lighted red warning beacons to aircraft!!!

Every small touch at Vertigo was incredible and memorable...from the gently folded cream petals of a single lotus stem hanging delicately from the ice bucket, to the hammered silver chargers which caught and tumbled the city's jeweled-skyline reflection at your plate...from a menu featuring Tasmanian salmon, Japanese beef and Phuket lobster, to frosty jasmine-scented towels which were seemingly delivered on silent wish-command by servers in white silk and the perfect temperature to cool and refresh one's humid neck. At the end of our experience -- and it was that, much more than just a meal -- we wandered around the candle-lit and skyline-lit roof, looked over the edge and 60 stories down, and tasted chocolate (from their surprise dessert finale of an exquisite truffle) instead of fear. Definitely the most enjoyable case of Vertigo on record!

The Oriental is Bangkok's most fabled hotel, a remnant of the Kingdom of Siam and a posh place to recover from the jungle (like Somerset Maugham did in the Bamboo Bar) or get cured from writer's block to finish a grand novel (like Joseph Conrad did in The Author's Wing). It's beautiful, serene, full of artful touches and dining at The Oriental rolls all of the aforementioned adjectives into one...but with even more flare and lotus flowers.

We dined at The Verandah, which spills gracefully onto the hotel's edge along the Chao Praya, a river whose inky black water serves as a startling, impossible mirror to the surrounding buildings and city lights. Reflections dance off the busy water in front of The Verandah, and a steady stream of twinkle-lit teak dinner boats full of group tourists entertain your eyes and ears. And your nose, not to be left unattended, inhales gentle wafts of jasmine, frangipane and orchid from swaying tree blooms scenting the darkness. Cream table linens dotted by mulberry-paper candle lanterns are neither damp nor wrinkled like we are from the moist heat, and a turquoise, perfume-bottle-shaped resin vase holds a solitary lotus bloom. Simply sitting down at the table and absorbing its sensory beauty was captivating at The Verandah, and we hadn't even ordered yet! Its is an atmosphere of another, less vertical nature, but equally intoxicating.

Honestly, only in Asia, does one find restaurants with this type of elegant serenity and such uncanny attention to detail. Without attitude, no less, and always with grace. Here, it's all about small pleasures performed by hidden hands and quiet the most exquisite degree. Despite dense population and urban chaos, eating in Bangkok is never rushed, never just a motion or means to an end. I think some of this unique style has to do with the pervasive Buddhist spirituality that demands notice, offerings and thanks on a daily basis -- many people here just know how to look for and create beauty in the every day. I think this translates to a harmony between life, art, pleasure and the organic which is quite tangible to those who are willing to slow down and live in the moment. Which as Americans, even ones abroad, is not easy to do. But when possible, so rewarding and good for the soul.

** (...So, ironically, The Verandah's drink menu reads much like a Denny's menu! Each plastic page has photos of the Oriental's fabulous, famous cocktails in vivid color and it's easy to simply forego speaking Thai and instead point out one of the Singapore Sling-Bamboo Cooler-Thai Mango Teaser concoction images to the waitress.

However, their garnishes are far from a Denny's pickle or parsley. At The Oriental, there are special fruit and vegetable carvers whose job is solely to adorn food and decorate plates! They make lotus flowers out of carrot, banana-leaf origami animals, watermelon landscapes, pineapple boats and more. We have a photo of them working on their canvasses of fruit in The Gallery. Check it out -- what they can do with a radish or mango in one hour is incredible!) **


Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

I'm an old Bangkok hand and long ago I taught myself that for the best in Thai food avoid the big luxury hotels. (I've been there a dozen times and rotate between the Oriental, the Shangri-La and the Peninsula-- but I don't eat in them.) I posted a guide to fine Thai dining on my travel blog. By the way, the one exception I found to the hotel rule-of-thumb is the Banjarong at the Dusit Thani.

5:04 PM  

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