Wednesday, April 07, 2010

April 6th - Maenam Thai Restaurant - Kitsilano - Vancouver - A Westcoast-Chic Thai Experience

 Cloudy Hot and Sour Prawn Soup
I like to catch up with the girls from my first job in Vancouver every few months.  They were fun to work with and continue to be fun catch up an gossip with. We could not be more different in backgrounds and history but we get along really well.  We like to choose new and well reputed places whenever we do go out.  That is definitely something we have as a foundation. We are all foodies who love good wine.  Funny that.  J, she left work a few years ago to purse a dream of cooking professionally which was really her passion anyway.  She is quite close to the word in the industry on the new places and the places that insiders like to eat which is great.

We chose Maenam tonight as one of the latest 'it' places in Vancouver.  It won the award for best New Restaurant as voted by readers in the Georgia Strait this month.  That in and of itself would not necessarily tell you alot.  I would not agree with alot of the winners like: Best Imported Wine list, Best Imported Wines, Best Pizza, Best Coffee,... to name a few.  Yellowtail for best imported white wine!!!??? Seriously?  I am not a wine snob.  I like, no love good wine and Yellowtail is not it.  It is a bargain, I will agree, but that is all.  Well, it is a free news paper after all.  One, that I admit I pick up frequently for music and theatre listings but I would not say that I would live and eat by their reader restaurant choices.  So, that was not why we chose Maenam.  Actually, J and K had said that they had probably eaten most of their meals out in the last few months on the three blocks around Maenam.  :^)  J had heard great things about Angus and his training and approach to cooking. Done deal for us to try it out.

It was a Tuesday night but you would not know it.  Maenam was nearly full with regular turns on the tables, except ours :^D.  We like to talk.  But we like to eat and we did order enough wine and food to keep our table, though you would not know it from our pushy waitress.  The hostess was lovely but our server was really odd on the verge of rude.  It was like Maenam could not decide if it was a high end Kits restaurant or a high turn Thai joint.  Sorry, your prices tell me the former and I am quite happy with my 13$ (incl tax+tip) glass of prosecco.
Anyhoo, we ordered some Roti with our starter drinks to shut her up.  It was hot and tasty, slightly under seasoned but nice.  We decided to share a couple of starters because many of their 'Smaller' dishes, as they are described, are for 2.  That could be a bit cumbersome if one or the other is allergic or is averse to certain meats. We ordered Cloudy Hot and Sour Prawn Soup and some Mussels with Thai Basil and Lemongrass.  The Mussels came with a side sauce that was tart with lots of lemongrass which came in handy later.  The Cloudy Hot and Sour soup came in a little Chinese hot pot soup pot that was kept hot with a chafing heating type of thing with a small ladle.  My advice would be to let it sit for a bit because it only got hotter and it was nicer when it was piping hot.  The broth was flavourful but there was not much in the way of mushrooms or prawn.  We had several helpings of just broth.   We did finish just about all of it though. 

The Mussels came in a tiny little bowl so access to the broth underneath was impossible.  I was glad to have the extra broth from our soup.  It came with a small bowl of Nam Jim Sauce a hot, sour, spicy Thai vinagrette.  It did not compliment the Mussels at all but it came in handy later.  That said the mussels were cooked perfectly, the were all consistently plump and flavourful.  Very nice.

For mains, I ordered the 8 Spice Fish - a Crispy Lingcod served with carmelised tamarind with fried herbs and spices.  J orderd the Aromatic Duck Curry which was a type of confit.  K ordered the Jungle Curry of Sable Fish from Northern Thailand. 

To accompany our mains, we went for a bottle of a neutral Pinot Noir.  Sadly, they only had one.  Very strange for an Asian restaurant.  There are not many dishes on the menu that would stand up to some of the big reds on their list.  Luckily the Pinot Noir was a nice one, the Therapy Vineyards 2008.  Very elegant without being intrusive on the complex flavours in the food.

The 8 Spice Fish was dry.  Very Very Dry.  It was also under seasoned so it lacked flavour which was really odd given its name.  Luckily I used some of the Nam Jim sauce that came with the Mussels as a condiment.  As well, took cheeky spoonfuls of K's Jungle Curry sauce to pour on my rice.  The fish itself was cooked perfectly.  The crispiness was nice but with the added dried tamarind on top, I was left parched.

The Jungle Curry was very nice.  Both curries came in little Thai brass bowls with brass serving spoons.  Nice touch.  The sauce was flavourful and had many different notes of flavour.  The fish looked well cooked and K enjoyed it. One thing I would note is that the portions were rather small.  The mains do not come with rice so I thought it was funny that the mains section was called 'Bigger' when they were actually smaller than the 'Smaller', starters.

The Aromatic Duck smelled lovely but looked incredibly greaZZZZy.  Yes, confit is an oilbased cooking but you do not normally expect the lot to come out to your plate.  The little brass bowl was full of oil or duck fat and the sauce was a good half inch beneath that.  She ate the duck but left the potatoes.  I could see why.  They had sopped up much of the oil.  She did say she liked the dish.

Overall I would say that there is a bit of hype around the new hit.  The food was nice but not the super star above your average Thai place other than the decor.  That was definitely refreshing.  It is a clean, sleek, Westcoast meets Bamboo-Asian chic without the obligatory Thai scarves hanging on the walls or wooden elephants or other trinkets.  So the feel of the restaurant felt posh but the food did not as much.  What I should have done, I was telling J and K, was order the Pad Thai as the benchmark.  Rather than trying the original dishes to get a sense of the elevated status of the place, I should have ordered a staple.  You know, the way they say you can tell a great sushi chef from his Egg (Tamago) Sushi roll.  Still it was an enjoyable experience and I would say it is worth a try.  I insist, however, that you not be intimidated by your pushy server if you get the same one we did.  You are a paying guest and this aint the Noodle Box.

Cost: $$$
Ambiance: Sleek, clean, bustely but not deafening. (Wooden floors are slippery if you are in heels!)
Staff: Our server was pushy to the point of rude.  Like we had overstayed our welcome :^(
Location: Kits restaurant central
Wine list: Fantastic!

Maenam Thai Restaurant
1938 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 730-5579

Maenam on Urbanspoon

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