As PaaDee is both on my regular happy hour rounds and right on the way to Alma Chocolate, I’ve been aware for awhile now that something interesting is happening in the back room, something involving secret doorways and exemplary tasting menus, but being a visual learner, I didn’t fully comprehend what was going on until last week, when we took the marvelous, mouthwatering Langbaan Leap.
Because I’m only about five minutes from PaaDee/Langbaan, and when you live five minutes from a destination, you somehow believe it only takes you one minute to get there, I was running a little bit late to meet my friend Erin for dinner, and my anxiety level increased when she texted something about “omg, a secret door!”, mentally calculating just how much later having to stumble around searching for a secret door lever would make me.
Rushing inside PaaDee, I gasped “Where’s Langbaan?!” at the first person I saw, and thankfully it was a server, who calmly led the way past the bar, past the bathrooms, and into a shadowy crevice that housed a simple bookcase lined with travel books and pictures. He pulled a lever next to the bookcase, and it swung open slowly, to reveal a tiny, charming wood-swathed dining room lined on one side by a four seat bar facing a bustling kitchen occupied by loveable owner/chef Earl Ninsom and chef Rassamee Ruaysuntia; and on the other, by a foliage-topped wooden wall running halfway up the floor-length windows, hiding the dining room from the prying eyes of anyone strolling by on their way to happy hour or Alma.
We had a choice between the $40 or $60 tasting menu, and while I was just going to get the $40 version, Erin pointed out that the upgrade came with a Maine lobster and pennywort salad, and life is short, so eat lobster and pennywort while you can.
Counting the courses on the menu (11), I figured we’d be led back through the secret passageway around midnight, but the pacing of the dinner was flawless. Our servers were gracious and knowledgeable, deftly guiding diners through the hidden doorway to our waiting tables, ferrying cocktails from PaaDee’s bar, and delivering dish after gorgeous dish with impeccable timing.
Moments after we sat down, the first of three “snacks” appeared—a mixture of sweet pomelo, tender shrimp, and roasted coconut sauce mounded onto a bright green betel leaf so shiny and perfect I had to pinch it to make sure it was real.
The watermelon crispy sticky rice was up next, served with a small dish of roasted coconut with peanuts and pork,
And then, a green mango salad topped with catfish fried into crisp, nearly weightless “nets” that reminded me of shredded wheat biscuits, except far more edible.
For the soup course, we slurped a Southern-style sour soup of baby cuttlefish stuffed with pork and salted duck eggs bobbing alongside wild mushrooms, lotus root and cherry tomatoes.
Next up, the gorgeous Maine lobster, Asian pennywort and rambutan salad, accented with tamarind and coconut dressing. It was as compelling as it sounds, but not to be overshadowed was the Thai-style salmon ceviche with orange and Thai eggplant.
Moving into the mains, we had a parade of diverse proteins—braised pork ribs atop salty, sticky sweet chunks of pork belly, a mixture of smoked trout and grilled wild mushrooms served with herbs and sections of crisp romaine, roe-sprinkled grilled halibut in fermented rice with strips of inky, jerky-esque coriander beef, and possibly my favorite dish of the night, a terrifically rich and complex curry with mussels, clams, jackfruit and betel leaf, served with bright yellow turmeric rice.
For a sweet, simple finish, we were served two beautiful golden mung bean cakes,
And finally, the lod chong nahm krati, a concoction of thick green pandanus noodles lurking in a bowl of coconut cream amidst chunks of melon and taro, and blanketed in cool, refreshing jasmine shaved ice.
From pomelo to pennywort to pandanus noodles, Langbaan serves up quite the supper. Yes, committing to an unfamiliar tasting menu can be daunting, it’s pricey and you’re locked in, but go ahead and take the Langbaan leap, you’re in good hands. And they don’t even laugh at you when you stand outside the secret door after dinner and repeatedly open and shut it like overexcited school kids, which is nice.