02 January 2013

Eating out...top 15 dishes of 2012!

So…I’ve already told you about my top 10 recipes of 2012. But as I continue to reflect back upon this amazing last year, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention some of the most amazing food that I have eaten outside of our own kitchen. Eating out – be it in proper restaurants or at one of Bangkok’s amazing street food stalls, markets and mall food courts – is a major part of our lives here. I was lucky enough to have had some amazing meals out in 2012…both in Thailand as well as some of the other places where I travelled. Inspired by all of the "best dishes of 2012" posts that I've been seeing on Gourmet, The Daily Meal, Serious Eats, etc., here’s a roundup of the top 15 restaurant or "outside" dishes that I tried in 2012, in no particular order (I couldn’t narrow it down to just 10!)…

15. Wasabi mashed potatoes – Gossip, Bangkok
Gossip is a trendy new eatery which recently opened in Bangkok’s Thonglor neighborhood, where we live. Chef Julien Lavigne fuses French, Italian, Japanese and Thai influences to create some truly delicious dishes, served in a beautiful space accompanied by a chilled out soundtrack provided by the house DJ. Both times that we’ve been to Gossip, Luis has ordered the seared red tuna in a ponzu sauce, served over a bed of these amazing mashed potatoes. I usually end up eating half of the mash myself, it’s so good! 

14. Bourbon, pear & sage cocktail – Daniela & Pedro’s wedding, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York
I’m not quite sure if this counts as a “dish”, but this was by far my favorite cocktail of the year! A perfect drink for a perfect fall wedding, set in the gorgeous Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The bride, my beautiful friend Daniela, instructed her bartenders to prepare this signature cocktail, the recipe for which she found in Martha Stewart Weddings. 2012, by the way, was the year that I decided that I’m officially a bourbon girl. I’m pretty sure that this drink sealed it. 

13. Truffle foam with green chili infusion – Gaggan, Bangkok
Gaggan is a most interesting restaurant here in Bangkok. Known for its “progressive Indian cuisine”, chef and owner Gaggan Anand (a native of Kolkata) picked up the secrets of molecular gastronomy at the legendary El Bulli, working under the wing of Ferran Adria. He applies these techniques at his Bangkok restaurant (set in a colonial house on Langsuan Road) and seamlessly melds Indian and other culinary influences. Luis and I both tried the 10-course tasting menu at Gaggan, where I was most intrigued by this truffle foam with an infusion of green chili. If you can’t imagine the use of truffles in Indian cuisine, you must go to Gaggan! The truffle naan there was equally amazing. 

12. Sweet potato & goat cheese tamale with guajillo chili mole sauce – Inc. Street Food, Roswell, Georgia
Whenever we go home to the suburbs of Atlanta to visit my parents, we hit up this Mexican “street food” restaurant in the historic center of Roswell where they live. I love their small plates, margaritas and raucous atmosphere so much that I requested that we go there on the night of my birthday this year. I love tamales in general, but this one was truly a winner with the combination of sweet potato, creamy goat cheese and a spicy guajillo chili mole sauce. How I wish that we could get such things here!

11. Pomelo salad – Khun Churn, Bangkok
The pomelo is a large citrus fruit which is green on the outside and beige on the inside. Similar to a grapefruit but not bitter, it is widely used in refreshing salads (yam) in Thai cuisine. I love the version at Khun Churn, a 100% vegetarian restaurant down the street from my office. Segments of pomelo are mixed with fried shallots, coconut, cashews, peanuts and dried red chilies and served alongside the Thai betel leaves known as bai cha plu, which are to be used as a wrap for the salad. It’s absolutely delicious! Stay tuned for a recipe to come soon.

10. Khao soy –Sukhumvit Soi 38 Street Food, Bangkok
Largely unknown outside of Thailand, khao soy is now officially one of my favorite Thai dishes. This Northern Thai dish, very popular in Chiang Mai, shows a Burmese influence. It’s basically a dish of noodles in a coconut curry broth, topped with pickled mustard greens, shallots and fried noodles and served with lime wedges and roasted chili paste to mix in. Simple but ridiculously delicious. Surprisingly the best version that I’ve had so far is not in the North but rather right around the corner from us, at one of the street food stalls on Sukhumvit Soi 38 (the last one on the right hand side walking into the street).

9. Dolsot bibimbap – Jeonju Jungang Hoekwan, Seoul
During my first trip to Seoul, South Korea this year (I went there twice!), I was determined to find the city’s best vegetarian dolsot bibimbap, a bowl of rice and vegetables served in a sizzling stone pot to caramelize the crust of rice on the bottom. Perked up with the fiery gochujang Korean chili paste, it’s no wonder that this is probably the best known dish in Korean cuisine! The version I had was particularly delicious with zucchini, mushrooms, cabbage, daikon, kimchi and the requisite egg on top. No wonder this place is reputed to one of Seoul’s best!

8. Rajasthani/Gujarati thali – Rajdhani, Bangalore
I think that we Indians have it right. There’s no better way to eat than a thali, in which an array of different dishes are served in little stainless steel bowls on the same plate. This way you can eat a little of everything and sample all kinds of different tastes. Rajdhani is a chain of Rajasthani and Gujarati vegetarian restaurants around India, and I simply loved the thali that I had there while visiting my cousins in Bangalore back in May. With ample use of yogurt, chickpea flour, lentils and a wide variety of vegetables, the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat have some of the best cuisine in India. This thali brought me some of their best dishes.  

7. Vegetarian sampler – Georgia Brown’s, Washington DC
One of my favorite restaurants in Washington, where I lived for many years, is Georgia Brown’s, which specializes in “low country” cuisine, or basically Southern and soul food. It may not seem very vegetarian friendly, but Georgia Brown’s has some very inventive veggie options! The vegetarian sampler brings you a little bit of everything, including a fried green tomato stuffed with goat cheese and topped with a green onion mayonnaise, a black eyed pea cake served with lemon-cayenne mayonnaise and smoked veggies and Carolina red rice. Trendy restaurants come and go in DC, but Georgia Brown’s has stood the test of time…dishes like this remind you why! 

6. Banana flower salad - Hanoi Garden, Hanoi
During our long weekend trip to Hanoi back in October (details coming soon!), we were advised to have lunch at this charming little place in the Old Quarter. We requested a veggie version of the banana flower salad (nm hoa choui), and boy were we glad we did! It was absolutely amazing with fine shreds of banana flower, julienned cucumbers, Vietnamese coriander and peanuts in a sauce of lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Also known as banana blossoms, dark pink-skinned banana flowers form the heart of the banana plant and are not unlike artichokes in taste. They are commonly used in the cuisines in Southeast Asia. I need to get one and try to replicate this amazing salad ASAP!

5. Lemongrass mushrooms - Taste from Heaven, Chiang Mai
Though I haven't had time to write about it, we spent the Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday in April in Chiang Mai. In between the water fights and temple visits, we of course had some amazing food. Our favorite place was the totally vegetarian Taste from Heaven. So good was everything we tried there that we decided to take one of their cooking classes. Between the two of us, we got to choose 9 dishes from the vast menu for a half-day private class. I was intrigued by the lemongrass mushrooms, which were described as a mix of chopped mushrooms, coriander roots, garlic, pepper and flour wrapped around lemongrass stalks and deep fried, served with sweet chili sauce. This was meant to resemble a traditional Thai sausage, and boy was it fun to make these in the class! The mushroom mixture is pushed into banana leaves, while lemongrass stalks are inserted to hold them together. Just like tamales, the leaves are then steamed (and later fried). Very inventive and delicious, with a subtle taste of lemongrass!

4. Frutas guacamole - Toloache, New York
Like any good Texan, I'm a sucker for some good guacamole. On my first night in New York during my September trip, the Gastronomic Nomad took me to a place called Toloache on the Upper East Side. Though a bit on the pricy side, we had a wonderful meal out in the restaurant's patio area. The highlight was surely this guacamole, in which chunky avocado was studded with pomegranate, peach, mango, apple, Thai basil, Vidalia onion and habanero chili. It sounds a bit strange but was delicious and came in a very generous portion, perfect for scooping up with the house tortilla chips.

3. Green mango salad (yam mamuang) - Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok
Bangkok's Chatuchak (or Jatujak) Weekend Market is overwhelming. With 27 different sections and tens of thousands of stalls, you can buy literally anything here from clothes to furniture to handicrafts to animals. I love going to Chatuchak but don't venture out there very often, given how exhausting it can be in the Bangkok heat. The biggest incentive for me to make the trip is usually the opportunity to have a plate of the delicious Thai green mango salad known as yam mamuang, sold at an Isaan (Northeastern Thai) eatery somewhere in Section 8. Piquant with lots of lime juice, shallots and bird's eye chilies (I always ask for it phet maak maak, or very hot), this is so good that I have to keep myself from licking the plate (luckily Thais and Laotians have figured it out and give you sticky rice to lap up all the sauce). No wonder I made my own version of yam mamuang as soon as I tried this dish for the first time!

2. Porcini-crusted seitan on garlic-shallot-potato mash - Candle Cafe, New York
During my trip to New York back in 2011, the Gastronomic Nomad introduced me to the vegan (and totally gastronomic) restaurant called Candle 79. This place is just as delicious as any gourmet restaurant anywhere in the world, but it's 100% vegan. During this year's visit, I went for lunch at their more casual outpost, the Candle Cafe. It was so hard to choose from all of the drool-inducing options, but I went for the porcini-crusted seitan served on a bed of garlic-shallot-potato mash, grilled oyster mushrooms, sauteed string beans and spinach. It was topped with country gravy and crispy capers and was 100% incredible! If more people tasted dishes like this, there would be more vegans in the world...trust me!

1. Lemongrass salad - Patara, Bangkok
Patara is an amazing contemporary-style Thai restaurant right in our neighborhood. If you’re looking for some upscale Thai dining and a refreshing twist on some traditional dishes, look no further than this place. You can try unique dishes such as “wok fried moon flower in garlic soya sauce”, mini Thai-style tacos and tamarind-glazed crispy fried duck confit and wash them down with delicious cocktails using Thai spirits, herbs and spices.  With locations in Geneva, London, Singapore, Beijing and Vienna, Patara also has a huge vegetarian menu. During the Gastronomic Nomad’s visit, we had an unforgettable dinner at Patara. The highlight was surely this lemongrass salad – thinly sliced slivers of lemongrass (white part only), cashews, mint, kaffir lime leaf tempura, fried shallots, peanuts and chili -- in a dressing of tamarind, garlic, chili and palm sugar. It was absolutely orgasmic! Must replicate it at home ASAP.  


  1. Everything looks so so yummy! You are trying to make everyone jealous, aren't you? You have succeeded in doing that-Mom

  2. So glad I showed you some of the amazing food in NYC. Your time here is always too short!!

    I'm still dreaming of replicating that lemongrass salad....oh man that was insane!!