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03 green curry of river fish dumplings.jpg

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Celadon, Bangkok, Thailand, tasted on December 3, 2005  In general, eating alone is no way to eat. Eating is a social experience meant to be shared. Social interaction aside, when you're trying to get a sense of a restaurant, going with many people is best so you can try as many dishes as possible. Imagine how difficult it is to try a bunch of dishes when you're not only eating alone, but the food is served family style (as it is in most Thai restaurants). I suppose that's all I can really complain about given how good the food was at Celadon, a super interesting and refined Thai restaurant at the Sukkothai hotel in Bangkok.

Celadon is a beautiful restaurant. Thai design is gorgeous in general with all the dark wood. The modern lines combined with the antique sculptures and icons are just beautiful. It was still my first day in Thailand so I decided to order calmly and  have at least one thing that I knew so I could acclimate my stomach slowly. Chicken Satay fit the bill. You might argue that chicken satay is so simple, why order it if you're trying to see whether there's any talent in the kitchen. I claim that the simpler dishes are the true litmus tests because there's no hiding if they aren't good. When something is simple, the flavor has to be right out in front. And it's easy tell when it isn't.

No worries with the satay at Celadon. The meat was buttery and creamy. The peanut sauce had sweet and roasted qualities. Though only accompaniments, the cucumbers were excellent too. Attention anyone who makes food for other human beings and cares about quality. Attention to detail makes a difference. A big difference. The cucumbers had these ridges and were sliced small and super thin. Their texture was super enjoyable especially in combination with the chicken.

When you spend this much time telling others what you think of various food experiences it's important to know your own blind spots, limitations, and biases. I won't claim to be introspective and secure enough to know them all (much less admit them) but I will point out that I am a sucker for refined ethnic cuisines. And Celadon was definitely refined Thai food. It's not that the ingredients changed, or the recipes were modernized. It's just that things were done with care and precision. Refined to me is the opposite of rustic. I like both, but I really adore refined. The flavors feel clean and pure to me. And while Celadon plays the refined notes well, I was also pleased to see that their dishes could be hearty at the same time. Case in point was my next dish - Green Curry of River Fish Dumplings. In terms of trying new things, this seemed like a good idea. Frankly, the fish balls were amazing. They had a slight rubbery quality in a good way (like a sausage or Vietnamese beef ball should). The texture was super smooth and the flavor was deep. These were heavenly.

Celadon has a dirty little secret - it's in a hotel. The Sukkothai hotel to be exact. And frankly, hotel restaurants are almost never good. This is because hotels need restaurants on premises (to serve room service, breakfast, etc.). In order to entice restaurants to reside on premises they either create them on their own (following their own mass market formulas) or the subsidize the restaurant's existence. Either way, the staff of the restaurant are almost never competing for business. They have a sure thing. It doesn't matter how bad they do as the hotel will never shut them down. They can't. This atmosphere makes for lousy food. This however appears to be mainly an American phenomenon. In Asia, forget it. Some of the best restaurants I've eaten at are in hotels. And Celadon is no exception.

For my final dish (I know it's a bummer that I only had three) I got a regional specialty from central Thailand. I thought that would mix things up a bit. I ordered Baked Yellow Curry Rice with Prawn, Chinese Pork Sausage, and Eggs.  This was a perfect complement to the spicy curry. The rice was sweet but not overly so. Normally I'm not someone who enjoys an emphasis on the sweet part of the spectrum, but the little juice pineapple cubes were super enjoyable. The dish was also covered with (what I think were) coconut filaments. Well, to be honest, I'm not sure what they were exactly but they tasted like coconut cotton candy.

This was pretty much a superb first day in Bangkok. My lunch at essentially a grandma's restaurant was excellent as was my dinner at a high end hotel restaurant. (By the way, the high end here was also pretty cheap - $6 for an entree.) So far I'm pretty much in love with Bangkok and the food at  has to offer.

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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