As takeout food goes, this is pretty awesome. I earlier described the exquisite and exclusive multi-course Thai food at Baan Lao before the recent indoor dining ban — a special occasion experience at $190 per person plus drinks, tip, tax.
But during the ban, chef/owner Nutcha Phanthoupheng resorted to takeout and the scaled-down casual fare proved so popular with locals, she has resolved to continue it going forward. There might be a hiatus as she ramps back up for fine dining.
She’s been swamped with orders on the weekends, and that’s not surprising as she applies the same stubborn attention, precision, patience and aesthetics to the takeout as she does with her fine-dining menu.
“The neighbourhood loves it and unless we are totally inundated with the indoor fine dining, we will keep it up. If we can’t manage all the menu options, then we’ll offer some of the items,” Phanthoupheng says. So heads up, folks: Her nine-course “fine dining experience” was doing super well before the lockdown and inundation just might occur.
I tried the second most popular item on the Baan Lao To Go menu — the rotisserie chicken dinner ($55), a light meal for two to have as a picnic at Garry Point Park, a few minutes away. The set meal comes with a roasted half organic chicken with hand-pressed fresh naam jim gai yaang (tamarind) sauce, a green papaya salad, organic jasmine rice and some lovely Thai iced tea.
Phanthoupheng buys poultry and beef from Sumas Mountain Organic Farm, an SPCA-certified farm. The chicken, marinated 24 hours with a blend of 17 herbs and spices, was tweaked for flavour it until it passed an important test — the thumbs up from her daughters. “Our kids are very fickle and they are our guinea pigs,” she says. The chicken dish seduces one regular into ordering it every two or three days.
Most chefs would opt for tamarind paste but she presses fresh tamarind for a sharp hit of sour when sauces call for it. “Everything is made fresh daily. Nothing is stored overnight,” she says. After working for a former chef for the Thai royal family in his one-Michelin star restaurant, that’s Phanthoupheng’s cooking philosophy. Even her ice creams and sorbets for her tasting menus were made fresh daily.
The organic jasmine rice is grown on her farm in Thailand and is sold by the kilogram at the restaurant. Locals were crazy about the spicy tamarind sauce and now they sell that, too. We also ordered organic chicken and coconut milk soup ($26, a main course) with a heavenly balance of galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime and a hit of fresh red chilli. It was delicious with lots of chicken, but the beige monotone didn’t present as prettily as the other dishes. For dessert, we hada beautifully presented, pandan-infused sticky rice crowned with a pinwheel of fresh mango.
The To Go dinner menu offers three set menus (Land, Sea, and Field) for $55 to $65, as well as the rotisserie chicken dinner and about eight a la carte items ($22 to $26). The lunch menu is similar, minus the Land, Sea and Field options.
The best sellers are the pad thai, the rotisserie chicken, the Land set meal. While the pad with tiger prawns isn’t gift-wrapped in an egg net as on the fine dining menu, the noodle dish is essentially the same, including the sauce with hand pressed tamarind — a sauce that takes her four hours to make. “It’s why the pad thai is so delicious. I do it myself and won’t share the secrets from the Royal kitchen,” says Phanthoupheng. The prawns, she says, are Ocean Wise.
A la carte dishes include organic Berkshire pork with holy basil, garlic, chili, oyster sauce and anchovy sauce over jasmine rice and stir-fried handmade tofu with holy basil, garlic, chili and mushroom sauce. On days off, the chef is out searching for and researching local ingredients. When I texted her recently, she was visiting her artisan tofu maker learning about the craft. “It’s run by a family who have been making it for four generations. It’s made by hand, not machine,” she says.