Friday, May 29, 2009

Arun's: 12 Course Tasting Menu

Four diners. Twelve courses over two and a half hours.

After much anticipation, we finally dined at Arun's, chef Arun Sampanthaviva's refined interpretation of traditional Thai cuisine. There are twelve courses. And no menu. Diners inform the server of any dietary restrictions, allergies, and spice preference. Our group had varying spice preferences and the dishes were individually customized accordingly.

The twelve courses are customized for the table. Other tables are served different dishes throughout the night. The first six courses are tastings, the next four are served family style, and the final two courses are desserts.

Service was nicely timed. Our experience may have been better if we had the same waiter each time. Unfortunately we had a new trainee who had a difficult time remembering and explaining the dishes. And the table next to us was loud and obnoxious, which certainly colored our experience.

Below is a description of our dinner.

1. Steamed rice patties with a coconut center topped with fried shallot and scallions.

2. Paan (bettlenut leaf) with red chili, coconut, peanut, shallot. Served with a thick, sweet tamarind sauce. Excellent combination of flavors.

3. Spring roll filled with tofu and bean sprouts, topped with sweet and sour tamarind sauce and mustard. Yes, that is a tomato rose and a carrot butterfly.

4. Rice dumpling filled with tofu and jicama served over a rather mild, tomato-ey sweet and sour chili sauce

5. Threaded tofu served over noodles with spinach and soy sauce. The threaded tofu was the star of the dish. This was the first dish where I felt that common Thai ingredients were transformed into unexpected (and delicious) creations.

6. Spicy broth of noodles tofu cabbage, tomato sprouts, scallion, and fried shallot. Presented with a fried brocoli rabe. Absolutely wonderful flavors and textures. I wanted more of this soup.

The first six courses were well executed, well portioned, and well timed.

After that, things started to fall apart. The next four courses were served family style which detracted from the fine dining experience. The portions were far too large and there was a lot of food left on the plates when we were done. The experience felt no different from dining at the neighborhood Thai restaurant. However, the food was quite delicious.

7. Tofu packet with sweet potato, sweet sour spicy sauce, topped with "tempura" brocoli, bitter melon. The textures and flavors worked well together. I thought the bitter melon tempura was a nice touch. Wait, tempura isn't Thai-- what's going on here?

The seafood version had a fish carved out of carrot that reminded us of Nemo from "Finding Nemo!"

8. Two bundles of asparagus, eggplant, zucchini, and carrot, in a delicious red curry sauce. 

9. Spicy eggplant and zucchini with basil, perfectly seasoned with garlic and red chilis. Excellent flavors, very tasty.

10. Vegetables in light sauce. This dish was very "eh." It lacked flavor, lacked texture, and was the least interesting.

The final two courses were desserts.

11. Salty rice with coconut sauce crowned with a mango slice covered in mango sauce. The dish lacked color and texture (it was mushy). I forgot to take a picture of it.

12. Lychee sorbet in crispy cup, seasame roll, poached pear and raspberry coulis. This dessert was creative and had nice flavors. However, the poached pear seemed like an after thought and was not well incorporated into the dish.

Overall the experience was memorable, but it is unlikely that I would dine at Arun's again.

On a different note, we loved Nemo the carrot fish so much that one of my dinner companions took him home to show her children. She tells me that the children played with the carrot fish for a couple days and then ate him.
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