Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 228
Restaurant reviews can be fun or just informational. In a world of unequal things not all restaurant reviews are equal. Some are of the 'just-the-facts' variety where you get location, menu, price, and reports on service, presentation, and taste (how the food tastes). Other restaurant reviews have interview quotes from the owner, or the chef, or patrons. These types of reviews often have an accompanying photo, biographical talk about the owners, comments about the genesis of the eating establishment ("we wanted the ambiance of Bang Kwang prison at sundown"), etc. The Pattaya Mail newspaper sometimes has restaurant reviews of this type.
Can a restaurant review be more than this? Sometimes. Sometimes if the reviewer inserts his personality, and personal writing style, various germane speculations, opinion, reaction, history, etc. in an entertaining and skilful way you can have review literature–a genre of writing.
I like reading reviews and review genre whether they are reviews of motorcycle repair shops, or special exhibits at museums, or different opinions about a new part of social service infrastructure (remember reviews of Bhumi airport–you all read them with interest), or new book reviews (example: New York Times newspaper book review section), or restaurant reviews. Most restaurant reviews are of the 'just-the-facts' type so you are reduced to looking through the text keyhole and wondering about what you can not see, and wondering about what you are not being told.
Below are some reviews and comments followed by some additional speculations within the genre on my part. In the beginning the format is a restaurant review followed by a comment by me. Later on I ramble a bit. I like reviews as literature, or at least reviews taken a bit more seriously than the journalistic 'who-what-when-why-where' type of fill-in-the-blanks writing. Remember, or try to remember out of respect; the eating establishment represents someone's hopes, and dreams, and most probably mortgage, and sweat (especially during the hot season), and worry. Try to be charitable, and always be accurate. Thailand can be a challenging place regarding eating experiences because of sometimes dramatically different merchant attitudes. But it never hurts to start the customer-retail establishment relationship assuming they are happy to be restaurateurs, and additionally happy to see you come back again.
Reviews and Comments:
Below is a list of restaurants in Bangkok and the Bangkok area reviewed by Carl Parkes in his book titled Bangkok Handbook. Comments of mine follow. No, this is not a complete list. This is just supposed to be a fun thing to contemplate, and to read, and maybe a new forum idea on this website, or in your mind.
1. The Mango Tree: A place with great food, friendly service, and live Thai classical music, plus both indoor and outdoor seating. This popular spot is housed in an old residence with antique cameras displayed in the foyer. 37 Soi Tantawan, Suriwong Rd., tel. (02) 236 2820
Well, I would go just to see the antique cameras. I don't know anything about cameras or about photography of a technical nature but I think this would be fun. Also, I love live Thai classical music. I wonder if the photographer BKKSW or Stick has been there. They are both camera/photography enthusiasts.
2. Tom's Quik Pizza: Vegetarians rejoice. When it's three in the morning and you're desperate for a veggie pizza, Tom's Quik Pizza comes to the rescue in under 15 minutes. However, beware of the transvestite heroin dealers upstairs. Patpong 1 Rd., tel. (02) 234-5460
A couple of things: I'm ok with the idea of vegetarian food until they try to substitute tofu for meat. Please . . . that is just silly. Additionally, I don't think anything interesting can be done with food in fifteen minutes except sear it to kill all the bugs, so maybe they want to chill a little on the marketing/bragging. Heroin dealers upstairs? Thanks for the warning. Wait a minute, if the heroin dealers upstairs can bring the food quicker than the Thai waitresses and waiters downstairs let's invite them to the party.
3. Eat Me!: Not the most refined name for a restaurant, though this elegant L-shaped place serves up excellent Mediterranean dishes to local trendsetters and curious tourists alike. 1/6 Piphat Soi 2, off Convent Rd., tel. (02) 238-0931
Ok, I believe this is an elegant restaurant with excellent Mediterranean dishes because Carl Parkes says so but I hate the name. It just stinks. When I was a student at the University of Michigan in the 60's there was a great little pizza/Italian place with special items. Then it was sold and the new owner renamed it the Garbage Pit. Same menu, different name. The Garbage Pit. I went in twice more and then stopped going in. I do not want to eat in a place called the Garbage Pit, or Eat Me. What's next: a Thai lady who changes her name from Som to Sxxx?
4. Sala Rim Nam: Alfresco dining on the banks of the Chao Praya is a memorable if expensive experience. This particular choice may be touristy but it's a beautiful restaurant with excellent Thai salads and traditional dance; use the free boat service from the Oriental Hotel. The set menu includes a classical Thai dance.
It's a long way from anywhere to get to the boat service at the Oriental Hotel but I would go for this. I love boats and Thai dance. A big special evening with your special girl. She probably will not appreciate it but I will have a great time. This is a tourist skill I have honed in the Kingdom. No matter what weird behavior I get from my 'date' I manage to have a nice time.
5. River City Barbecue: On the rooftop of he River City Shopping Center, this self-service Mongolian barbecue cafe has excellent views from the tables at the edge of the roof. Adjacent to the Sheraton Royal Orchid Hotel.
Hey, this would be great. I love the River City Shopping Center (had custom crocodile shoes with matching belt made there once and also bought a black stingray vest there). Excellent Thai antiques in the River City Shopping Center and a wonderful woman's clothing store on the ground floor facing the river. A night time dinner on the roof would be fun.
6. Oldies Goldies: However, for an insight as to why America's leading export is modern culture–Elvis, Disney, Madonna–wander into Oldies Goldies on the fourth floor, where Thai teenagers embrace nostalgia, bobby socks, and other icons from American Graffiti. Rama 1 Rd.
High school girls in pleated skirts. Need I say more? I would definitely go but at great risk because I would not be able to keep from looking like a pervert needy Westerner.
7. Baan Khun Phor: An opportunity to dine among the owner's eccentric collection of Victorian and Thai artifacts, served by waitresses attired in traditional garb. Somewhat pricey but the food is decent, especially the spicy crab soup. 458/7-9 Siam Square Soi 8.
Thai artifacts and Thai waitressed in traditional garb? I'm in. Make me a reservation. The word spicy (spicy crab soup) scares the heck out of me but I'll be careful. I once went back into the kitchen in a Thai restaurant and got the shock of my life. There was red spice all over everything–the pots and the pans and the stove tops and the counters and the cutlery and the table tops and the cutting board surfaces. Mai Phet? Good luck.
8. Airplane: A cheery Italian restaurant done with an airplane theme and set with simple tables and chairs. 65/9 Lang Suan Soi 3, tel. (02) 255-9940.
Ok, I love airplanes so I would probably go for that reason. Could be disappointing but I would try it once. 'Simple tables' usually means tables that are too small. I know this labels me as no longer young but if I have to play chess all night long with table top items it gets irritating.
9. Dux Bar & Grill: You like ducks? This is your place. Duck motifs adorn everything from drinking glasses to menu selection, in an old house restored to great condition. 72/2 Soi Lang Suan, tel. (02) 252-5646.
Ducks? Ok, I'm not sure about this but it might be fun. If the waitress is wearing a duck costume and you get to take her home does that mean that you get to fxxx a duck? Just wondering. Ducks. I don't know–I have never once had the words Duck and Thailand occur in my mind together but I'll try it.
10. Restaurant Heidelberg: Chef Franco Vanoli provides three kinds of fondue–Swiss, French, and Chinese–in a pub-like setting near all the craziness of the Nana Entertainment Plaza. Open daily until midnight. Sukhumvit Soi 4, tel. (02) 252-3584.
Ok, three kinds of fondue can never be bad but here is my question: with all the time I have spent on Soi 4 how come I have never heard of this place?
11. Lum Gai Yia: Another inexpensive and simple cafe where the tables are just old oil drums topped by welded steel tables and just two dining options: a large wok full of soup of a self-serve barbecue where you do your own cooking on a small personal hotplate. Sukhumvit Soi 12, tel. (02) 252-4279.
Well, I wouldn't go near the soup unless I wanted to remove rust from bolts and old pieces of metal, but the barbecue thing sounds like fun (with some beers).
12. Singha Bier Haus: An imitation German chalet owned and operated by the Singha Beer Company where German and international dishes are served with musical entertainment ranging from polkas to Barbra Streisand imitators. Sukhumvit Soi 21, tel. (02) 258-3951.
Sounds great–really a place you do not want to miss. Wait a minute. Polkas and Barbra Streisand imitators? Ok, maybe a once a year place, and I might go in a disguise.
13. Bourbon Street: Several very popular pubs and cafes are located in an old business complex known as Washington Square. This American-style bar and grill serves hearty breakfasts, spicy Cajun food, and local dishes plus a weekly Mexican buffet. Sukhumvit Soi 22, tel. (02) 259–0328.
I have never missed at this place. Always had a wonderful time. And every single time there has been a Thai family sitting nearby with a daughter who I have fallen in love with. Great bathrooms.
Oh, I almost forgot: beware the Cajun spice unless you know what you are doing. Goes through me like a German 88 shell. If I order anything with Cajun spice I just have it served to me in the Men's bathroom where I am already sitting on the toilet.
14. Club Tacoco: Mexican and Thai restaurant combo on the top floor of Prasammit Plaza with an outdoor terrace with fine views and live combo music in the evenings. Sukhumvit Soi 23, tel. (02) 664-1217.
'Live combo music' always sounds great. I should check it out.
15. Art House: First-class Chinese restaurant set in a country house surrounded by formal gardens and a pleasant pond.
Good place to ask the woman you met at the Lick Me Bar to marry you.
16. Tum Nak Thai: For many years, Tum Nak held the world's record as the largest restaurant with 10 acres of land, a capacity of 3,000 seats, over 100 professional chefs, and 1,000 servers decked out in national costumes. Some waiters use roller skates to speed up service! A classical dance show is given nightly at 2000. 131 Rachadapisek Rd., tel. (02) 277-8833.
What can I say? A must visit.
17. Ok, and in the You-Are-Not-Going-To-Believe-This-Category; drum roll please . . .
Mang Gorn Luang: Several years ago, Tum Nak Thai recently lost its crown as the world's largest restaurant to the "Royal Dragon Seafood Restaurant: located at the base of the Bangna Trad Expressway in the southwest section of town. Leaving nothing to chance, this monstrous place boasts 5,000 seats, 1,200 roller-skating waiters, a 400-item menu, moored "happy boats" perfect for couples, soundproof karaoke pavilions for private parties, and a seven-story pagoda from which servers rocket down with heaping platters of steaming seafood. Has Hunter S. Thompson seen this place? Bangna Trad Expressway, tel. (02) 398-0037.
Maybe this is a place you take your wife to tell her you are going to divorce her. Who would notice?
Anyway, there are some of my comments on Mr. Carl Parkes comments on these restaurants in his book Bangkok Handbook (c2000, 3rd edition, Moon Travel Handbooks). Now if you make comments we will have comments on comments on comments. Did I learn anything? Well, yes; I learned that if I can not get a job as a farang schoolteacher I could always work as a waiter at the Mang Gorn Luang restaurant and rocket down from the seven-story pagoda with heaping platters of steaming seafood. Who wants to take a chance on me being your waiter?
I've got bad legs and ankles and knees and feet–balance problems–faulty vision; and I am rocketing towards your table from the top of a seven story pagoda with a fifty pound tray of giant prawns, cups of butter, noodle soup, mustard sauce, and a pot of coffee. Now this is a restaurant that can provide a dining experience. I think the key to getting the maximum pleasure out of this dining experience is to be drunk before you get there.
Interestingly, in another Bangkok guidebook called Bangkok by Paul Gray and Lucy Ridout (part of the MINI ROUGH GUIDE franchise titles–c1999): there are sixty-seven restaurants mentioned with only one repeater from Carl Parkes partial list that I made comments on. Clearly, Bangkok has a lot of places to eat.
Maybe it is time for specialty restaurant review guidebooks. Example:
1. Self-serve barbecue joints.
2. Roof-top restaurants.
3. Noodle soup places.
4. Restaurants with shows or entertainment–music, classical dance, etc.
5. Bangkok restaurants with slowest service, most inflated bills, craziest Thai owners, rudest waitresses. The rudest waitresses categories could have subcategories as in:
Don't listen when you speak.
Don't make eye contact with foreigner.
Only interact with your Thai date.
Bring the wrong order.
Never bring anything.
Insist you pay for food you did not order.
I figure at least 50% of the foreigners currently being held in Thai prisons are there because they insisted on service and a smile in a Thai eating establishment and it escalated. People make fun of me because I only eat M&M candies and cashew nuts in the Kingdom but at least I am not in jail.
6. Restaurants with the most inedible meat. You could take a goat around with you when doing this research for the book–if the goat won't touch the meat then that restaurant earns a place in the book. Example: The Bus Stop restaurant on Soi 4 off Sukhumvit. I am warning you. Order a piece of meat there and you are going to need a pneumatic chisel, chainsaw, hatchet, and diver's serrated knife. You might as well just leave the goat tied up outside.
7. Restaurants with the most incomprehensibly clueless, unhelpful, and stupid Thai front desk staff. The big German restaurant (Hopf House?) in Pattaya on Beach Road can be used as a baseline for this. I once had four front desk staff (young Thai males) simply disappear one by one in response to the question:
"Do I need to make a reservation to eat here?"
8. Restaurants with most imaginative, prideless, and criminally seamless lying regarding the status of your reservations.
9. Restaurants by nationality: French, Italian, Israeli, German, American, etc. And a special featured review of any restaurant that does not serve food connected with it's title. For instance: it is a French restaurant that does not serve French food and has no idea what you are inquiring about.
10. Restaurants staffed by girls wearing pleated skirts and suspenders, little white socks, and penny loafers. If these girls are also wearing a single off center braid, or ponytails stuck through the back of a ball cap hat I will gladly pay extra. And gigglers. I will pay double extra. For additional info on this I invite you to go to the Swenson's on Beach Road in Pattaya where the female staff instantly makes you think of things that are illegal.
11. And number eleven would be a book of the restaurants in Bangkok (or the Kingdom) with the
greatest number of wrong food items brought to the table. Example: you ordered spaghetti and meat balls (it is supposed to be an Italian restaurant) and the waitress brings you spaghetti and fried monkey balls. Another example: you order Brazilian bean coffee with fudge and brandy in it and they bring you green tea with a dead scorpion in the bottom of the cup. Another example: you order Thai noodle soup and the waitress brings sliced banana crepe pancakes dipped in yogurt. I once ordered a . . . ok, the possibilities are endless. Send in your stories.
And a special center fold-out section complete with maps of all restaurants in Bangkok owned by foreigners who actually know what MAI FXXXING PHET means.
Well that is about it for now Dana and Stickmanbangkok.com fans. Send in your comments, and ideas, and personal restaurant experiences and anecdotal stories. Let's have fun. We all eat out, and we all have stories to tell, and we all like to communicate with others. Maybe we can start a new forum idea on this wonderful website. And do not worry about which end of the literary spectrum you are on. If your review is a 'just-the-facts' kind of review that is fine. When Joe Cummings is re-exploring Thailand for the next edition of Lonely Planet's guide to Thailand we do not expect anything other than what I call ricochet reviews. Strictly hit and run. So many places, so little time. So we get location, and price level, and advice to order (or not to order) the fermented fish sauce on the fried crickets. That's cool. This is what we expect from Joe. But if you want to spend more time, and energy, and word count on a review that is fine also.
Oh, and one more thing in the restaurant review literary genre. Imagine how much fun we could have if we wrote fake reviews on non-existent eating establishments. Fiction. God bless fiction–you can imagine, and do, and 'report on' anything. Not for now from me, but maybe later someone else would like to do some writing like this. In the Thai-farang Internet arena and on the shelves of Bookazine that display the published authors of Kingdom centric writing, I have never seen anything like this. Who wants to be labelled a writing category visionary and go first?
On the subject of restaurants in Thailand, when I go out for a decent meal i.e. spend a bit of money on dinner, it is NEVER Thai. I never thought that would be the case, but it is.