Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Night + Market (West Hollywood, CA)

Night + Market at Talesai
9041 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
Wed 03/30/2011, 08:00p-11:15p

Talésai Exterior

The story of Night + Market must begin with the story of Talesai. It all started with Prakas Yenbamroong, a native of Thailand who immigrated to the US in the 1970s to pursue an MBA at Cornell University. After graduating, he took up a post at Thai Farmers Bank (now known as Kasikornbank), who'd sponsored his degree, working there for four years, first in Bangkok, then in London, and starting in 1979, in Los Angeles. Prakas left the company in 1982 (the same year that son Kris Yenbamroong was born), and opened Talesai ("desert" in Thai) on the Sunset Strip later that year, his reasoning being that he felt a need for a high-end Thai restaurant that could be used to entertain business clients.

Not being a particularly good cook himself, he enlisted Vilai Yenbamroong, his own mother, to serve as Talesai's Executive Chef. Vilai had always been known as a great cook, and her Thai-Chinese ancestry provided her the necessary culinary background to get really creative with the food. Talesai was a success, attracting a good portion of the Sunset crowd with its approachable Thai fare. This allowed Prakas to open up a second Talesai location in 1992, which he later sold to his brother as a sort of a wedding gift. He also opened up the smaller, more casual Cafe Talesai in Beverly Hills in August 2000, which is currently run by Prakas' wife, Sumitra Yenbamroong. There were even plans to open up more Cafes in Orange County and San Diego, but those locations never materialized.

Fast forward to 2008. Kris had just moved back to LA from New York (after going to school for film and graphic arts), and was ready to take over the family business, having grown up working at Talesai and cooking with his grandmother Vilai. Talesai closed briefly for renovation, then reopened in November 2008 with Kris firmly in charge, a more contemporary decor, and a renewed emphasis on the wine program. In addition, Kris wanted to incorporate some of the grittier fare that he ate in Thailand (his family moved back during his high school years). However, his new dishes didn't take, since Talesai's customers were keen on sticking with the same food that they'd been enjoying at the restaurant for years.

The solution to this quandary came in the form of the space adjacent to Talesai, which formerly held a dry cleaner and served as offices for the Key Club (once the legendary Gazzari's). Kris snatched up the spot, and initially planned to use it as a private dining room. Then, as fate would have it, Kris decided to enjoy a dinner at LudoBites. He expressed his dilemma to Ludo, and the Chef helped him and his father come up with the idea of using the newly acquired space to serve all the food that Kris wanted to cook next door, but couldn't. A fellow diner that evening, FoodDigger's Brian Liu, helped to come up with the name for this new venture: Night + Market.

Night + Market officially debuted on December 2 last year, and focuses on serving dishes inspired by the street food that Kris enjoyed during his time in Thailand, specifically the heavier, meatier dishes of northern Thailand. In addition, Kris, being somewhat of a wine nut himself, has paid particular attention to the wine list, which features reasonably-priced bottles from small, boutique producers (and which, amazingly, only has one Riesling). A smattering of beers is also available, and Kris is even working on adding cocktails to the menu.

Night + Market Interior
In stark contrast to the dark, subdued environs of Talesai, Night + Market's vibe is light, bright, and brazenly minimalist. Small tables dot the perimeter of the room, but our large party of ten was seated in one of the two wooden communal tables. Video clips are projected onto one of the restaurant's bare white walls, while miscellaneous artwork for sale (and sometimes Kris' own photography) covers the others. In the future, Night + Market might even open up its back patio for dining, which is currently being used to grow various fruits and herbs for the restaurant.

Night + Market Tasting Menu Night + Market Wine List Night + Market Menu
You'll have no problem ordering à la carte here, but we had requested a tasting menu of a dozen or so courses, served family style. Kris paired a trio of wines with our meal: cava brut nature, german gilabert, spain, NV organic [$28]; riesling, eva fricke, germany '09 [$38]; and listan negro, tinto maceración carbonica, canary islands '09 [$33]. In addition, we also ordered up three more bottles: pinot blanc 'barriques', domaine ostertag, alsace '09 biodynamic [$46]; gamay, 'mon cher' noella morantin, loire, france '08 natural [$45]; and frappato, valle dell'acate, sicily '09 [$38]. Click for larger versions.

fried pig tail
1: fried pig tail
Kris started things out with a bang, serving up a plate of his pig tails. The tails, somewhat to my surprise, were very heavy--think of a combination of lean and fat, nicely crisp, all wrapped around a chunk of tailbone. They were also somewhat spicy, with a touch of sweetness deftly countered by the use of cilantro. This was a table favorite, and we even ordered two more plates toward the end of the meal.

pork satay skewers
2: pork satay skewers | bathed in condensed milk, grilled
If you had to come up with the stereotypical Thai dish, it'd probably be pad thai (more on that later), but pork satay would probably ring in at a close second or third (the irony being that both dishes aren't strictly Thai in origin). The version here was certainly a cut above your typical preparation, with a lovely porcine savor tinged by just a bit of sweetness, courtesy of condensed milk. I enjoyed the pork alone, but it was even better when eaten in concert with the tangy smack of the accompanying vegetables.

shrimp crisps
Bonus: shrimp crisps
Kris then surprised us with an off-menu plate of shrimp chips. Wonderfully crisp, these had a deeper, brinier flavor than your typical crackers, and were a joy to eat either with or without the paired dipping sauce.

pork toro
3: pork toro | grilled fatty hog collar. with 'jaew' northeastern chile dip
I'm intrigued with anything that has toro in its name, and this was no exception. What we have here is grilled pig collar, so I suppose that it should more appropriately be called pork kamatoro. Nevertheless, this remains one of the restaurant's most popular dishes, showing off a firm, yet supple consistency with a thoroughly fatty character and subtle sweetness, all balanced by a touch of bitter char. Use some of the included jaew (a dried chile condiment with galangal) to balance out the sheer heft of the meat.

sai krok isaan / sour isaan sausage
4: sai krok isaan / sour isaan sausage | grilled fermented pork sausage. w/ bird eye chile, cabbage
Next up was one of my most anticipated dishes: sour fermented sausage (sai krok), done in the northeastern (Isan) style. The sausage itself was delightfully tangy, from both the fermentation process and the use of lime, and was deftly complemented by the stinging heat of the tiny bird's eye chilies (be careful with those!). The cabbage, thus, helped to temper the intense flavors going on here, and I really appreciated the additional texture and nuttiness of the peanuts.

hot pot tom yum shrimp soup hot pot tom yum shrimp soup
5: hot pot tom yum shrimp soup
A Thai meal just wouldn't seem complete without a steaming bowl of tom yum right? We were presented with a quintessential example of the soup--aromatic, hot, and sour, with bold, intense flavors of coriander, kaffir lime, galangal, and lemongrass all working together in perfect unison. I especially appreciated the fact that the shrimp were cooked through, but not overdone.

pad thai
Supplement: pad thai | market version w/ sweet radish, peanuts, tofu & dried shrimp
Pad thai has been incorporated into the repertoire of American Thai food so much that it almost seems trite at this point. Night + Market's version, thus, was an attempt to bring the dish back to its more humble roots. The noodles took on more of an important role here, and overall the dish was a bit less sweet than usual, with a wonderful touch of savoriness imparted by the dried shrimp. I also appreciated the crunch of the bean sprouts, as well as how the tofu cubes deftly stood in for the usual protein of shrimp or chicken.

Night + Market Interior

kar moo parlow / whole braised pork hock pickles
6: kar moo parlow / whole braised pork hock | skin on. slow-cooked with dark soy, five spice, garlic...very rich, very good
According to Kris, in Thailand, pig hocks are traditionally served from street vendors in sliced form, taken with rice and various vegetables. However, he always wanted to have the cut whole, to be enjoyed family-style, and so that's exactly what he did here, pairing the pork with mustard greens and pounded chile with vinegar. As you'd expect, the dish was unabashedly fatty, with a tender, almost gelatinous consistency and deep, dark, umami-laced flavors tinged with a good amount of sugariness to boot. Very reminiscent of the Chinese-style pork knuckle (e.g. ti pang) dishes I've had.

kua gling / border beef
7: kua gling / border beef | tendertail w/mortar-pounded southern chile paste
Here was a plate of delightfully tender beef, dry stir-fried and swimming in a fiery pool of chile oil. Peppery and tangy, it was absolutely superb over rice.

ob gai / chiengrai chicken stew
8: ob gai / chiengrai chicken stew | bone-on chick, stewed in a spicy broth of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and red chile paste
Chiang Rai-style chicken arrived surprisingly tender, joined by the pronounced heat of the dish's chile-based broth and the marked tanginess of lemongrass. This was fantastic with the subtly saccharine coconut rice, and I appreciated how the chicken was still the star of the show, despite all the other strong flavors at play.

salt-crusted sea bream
9: salt-crusted sea bream | stuffed w/ herbs, grilled. delicate flesh that's not oily. a rustic alternative to steaming
Sea bream arrived whole, its fine, white, soft flesh demonstrating a clean, delicate flavor. I really wanted to taste more from the fish's herb stuffing though. As it stood, the bream was a bit one-dimensional, making its two accompanying condiments a necessity.

pu pad pong karee \ curried crab
10: pu pad pong karee \ curried crab | jumbo lump crab, curry powder & onions
Lovely chunks of crab were tender and sweet, adeptly set off by the heady combination of piquant curry sauce and onions, all tempered by the included greenery. Try this over rice.

hor ab / catfish tamale hor ab / catfish tamale
11: hor ab / catfish tamale | catfish baked in a banana leaf w/ chile & herbs
Surprisingly, I quite liked the hor ab, given that I'm not a fan of catfish usually. The herbs and chile employed here worked wonders in augmenting the fish's firm, lean, mild flesh, making for a very enjoyable experience indeed.

kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice
12: kao kluk gapi / shrimp paste-seasoned rice | w/ candied pork, shredded egg omelette, red onion, green mango, cilantro, bird eye chile, pungent and delicious!!!
The last dish on our set menu was the khao kluk gapi, one of my favorite courses of the evening. The combination of shrimp paste and dried shrimp (kung haeng, or more familiarly xia mi in Chinese) gave the rice a superb umami-laced savor, while the candied pork contributed just the right amount of porcine sweetness. At the same time, the onion, mango, cucumber, and cilantro brightened up the dish, making for just a wonderful mélange of tastes and textures.

kao pad pu / crab fried rice
Supplement: kao pad pu / crab fried rice
Though the savory portion of our meal proper was over at this point, some of my dining companions were raving about the crab fried rice, so we had to give it a try. Indeed, it was a wonderful rendition of the dish, with the sweet brine of crab adding a perfectly placed touch of ocean-y complexity to the rice.

sai uah / chiengrai herb sausage
Supplement: sai uah / chiengrai herb sausage | w/ noom salsa cucumber
As with the crab fried rice, similar things were said about Kris' sai ua (usually referred to as Chiang Mai sausage), and we had to order it as well. Given my penchant for sausage, it's not surprising that I enjoyed it, finding the sai ua to be a delightfully gritty admixture of sweet, salty, and spicy pork flavors, deftly balanced by the application of various herbs. The noom salsa (Anaheim and Serrano peppers, coriander root, fish sauce, lime, shallot, garlic), meanwhile, was a bonus.

ice cream sandwich
13: ice cream sandwich | enjoyed in ghettos throughout bangkok. coconut ice cream, sweet sticky rice, condensed & evaporated milk, toasted mung beans on a sweet roll
Our dessert was perhaps the most interesting "ice cream sandwich" that I'd ever had. The interaction between the coconut ice cream and sticky rice, augmented by condensed/evaporated milk, was faultless, and I even enjoyed the mung beans, which I usually don't care for. All this sweetness was then moderated by the two pieces of bread, procured from a local Mexican bakery. Very nice.

bacon almond brittle
Bonus: bacon almond brittle
One of my dining companions, Cathy, brought along some of her bacon almond brittle for us to sample (recipe here). As expected, it was a hit, with a delectably lip-smacking interplay between the salty bacon and sweet brittle, all accented by lovely notes of almond.

ice cream
Bonus: ice cream
Toward the end of the evening, I asked Kris about his ice creams, which it turns out are all home-made. He was gracious enough to bring out a plate of all three varieties on offer: Ovaltine, Graham Cracker, and Malted Milk. All three were delightful, deftly showing off the essence of their respective flavors.

Kris Yenbamroong
Chef/Owner Kris Yenbamroong.

Though Kris is basically running two very different Thai restaurants simultaneously now, he appears to be handling things in stride. Indeed, this was one of my best Thai cuisine experiences ever, with flavors that were sharp, lusty, focused, and a refreshing departure from the typical fare that we're exposed to. Certainly then, if you're feeling hungry on the Sunset Strip, Night + Market should be near the top of your list.

Night + Market Exterior


Anonymous Darin said...

Definitely a unique ice cream sandwich!

I'm not sure I've ever had pig toro/collar before...but something I'd want to try, for sure.

Monday, April 04, 2011 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Cafe Pasadena said...

I remember Talesai. It's new neighbor looks awfully wunderful!

Judging by the dining room pics, I pray customers won't be the missing ingredient common to so many restaurants.

Monday, April 04, 2011 2:44:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

this is def on my list. Its on my way to work. The pork toro & pigs tail look interesting

Monday, April 04, 2011 3:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

You captured our meal very well! I'm excited to return to Night + Market soon.

Monday, April 04, 2011 4:07:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Darin: Yeah the "toro" sort of had the fattiness of toro, but its texture was much firmer. It's almost like it released its oil upon mastication.

CP: Don't worry, those photos were taken at the end of the night, when everybody except us had left.

Stephanie: I'd probably stop by on my way back from work. ;)

Cathy: Thanks! When can we expect your post?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 1:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Robert Wemischner said...

Kris is always creating something new but remaining anchored in the true spirit and flavor profiles of classical Thai cooking...and the wine pairings are knockouts!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011 7:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

I absolutely LOVE Thai food! Ok this is getting bookmarked now. Thanks Kevin :)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Tiffin unBoxed said...

This was also one of my favorite Thai experiences in LA (found the food exciting and comforting), and my Thai friends confirm that it's as close to home cooking as one can get.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 3:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tiffin unBoxed said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 3:35:00 PM  
Blogger Tiffin unBoxed said...

This was also one of my favorite Thai experiences in LA (found the food exciting and comforting), and my Thai friends confirm that it's as close to home cooking as one can get.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 3:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

We're five posts away from Night + Market... Unless of course I bake something delicious. Let's make it eight posts ;-)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011 11:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh man this looks good! definitely hitting this up soon-- love the various pig parts used here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011 9:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Brian FoodDigger said...

Looking at all of those pictures makes me want to go back and eat everything all over again!

Friday, April 08, 2011 1:29:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Robert: Agree, and I was especially impressed by the wine as well--really cool, unique selection of stuff you don't see everywhere.

Marian: No problem. Where do you usually go for Thai then?

Wasima: Good to know! Just saw your post on Night + Market and I would've liked to have had some of the dishes you enjoyed.

Cathy: Got it. So how do you decide your posting order then? I used to do it strictly in chronological order, but now do it based on what I think is more urgent.

Daniel: Don't wait too long man--the pig tail's already off the menu. ;)

Brian: For sure. But I'd want to try all the new items that Kris has already put on the menu since this visit!

Friday, April 08, 2011 1:52:00 PM  

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