The idea of home cooking halfway across the world is mostly a dream. Most places that purport to cook “Western food like Westerners” come up short. Now, I don’t hold it against them: they don’t know how to make food from my country because, well, they’re not. Sometimes they try to get it right and often they don’t. There’s always something missing, something vital that is hard to put into words, but I certainly taste it. My tongue is more aware than my brain.
But, I finally found a place that knows the taste that I’m looking for [email protected], at Modena by Fraser. The Bistro is tucked into the second floor of the hotel and is a lovely place to enjoy lunch, dinner or their all-day breakfast. The head chef, Mr. Sarayut Kosapatarapim, prepared two dishes for me from the Bistro’s new menu, beef stroganoff, and marinated fire-grilled chicken.’
• Beef Stroganoff
Growing up in Oklahoma, Mrs. Fields was often a guest at our house. We would sit, not watching but near the TV, hunched over her “home-made” beef stroganoff. But, whenever we had the time or the money to cook, we would make our own stroganoff by slow-roasting the meat, mashing the potatoes, boiling the vegetables and dousing the whole dish with a thick, creamy gravy. So, when the chef presented me with my childhood, I felt skepticism… and hope.
It wasn’t exactly like we used to make – it was its own unique dish, and, in that way, it was better than what my grandma used to make for me. The beef was tender and fell to pieces when plied with a fork, the gravy somehow balanced sweet, salty, and creamy but what sticks in my mind are the potatoes. Good mashed potatoes are hard to pull off. Mashed potatoes are either too chunky or they’re like liquid. The problem is that people are afraid to find that delicate middle ground. Here, they nailed it.
The mashed potatoes are the shelf of flavor that makes this dish stands out: silky, sweet but possessed of a gritty texture that reminds you that you are eating. I leaned back from my first bite and immediately asked how they did it and, while I promised the chef that I wouldn’t share his secret, I can say that he didn’t use water. The whole dish is rich, filling and it brought me home. Very few things viscerally transport me to my grandma’s kitchen when it was rich with the aroma of slow-roasted beef, peppermint tea, and arguments over whether to use butter or water in the mashed potatoes.
• Marinated, fire-grilled chicken
Another dish from home: you’d think it’d be hard to mess up chicken – especially when you marinate it for 18 hours before cooking it. But, sadly, you’d be wrong. Too often, the cooks think that marinating the chicken means that it cannot dry out. It totally can dry out or its flesh becomes tough, inedible. Dad had trouble with this brutal reality for a few months and we had to shovel tennis-ball-textured chicken into our mouths more than once.
Presented plainly on its plate, the chicken’s tawny orange with flakes of red pepper dotting the skin. The dry-rub is quiet but possesses a punch of spiciness to tickle the back of your mouth. Accompanying the chicken is this wonderful cream-based white sauce, marching in time with the soft grit of the dry rub to balance out the textures. This was another item from the new menu that put me on my back foot.
I didn’t expect the chicken to be so tender, nor did I expect it to yield so easily to my teeth. Each bite combined the pungent dry rub and the bird’s soft, permissive flesh and, dabbing it with the sauce twisted the profile: each item, though capable of standing alone, joined together to be buttery, coating the inside of your mouth with flavor. Compared to the beef stroganoff, the chicken is a much (much) lighter dish. You could easily eat two or three plates. However, just because it is ‘light’ doesn’t mean it lacks flavor.
Head chef Sarayut Kosapatarapim, described his cooking philosophy this way,”I like cooking the dishes that everyone knows – the classics, staples. I want them to connect to the food they ate growing up, but I want them to remember my version first.” I dislike cooking fusion food because it’s trendy, but you don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like. You know how beef stroganoff is supposed to taste, how the chicken is supposed to taste. I take these things that everyone knows, and I do them better. My food is simple but amazing. You remember it when you leave.
Well, considering that, as of this writing, that I wish I was back home eating grandma’s stroganoff, I would say he succeeded.
Located on the second floor, right above the lobby of the Modena by Fraser Bangkok. The hotel itself is conveniently located near Queen Sirikit National Convention Center MRT, Rama 4 or Sukhumvit Rd and occupies the space next door to the FYI Center, in the heart of the Rama 4 business district – Ratchadaphisek Road.
Hours of Operation:
Breakfast 6.30 – 10.30
Lunch 11.30 – 14.00
Dinner 17.00 – 23.30 (Last order at 23.30)
Reservations: +66 02 033 0888