Baan Puengchom, Phahon Yothin Soi 7 (Ari), Bangkok, Thailand
Opening Hours:daily noon-10pm
Reservation recommended, Parking available
Baan Puengchom is hugely popular. Fail to make a reservation and you’ll definitely be eating outdoors, perhaps by the sheds. Never mind: indoors or outdoors, it’s a truly charming place. Apart from the large front yard and adorable house, prices are dirt-cheap, the menu has dishes with distinct character, and the waiters know the specialties inside out. In fact, while everyone there seems to know the house specials, they’re not all on the menu, so you’ll have to trust your waiter to get you the good stuff. But while the food is interesting, we’re not entirely convinced. Perhaps because of the numerous diners, we find some recipes lack that precise dosage of flavors that makes a Thai dish shine. The first one you must have at Baan Puengchom is the woon sen pad saam men (stir-fried glass noodles “with three smells,”). The garlic tastes almost sweet against the fiercely bitter sataw and the acidic cha-om. It’s a daring combination but it’s ruined by the oily noodles. Another off-the-menu favorite is the dok kajong pad kung (stir-fried kajong flowers with shrimp). It’s unusual, it’s fresh but also rather sweet and bland. We were more impressed with the steamed beef with mangda sauce. Mangda are large insects that are pulverized and added to the jeaw sauce and the aromatic critters sure liven things up. Not that the beef has anything to hide: it’s tasty, fatty and rendered melt-in-your-mouth tender by the slow steaming. As it sits, it releases a kind of broth that will have you licking the plate. Another flavorful combination is the sadao leaves with grilled catfish and tamarind sauce. It’s meant as the ultimate bitter and sweet combo, but the sadao leaves were a bit too fully grown (and hence too bitter), the catfish looked fried rather than grilled, and the tamarind sauce was high on syrup, low on the fruit’s tangy flavor. We’re frustrated, really. While some restaurants charge fortunes for bad tom yam, Baan Puengchom offers a great location and a fascinating variety of affordable dishes. If only the chef could recalibrate his kitchen a tad, we would be raving about a fantastic restaurant. That being said, for many, it already is. No corkage.