When I was a judge for Vancouver Foodster‘s Sangria Challenge in the fall, I was introduced to Ban Chok Dee Thai Cuisine in Langley, and the restaurant owner and chef Parinya. Completely self-taught, the talanted chef has incorporated her hometown flavours from Thailand and her artistic creativity into her dishes. Besides her unique sangria creation, I had a chance to taste some of her signature dishes as well.
Ban Chok Dee’s special sangria, the Butterfly Effect ($10/glass, $18/pitcher) was an aesthetic and flavourful treat. Based on a classic white wine sangria with a little bit of cranberry juice and lemon, the drink was filled with frozen melon balls, honeydew sorbet, watermelon sorbet and fresh slices of peaches and kiwi, which were all floating on different levels and creating the different layers of green, yellow, orange and red colours in the drink. Some additional Asian ingredients had worked more magic into the drink – the flavours from coconut juice and basil, as well as from the garnishing Honey Lemon Twist and Bai Bua Bok (Gotu Kola) Leaf. But that was not all… At the table when the drink was served, a small shot of Butterfly Pea Flower extract was poured into the drink. The beautiful purple colour of the extract slowly spreading at the top of the drink, becoming the last colour layer of the cocktail. The taste was rather complex. A little bit Grand Mariner and Lillet Vermouth were also added to the sangria, providing a few extra punches to enhance both the booziness.
The Tom Yum Goong ($15), a traditional soup from Thailand served in a classic clay pot. It was creamy from the coconut milk but also packed with flavours from all the exotic spices – galangal, lime leaves, lemon grass, chilli, curry and more… Even the drops of chilli oil and the cilantro on top were not just merely garnishes, contributing more refined flavours as well. Large succulent tiger prawns and button mushrooms cut into halves were found in the soup, making it rather luxurious and comforting. The only thing that I had a problem with was the chopped lime leaves and lemongrass. Although they were finely chopped and edible, I would take them out before serving the soup since the flavours were already incorporated, which would would provide a much more smooth and luscious texture to the soup.
The Chok Dee Platter ($18) features Thai spring rolls, golden wontons, and chicken and pork satay on skewers, which were all cooked perfectly with the desired textures. The springs rolls and the wontons were nice and crispy, and they came with 3 different dips (sweet and sour, chilli and fish sauce). The satay on sticks exhibited a great mix of nutty, savoury and sweet flavours, and a hint of spiciness.
Then chef Parinya presented us a dish that was not even on the menu, but would be available if diners order it in advance. The Pomelo Salad was a work of art, with the whole pomelo peel was carefully carved into an amazingly beautifully lotus blossom, and a salad of pomelo flesh, tiger prawns and quail eggs was in the centre of the blossom. Pomelo has such a unique quality of subtle citrus acidity and a good amount of sweetness, which work well with the flavours of fish sauce and chilli. The taste of the salad was bold but also super refreshing. It was a perfectly balanced dish.
We tried the Goong Phong Ka-Ree ($19), with prawns sautéed in a roasted chili paste & curry powder with egg, coconut milk, onions and bell peppers. The curry flavour was strong but held back by the coconut milk, both well complementing the sweetness of those big juicy prawns. Indeed you gotta have a Thai curry dish to complete a great Thai feast!
For desserts, we had the Khao Neaw Ma-Muang ($8), or the sweet sticky rice balls in coconut milk served with slices of fresh sweet mango. This is a seasonal dish because the chef insists to use mango imported from Thailand to keep the dish authentic. Despite the fact that we already had so much food, the quality of the mango was making this dish irresistible – so sweet and so smooth, and just melting in your mouth.
I have been to quite a few Thai restaurants in the city but I have found them quite similar in preparing the food. I really don’t see how they are much better than Thai Express in any food court because their dishes just have the same ingredients and same spices, and even presented the same way. But for Ban Chok Dee, it is totally worth the journey to travel outside of the city because they are just that fantastic! The self taught chef has inspired to put the traditional flavours and her originality together in her visually stunning and tasty creations. Make sure to try the Tom Yum. And if you want to order the Pomelo Salad, you have to call them to check availability.
* All food and beverages in this review were complimentary. Opinions are on the reviewer’s own. *
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