Thursday, April 25, 2013

Restaurant Reviews: Koh Phangan Restaurants

Again and Again (Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach)
This place is a little gem located in the small village near Anantara and Buri Rasa Resort, about a 3 minute walk out. This small establishment is manned by a two-man crew- the mother (the chef) and her daughter (sous chef and waitress). There are about 7-8 tables in this place, so be prepared to wait a bit for your food, but the food is absolutely worth the wait. It has an open kitchen, and it is just the cutest thing to watch the mother spice and taste, make adjustments to the dishes, and always beam at you when she sees you watching. The food is made with care and loving. I am not kidding. Every dish I ate here was far and above the best version that I'd had in Thailand. I know because I would order the same things from other restaurants and find myself longing for Again and Again. The prices are super cheap and the food is the best on the island. During the daytime, there are a few cats dozing on the cushions, so if you have cat allergies, be aware, and since the restaurant is open-air, bring mosquito repellant during the night!

Larb, or laap, is a northern Thai dish of minced pork or chicken stir-fried with onions, herbs, lime juice, chili, and cilantro. I started off every meal with this salad, no matter where I ate, but Again and Again made the best version. There was this crunchy bit added to their version that added a great texture, and the pork was minced finely, which is another aspect of quality larb that I look at. I would get it extra spicy, and the cucumbers on the side would always be fresh. 

Red coconut curry with chicken: creamy, spicy goodness. I liked the veggies of green beans, carrots, and onions in it as well. It was good enough to eat alone, but if it was too spicy, the long-grained rice was nice mixed in.

Chicken pad thai: I don't usually order pad thai when I eat Thai food because I find there are other much more flavorful dishes, but my dining partner said this was very good.

Green coconut curry with chicken: same deal as the red coconut curry with the same vegetables, but with additional green chiles. Delicious when you ask for super spicy!

Crepes/pancakes are everywhere in Thailand! I ordered this one with Nutella but I also had it simply with lime and sugar for the first time at Again and Again. The acidity of the lime and sweetness of the sugar on the paper-thin crepe is delicious!

One of my absolute favorite dishes at Again and Again. I know that they make superior fried bananas because I ordered fried bananas at another establishment in Koh Samui, which came out as soggy batter and smooshed bananas. Somehow, Again and Again managed to make their batter super hot and crispy, and the bananas just melted on your mouth. The honey drizzled over it just took it over the top. Heaven in my mouth. 

Better Than Sex (Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach)
This was another great establishment on that strip of village near the Anantara Resort. It didn't have the homey charm of a mom-and-pop restaurant and the service seemed impersonal and curt, but the range and variety of food offered were impressive. They had a good selection of Western and Thai food, with a specialty of theirs being pizza, but we went with Thai instead because I didn't come to Thailand to eat pizza. They had blue cheese buffalo wings, crispy tofu skin with prawn stuffing, pumpkin soup, seafood wasabi pizza, bolognese pasta, Burmese curries... the list goes on. Their Thai dishes also were interesting because they melded a lot of traditional Thai foods with Western techniques. I wish we'd gone there again because there were so many other dishes on the menu that I wanted to try.

Larb in fried meatball form with spicy fish sauce. I much preferred the fresh version of larb but this was a unique twist on the traditional dish, and the sweet, spicy, and salty sauce was simply delicious. 

Rice crackers with tender-cooked minced pork in coconut milk and Thai herbs. This thing was delicious! but too many crackers and not enough minced pork. Literally enough minced pork for about 5 cracker coverage. 

Green curry fish filet: filet of fish cooked in a thick green curry sauce with green curry fried rice, garnished with Thai style watermelon salsa. The fish was tender and flaky, and the green curry was a unique saucing. This is what I mean when I say they meld Thai and Western together well. The watermelon salsa had a salty dressing on it that was a bit weird with the sweetness of the watermelon, but the green curry fried rice was also delicious with bits of green chiles in there. 

Salmon Chuchi Curry: filet of salmon cooked in a thick coconut red curry served with pasta. This wasn't my dish but it was eaten with vigor and lots of lip-smacking.

Rasta Baby (Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach)
This establishment has Jamaican/Rastafarian music playing non-stop, and in keeping with the whole theme, there are hammocks slung around for patrons to swing on while having a latte. Definitely a relaxed vibe that spilled over to the service, which was lax and a bit rude at times in its absence of courtesy. There was a lack of friendliness from the staff that was compounded by our frustration in communication, as the food would just come out whenever it was ready. I would get my appetizer and entrée come out at the same time, while my dining partner would get nothing for a good five minutes, having to be content with salivating at my food. The food is mediocre, overpriced in comparison to other restaurants on the island, and the kitchen is hidden somewhere upstairs in the back, which makes the hair I found in my Massaman curry even more suspicious. Sigh.

Larb/laap: I thought this was alright until I ate Again and Again's version. The pork wasn't minced quite as finely, and I ran into some fatty gristle pieces that was a bit gross.

Massaman curry with chicken. This one came with a nice side of HAIR. Gross. You can kind of see it in the photo. We didn't say anything because communication with the discourteous staff was already poor as it was.

Pan-fried fish with salt and pepper. We had to haggle the price down from 400 baht ($13USD) which is a ridiculous price for fish in a small restaurant in Thailand, and it turns out, 400 baht was a rip off because the fish had very little meat and was overcooked. 

Hash browns with egg. This was actually the only thing I enjoyed eating wholeheartedly in Rasta Baby. Loaded it with ketchup and smashed the egg onto my hash brown. It was delicious.

Baan Muay Thai
This restaurant was recommended to me by my dive instructor from H2O Diving. He's been living here for a while so I thought it would be delicious, but then I didn't take into account his British tastebuds vs. my Korean-American ones. I found this establishment also mediocre. The owners are an older husband and wife duo, and while they are super nice and chatty, the husband/waiter went off and started dozing on the chair, so work around his nap time and you'll be golden.

Larb/laap. The pork wasn't minced as finely, and this larb lacked the crunch factor that I loved at Again and Again. 

Thinly sliced pork with various vegetables in a salty fish sauce. This was pretty good. The salty sauce hit my umami buds nicely, but the pork was a bit overcooked and chewy. The vegetables were very yummy though!

Red coconut curry with chicken. Standard. 

Bamboo Bistrot (Thong Sala)
At one point of the trip, we wandered into Thong Sala (it was not really an accident because it was a 30 minute taxi ride from our resort, but details) and ate at Bamboo Bistrot after trying to find some restaurants that I had researched and pre-approved. All the restaurants that I'd found on Lonely Planet were closed or impossible to find, so in desperation and hunger, we went into this place despite my reservations that they had spelled "Bistro" with a "t" at the end. There was a Thai cook but I believe it was a French owner, and the menu was also extensively mixed with French and Thai dishes. It was a bit pricier than most restaurants in Thailand. Would I eat there again? Nope. There were cheaper, more authentic restaurants in the area. Even the barracuda fish and chips in the Thong Sala Night Market were more delicious and WAY cheaper than this restaurant.

Fried sweet and sour sauce with chicken, rice, and lettuce- not my dish, but just looking at it, it looks mediocre. I could make this. Meh.

Rib-eye au poivre with potato gratin. This steak was seriously so thin and chewy, I couldn't believe it cost 430 baht (about $15USD). The pepper sauce came on the side, but they really skimped on it as it barely covered the steak. The potato gratin was the only thing that met my expectations. I was pretty disappointed at this excuse for a steak.

Folded crepe with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream scoop. Another giant ripoff. It was 120 baht ($4USD). 

I have a few reservations just eating anywhere, which is why I'm not the best person to ask to test all the food stalls in a foreign country, but there really is no equivalent to the feeling of finding a gem of a restaurant on an island. This time, my go-to was Again and Again. I hope that the mother-daughter duo continues to serve delicious, authentic food in their caring way, and retain their charm and quality of food until the next time I go back to Koh Phangan! If you happen to be on that island, definitely check them out, and tell them I said hello!

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