So I’ve been trying to get to Maenam since my birthday last year when we wanted to book out most of the restaurant, but couldn’t without a buyout. That was back in June – so almost eight months ago! Finally, finally, I was looking forward to trying some Thai food that I was hoping would live up to all of the acclaim and everything that I’d been dreaming of for the last while. Perhaps it would be exactly what I needed in between visits from my mother and her amazing cooking, or when I was just feeling too lazy to make something myself.
I went with a couple of friends after changing reservations around a few times, and made it there on Superbowl Sunday at 6 PM. Go figure. It was actually fairly quiet when we walked in, and it’s good that I’m nowhere near a football fan (I’d tried watching about an hour of it before leaving to dine, and ended up only paying attention during the commercials and part of the half-time show).
When we got there, one of my friends recommended I try the Siam Sun Ray cocktail. It’s made from vodka, lime, soda, and chili and ginger infused toasted coconut juice. Just reading the description made me salivate, so I ordered it right away, and it was a definite hit for me! The hint of spice and coconut was great, and I was impressed that it was also a bit tart and not overly sweet. I could down a few too many of these if I wasn’t careful!
Our ‘starters’ than began to arrive – the first one of which was the Steamed Mussels with Lemongrass and Thai Basil. This turned out to be the best dish of the evening. It was served with nahm jim dipping sauce, which is a mixture of fish sauce, lime, lemongrass, chilies, a bit of sugar, and vinegar (if I’m remembering correctly off the top of my head), and it goes really well with, well, any Thai food. I’ll usually throw it on top of some rice and whatever dish I happen to be eating, and it adds a great kick to most things. The mussels were well-prepared and were fresh, plump and juicy, and I had to be careful to not hog all of them to myself! We then decided to keep the remaining sauce to use for the rest of the meal, should we feel the need. Unfortunately, true to my klutzy style, I knocked it over shortly afterward and only had a splash left.
Next came the Hot and Sour Sloping Hills Pork Soup. The broth turned out to be a bit weak in flavour for my tastes, and the pork was somewhat dry, although my girlfriend commented that it’s not as dry as she’s had at other places in the past. It was filled with button (?) mushrooms (which I’m not fond of – they always leave me feeling a bit ill for some reason – maybe I’ve gotten sick from them in the past?), tomatoes, Thai basil, pieces of fried garlic, and flavour from Tamarind. At first I thought this wasn’t too bad, but I think after I ate one of the mushrooms, I was totally put off and couldn’t enjoy the rest of it.
Our larger main dishes began to arrive after the three of us were done with these smaller starters. We ordered a steamed jasmine rice and quite a large bowl showed up around this time. The Mixed Mushroom Salad was served cold (as it’s supposed to be), with plenty of mint and cilantro, roasted rice, red onions, and seared enoki mushrooms. The sauce within also included some chilies again, along with sour and salty flavours (which I’m guessing consisted of fish sauce and lime). The only problem with this is I found that there should have been a bit more actual sauce to it. I’m used to something similar, but the juices are what should really make this dish special, in my mind. And although I do love mint, there was almost too much of it in relation to the rest of the components of the salad.
Similar to this was the Chiang Mai Style Beef Salad (or Larb Neua), consisting of ‘northern Thai spice mix, house ground hanger steak, Vietnamese mint, pork crackling, spring onions, salty, spicy and aromatic.’ When I make larb at home, I sometimes grind the meat myself, but usually use turkey, chicken or pork. Maybe it was because I haven’t really done it this way with beef, and usually make a Yum salad with thin slices of beef instead, but I just wasn’t feeling it in this format. Again, I found the dish to be a bit on the dry side, and would’ve preferred a bit more to it.
Finally, we had the Stir-Fried Halibut Cheeks, which we had heard were supposed to be one of the key dishes. I was disappointed though – while it was okay, I found the texture of the halibut to be a bit stringy and chewy almost, and it just wasn’t anything spectactular to me. There was also plenty of Thai basil spread throughout and a green curry paste. Again, I’m just not sure what to say except that I expected a lot more from this.
This is where I was hoping that dessert would lift my spirits.
One of my favourite things growing up was when my mom would cut up fresh mango and put it on top of sticky rice with her coconut milk topping. It was always an excellent treat. So of course, I had to try the Mango and Sticky Rice at Maenam. This version was a bit sweeter than the ones I’ve eaten in the past – I think it may have had some additional condensed milk added to the mix, since the sauce was also a bit more thick than I’m used to. Still quite good, but the mango could’ve been more ripe as well. The black sesame seeds on top were a nice touch though.
My other favourite Asian dessert (I think I have a lot of favourites when it comes to anything Thai), is Banana Fritters with Ice Cream. This one was served with white sesame ice cream, and had a caramel sauce drizzled over top. However, I think that our dessert must have been prepped and sitting for quite awhile waiting to be brought out, as the ice cream was almost completely melted (as you can see in the picture), and the deep-fried banana was not even lukewarm. We also noticed that there was a substantial time lag after we’d finished off our mains, so someone must’ve forgotten to get out our treats promptly. I normally would’ve asked for another one, but I figured it shouldn’t be completely melted the first time around, and I was kind of getting antsy and tired of waiting. It definitely had potential though.
Maybe I started off on the wrong foot with the mushrooms that I don’t like (of course that’s just a personal preference), or maybe it was because I went on a Sunday evening while I’m assuming most of the regular staff weren’t there. I’m not sure what happened, but I was not impressed with the food, especially after all of the great things I have been hearing for the past while. I don’t have any desire to return again, although if someone convinced me that this was a total anomaly and that there were many dishes that I didn’t order and must try, maybe it could happen?
Please comment if you completely disagree with me, and feel there is something that I really missed out on.
Or is anyone Thai out there that really enjoyed it!
Otherwise, my quest for great Thai in Vancouver shall continue. I am getting close to giving up.