“”No. Sorry.” the waiter says. “The tasting menu doesn’t include those, or anything from the regular menu. Everything is inspired by the moment, by whatever the chef finds at the market each day. It’s always a surprise.”
But don’t worry, he says. There’s a little salad on the tasting tonight that fills the same function as the papaya salad’s sweet/sour flavor profile. And there’s a wonderful curry, he promises, made with fish. I stare with envy at a pile of pad Thai on a nearby table.
“Oh, okay,” I say. “We’ll do the tasting menu. But I’ll skip the wine pairings. I need one of those lemongrass daiquiris instead.”
Our table is next to the bar, and I’ve been watching the bartender mix a steady stream of daiquiris using aged rum, lime juice and lemongrass, with a fine grating of cinnamon bark on top. It’s as good as it looks, too.
Dinner starts with an amuse bouche of mieng kham, except rather than being served on a betel leaf as is most typical, this classic Thai relish of toasted coconut and dried shrimp is served atop small triangles of pineapple. Alongside this is another dried fish relish that is less familiar to me, and funkier, this one spooned atop thin slices of cucumber and crowned with salmon roe. It’s a delicious way to begin the evening at Maenam. I feel instantly transported. I’m definitely not in Southern California anymore.
Clams arrive next. It’s a beautiful composition, so stark and simple, just clams with fresh ginger, lemongrass, whole kaffir lime leaves and a red bird’s-eye chili. Just as we’re digging into the clams, a steaming bowl of chicken soup is served. The is an elegant take on tom yum, or something similar. There’s a tartness to it but also a deep, deep unctuousness, as if the broth is made with not just boiled chicken but with all the liver and gizzards as well. It’s delicious.
Before we know it, the table is loaded with sticky spicy pork ribs and a refreshing, citrusy shrimp salad. And the waiter was right, the fish curry is indeed wonderful.
I really like this place. In Southern California we’ve got some of the best Thai food outside of Thailand. But we’ve got nothing quite like Maenam. I can’t wait to come back and try the pad Thai.
Maenam, 1938 W 4th Ave., Vancouver, BC, Canada; 604.730.5579