In Bangkok, Chefs Look Beyond Thailand

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Bangkok's renowned local food scene established the city long ago as one of the most exciting, well-priced and diverse culinary capitals in Southeast Asia. These days some heavyweight chefs, both foreign and homegrown, have gone from showcasing a more highbrow take on Thai classics to looking at other, more far-flung menus for inspiration.

The trend started at places like Gaggan, a Bangkok hot spot, with Indian food as the main event in the restored whitewashed mansion. A transplanted Calcutta native, Gaggan Anand, put molecular-style tasting menus -- the kind of lab-like concoctions that the El Bulli chef Ferran Adrià made famous -- alongside inventive takes on dishes like paneer malai tikka, and super spicy sea bass hara masala. (68/1 Soi Lagsuan; 66-2-652-1700; average price for two people doing the tasting menu without wine or tip, 3,000 Thai bahts, or about $100, at 30 Thai bahts to the dollar.)

At the same time Ian Kittichai, who in many ways convinced New York foodies that Thai fare was more than takeout food at his trendy Kittichai restaurant in the 60 Thompson hotel in SoHo, returned home to Bangkok via Barcelona to open Thai-focused Issaya Siamese Club. He then started the popular Hyde and Seek gastro-pub with its upscale English food.

Last fall he also unveiled Smith, an Asian take on the increasingly popular "nose to tail" style of eating. "I was inspired by experiences of eating that way at places like London's St. John as well as by Thais' love of eating various parts of animals -- offal, blood," Mr. Kittichai said. "And the warehouse space itself inspired us to create something unusual for Bangkok, and something we felt was missing from the huge food scene here."

The result is a menu that showcases cuts of meat alongside the country's varied and tasty produce: beef tartare with soft-boiled egg and tempura-like capers and garden flowers, "verjus glaze" pork belly with pickled stone fruit, spicy lentils and mint and coriander, a very unusual spicy "mini" haggis transplanted from Scotland with whisky and sweet potato. The upstairs of the atmospheric industrial chic warehouse space is devoted to a chef's table at night (it's a cooking school during the day) and craft beers and artisanal cocktails like "the Garden with Good and Evil," Hoegaarden beer with litchi and ginger, have made it a popular night-life destination. (1/8 Sukhumvit Soi 49; 66-2-261-0515; average price for a meal for two without wine or tip is about 1,500 baht.)

Jarrett Wrisley, an Allentown, Pa., transplant, who turned heads by opening one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in town at Soul Food Mahanakorn, opened an Italian restaurant nearby in April, an outpost largely inspired by his Italian partner, Paolo Vitaletti, who will also be the chef. "Paolo and I tried to capture the vibe of a bustling Roman trattoria, with a classic design," Mr. Wrisley said. "But, we have updated the classic formula a bit in terms of preparation and presentation."

The centerpiece of the new spot, named Appia after the ancient Roman thoroughfare, is a big, open-flame rotisserie, where they cook porchetta, spit-roasted pork, as well as chicken and duck. Here too, traditional nose-to-tail Roman dishes will be on the menu, but not "because it is fashionable," Mr. Wrisley is quick to point out, "but because this is the kind of food Paolo grew up eating and likes cooking. His father was a butcher in Testaccio and recently passed away." (20/4 Sukhumvit Soi 31; 66-2-261-2056; Price for two, without wine, about 1,500 to 2,000 baht.)

Many of the town's new arrivals are just trying to recreate food from home to augment the Thai and fusion staples. Hervé Frerard, for example, who is perhaps Bangkok's best known French chef, recently reopened his Le Beaulieu in the Athenee Tower, a restaurant that showcases old-school French dishes like bouillabaisse, pot au feu and grilled pigeon. (36 Wireless Road; 66-2-168-8220; price for two without wine or tip, roughly 1,500 baht).

And the new Akanoya in Sukhumvit is a traditional robatayaki restaurant (a traditional style of Japanese barbecue) with hottate, scallops, kuruma ebi, prawn and Japanese mushrooms grilled up by four chefs from Japan. (Soi Sukumvit 49; 66-2-662-4237; average price of dinner for two without wine or tip is 4,000 baht.)

That diversity -- the possibility of sampling amazing street food one day, fusion Thai the next, and French, Italian, Japanese or Indian in between -- currently makes Bangkok one of the most dynamic cities to eat one way's through.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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