Sherman's Food Adventures: Baan Lao

Baan Lao

It's been a year and a half since I've last visited Baan Lao out in Steveston.  This little Thai fine dining restaurant has received many accolades and if Richmond was part of the Michelin Guide, I'm certain they would be in consideration for a star due to the stellar combination of food and service.  That first visit was on my own coin, so my love for the place was genuine.  Sure, there will be those who may not see eye-to-eye with me on this one due to the pricing but I believe that Baan Lao is worth the cost.  Many do not see the intricacies and effort put into every dish.  Everything is fresh and employs quality ingredients.  So for this post, I was invited back along with Jacqueline to try their new tasting menu.  I still paid my own way with the cocktail pairings as well as the gratuities.

So before we got to the heart of the meal, we had a surprise Amuse Bouche waiting for us underneath a woven closhe.  It revealed a trio of little bites including the Watermelon with hand-roasted and dried wild rock fish flakes.  The combination of sweet and juicy with dry and briny really worked.  I found it to increase the intensity of the sweetness.  Next, I tried the Cha Plu Leaf Wrap with hand-roasted organic cashew, herbs & organic coconut flakes encased in carrot.  Layers of flavour greeted our palates in the form of sweetness from the coconut, aromatics from the herbs and nuttiness.  Lastly, we had the MacClintok's Farm Organic Water Buffalo Homemade Meatball on a fresh pineapple spoon.  Oh this was a flavour bomb from the juiciness of the sweet and tangy pineapple to the meaty and savoury meatball.  Lots of sweetness from the meatball as well.

Onto the appies, we had the Fraser Valley Organic Chicken Thai Dumpling hand-shaped as little birdies complete with black sesame eyes and chili beak.  Beyond the chewy bounciness of the dumpling skin, we found a delicious chicken filling that was firm, but not dry.  It had a nutty sweetness complimented by equal parts spice and savoury elements.  The flavours came through in layers with a noted galangal finish.

Sitting in a crispy golden pastry, the Yellow Curried Alaska King Crab was a little package, but provided a wallop in impact.  With little drops of yellow curry strewn throughout, we got the sweetness of palm sugar, earthiness of the turmeric and the creaminess of coconut milk.  This was further enhanced by the textural contrast of the serving vessel.  It brought a robustness to an otherwise delicate dish.

Served tableside, the Organic Coconut Galangal Soup with crispy wild sockeye salmon was very aromatic before we even dug into it.  All the dishes appealed to our senses in terms of appearance, smell and taste.  We definitely sensed the aromatics of galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves and birds-eye chili as we took each spoonful.  Each spoonful was a party in our mouths as it was tangy, spicy, creamy, aromatic, gingery and of course aromatic from the lemongrass. 

To cleanse our palate, we were served a Lemongrass Pandan with Elixir.  This cold shot was the perfect subtle drink to erase the strong flavours of the previous dishes.  It was smooth, aromatic and lightly sweet.  The intricate pandan flower on the side was not merely a garnish.  It offered elements of aroma that elevated the elixir.  Hitting other senses ensured we got the full effect.

Onto the mains, we were served the Seared Hokkaido Scallop with Thai herbs with a spicy tamarind sauce served tableside.  Honestly, the seared scallop with caviar and 24K edible gold leaf was good by itself being buttery and medium-rare while properly seasoned.  However, that tamarind sauce was off-the-hook with equal parts sweetness, tanginess, spiciness and aromatics.

When we got to the Phat Thai with mangrove black tiger prawn, it felt familiar again because this was one dish I've had before.  It was encased in a egg lattice that was intricately constructed.  The crispiness gave way to chewy rice noodles that were perfectly cooked and not clumped together.  Blessed with the house-made tamarind juice from the seeds only, the flavour profile was one of balanced sweetness and tang that was beautiful.  I found this to have a very clean taste with no interruptions from other unwanted flavours or textures.

Our last savoury dish was the Grillled Organic Sumas Mountain Beef Tenderloin in red curry.  The beef could not have been prepared any more perfectly.  It was medium-rare (more on the rare side, which I prefer) and buttery soft.  There was good caramelization on the outside that lead to inherently elevated meaty flavours.  However, that red curry had so much depth and creaminess, I wanted to lick the plate.  Loved the texture from the basil crunch.  There were also little beads of coconut milk caviar that gave a creamy aromatic element.  The 2 types of rice (Jasmine & Riceberry) were actually from Chef Nutcha's family farm in Thailand.

Normally, whenever we are served a palate cleanser, it usually comes as a scoop of sorbet.  However, they served these Lemon Sorbet popsicles tableside (straight from a freezer contraption).  Fresh lime zest was grated on top for both aroma and taste.  These were definitely tart and refreshing with the very cold temperatures.  This helped bring down all of the impactful flavours from the previous 2 dishes.

Featuring a stunningly beautiful cracker, we found both a Pumpkin Egg Custard and Smoked Ice Cream on the place as well.  Normally, I'm not a fan of pumpkin anything, but this had me sold as the flavour was subtle and lightly sweet.  Hence, I was able to enjoy the creaminess of the custard without the overly powerful vegetable gaminess normally associated with pumpkin.  We also had drops of pumpkin puree and coconut puree on the plate to tie everything together.  As for the pure coconut ice cream, it was smooth, aromatic and had a balanced smokiness that gave it depth without overwhelming the mild milk flavour.

Last but not least, we were presented with the Hand-Carved Seasonal Fruit featuring a "chili" was actually made of luuk choop which is like marizpan, but made with mung bean paste coated with agar.  The freshness of the juicy pineapple and melon came through with hits of intense sweetness.   So you can clearly see that we enjoyed the meal and appreciated the thoughtful touches by Chef Nutcha.  I would gladly pay for this meal as I feel it is worth every penny (I have paid for it before too!). 

*Food was complimentary excluding cocktail pairings and gratuities for this post*

The Good:
- Precise and intricate
- Chef Nutcha is passionate with all of her ingredients
- Michelin-level service

The Bad:
- Some might say the price, but with tasting menus and omakase experiences exceeding $300pp these days, I think it is worth it
- Definitely a destination restaurant as it is located in Steveston


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