Restaurant Review: Esaan Tumbar
One outstanding restaurant closes; another one opens. Now it's a Thai game.
Two grilled entrées—the marinated rib-eye steak (called the Crying Tiger) and the split Cornish hen (kai yang Esaan)—are beautifully cooked and tender. But they are eclipsed by two fish dishes that are even better. The whole rockfish (pla tod samun pri) is filleted, fried, reassembled in the form of a whole fish (talk about presentation) and topped with a perfumed salsa of lemongrass, lime, ginger, galangal, red onions and mint. The salt-crusted whole branzino (pla pao klue), stuffed with Thai basil and lemongrass, is moist and flavorful, served with vermicelli and a profusion of fresh herbs. Both fish dishes come with lettuce leaves for making wraps, and a bright dipping sauce. They are a delight for the palate and the eyes.
The sleeper at Esaan is the lunch menu. Sneak away one sunny afternoon, nab a table on the patio and order the crispy fried chicken plate or lunch set A, which comes with labb moo and a bowl of divine, Chinese-inspired, chunky beef brisket soup, plus black sticky rice and hot chili sauce.
If I have one quibble with Esaan, it’s the sweets. Neither of the desserts that were offered on my visits were, shall we say, lookers. One, a grayish sticky rice topped with coconut-laced custard, appeared curdled. The other option was a bowl of drab banana slices in coconut milk. But then I commingled the two dishes and a sort of magic happened, taste-wise. It turns out I have no quibble with Esaan at all.