Langbaan is a Thai Breaker

Fried snakehead fish, night-market vibes, and other reasons to slip into Akkapong Earl Nimson’s new tasting-menu speakeasy.

By Karen Brooks March 5, 2014

Rassamee Ruaysuntia dishes up dinner at Lang Baan

Snake through the throngs inhaling updated Thai comfort foods at PaaDee, a popular "Street Stall Modern" eatery at the corner of SE 28th and Burnside. Duck to the back and take a couple of right turns to find the best ingredient in the house, Langbaan, an intimate clubhouse with four counter seats, elbow-to-elbow tables, and a cozy, cramped kitchen that looks like a foodie’s vision of a Bangkok night market.

Pull up a chair, settle in, and let the kitchen do the work. 

At 34, Bangkok native and PaaDee owner Akkapong Earl Nimson has imagined a night unlike any other in Portland: a Thai tasting menu, changing every few weeks with dishes rarely seen outside of their home turf, drawn from family recipes and former workers in the royal Thai palace kitchen.  If February’s opening dinner was any indication, Langbaan could shape up to be one of the best tables in town, thrashing with heat, herbs, and excitement. You can choose a $40 menu—a parade of dishes—or drop another $20 or $30 for some additional nightly specials.   

Some highlights:

  • Snacks: For his inaugural dinner, Nimson pulled out the rare treat of baby snakehead fish—dried, then crushed into what tasted like crackling crumbles from the sea over coconut rice. The night also included the surprise of miang som, a roll-your-own bundle mixing fresh shrimp, the sour squirt of pomelo chunks, and the whomp of Thai chiles and the sweet crunch of toasted coconut in a grassy betel leaf. 
  • Soup: As chunks of coconut, lotus root, and tender meat bob on the surface, Langbaan’s roasted duck broth seemed designed to make a Thai grandfather weep.
  • Lobster salad: Part of the upgraded $60 menu option, and worth every pennywort (a brightly bitter herb) that pinged beautifully off the dish's coconut-milk-poached lobster and acidic rambutan fruit. Binding it all: delicate coconut dressing infused with essence of kaffir lime skin and juice, with whiffs of fish sauce, garlic, and lemongrass. This shows where Langbaan might go. 
  • Bua loii nahm khing: I would haul across town for another taste of this Bangkok Chinatown dessert—two dumplings of black sesame and black bean paste huddled in a dark, sweet-stinging broth that tasted like melted ginger chews. Fantastic.   

Not everything is dialed in…the coconut rice, for one, lacked that textural precision that marks the best versions, and you wish the super friendly service dropped by more often. But with the diminutive Rassamee Ruaysuntia at Nimson's side, sharing secrets from her two years as a line cook at Bangkok’s famed Nahm, Langbaan is certainly a place to watch.

6 SE 28th Ave.
Tasting menus only: Thursdays through Saturdays, beginning March 14
Two seatings per evening: 6 and 8:30 pm
Reservations: la[email protected] or 971-344-2564
(Drop-ins welcome if seats are available)

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