Is Langbaan Portland’s Best New Restaurant?
The following is excerpted from Portland Monthly’s July issue. We’re excited about new ideas and directions in Portland’s food scene. Langbaan is just the beginning. Check out the full story, coming soon.
The cozy, cramped kitchen looks like a foodie’s vision of a Bangkok night market, with herbs everywhere, soup vapors billowing, and moody shadows creeping from table lamps. It only hints at what’s to come: a two-hour tasting menu of traditional snacks, coconut-chunked soups, raw dishes, chile relishes, grilled pig parts, and some shockingly delightful desserts buried in salty coconut cream or infused with Thai candle smoke. No choices. No substitutions. Plunk down $40, settle in, and let the kitchen do the work. At least so far, this is the food of the year.
At Langbaan, opened in February, PaaDee owner and Bangkok native Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom reconsiders Thai food for a new generation of Portland diners. For these savvy thrill-seekers, the aggressive, straight-from-Chiang Mai flavors of Andy Ricker’s nationally celebrated Pok Pok are now the norm. At Langbaan, choreographed evenings thrash with herbs, refinement, and a new sense of excitement: “seriously old-school Thai cooking,” as Ninsom calls it, replete with tastes rarely seen stateside. A night in this back room moves from dried baby snakehead fish, crushed with fried shallots over coconut rice, to an epiphanic treat born in Bangkok’s Chinatown: black sesame dumplings in a sweet-hot ginger broth that zings straight to the brain. Inevitably, an unexpected soup arrives, one deep in crispy-skinned fish and sorrel-like ng oom leaves, another a smoky broth with chunks of coconut, lotus root, and tender duck meat bobbing over on the surface. One night’s lobster salad, part of the upgraded $60 menu option, was worth every pennywort, as brightly bitter herbs pinged beautifully off coconut-poached lobster and tart, fresh rambutan fruit. Binding it all: delicate dressing infused with kaffir lime skin and with whiffs of fish sauce, garlic, and lemongrass. It shows where Langbaan might go.
With the diminutive Rassamee Ruaysuntia at the 34-year-old Nimson's side, sharing secrets from her two years as a line cook at Bangkok’s famed Nahm, Langbaan shows how a new generation of cooks are creating a new class of Portland restaurant that feel ambitious yet spontaneous, formal but casual, curious but delicious.