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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

FALL CIRCLE PACIFIC ADVENTURE 2014: Day #17--Is Gaggan the best Indian Restaurant in the World?

I dined last night at Gaggan in Bangkok, located in murky walking distance of the St. Regis, where I'm staying.  They say it is safe to walk around this city at night, but keep away from dark and dingy lanes.  Well, you need to do this if you want to adventurously get from hotel to restaurant and back.

So is Gaggan the best Indian restaurant in the world, as cited by CNN Travel?  Well, no, if you are talking about traditional Indian food.  Absolutely, if you are into cutting edge fusion cuisine.  It is now #3 in Asia (from #10 last year- -#1 is Nahm, also in Bangkok, and #2 is Narisawa of Tokyo) on Pellegrino's best and #18 in the world.  No other Indian restaurant is in Pellegrino's best 100, so a case can actually be made for Gaggan as the best Indian restaurant in the world.

Gaggan Anand, a 36-year chef from Kolkata, has magically transferred classical Indian into a molecular melange of Indian and Thai and Japanese and more.  The staff is exceptional, and his kitchen crew an all-star cast awaiting their next move to superstar status.

Gaggan is a gregarious personality who is known to walk around his establishment and chat with diners.  As far as I know, I'm the only one who was actually invited into his kitchen to meet his associates, where he showed me what CNN describes as "water baths, tanks of liquid nitrogen and condensers."  He spent some time at elBulli, as did his #2.

Chef Gaggan asked me if I thought he could attain #1 ranking?  As I dined at Noma and took a similar photo of Chef Rene and his staff when Noma in Copenhagen was not yet #1, I later thought about that question and can now feel comfortable in saying that his steeple of excellence in Bangkok cannot.  His kitchen is too small and the two floor home he is in is not fashionable.  Narisawa in Tokyo is in a high tech setting.  Pierre Gagnaire's restaurant at the top of the Lotte Hotel in Seoul has a spectacular view.  This will almost surely gain 3-Star Michelin ranking when they bother to come to Korea.

However, I can suggest that a #1 Pellegrino world ranking is possible if he finds a situation at the top of a new sky rise in Delhi or, perhaps, a venerable castle in Kolkata, and call it Gaggan's Palace.  He did indicate that rents in his home country are 25 times higher than Bangkok, so this would be a life-changing challenge to gain financial backing for such a magnificent opportunity.  But #1 in the world does not come easily.  Ask Chef Rene, who had to make a comeback after a norovirus outbreak one night.  However, Chef Gaggan is destined for greater things, so I would not be surprised if he someday ascends to a new level of high.

As Japan now has more Michelin 3-Star restaurants than France, a next frontier would be Gaggan Temple in Tokyo, where he would fuse Indian with Japanese food.  I don't know of any eminent kitchen currently focusing on that combination.

But enough for speculation.  I will here show you all 16 courses of my "limited" meal at Gaggan.  There were three menu choices, and mine was the shortest and cheapest (a relative term which has no meaning in Bangkok), which I had with a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and Australian Sirah.  At my age, I can't eat so much anymore.  The feast began with a kind of mango sherbet.

Then a yogurt explosion, spiced nuts (that cellophane-looking bag is made of rice and is edible, so you pop the whole package into your mouth) and chocolate Pani puri:

Mashed potato in two physical states, a Bengali noori pakoda (not sure what the noori stands for, but pakoda is a fried flour ball with cut vegetables and spices), and papadam (a Pakistani thin, crisp disc-shaped bread) with tomato chutney:

The portions are small, and not as artistic (left) as Chef Atala of DOM in Sao Paulo or, even, Peter Gordon in Auckland, but beautiful in a more natural way.  Cumin is detectable and many creations leave a spicy-hot aftertaste, but not so overpowering as many Indian entrees.  Course #8 was a keema pao, or lamb hamburger:

#9 a cheese soufflé (a lot more complex, of course, for I'm simplifying):

#10 was a dainty foie gras sandwich:

#11, a fabulous truffled soft boiled egg over some salad:

#12, a surprise in charcoal under glass:

#13 was supposed to be a grilled fresh water prawn in tandoor with a curry leaf infusion, but that was replaced with some sweet potato patty which was okay, but too filling, so I had only a third, for I had three dishes still left:

Loved the pattern, though.  #14 was called angry bird, and was slow cooked native Thai chicken in  a spiced Chettinad (south India) style curry with rice noodles also from the region:

The dessert was a Japan inspired tea cake with fresh wasabi, but mostly sweet:

The finale was a magnum, a chocolate ice cream lollipop:

Gaggan:  a wonderful experience I can recommend to all my friends if you get to Bangkok.

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