Anyone who has read about the culinary journey I’ve undertaken with my wife Jun would know how passionate we are about Thai food, with all its heat that brings a lot of joy (and sweat and numbness to our tongues) to us. It happened to be the case that Portland is one of the American cities where Thai cuisine has really thrived, starting with such pioneers like Andy Ricker (whose Pok Pok even opened in Brooklyn at one point; I still can’t believe the restaurant closed with all the wonderful things going on). One of the Thai restaurants that I really wanted to try was Langbaan, a tasting menu-only restaurant behind a bookshelf door in PaaDee, had been winning all kinds of accolades for its original take on the country’s cuisine. It also was one of the hardest restaurants in the city to get a table, with reservations fully booked up to three months in advance. I put my name down on the Resy waitlist anyways, hoping that the Fourth of July week during which we were visiting Portland would lead to last minute cancellations. When I learned that I got off the waitlist, I was beyond ecstatic and was very much looking forward to a visit. Our experience at Langbaan turned out to be one of those rare moments where Jun and I had some different views on the restaurant’s directions.
The summer tasting menu, inspired by Thai family gatherings, began in a promising manner, as we both enjoyed the bite-sized snacks that welcomed us, from the “miang som” consisting of navel orange, shrimp and herbs, to “kanom krok” which was a very pleasant crispy rice cup with refreshing scallop ceviche in it, to “cha-om khai naam neau” with Japanese wagyu beef in a Thai “omelette” that was quite fantastic. We showed up at Langbaan after a full day of wine tasting in Willamette Valley, so having an aromatic soup with braised pig’s feet and soy beans helped as a cure to all the alcohol we consumed that day. It’s after the soup that our opinions started to diverge. Jun, fully expecting plenty of heat, was turned off that a couple of salad dishes following the soup, one with octopus and another with salmon and mussels, didn’t offer the kind of addictively spicy qualities she would typically look for at a Thai restaurant. On the other hand, I thought both dishes were quite thoughtfully prepared with beautiful plating that displays the kitchen’s high level of creativity. Both the octopus and salmon had very good texture, especially the latter which was also accompanied by mussels prepared three ways (pickled, steamed and fermented).
Jun took a peek at the menu again to see what was coming next and got very excited that there was a curry dish; unfortunately, the Issan style curry with halibut lacked the coconut-based spicy flavor that she came to love so much, and she was sorely disappointed. On the other hand, there was some heat to the shrimp paste relish with salted duck egg and Dungeness crab that you can wrap in fresh lettuces. I also liked the whole roasted pig with garlic, lime leaf and dry chili that was moderately spicy but had complexity of flavor I was quite fond of and worked very well with black and white sticky rice. The desserts were also solid, starting with Thai-style flan whose silky smooth texture worked well with incense-smoked blackberry caramel and charred blackberry puree, followed by jasmine-tofu pudding with ginger candy, melon and fruit ice mélange that blended the flavor of Thailand in a refreshing way.
As noted above, getting a reservation at Langbaan can be quite a challenge if you don’t want to commit yourself three months in advance; I guess the best way is to try your luck on Resy’s waitlist and pray that you get off the list? There is full bar with cocktails inspired by Southeast Asia’s ingredients and flavor. The cozy dining room will you feel you are dining at an exclusive supper club that no one wants you to know about. Langbaan is one of the restaurants where it was really hard to pinpoint the score. Jun even initially wanted to give “Incomplete” score because she appreciated all the fun things happening behind the kitchen, but couldn’t just get used to the idea that Thai food can be delicious without being spicy (and she loves spicy!). Maybe there was too much fish sauce in the food overall that just didn’t agree with Jun? I do agree that we would’ve had a much more memorable meal had the kitchen been liberal with the spicy elements (much like the way our dining experience worked at Ugly Baby in Brooklyn, which is our favorite Thai restaurant in the city; see my last review here https://kenscale.com/2019/03/24/ugly-baby-revisit/). Going forward, Jun will certainly appreciate even more those Asian restaurants that are not compromising when it comes to displaying authentic and numbingly spicy dishes.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 6 SE 28th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214
Telephone: (971) 344-2564