Sometimes a meal is flavorful.
Sometimes a meal demonstrates the chef’s technique, their mastery of the culinary arts.
Sometimes, rarely, you get both.
And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, a few times in your life you get to experience something transcendent.
“Transcendent” is the best word to describe my recent experience at Supannee House of Thai, in San Diego, CA.
I had contacted the restaurant a few weeks ago, asking to set up a chef’s dinner for 10, a family-style feast for my coworkers. I emailed back and forth with Supannee House, the proprietor of Supannee House of Thai.
To say the meal exceeded my expectations would be an understatement.
From the moment we arrived at the unassuming restaurant, we were treated as valued guests. Ms. House welcomed us as if we were visiting her home.
For our dinner, we had been promised four appetizers, four entrees, soup, dessert, and a beverage pairing. She informed us the produce had been picked that morning on their farm, and the seafood had been purchased at the market earlier today.
Once we were seated, the feast began. Most dishes were served family style, with platters of beautifully plated food set down for us to share.
The first course was these beautiful summer rolls. The traditional rice paper wrapper was filled with achingly fresh vegetables: baby lettuce, carrots, mint, cilantro, cucumbers. The shrimp and edible flowers completed the filling, and there were three dipping sauces: the traditional peanut sauce, a sweet and sour plum sauce, and a third sauce with a bit of heat.
I can’t imagine a more fresh taste. These rolls were a riot of crunch, and the mint and cilantro created such a refreshing taste. These rolls were really an announcement we had arrived somewhere special.
That continued with the next course, which was introduced as Thai Sushi. These platters were filled with individual rolls of very rare marinated flank steak, wrapped around rice and fresh mint, with a dipping sauce absolutely filled with chili flakes. The combination of the beefy steak, the fresh mint, and the serious heat from the dipping sauce was simply wonderful.
The third appetizer was the consensus favorite of the table, and one of the best dishes ever. Seriously, if Food Network ever calls, and wants me to contribute to “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” I’ll direct them here, for the Nam Kao Tod.
Nam Kao Tod is described on the menu as a crispy rice and Thai sausage salad wrap (pictured atop this post). That’s like describing a Ford GT as a car: it’s technically correct, but really doesn’t capture the experience
The fresh lettuce cones are filled with crispy rice, and a crunchy Thai pork sausage made in-house. Lemongrass, ginger, Kaffir lime leaves, and chiles also fill the cones, creating a riotous, ridiculous firework of taste and texture. How good are they? Without exception, every person at the table made audible noises when taking their first bites, inarticulate mumbles of appreciation around a mouthful of flavor.
It would be foolish to try and top that dish, and Chef Wan’s next dish was a more mild one, Pots of Gold.
These crispy pastry cups were reminiscent of chicken pot pie. Filled with minced chicken and shrimp, potatoes, carrots, peas, and a bit of curry, and served with a sweet and sour cucumber and carrot relish, these were a bit of a transition dish. The cups were beautifully presented, topped with another type of edible flower. These tasty little bites moved us into the main part of the meal.
We were then served the soup course. Expecting the usual Tom Yum soup, we were pleasantly surprised with a different dish. Introduced as a cross between Tom Yum and Tom Kah Gai, we were told this is the soup served most often in their home.
The soup was very flavorful, with shrimp and enoki mushrooms in a rich broth flavored with lemongrass, galangal, dill, cilantro, and coconut milk.
The complex flavors served as a nourishing palate cleanser, a clean break to the entrees.
The entrees began with a curry.
The curry featured fresh Kabocha squash, a squash with either an orange or green exterior, and a deep orange interior. It seemed very similar to butternut squash in both taste and texture.
It also featured duck, a protein that always makes me a bit leery. While duck can be delicious, it is often over- or under-cooked, resulting in either meat so chewy as to be inedible, or raw and gamy enough to put you off your feed for the remainder of the meal.
But that was not the case here. The skin-on duck meat was buttery and tender, delectable bits of goodness generously portioned in the curry.
The red coconut curry sauce made the overall dish a balanced bowl.
Next came Pad Thai, the best-known Thai dish of rice noodles flavored with tamarind sauce, eggs, bean sprouts, and roasted peanuts. This pad Thai also featured crab, both in the dish itself, and in the three flash-fried whole soft shell crabs served atop the noodles.
Frankly, I don’t know if these were fresh or frozen. It is early in the season for fresh soft shells, so I was surprised to see these. Which didn’t mean I was any less happy to eat them!
We devoured this dish, halving the fried crabs, and mixing the Pad Thai, squeezing the limes over everything for the added citrus punch.
Pad Thai hits all five tastes: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami. In addition to that, this dish had the textural bonus of the crabs, with their attendant sweetness.
Next came the other transcendent dish, the entree that elevated the entire meal, and the group consensus favorite entree: Hoa Mok Pla.
Sea Bass is a staple on many a menu, served in a variety of ways. However, I’ve never had sea bass served like this, baked in a vessel made of banana leaves, flavored with curry paste and coconut milk, creating a new texture. This fish was creamy without being mushy, a neat trick, turning the normally firm-fleshed fish into an almost pudding-like consistency.
The overall taste of the fish shone through, accented by the subtle presence of the curry and coconut milk. This was a masterful dish, demonstrating Chef Wan’s command of technique and flavor. It is absolutely the best presentation of sea bass I’ve had the privilege to taste. I can’t praise this highly enough.
It’s that good.
Much like in the appetizer courses, the sea bass was a tough act to follow.
The Lemongrass Chicken that followed was the most “normal” of the dishes, a very tasty presentation of shredded chicken meat flavored with lemongrass and ginger. Topped with dried chiles, this was easily the most accessible dish of the evening.
Dessert was next, again a combination of menu options.
We were given a lovely plate, a heart made of small mango slices, framing coconut ice cream and sticky rice. It was drizzled with honey, and garnished with an edible flower (The flowers do have different tastes; the yellow are spicy.)
For a few of my colleagues, this was their first experience with sweetened rice as a dessert. From the 10 empty plates, I think I can assume everyone enjoyed the experience.
The meal was completed with a tall glass of lemongrass tea, which Supannee recommended as a digestif.
While I have tried to be descriptive with the dishes, I do not believe I have appropriately captured the feel of the meal. While the dishes were fantastic, what elevated the meal into an event was the passion exhibited by Supannee and other members of the staff.
The dishes were introduced with pride and excitement, as though they were eager to see how their guests would respond. Rather than a restaurant tasting menu, this meal had the feeling of a holiday family feast. It felt as though we were welcomed into the House home, where the bpâa, náa, and yaai had been cooking for days in anticipation of the holiday.
That inclusive feeling is impossible to fake. It takes real love and passion for your work to bring that transcendence to the table.
It is a rare gift indeed.
Supannee House of Thai is located at 2907 Shelter Island Drive, #110, San Diego, CA. Their web site is located at http://sdthai.com. They are open for lunch and dinner; see site for hours. They also do carryout, and if they delivered to Detroit, I’d eat it every day.
And in case you wondered, “Supannee” means “Golden Lady” in Thai.
Or so I’m told.
Finally, I was caught without a proper camera at this meal, and was only able to capture shots on my phone. While the phone shots are not up to my standards, I had to include them so you could see the beautiful food.