Bangkok Post reviews
Perfect end to Ramadan
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: August 24, 2012 at 8:12 am
Despite the throngs of diners, Marina Islamic restaurant impresses
The busy, open kitchen.
Soi Chokechai 4 is one of those after-dark eating and convening places (Sukhumvit Soi 38 is another) where open-air restaurants and an army of vendors join forces to offer dishes of all kinds to a surging and noisy crowd.
With tables set up on the street and serving personnel juggling plates, rushing around between them, it is not the place to go for quiet dining and intimate conversation, but it's ideal for a market-style meal with hungry friends.
Ung-aang Talay has found that some of the best food on Chokechai 4 is served at a place called Marina Islamic Restaurant, located a short distance into the soi on the left. It is always busy, but during a visit there a couple of evenings ago Marina was operating in overdrive as a steady stream of customers arrived in groups to break the Ramadan fast.
Marina stretches over three store-fronts with a long row of busy stalls, each with its own stove and glistening stainless steel cooking equipment, stretching across the front.
The three-flavoured, deep-fried sea bass.
Big signs in each dining room reassure patrons that no pork or alcohol will come anywhere near their food.
The menu, too, is quite large, and from it U-a T and party requested a pla kraphong sam rot (three-flavoured, deep-fried seabass) and servings of nuea phat sataw (sataw beans fried with beef and chilli seasonings), yam het ruam (a sour-hot salad made from a variety of mushrooms), nuea daet dio (deep-fried semi-dried beef served with a spicy dipping sauce) and a bowl of kui tio kaeng sai kai (curried noodles with chicken), which was a little out of place among the other dishes but looked too good to pass up.
It was the kui tio that showed up first _ sen lek rice noodles in a rich-flavoured (by turmeric-scented curry powder), but not overly thick curry sauce with boneless slices of chicken breast meat and half a hard-boiled egg. The chicken had absorbed enough of the curry sauce to make it appealingly juicy _ all too often the white chicken meat, added at the last minute, is dry and papery in noodle dishes such as this. Small pieces of spring onion and tofu added to the variety of tastes and textures.
U-a T appreciated the fact that real coconut cream had been used instead of the dreaded evaporated milk inflicted on curry dishes so often nowadays, and also that there was not too much of it, so that the curry was not excessively heavy. The sauce on the sea bass was pretty standard stuff, the usual starch-thickened sweet-and-sour concoction with a slight peppery bite, but the fish itself was fresh and firm, with the skin still crisp from frying when it was served.
The vegetables scattered on top in large pieces included green, red, and yellow bell peppers, pineapple chunks, tomatoes and spring onions. All of this seemed a little generic and lacking in special character, but the artful cooking of the fish itself permitted U-a T to forget about that and enjoy the dish.
Deep-fried semi-dried beef served with a spicy dipping sauce.
Nothing had to be ignored to appreciate the two beef dishes. U-a T had never had a sataw stir-fry made with beef before _ pork and shrimp are the usual options. But Marina's beef version worked so well that it seemed strange it is not offered as an alternative at all restaurants that serve sataw dishes.
U-a T winced a bit when the dish was placed on the table because the appearance of the puddle of red sauce that surrounded the beef and sataw beans seemed to promise a grease fest.
This was a mistaken impression, though. The sauce was light and spicy with a nice sour zap. The beef was very tender and potently accented by the chilli-intensive seasoning and the beans had been cooked just long enough to remove their slight bitterness and bring out a nutty flavour, while allowing them to retain their light green colour and crunchy texture.
A cluster of fresh green peppercorns had been placed on top as a garnish. Their flavour was not noticeable in the dish. Order this if you are not averse to the odour of sataw beans.
No special genius is needed to prepare good nuea daet dio, a very simple dish made up of deep-fried beef with a spicy accompanying sauce and some vegetables on the side. But when it is done well it is a pleasure to eat.
At Marina the semi-dried beef had been fried at a high heat to make it crisp on the outside, but not tough. There seem to be two schools of thought on the sauce that should accompany the meat. Some prefer Sri Racha sauce, others favour a hot and salty sauce similar to one often served with grilled chicken, a mixture based on fish sauce and ground dried chillies with chopped coriander and spring onion. By U-a T's light the latter is more interesting and does more for the meat, and that, happily, is what Marina provides.
The yam het ruam is a sour-spicy mushroom salad that brought together five, or possibly six, different kinds of fresh mushrooms. There were the shiitake, het huu nuu and het huu nuu khao types used in Thai and Thai-Chinese cooking, but also enoki and what looked like bunashimeji mushrooms. There may even have been a piece or two of straw mushroom.
Mixed together with herbs and onion in a fiery sour sauce, they made a terrific and very unusual salad that seemed to be finding its way onto a number of tables. U-a T especially appreciated the het huu nuu khao, which gives way to the teeth in an appealingly gristly way.
Service at Marina was prompt and courteous, an achievement considering the onslaught of customers. Prices were very low _ just over 500 baht for the meal described above, with accompanying fruit drinks.
Sataw beans fried with beef and chilli seasonings.