Feb 20, 2019
IT’S HARD TO DREAM up a more model brand ambassador for Thai food than a baby-faced, aw-shucks nice guy with an enviably thick mop of tousled hair. Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn—a natural of a judge on Top Chef Thailand—went to Culinary Institute of America and worked in such top New York kitchens as Jean-Georges before bringing that Michelin precision back to Bangkok.
For a while after Le Du (“season” in Thai) opened in 2013, it was frankly a bit polarizing. Many loved it; others didn’t quite get it. Turned out, Ton was just on the vanguard with his mod, reimagined-Thai innovations. The rest of the city would quickly catch up. Le Du landed on Asia’s 50 Best list a couple of years ago.
And Ton had just launched a new menu (with a divine boutique-vineyard-heavy wine pairing) about 15 minutes before he was awarded his first Michelin star last November, so when I eat there the day after the ceremony, the kitchen is buoyant. As is the menu. It somehow stays light all the way through. I’m usually borderline begging for mercy by the meat course, but Le Du is all about subtlety. Example: Chances are you’ve had miang kam—betel leaves filled with coconut, dried shrimp, nuts, lime, garlic, ginger, chili, shallots and fish-sauce palm syrup. They are a rich mouthful. When presented here with what looks like a piece of charred sashimi in a cream sauce, it’s hard to see the resemblance to that common Thai snack that Ton says inspired him. But this cradle of pickled sea bass, coconut-and-ginger foam and betel leaves has enough key ingredients to evoke a distant echo of miang kam. Like a hint of a memory. Inception-style.
The hands-down champ on this no-misses menu is the local, free-range pork jowl, sous vided for 24 hours then grilled, served with pickled choy sum, a soft-boiled quail egg and five-spice-infused barley. Ton says he was inspired by the omnipresent street food khao ka moo, or stewed pork leg with rice—but ignore that. You won’t care about its origin story. The flavors on the plate are so complementary and the meat so buttery that, well, this pig stands alone. ledubkk.com; tasting menus from Bt2,290.