Barley and blood. Mix the two and you’ve got the beginnings of a black pudding. Substitute rice for the barley and you’re on your way to another blood sausage, the northern Thai dish kao kan jin. Unlike its European cousin, this ruddy parcel is wrapped (and served) in banana leaves rather than sausage casing, its sanguine base marinated with lemongrass leaves. At Chiang Mai (293 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn; 646-858-5185) in Red Hook, unearthing the rust-colored mixture of jasmine and sticky rices from its verdant pouch reveals layers of ground pork. Murky and earthy, it shares the plate with cucumber slices, chopped shallots and scallions, and stalks of cilantro for sharp contrast.
It’s a dish I’d eat every day. Sad to say, my appetite will be irrelevant unless chef Kanlaya Supachana finds a permanent space for Chiang Mai. A few months ago she left her previous venture, Kao Soy, in a split from business/domestic partner Carlos Padillo. Having traded stability for creative and personal freedom, Supachana has temporarily relocated a mere half-block south on Van Brunt Street, where she operates a pop-up out of the quirky housewares shop Home/Made. The space is small but comfortable, thanks to generously spaced tables; you won’t feel squeezed unless seated at the four-seat bar. Even then, Supachana’s uninhibited cooking and her staff’s cheery service will offer ample compensation.
Nose-to-tail eating typically occurs as part of a groaning-board feast. But here you can devour an array of pig parts without moving past the appetizer section, labeled “Small Dishes.” Like the kao kan jin, jin som mok arrives in a banana leaf, but this steamed package contains pungent fermented ground pork, strips of pig skin, and crunchy pig’s ears. Wrap hunks of the magical pork-scrap meatball in lettuce leaves and sprinkle them with peanuts, diced onions, and ginger — and, if you dare, a scattering of mince-it-yourself bird’s-eye pepper. Tum kanoon finds tomatoes and shredded jackfruit stirred with curry paste and topped with slivers of sweet, chewy pork belly and fried hibiscus blossoms; a pile of crisp pork rinds sits to the side. Spear a bit of everything on your fork, taste, and fall silent.
Among the main courses, khao soi, a hot and heady soup from which Supachana’s previous venture derived its name, radiates with the same low hum of chile heat that plateaus to a tingle. A pair of chicken drumsticks hides at the bottom of your deep bowl, sunk in an aromatic, coconut-milk-based curry loaded with egg noodles and crowned with a nest of the same pasta, fried to a crisp. Other entrées include coarsely ground sai ua sausage, which comes sliced and paired with several accoutrements, including slabs of bologna-like pork pâté and a fiery mash of green chiles. Partnered with longtime friend and kitchen co-conspirator Sirichai Sreparplarn, Supachana, a Chiang Mai native who inherited her love of cooking from her father, constantly references family recipes. Among them, kang hung leh might be the heartiest. She plates the salty-sweet Burmese-style pork belly and shoulder curry with grilled rib tips on the side.
Half of the menu is devoted to seasonal dishes. During summer that translated to thick, snappy slices of raw green mango served with a sticky sweet dipping sauce stocked with shallots and chiles. Grilled dishes included beef meatballs, smoky squid, and head-on prawns. Supachana serves up one hell of a medium-rare hanger steak, presented in backyard-barbecue fashion with simply grilled vegetables and a chile-lime dipping sauce.
Chiang Mai has wine, but I didn’t order any. You won’t find a better beer list in any local Thai restaurant. There are 26 options in all, arranged according to brewing style — from pale ales to pilsners, saisons, scotch ales, and ciders. Most are priced at less than $10; three are available on tap.
With a time limit placed on their temporary experiment, Supachana and her team work with a palpable energy. Given a little luck, they’ll find a home when the current arrangement expires at the end of this year. The pleasures of a French cider sipped with banana blossom fritters may be fleeting, but Chiang Mai ought to be more than just a memory.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 22, 2015