Have you ever had dinner in a dream?
You know, that dream dinner where you’re seated in a sunlit room by the seaside, served courses of small plates styled to impossible perfection in artistry, but most importantly are delicious, with some dishes arriving (literally) on a cloud to your table?
That kind of dinner dream is an actual reality at Steveston’s Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine.
Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine opened in early 2021 in a new bird’s-eye-chilli-pepper-red building on the waterfront at Imperial Landing.
Chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng and her husband, the Steveston locals behind Baan Lao, dreamt of introducing ‘fine’ Thai dining to Canada, in a world where most restaurants serve Thai food family-style, on platters passed around the table.
Chef Nutcha Phanthoupheng creates authentic Thai food with layered, complex flavours using fresh organic ingredients and an eye for presentation.
She trained under Chef Chumpol Jangprai, Thailand’s Iron Chef who has a restaurant with two Michelin stars. She was also tutored privately under Chef Vichit Mukura, who has earned Michelin recognition and served the Thai Royal family.
Chef Nutcha is hyper-focused on the minutiae of styling her dishes, but the proof, as they say, is in the (coconut) pudding. This soft-spoken young woman is a talented chef with a previous life as a nurse and cancer researcher that influences her clean, wellness-driven, organic cooking.
The restaurant offers a signature 9-course dinner menu that immerses guests into an experience meant to roll slow. After being seated guests are greeted with a Thai dance performance, then an amuse bouche presented by a server carrying a traditional shoulder pole with two baskets containing a bite of stir-fried, minced Berkshire pork with Thai herbs. An impressive start.
If it is true that we eat with our eyes first, then the appetizers will more than satisfy.
Porcelain spoons of bite-sized dumplings, also known as money bags, and a julienned green papaya salad cover the essential Thai flavours of sweet, salty, spicy, and sour in a single bite.
Now to keep you on your toes, the Yam Neuua arrives, a sliver of charcoal-grilled Sumas Mountain organic, grass-fed beef tenderloin served in a hollow glass bowl with dry ice in the opening—remember the aforementioned dream cloud?
Time for a palate cleanse. A small glass of pandan and lemongrass juice, considered a healing elixir with hints of rose and almond, is placed on the table. If this is medicine, we’ll never need that spoonful of sugar to help it go down again.
The main courses start with Pad Thai wrapped in the most exquisite lacey, egg net, with hand-pressed tamarind and fresh tiger prawn.
Still in awe about how you thought you knew Pad Thai, but clearly had never lived before Chef Nutcha’s, the Thom Yum soup arrives, served in a Japanese coffee maker. The coffee maker siphons the broth through an attached vessel containing galangal, lemongrass, Thai basil, and cilantro before being table-poured into your bowl, where prawns and mushrooms wait patiently.
Next up? We’re glad you’re sitting down for this showstopper.
Servers lift glass domes filled with an ethereal cloud to reveal a sous vide duck breast dish on a sauce of red curry. Organic riceberry (also known as red rice) and Thai jasmine rice accompany, both grown in the restaurant-owned rice fields in Thailand.
The signature wild sockeye salmon dish follows, marinated for twenty-four hours, and topped with a generous dollop of OceanWise Acadian Caviar, Italian gold leaf, on a classic green curry.
Time for dessert. Coconut glutinous rice topped with mango petals, a coconut milk jelly set in a tiny Koi fish mold, and coconut milk ice cream share a plate. Hand-carved fresh fruit follows, and it’s the luuk choop, much like marzipan, that is hand-crafted into a tiny chili shape so realistic that you nibble it carefully – just in case.
Baan Lao’s décor of creamy white and warm wood, a prep table that sits atop an antique-style bicycle, tall snake plants in deep white planter boxes, and walls of windows including glass roll-up garage doors, offer an elegant, peaceful vibe.
Every item you touch on the table is exceptional and seems clearly deliberated before choosing by the Phanthouphengs.
The flatware, for instance, is the same brand used by the Thai Royal Family, minus their crest. MarkThomas “double bend” handblown glass and stemware is worthy of the carefully created wine list. Every plate, bowl and teacup were carefully selected for its task, and the effort is not wasted on the dinner guest.
Wine pairings were selected by Master Sommelier, Pier-Alexis Soulière, Best Sommelier of the Americas by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale. Tea pairings were chosen by TAC Certified Tea Sommelier, Emmanuelle Viennois, and the cocktail list is the brainchild of Kaitlyn Stewart, named World Class Bartender of the Year in 2017 during the World Class Cocktail Competition in Mexico City.