Friday, November 30, 2012

Dining on the Rocks in Koh Samui

On the last night of our honeymoon, my husband insisted that we splurge on a fancy meal at a famous restaurant at the Six Sense Samui Resort, called Dining On The Rocks. "It features molecular gastronomy," he told me.

I have no idea what molecular gastronomy actually is. Wikipedia says it's "a subdiscipline of food science that seeks to investigate, explain and make practical use of the physical and chemical transformations of ingredients that occur while cooking, as well as the social, artistic and technical components of culinary and gastronomic phenomena in general." That means nothing to me. My husband tried to explain it again: "It's the kind of stuff that they do when they take one food, deconstruct it and make it look like something else."

"That's what our friends' babies do with every meal," I said.

My husband tried again. "It's like a jazz song. You might not totally understand what's going on with every note, but you go along with the ride and appreciate the overall tone." That I sort of understood. Besides, I don't actually need much convincing to go out and eat more food.

We waved down a taxi. The taxi driver, a short tomboyish Thai woman, had her eyes light up when we told her we wanted to go to the Six Senses Resort. We didn't know why, but we eventually figured out it was because resort was really far away in a secluded place and she'd be making a healthy fare from our ride.

If you are a celebrity reading my blog (I know there are so many), I highly suggest going to the Six Senses Resort in Ko Samui if you want to get away from the world and enjoy a vacation in privacy. It's a beautiful spot at the northern tip of the island, with a breathtaking view but an astonishing amount of privacy, deep in the woods and far away from everything. Each villa is hidden from sight, tucked away from the main road down long paths. Guests who don't have a private driver get around on golf carts driven around by resort staff. It's an absolutely gorgeous location where the restaurant Dining on the Rocks is located, high up on the cliffs with a panoramic view of the sea. The restaurant is a relatively small one, with only about six tables indoors. We were seated comfortably at a table at the end of the bar, close enough to the edge of the cliff to feel the sea spraying into the air.  It had a bit of a campy feel to it, being halfway outside with the occasional fly passing by.

The restaurant menu offered a number of set courses for guests to try. My husband ambitiously chose the "Experience" set menu, a ten course meal featuring a spectrum of intriguing food ideas, one of those courses apparently being air. I selected the more modest "5 on the rocks"; five courses was going to be enough of a challenge for me to tackle.

can't wait for bread... must not fill up on bread...

We ordered a bottle of Australian shiraz merlot wine called Moon. Despite being one of the more modestly priced bottles on the wine list, it turned out to be a perfect accompaniment for the rest of our meal, since we weren't opting to go for the suggested set wine course. It also went well with the opening bread with pureed red peppers and garlic.

as a starter, we were both given a taste of duck and scallop with an almond puree.. I knew we were in for a spectacular treat for the next few hours...

His First Course: "oyster rockefella non traditional with rocket and bacon."

Part of the adventure, in reference to my husband's comment about jazz songs, is that you don't always understand what you're eating. What's that white creamy stuff? Is that an egg? You kind of end up just going with it, closing your eyes, and trying to figure out what tastes you can recognize. And if you can't place a name on the taste in your mouth - who cares. It's still tasty.

"I dare you to ask for ketchup," I said.

Her First Course: "scallop in apple-coriander water, almond powder, pumpkin and bacon."

"What are these bubbles?" I asked curiously. "Is that my scallop living and breathing? How did they do that?" There was a line of sauce that was holding back the apple-coriander water like a dam on my plate. I took pleasure in breaking the saucy barrier and having the liquid burst forth like a culinary flood on my plate. Presentation is fun. Messing it up (my "deconstruction") is even more fun.

His Second Course: "hamachi zushi destroyed and redone, sea vegetable, rice, wasabi & lime air.”

Oh, so that's what the bubbles were - lime air. Not that it actually answered any of my questions.  This dish was a great example of the unique creativity of the menu, taking traditional Asian concepts and adding a modern twist.  Okay, so like every Asian fusion restaurant in the world claims do to that, but there's something about the way that Asian fusion is done in Asia, and particularly here.  Here, it's not just Asian food + Western food = I am so clever.  Here it is Asian food + smash it up, rearrange it, add some bubbles and random other ingredients cooked in a way that nobody will ever figure it out, in order to produce the most interesting symphony of flavours in your mouth.

His Third Course: "salmon teriyaki, simply."

The salmon teriyaki plate was not all that simple. Those little reddish balls that you see are what the server described as teriyaki caviar, little bursts of teriyaki sauce held in by its own skin. I have no idea how they do that.  I'm not sure who could go back to regular salmon teriyakis after this.

Her Second Course: "canned tuna fish sandwich, brioche, potato puree, olive oil powder."

I love tuna fish sandwiches!  I loved it when my mom packed tuna fish sandwiches for me for lunch. This tuna fish sandwich also came in a lunch bag....

...and in a special tuna can explaining, sort of, what was in the "sandwich". It was nothing like my mother's tuna fish sandwiches, but then you know, my mom never left the sandwiches in the can.  The onions and tomato salsa added just the right kick of flavour, although the can was a bit difficult to eat out of.

His Fourth Course: "paella, prawn, squid, clam, chorizo and saffron."

So I was beginning to notice more and more how the menu was like a jazz song. Have you ever heard jazz pianist Brad Mehldau's musical interpretation of Radiohead's Exit Music? You should. In fact, play this video while you read the rest of this entry.

You recognize the song that he's playing because the theme is there; you can follow the melody.  But right around where he hits the lyrical line, "now we are one in everlasting peace" he takes the liberty to go all over the place, throwing in all sorts of new ideas and tunes while keeping just enough of the theme to reassure you that this is still the same song.  I've heard at least three different versions of Brad Mehldau playing this song, and every one of them was enthralling.  I mean, it's what all jazz musicians do, like Lester Young's brilliant take on "Body and Soul", amirite? I just chose this Brad Mehldau example because I love Brad Mehldau and who doesn't recognize Radiohead.

Anyway, that's basically what these guys were doing with the food. The menu announced a theme for each item, a theme that you would keep in mind when presented with a plate that looked nothing like the theme and yet, somehow, tasted just like the paella your mom used to make, while also being completely different. Chew chew chew...there's the paprika....chew chew chew...there's the saffron....chew chew chew...what is that?....chew chew chew...swallow.

Her third course: "tomorrow’s chicken burrito, mole, avocado and fresh cheese, smooth bean and grilled tortilla sand."

Again, like a Brad Mehldau jazz masterpiece.  Looked nothing like a burrito, and honestly, I couldn't tell from sight which pile was the mole, which pile was the beans, but mix it up and eat it all together: there's the burrito in my mouth.  Looks like "deconstruction" meant more than what I was doing with my fork and stomach acid.

His fifth course: "hot dog, onion, ketchup and grain mustard."

 It looked nothing like a hot dog, but tasted exactly like a hot dog.  On the left there, you see mustard ice cream. In the middle, the meat, with ketchup caviar on top, little ketchup balls held together by its own hardened skin. To the right, cheese!

His sixth course: "duck and coke, root vegetables and spicy popcorn."

I had never thought to put popcorn with duck or vegetables.  Nor have I ever had the brilliance to think about making Coca Cola jelly.  Holy duck! The possibilities...

His seventh course: "pomelo CO2."


This course was not, as I originally thought, air. It was essentially carbonated pomelo fruit.  The explosive combination of the sourness of the fruit with the sprinkled salt made it feel like a delicious gunshot in my mouth. I repeat: delicious gunshot in my mouth. I actually bucked my head back when I put it on my tongue.

Her fourth course: "lamb: 24 hr. lamb shoulder & 15 min. rack complimented with Mediterranean flavours."

This dish was daunting.  Even though I'd only eaten three courses before this main, unlike my husband who was now on his eighth, my tummy was getting filled up and it didn't seem like the restaurant had a vomitorium.  Every bite was rich with flavour and I didn't want to waste a crumb...but my overwhelmed brain was begging for a break. That was a lot of jazz for one night.

His eighth course: "wagyu beef rib eye in adobo, garlic and potatoes."


This was my husband's seccond time this week eating wagyu beef.  It's so rare for us as Canadians to come across Japanese wagyu beef that you really can't eat too much wagyu beef (unless, of course, you don't have a bottomless bank account - which, come to think of it, we didn't).

By the main course, I was feeling destroyed and as deconstructed as my dishes. The server took a look at us and, pitying us, announced a break before dessert, leaving us toothpicks.  This may be all in my head, but it seemed like even the toothpicks were of a superior quality.

Her fifth and final course, thank god: "variations in dark chocolate….taste, texture, temperature."

Like Thelonius Monk's particular brand of bebop, I didn't totally understand everything that was happening on this plate, but I had no problem with it. When it comes to chocolate, to put it in the words of Ellie Goulding, anything can happen, and dammit, I want it all to happen in my mouth.

His ninth course: "peanut butter and jelly, buttery bread and crispy milk, semi dried grapes."

fancy PB&J! All the was missing was our mothers reading us a bedtime story.  My husband was lucky. He also got another dessert:

His tenth course: "making a reference to a campfire: graham wafer and chocolate, charred marshmallow and smoked vanilla, contrasted with passion fruit."

After extensive traveling, I've come to realize that s'mores is actually a uniquely North American snack that many parts of the world has not had the privilege to experience.  In Namibia, I had the pleasure of introducing the concept of s'mores to my African friends when we went camping, and obviously they liked it. Who doesn't like s'mores?  Imagine my pleasant surprise in seeing it pop up in this Asian part of the world, deconstructed and redone and damn delicious.

so fully. so very very full.

After many hours of eating and drinking and thinking about what we were eating and drinking, we were feeling pretty tired by the end. But happy.  If I could make one suggestion for the restaurant, it would be that they should provide wheelbarrows for guests leaving the table so they can push their stomachs along in them.  But I guess the golf carts did the trick too.