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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Isaan Restaurant Review, Som Tam Dok Rak - The Circle on Ratchapruek

Som Tam Dok Rak by Indie's Kitchen - Isaan food, menu of 40 papaya salads - The Circle on Ratchapruek road 




Overall Score  8/10
Taste   4/5
Ambiance  3/5
Service  5/5
Value   3/5

See more details about Sok Tam Dok Rak @ www.BumRes.com


People in Bangkok are so fond of Isaan food (Northeastern Thailand).  Papaya salad or what is called Som Tam is so popular and it can be found everywhere in this city.  It is seen in a variety of vendors ranging from curbside carts to Thai restaurants in Hotels.  Often time Thai people tend to go to the street side one with the native Isaan people cooking.  The appeal is much more authentic being on the streets but hygiene becomes an issue sometimes.  With health concerns, there are more and more Som Tam restaurants in all sorts of malls.  Som Tam Dok Rak is one of them, serving a handful Isaan food with the focus on the creativity added to the authentic taste of Som Tam.





Dok Rak in Thai means the flower of love.  Som Tam Dok Rak is operated by the Indie’s Kitchen.  Under this management, there are three other restaurants also named after Thai flowers.  The Mali, which means jasmine, is serving Hong Kong style blended with common Thai and Chinese specialties.  Kooon is serving Thai style Izakaya.  And lastly the Mali Sorn, which is a more compact version of Mali, selling healthy choices and single serving dishes.  However, this review is only about the Som Tam Dok Rak @ the Circle Ratchapruek.




The Som Tam Dok Rak is located at the Circle, a community mall in the urbanized part of Bangkok.  This outdoor shopping avenue has been attracting a diverse group of people living in this part of town, varied from families to working individuals coming friends.  I have been there a few times but I never got to eat at the Som Tam Dok Rak.  I think it is a perfect place for girls to go with friends.  Thai girls can’t live without Som Tam.  As we all know, papaya salad is an incredible creation in Thai cuisine.  People from anywhere in the world who knows Thai food, must have tasted the spicy and tangy charm of Som Tam before.  The papaya salad is known as a healthy choice and it always come with distinctive Thai flavors; spicy, sweet, and tangy.  I must admit that it one of the most loved dish in Thai cuisine. 


It is not easy to fail with papaya salad, though the balance of flavors is the trick for any papaya vendors to impress their customers and keep them coming back.  However, the Som Tam Dok Rak isn’t exactly impressing people with only the flavors, it is the imagination that they put in their Som Tam.  I was so surprised to see the menu with over 40 different choices of Som Tam.  My reaction was like, what on earth is this; a Som Tam fantasy land? No joke, it is.  I can’t list all of them here.  Check out the photos menu.  I have never been so stunned ordering food at an Isaan restaurant before.  Thai people usually have their own picks, no need look at the menu sometimes. But here was a different story.  I was puzzled by all fancy papaya salads, especially when looking at the photos.  I couldn’t have them all but I got to try a few.   





In the department of green papaya salads, the dressing really tasted nearly the same but it was the context of ingredients that changed the character of each Som-Tum creation.  Except for one menu that was a bit extreme, the Tempura one.  These papaya salads are priced higher than most places, of course.  It’s in the community mall and for the good ingredients, it is not as bad, I guess.  Anyways, let me list what got to try here below, starting with the one I liked most. 

- Green Mango and Apple Salad with Crispy Tuna (120 baht) – I loved the crispy fish and the apple.  I never thought that I would go great together.
- Mandarin Orange Salad with grilled prawns (250 baht) – the orange offered the slight fresh sweet flavor here that I liked.
- Green papaya rolls and Enokitake Mushroom Tempura with Spicy dipping sauce (150 baht) – This one would win the creativity award.  The rolls can be done better with the papaya but I love the Mushroom tempura with the original flavor papaya sauce.
- Som Tam Dok Rak, green papaya salad with crispy soft shell crab (180 baht) – Named after the restaurant.  This one was a basic Som Tam with the valuable addition of the crab.    
- Green Papaya Salad with Red Ant Eggs (100 baht) – I never had the ant eggs before so I didn’t like it at all.  I think people who like it would probably enjoy this one.






Other Isaan dishes in this meal were average good.  We had the Tom Zaap – Hot and sour pork spare ribs soup.  It was done right; tasted spicy and the pork was good and tender.  Next was the Deep fried Tubtim fish with Thai herbs (200 baht) – supposed to be the highlight.  It looked fantastic with the crispy fried shredded lemongrass topping.  The fish was in pieces, easy to eat.  But I don’t know, for some reason it didn’t impress me as much.  Perhaps I let it sit too long and it wasn’t as crispy.  And we also tried the grilled beef.  Good portion, good Jaew (spicy sauce), but the beef could be more juicy.  It was a bit dry.  Looked like it wasn’t made to order; must have been cooked ahead of the time.  Along this meal, we had the black sticky rice on the side to compliment everything on the table.  I liked it; healthier substitution to the typical white sticky rice.  We also tried the buttery white rice with coconut cream.  I didn’t like the hint of sweet and the coconut aroma in it.  My friends like it though.  These rice selections are not found in most Isaan street vendors.  It’s good to try, may be you will like it.   





  






About the atmosphere, the restaurant was furnished with light tone wood décor but it was the pink color band with orange bubbles spanning from wall to ceiling that made the place very girly.  I preferred the area with high ceiling, much more spacious than tunnel like area off to the left at entrance.  The division of the interior space was well thought of but the decoration as whole was rather awkward to me but it will do – at least for a restaurant in a mall.









My late lunch at the Som Tam Dok Rak was satisfied overall.  I liked how they created all the different papaya salads.  I mean, it is a great selling point.  A market differentiation – that is what it is.  This is the kind of place that I would brag to my girl friends because I know for sure that they would get really excited about. It is pretty obvious that the target group at the Som Tam Dok Rak is the ladies.  In my opinion, this brand is doing great job.  The food was fast and the service staffs were attentive.  I am not sure how many branches there are in Bangkok now.  Quite a few, like five or six.  I know there is one at the Rainhill on Sukhumvit road and another one at the Central Rama 9.  If you feel like having papaya salads, Som Tam Dok Rak is good call.   





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