Was it authentic? Don't know. I've never been to Thailand. I do know Thai flavors. I know how the best ones make me feel and that's insanely clean, led by rice vinegar, good chilies, garlic, soy and fish sauce. Hot, clean, deep, refreshing and good. And when you can eat red meat while never feeling like you're EATING RED MEAT, that's a success. Pair it with two wines where each mingles perfectly with one of the two elements on the plate and that makes for happy-slappy home flavors.
Food: Thai hanger steak and papaya salad
Recipe here. Yep. Bobby Flay. Hanger steak marinated in seven cloves of garlic, Thai bird chiles (bought at Golden Pacific - Broadway), soy sauce, fresh lime juice, honey, and peanut oil (available at Asian markets and WholeFoods), seared medium-rare. Papaya salad made for shredded green papaya (Golden Pacific - cheap), shredded carrots and inland cress, topped with tons of cilantro and roasted peanuts. Dressing made with three Thai bird chiles, shallots, mint, rice vinegar, sugar and fish sauce. Leftover dressing drizzled over meat. Rice made with lemongrass, served on the side.
Red meat so light with marinade lifting all of it. Lemongrass in the rice nicely mixing with the papaya salad, adding a seemingly critical component. Papaya salad with a perfect touch of heat, crunchiness, depth and just all around deliciousness. Great flavors, broad flavors, big flavors, light flavors, big success. Authentic recipe? Take a look. This isn't really authentic papaya salad (no long beans, no tomato, no freshly smashed garlic, etc.) but it's close. Just bought a muddler ($8!). Didn't use it, thinking I'd try this recipe and use it as a starting point. High starting point in my book. This went quite deep.
Even bigger success with the wine pairing.
Wine: NV Champalou Pétillant Vouvray Brut ($22 - Binny's) & 2009 Edition Maximillion Riesling Spätlese Late Harvest ($8 - Trader Joe's)
All the chenin blanc goodness in bubbles form. Wooly stuff with a large mineral core. Interesting enough on its own, though wouldn't say it's packed with tons of character. It's just good Vouvray sparkling with a body and minerals that scream for food. Because WITH the papaya salad, this turned into all rocks with a enormously refreshing finish. Huge recommendation here with clean and spicy food flavors.
The riesling is a basic sweet number for $8 at TJ's, defined by its surprising delicateness more than anything else. In this price range, riesling spätlese typically comes off clunky and cloying. This is lifted and light and was the surprise of the night, as it was pretty goshdarn perfect with the hanger steak. Both elements found the best versions of themselves with a drink and sip of each, highlighting the marinade in the meat and turning the wine into something quite ethereal. Eight bucks and ethereal aren't two things that are usually said in the same sentence. Was here.
Pairing: One of the most surprising pairings in a good long while
Following a standard wine pairing rule, we hit the jackpot. Spicy Asian flavors? Bring some sugar or bring some bubbles. We brought both. Near-perfect pairing here with the riesling and the hanger steak and the Vouvray with the papaya salad. The true-blue success, though, came in the happenstance of how deep, yet light, edgy and lifting the food was with wine that did the same with each element. Sort of ordinary wine on its own. Fancy wine with the food. Drink wine with food. It's why they make the stuff.
Korean food highlights its depth. Japanese, its delicateness contrasted with a pop. Chinese flavors emphasize their bigness with more of an in-your-face impression. You eat it and know what it is the second it hits your tongue with smaller secrets coming later. Indian food's joy comes in the "greater than the sum of its parts" goodness. You find a huge joy while you're eating it but appreciate its joy more after it's been consumed. Tastes like ancient food. You taste the history. Thai flavors hold their place in the goodness realm by emphasizing its simplicity. You can taste every ingredient and every ingredient serves a purpose. No frills, no ruffles. Just salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami. It's why it's G-O-O-D, good.
Broad Asian food world out there. All of them entirely different. All of them uniquely great. And all of them work oh-so well with wine. Buck the steak and cab dullness. Too big of a food and wine world not to.