Two bites into a meal at Langbaan and you'll give up on everything you thought Thai food could be, and especially everything you thought it couldn't be. The first bite will always be miang som, the explosive, palate-cleansing burst of shrimp, citrus and bitter betel leaf that begins every meal at Earl Ninsom's tiny, reservation-only restaurant, which you enter by tripping a hidden latch on a bookshelf door at the back of Northeast 28th Avenue Thai spot PaaDee.
But if the first bite is an explosion, the second is a revelation. Kanom krok is usually a humble coconut-milk-filled rice pastry served on the streets of Thailand. But at prix-fixe Langbaan, the ancient dessert has been transformed into a savory ode to creaminess itself, served on an outsized scallop-shell plate like Venus in miniature. As your teeth crack a little rice cup as delicate as French pastry, your tongue meets a hillock of kaffir-accented scallop so tender it melts almost imperceptibly into sweet, galangal-deepened coconut milk. It's sensuous bliss, a wake-up caress to senses unprepared for such loveliness.
In the three years since chef Rassamee Ruaysuntia left Bangkok to join Ninsom at Langbaan, that dim, reclaimed-wood room has evolved from a disarmingly casual ode to Bangkok's legendary Nahm restaurant to a spot that stakes its own claim as one of the greatest Thai restaurants in the world, complete with expert wine pairings from Shift Drinks' Anthony Garcia that run from France to Oregon and back to write a new book on wine pairing. And unlike nearly every other $70 prix-fixe restaurant of its caliber, Langbaan never feels priestly or staid: The mood is too much fun, the pacing too brisk, the colors and flavors too bright and surprising.
While the September menu paid tribute to Nahm chef David Thompson, it also showed just how much Langbaan has left that influence behind, from those appetizer standbys to a world-changing yum makhua pao tomato-eggplant plate straining the possibilities of both ingredients: Langbaan soaks the eggplant in bright tomato water and sounds the depths of eggplant with a charred purée that's like eggplant napalm, a chef's weapon gone nuclear.
By the time the three-plate main savory course rolls around—an explosion of searing red curry and pepper pods, fermented ground-beef relish and squid soaked in garlic-chili vinaigrette—you've been lulled into a luxuriant stupor. That bright, wild spice comes on like sex after a wholly different meal, a firework-filled climax that's eased back into soothing sweetness by an ungodly delicious coconut-ash dessert touched by warming grapefruit meringue. When they bring your second dessert, made with banana-leaf ice cream, it's hard to believe you're still alive and that the rest of the world remains unchanged.
Pro tip: Langbaan is famously reserved out months and months in advance, but if you diligently check the website each day in the morning and follow the Facebook page for updates, you can probably score a cancellation table within the week.