CUISINE DE GARDEN – The science of molecular gastronomy

Cuisine de Garden is a chic little establishment that marches to the rhythm of its own drum. This delightful restaurant is in a slightly out-of-the-way but easily accessible street in the enclave of Nong Khwai – about 20-30 minutes’ drive south from the heart of Chiang Mai city.

A high wall hides the 24-seat restaurant from the outside world, and once inside, diners are cocooned in a sleek modernist space of rough-hewn wooden ceiling beams, grey concrete floors and white walls. The tastefully dim lit, stainless steel and black tiled kitchen is the focal point of this cozy bistro.

Cuisine de Garden’s dégustation menu showcases its philosophy of bringing what is now known as ‘molecular gastronomy’, in the style of Blumenthal or Adria, to Chiang Mai. Maybe the globetrotting gastronome would have seen such techniques at other establishments elsewhere in the world, but it is still fun to witness such relatively-recent frontiers in haute cuisine here in northern Thailand.

Chef-owner Leelawat ‘Nan’ Mankongtiphan does it with panache – the Nitro Poached Pineapple Foam is a standout starter, served gueridon style with a bucket of smoky liquid nitrogen. The spherification of tangy pineapple juice, embellished with strands of pork floss and chili is another charming amuse-bouche, and makes a refreshing prologue to the courses that follow.

A stunning Zen garden of a seafood platter features a New Zealand black mussel with tomato chutney in a squid-ink shell. This edible shell is fashioned using the classic Thai krathong thong technique and mostly serves to display the succulent mussel, yet it embodies the absolute best of what ‘fusion’ is all about, beautifully combining the best of two different worlds.

The jewel of a yuzu-marinated tuna with lime and caviar is a melt-in-your-mouth delight, as is the salmon tartare that combines perfectly with its ikura and sorrel leaf topping. The single prawn, with its piquant red pepper pesto, is sweet and juicy. This is a visual as well as epicurean feast.

The Terrarium – a salad of Spanish jamón and fresh orange confit – is a miniature work of art. And the charming Nest, an organic soft-boiled egg on crispy rice noodles with shredded chicken and a truffled chicken jus is a whimsical allegory straight out of a child’s picture-book.

Then, an Australian wagyu tartare: a brilliant take on classic steak tartare with its dusting of a charcoal granita. Compared to the colorful artist’s palette of the preceding courses, the tartare looks deceptively subdued, but its looks belie the explosion of sumptuous flavor in every mouthful.

End your gastronomic adventure with the superb chocolate cake and its outstanding green tea sauce. Also, the wine list here is excellent and well-composed – ask the sommelier; you won’t be disappointed.

In today’s globalized food scene, ‘fusion’ is almost a hackneyed term, but Chef Nan’s approach combines inspiration with courage, and as long as there is creativity and passion, there will always be new combinations of flavors and textures to explore.

Cuisine de Garden is the sort of place you’d go to when you want something different yet well worth the effort to get there, and it will exceed your expectations on all counts.

E-Table Asia In Chiang Mai