Have you ever had an “envy crush”? Someone who, irritatingly and without fail, always managed to hold up a mirror to your own inadequacies and failures? Someone whose inevitable and apparently easily-won success you always applaud, but with a little seed of dread in your heart?
What is an “envy crush”? It’s a sneaking, reluctant admiration mixed with a dose of self-loathing. Which is how I feel about the proprietor of Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Thonglor, (085) 904-2691), an unassuming restaurant close to home that is generating some healthy buzz.
The owner of the restaurant (OK, OK, it’s Jarrett Wrisley) is a completely inoffensive person who does not deserve crazed people like myself writing about him. Yet here we are. Him: “a long-time food journalist for beloved American magazine The Atlantic and elsewhere” (BK Magazine). Me: not able to get paid unless I write something about GDP or which investment bank is underwriting the latest corporate bond issue from Blah Blah Co. Also, I sometimes read The Atlantic. Him: “…quietly earning a fanbase with cuisine inspired simply by what’s fresh in the market” (CNNGo.com). Me: hoping, someday, to open a restaurant, northern Thai, named after my grandmother. Or, you know. Hoping someday to get paid to write about it. Either one.
Actually, I did correspond with Mr. Wrisley once before. On this site, in fact. I wrote something negative about — not ashamed to say it anymore — Krua Aroy Aroy, especially in regards to their kanom jeen nam ngiew, which is a dish of particular importance to me. Jarrett said I painted the restaurant as a tourist trap, which it isn’t exactly … not in terms of food or execution, at least (in spirit, maybe. I still think they are the Thai street food equivalent of Pierre Cardin). He was sort of right … but never mind. We have agreed to (sort of) disagree.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wish bad things to happen to this person. I wish him all the success in the world — showcasing the soulful stylings of Thai home cooking and sometimes adding a few American twists is genius, and his food has more “soul” than, say, Krua Aroy Aroy (no, can’t let it go). But I’m happy with that success only to a certain point. Because if his column for The Atlantic gets optioned for a Hollywood movie (pitched as “Under the Tuscan Sun for hipsters”)** and he is played by James Franco and the movie becomes the worldwide success “Eat, Pray, Love” was supposed to be, then I will just have to go shoot myself.
So imagine my dismay when I actually go, and try the northern Thai “nam prik two ways”: roasted banana pepper dip, thick with tiny slivers of garlic, and tomato-and-ground-pork nam prik ong, garnished with tiny pork rinds, quail eggs and fresh vegetables. Or the “one-bite chicken wings”, dusted with ginger, garnished liberally with torn kaffir lime leaves. Or (and I love/hate this most of all), the fried chicken, heavily peppered and fried to a deep, crackling amber, eye-tearingly delicious and accompanied with a sweet chili sauce and clever little chunks of pickled watermelon rind.
A few things: it’s a tourist trap. No, just kidding! Ha ha. I’m so funny. What I meant to say is, it’s early days for this restaurant, so not everything is ironed out yet (but it will be, success is infuriatingly inevitable). The bathroom has to deal with some kinks. Also, our krapao ped order fell through the cracks. Not sure if Jarrett should appoint a maitre’d or an executive chef? Because supervising the dining room AND the pass are hard jobs, particularly when they are on separate floors.
Also, it’s so dark that I couldn’t take any pictures. But it’s also so dark that no one could see what I really look like so … never mind! If you want to see what the food looks like, go to http://www.soulfoodmahanakorn.com (no, I do not know how to link to other places. I am old. Also, I went to Bryn Mawr. Just kidding again, @SpecialKRB!).
**Carey Mulligan shows up as a young British backpacker who tries to run out on her check. My character (played by George Takei) also makes a brief cameo, before I meet a grisly end when my hairspray catches on fire. I am full of these ideas. Call me, Hollywood!