Maenam, Vancouver

February 2015.

Terrific cuisine. The food is so good you can actually ignore the cranium-shattering noise and indifferent service. Chef Angus An (whose Gastropod in the same location closed in favour of Maenam) knows how to put flavour and consistency together for wonderful varied tangy Southeast Asian happiness.

We were four. Walking in at 6 PM on a weekday two tables are occupied, one with a crowd of about eight diners. A staff of five is in a group at the end of the bar preoccupied with itself. The welcome is perfunctory. We were seated at the front and the noise, just emanating from the one group table, didn’t bode well. I walked back to the little semi-mezzanine at the rear and it was quieter with its lower ceiling, but there were only 2-diner tables there so we just had to turn down our hearing aids. Two of us arrived 10 minutes ahead, and getting a drink required standing up and shouting to attract server’s attention.

They offer a $30 per person tasting menu between two people and we went for it. There are side dishes, starters, and mains, the latter divided among salad, curry, and stirfry. You get two starters, and two of each of the three classes of mains for your $30 each. A pretty good deal if you’re hungry.

Here’s what we ate: steamed mussels with lemongrass and Thai basil (delicious fresh soft mussels with plenty of citrus and chili flavour); caramelized pork belly salad (beautifully seasoned soft pork with not too much underdone vegetable); some other salad dish, I forget; aromatic curry of duck leg (packed with flavour but the duck was shredded and overcooked in the sauce); aromatic curry of assorted vegetables (just delicious with the vegetables beautifully softened and a completely different curry experience than the duck); 3-flavour pork ribs (I don’t remember the specific three flavours but the meat was tender); 8 spice crispy lingcod (this was a delicious fish roasted on its bones, which came away tenderly and like everything else packed with varied and electrifying south Asian flavour).

We went with the two wines recommended to go with the early and later courses, a Meyer riesling (a wine I don’t see listed on the menu and can’t find online so don’t know the price), which was a perfectly respectable Alsace-style off dry white very nice with the Asian flavours, and a Tantalus “clone 93” pinot noir (about $25 retail so probably $50 in the restaurant) which was a respectable light red with new world pinot noir character. Unusually in my experience both of these wines were at worst inoffensive with the food, and at times connected up pretty nicely.

About $60 each pre-tip including the wine. We certainly had plenty to eat, and the two not-bad bottles probably amounted to $20+ per person.

Food 9.1, service 6.3, ambience 6.6, value 7.2. Yes, I’d go back, just for the delicious Thai taste.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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