ISAANDoha Grand Hyatt P.O Box 24010, Doha, Qatar Tel: 448 1234
Delicious Thai has arrived in Doha. Isaan, the signature restaurant of the brand spanking new Doha Grand Hyatt, serves up Thai food right. The hotel itself sort of weighs on you, so the fact that Isaan opted for an open-plan kitchen design is automatically liberating. You can see chefs chopping, stirring and grilling, and guests glistening with subtle droplets of spice-induced sweat from across the room. If you prefer a calmer vantage, take a seat facing the gardens, pool and sea outdoors. Isaan, I’m illin your style.
On to the food review:
First, let me say, I love love love Thai food, and I’ve been to more than my fair share of Thai restaurants, including in the motherland itself. Second, I have a particular appreciation for Thai spices – fresh green peppercorns, red chilis and the like really do it for me. Third, I went to Isaan twice before deciding to write a review. Honestly, the I had to go back to make sure it wasn’t all a dream.
Isaan compares very favorably to every Thai restaurant I have ever been too, beating Land Thai and Tuk Tuk in New York, Bird Cage in Cairo, and Erawan in Bangkok. Their menu is divided equally into the following categories: Woks, Soups, Salads, Noodles, Clay Pots, Grilled, Fried. I sampled at least two dishes from every category, including: (1) squid shrimp vegetable noodle, (2) minced beef basil w/ chili (3) fish cakes (4) green curry w/ chicken (5) minced duck salad (6) red curry w/ grouper (7) beef tenderloin (8) seafood salad (9) shrimp souffle (10) beef galangal (11) beef shank and corainder (12) fish in banana leaf w/ five sauces (13) crab shell stuffed w/ mixed seafood (14) chicken in pandan leaf. As you can see, I had a bit of everything. So unlike my review of al-Khaimah, for which I was basically criticized as being a judgmental harridan, I am absolutely confident that this is a comprehensive review and a fair representation of what you might experience if you go to Isaan.
The best dishes were the spicy dishes. There is such a thing as too much spice – not that I can’t handle it, but an optimal level of spiciness should allow you to appreciate flavors beyond the spice. Isaan achieved the optimal. For the green curry, I specifically requested to substitute chicken for beef. The server had no problem with the modification, and in fact thought it a very good suggestion. It was a standout among the dishes, with its well-proportioned elements of chicken/chilis/baby eggplant/kafir lime leaf. Isaan added a surprisingly gritty texture to a classic curry dish, and the execution was flawless.
The minced beef basil was also a favorite. The basil leaves were especially fresh and substantial.
The duck salad blew my mind. It was so crisp and tangy, I think if I ate it every day I would be the happiest person alive. It was also astonishingly spicy, but in a most compelling way. The real zinger was the mystery crunch.
Duds: I have but three tiny complaints. Sorry but I have to. Without the Critique I would just be a Geek. That’s no fun. My complaints should not diminish my praise for what Isaan has accomplished. I guess I’m like that annoying teacher who refuses to give 100% to prove (for the avoidance of doubt) that nobody is perfect. But seriously, people need to strive for something.
1) The fish cakes – these are way too rubbery. A bit like chewing on a teething ring.
2) The shrimp, squid and vegetable noodle – this fell flat. It simply had no flavor. The seafood was fresh and juicy, but the sensation brought to mind dim sum, entirely too brothy and better left to the Cantonese.
3) The first time I went to Isaan the service was perfect. The servers had complete restaurant awareness. The manager, Michael Braun, left a distinctly good impression, friendly but not overbearing, decidated to and proud of the success of the restaurant. The second time I went, we were invisible to the servers. We had to go to great lengths to get their attention, at times enlisting the chef to find the server. Michael was nowhere to be seen last night. Michael didn’t strike me as a micromanager, and he shouldn’t have to look over shoulders or crack whips to motivate the staff.
Despite these minor quibbles, Isaan gets a standing ovation — and that’s before dessert. Trust me, you should NOT skip dessert. They don’t play around with chocolate fondants to appease the whites. They know what they are doing with Thai desserts. You have never had coconut ice cream as lovely as this one. I know, cashews are the most overrated nut ever, but focus on the ice cream itself. It is the perfect emphasis for ice / cream (not cream / ice) and has sizeable, I dare say enormous, chunks of REAL FRESH RAW coconut in it. The mango/lychee lingering around the ice cream is nice but the ice cream speaks for itself. It doesn’t really need these accroutements. Esp. the cashews. I take issue with cashews in general though, so if you like them, you should be really excited about this ice cream. The sticky rice / cococunt cream / mango – also a winner. And the fresh fruit was just a bonus that Mike threw in when my friend told him I was reviewing the place, but it’s worth ordering. It’s the plate of fresh fruits you would have in Koh Samui for breakfast – lychee, rambutan, Jewish mangos ;-), regular mangos, starfruit, etc.
CG officially crowns Isaan the best restaurant in Doha. I’m taking everyone who comes to visit me to Isaan for some Chang beer and thaimendously delicious eats. That’s a promise.