When kBird owner and Thai food apostle Richard Glasgow announced a series of three ticketed dinner events featuring food from Northern Thailand, it didn’t take long for Little Rock’s food community to respond. The tickets went on sale at 2 p.m. one Friday, and before 4 p.m. were exhausted. That’s because food lovers in town know a regular meal at kBird is special enough, but a unique kBird dinner experience is worth setting your alarm to make sure you get a ticket. I was fortunate enough to snag one spot to what turned out to be an utterly unforgettable evening.
This special dinner is called a khantoke, which comes from the Thai word for “small, pedestaled tray” that goes in the center of the table, much like a stationary lazy Susan. Normally, in this part of Thailand, people eat while sitting on the floor using either a spoon or bare hands. The khan tok is for special events, such as weddings, parties and funerals. Its presence tells a guest that they are being honored by the occasion.
And honored is how all 32 of us guests felt, as Glasgow humbly and passionately described every dish as it came to the table. We started with kBird’s signature sticky rice, a densely glutinous grain that substitutes as the bread course in another setting. From there, the floodgates opened, and more food than you would think possible from such a tiny kitchen crashed in waves at the table.
Two dips arrived first, a nam phrik ong, made of ground pork, tomatoes and red chiles, and a nam phrik noom, made from shallots, chiles and garlic. The dip with meat was intended a plate of vegetables that includes green onions and fried pumpkin, while the veggie dip was set out for a glorious tray of meat that included fried wings, spicy Thai sausage (sai oua) and pork rinds made at kBird that week.
And that was just the beginning of a dizzying array of dishes, all brought to the table before anybody was allowed to take a bite; this was less a story of Thai cuisine than a crash course. A lightly smoked catfish salad called yum pla dook married lime and cilantro with gentle flakes of fish. Two cones of rice steamed in pig’s blood and leftover pork called khao kan jin was paired with a glorious fermented sausage called naem. Two curries arrived that have been featured on kBird’s menu in the past were also featured: a pork curry called gaeng hang lay, and a spicy chicken curry called khao soi. Each dish was described in loving detail as it was presented.
With that, our table dug in for a solid 90 minutes of sampling and feasting. Each dish brought something unique to the entire experience. In particular, the catfish salad wowed the table with its fresh, sweet notes, while the pigs blood rice was among the richest, deepest bites presented. The meat was at once foreign and familiar, with Thai spices carrying the flavors of chicken and pork that every Southerner knows by heart. And the two curries were as fantastic as they ever have been; the pork curry in particular stole the show with its range of balanced flavors.
We finished the night with a mango and coconut sticky rice, another kBird classic dish that gave us diners a familiar finish to one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever experienced. For those of you who have tickets to the two remaining dinners, you are in for a massive treat. For the rest of you, kBird still has plenty of magic to offer on an everyday basis. As Glasgow put it to close the night, “This is what I eat when I’m in Thailand, these are the folks that brought me to where we are right now, and it means a lot to me to bring their food to you.”