Sexy Food and Tasty Beer When Laos Is in the House
Chef Somsith and 4th Tap brew up a compelling culinary series
How about a seven-course Laotian meal prepared by chef Bob Somsith at Austin's own 4th Tap Brewing Co-op? You know: In an enormous, soaring-ceilinged warehouse space, sparsely peopled, properly distanced – the sort of situation that's better for safety in these pandemic times.
And how about pairings of well-crafted 4th Tap quaffs to go with those freshly made courses? You like the sound of that, citizen? We like the sound of that. (We also like the sound of Somsith's eatery, SXSE, because it's pronounced "sek-see"; but it was the SXSE cuisine that won the 2019 Trucklandia Competition.) So, yes, we also love the taste of the whole thing: One of our first culinary outings of 2021, and already we're thinking this year can't possibly suck as much as good-riddanced 2020.
We should tell you a bit about the meal, so you'll know what to expect. Because the SXSE food truck in the brewery's parking lot serves up a variety of tasty skewers with rice, but this Laotian extravaganza, this Chef's Table event, was a few magnitudes of complexity beyond that – and it wasn't a one-off deal: It's part of a continuing series of collaborations between 4th Tap and SXSE, and each part of the series is, well, they call them Acts.
"We call them Acts," says 4th Tap's Jared Chacon, "because, like a play, these evenings are intended to tell the story behind each dish and beer and the culture that inspired them. Each Act features a unique six- or seven-course menu that runs three days a week for five weeks, with a two-week break between Acts. The menu is always focused around the cuisine of Laos and spans appetizers, light and heavy dishes, and desserts."
Note: Act I, which we stupidly missed, wrapped last year; but Act II has just begun – and will still be going by the time this article sees print.
The Act II menu brought us mak som (fruit crudités with dipping sauce); heavenly beef with pickled veggies; lahb diep (beef tartare); mok pa (salmon steamed in banana leaf); mee katee (sweet chicken curry); nem nuong (pork skewers – and the skewers themselves were lengths of fresh sugarcane); and kongh vahn for dessert. And that kongh vahn, that's a completely gluten-free coconut pandan crème brûlée, studded with shards of green glass candy. All the courses were *chef's kiss* a delight for the palate, but we'd never had anything like that pandan-infused coconut crème before. Khong vahn like that, even without the sugar glass, is a sweet revelation that we're already jonesing to experience again.
Every course was accompanied by a different, well-paired type of brew, with 4th Tap's effervescent Nicole Tan telling us about the crafting behind each, and chef Somsith happily explicating each food item as it was presented. All these dishes come – originally, heritage-wise – from Laos, because people come from all over the world to make up this (thanks, recent elections) great nation of ours, and they bring a diversity of culture – of which food is, of course, often a large part. But Bob Somsith, that sek-see kitchen maestro, is from Dallas. So what brought him to Austin in the first place?
"In 2002, I transferred from Dallas Baptist University to St. Edward's University," he tells us, "to complete my business degree in accounting."
"But, but," we stammer, "but you're a chef, Chef!"
"Well, I was an accountant for 12 years," says Somsith. "And when I first moved to Austin, there wasn't much of a choice for decent Asian food. My cousin and I would just cook our own meals after class. And I've always cooked, since I was 10, with my mom. At 15, I was prepping in the kitchen of my aunt's Chinese buffet restaurant. And in my last four years as an accountant, I started doing corporate catering – I'd use my vacation days to cater those gigs."
Fast-forward through the man's food-truck-startup montage to that 2019 Trucklandia win, throw a modern plague into the works at the end, and here we are now: Rough times indeed, but still *crosses fingers* manageable. Especially with these exquisite Chef's Table gigs.
And what about when this current Act of the series closes? Surely a curated night of Laotian food and craft beer, an event that's this delicious and informative ... surely it won't be, like, ganked from future access, right? That is, we know the SXSE food truck will still be dishing out simpler Asian fare on the regular, but –
"Oh, we're not gonna stop," says Somsith.
"We plan to continue this series as long as people keep showing up," says Chacon. "Definitely through the remainder of 2021. We may reduce the number of times per week we do them as the busy season picks up, but these nights are truly something we love doing – and we plan to continue the Acts as long as we can."