by Andrew Morrison | It’s been eight years this week since the award-winning Thai restaurant Maenam launched at 1938 West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano. This series of photos – taken on a horrible Powershot if memory serves – bring me back in a hurry to the frenzied night before their opening in the third week of May, 2009.
For a contextual refresher on the times back then, Barack Obama was trying to fix George Bush’s mistakes; Daniel Boulud was running Lumiere; there was still a place in Gastown called Boneta; and Instagram wouldn’t be invented for another five months.
Just a few weeks before these images were taken, owner Angus An locked the doors after the final service of his first restaurant, Gastropod, a casualty of the deepening financial crisis. Soon after, Robert Belcham and Tom Doughty’s Fuel next door would similarly transition into the more casual Refuel.
Anyway, I was fortunate enough to eat most of the menu in the kitchen that night with Angus, his wife Kate, their team and a friend of mine. I remember being pretty well floored by the food. There was so much than just flavour; whole dishes (like the halibut cheeks in green curry) were crazy balancing acts of intensity and subtlety, never landing one way or the other. And it was great to see wine and cocktails being paired with Thai food. In my published notes I underlined the following: “Think Vij’s but Thai with Rangoli prices.”
The restaurant, of course, has ruled the Thai roost in Vancouver since the day it opened, allowing Angus to open Freebird Chicken Shack and Longtail Kitchen in New West, Fat Mao in Chinatown, and the brand new Sen Pad Thai on Granville Island.
The gallery below includes one of my favourite photos that I’ve ever taken in a restaurant on the eve of its opening. It’s actually two exposures that appear to be taken a moment apart. They both show Angus and Kate in the kitchen around a bunch of empty beer bottles, spent dishes and scribbled recipe notes. There’s a lot of emotion and exhaustion in their body language and expressions, and whatever Kate is doing with her gloved hands is just goddam amazing. It’s, like, sort of a strangle prayer. Makes sense.
It takes courage to open a restaurant, but it takes smarts to identify routes forward in the tall grass, and luck to make it out alive.