Isaan (northeast Thai) food is something you can't avoid here in Bangkok. I reckon there's more som tam, kai yaang and sticky rice here than in the whole of northeast Thailand. A lot of it tends to be pretty hardcore streetfood; think tripe and liver hanging from rusty hooks, dripping blood on shredded papaya, the whole lot coated with a delicate but fragrant film of auto exhaust. Alternatively there's lots of isaan mall food; chain restaurants serving well-presented and generally clean isaan food, but made for Bangkok tongues (read: sweet). For the most part, there's not a whole lot of the well-prepared, authentic, sanitary in-between. Luckily I recently came across a place that comes pretty close. Kai Tong ("rooster"), located on Soi Sena 1, is an old-school sitdown restaurant complete with upholstered booths and uniformed wait staff. Definately not the norm for an isaan place.
We started with the restaurant's specialty, kai yaang, grilled chicken:
And a mighty good bird it was. I think they claim it is kai baan, free-range chicken, but it actually had a bit too much meat on the bone for my taste (chicken meat is virtually tasteless--it's the fat and skin that tastes good. Believe me.). The chicken comes with a sweet syrup, chili and plum-based dip, and an absolutely delicious jaew, salty/spicy/sour dip made from dried chilies and tamarind pulp.
Following this was som tam pu plaa raa, Lao/isaan-style papaya salad with salted rice field crabs and a thick form of fish sauce:
Almost perfect. If they hadn't beaten the life out of the papaya with the mortar and pestle it would have been perfect. One thing, okay, two things I like about the som tam here is that they're not afraid to add garlic, a lot of garlic, and it's exceedingly sour.
And finally we had tom saeb, an issan-style sour soup:
We're not big meat eaters, so we asked for mushrooms instead. Not bad, but a little too sweet. Do like the presentation though.
The only bad thing I could say about the restaurant is that the isaan menu isn't very expansive. They have the 10 or so favorites that you can find pretty much anywhere. They do do them quite well though!
Kai Tong is located on Soi Sena 1, about 2 km from the intersection with Phaholyothin.