Tag Archives: Thailand

Unexpected Chicago CTA Finds: Sala Pao Shop

What is one thing you expect to see in a subway station? We bet you didn’t say Thai steamed buns. However, at the Western Blue Line station in Chicago, that is just what you get. There you will find the Sala Pao Shop (1909 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647) tucked into an unassuming counter space. We didn’t really know that Thailand had bao-like steamed buns, but it turns out that they are indeed popular as a street food snack and in Chinese restaurants throughout the country, where they are known as salapao.

At Sala Pao shop the focus is obviously paos, which are $2.50 each and come in a variety of flavors: Basil Chicken, Pork Shumai (with pork and a hard-boiled egg), BBQ Pork, Veggie (mushroom, carrot, peas and broccoli), Penang Beef, and even a sweet custard option. The most traditional flavor is perhaps the sweet roast pork, but our favorite was the basil chicken. There was also a deal to get a free drink with the purchase of 4 paos, and we highly enjoyed our Thai iced tea. There are also some more substantial options like chicken or veggie dumplings (6 for $4.50), wonton soup ($4.50), Penang curry chicken rice bowls ($6.99) and vegan rice bowls with veggies and glass noodles ($6.50).

With L riders in mind, the Sala Pao shop has a variety of drinks including lychee thai tea, thai iced coffee, green tea, and basic coffee for a commuter pick-me-up. There is even something intriguingly called “Tropical Cream Soda” in lychee, guava and mango flavors ($3.25). We are looking forward to trying more pao and drink varieties (especially the sweet custard pao). You can even get a punchcard that earns you one free pao for every 9 purchased.  Next time you are riding the El, don’t despair, stop at Sala Pao shop instead and treat yourself!

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Thai at Banana Blossom in Cleveland

One of our favorite things in Cleveland is the surprising proliferation of quality Southeast Asian food. We have tried over a dozen Thai places in the area, but we keep coming back to Cleveland stalwart Banana Blossom (2800 Clinton Ave, Cleveland, OH) – it is our favorite, consistently solid spot for Thai classics in the city. Banana Blossom has been holding down an unassuming corner in the Ohio City neighborhood for a while, before it was the artsy, bustling neighborhood it is today. Banana Blossom is bigger on the inside than you might think, with a peaceful ambiance.

You can get all of your favorite Thai dishes at Banana Blossom, but we feel they are all executed better than you would normally find. The menu has a wide selection of salads, soups, noodle dishes and curries. There are some more unusual dishes like Prik Khing Salmon (Deep-Fried Salmon with String Beans and Our Homemade Prik Khing Sauce – $15.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($18.95). Despite the broad offerings,  when we go to Banana Blossom we usually stick with our classics: Pad See Eiw (stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken and shrimp, eggs, carrots and broccoli – $11.50), and Penang Curry (a medium-spicy curry with chiles, coriander, kaffir lime peel, galangal, bell pepper, string beans, baby corn, eggplant and basil leaves – $12.95). Sometimes we will also start out with a refreshing papaya Salad (with string beans, tomato and peanuts – $8.95), which is also pretty spicy!

The service is quick and efficient, and you are never left waiting too long, even when it is busy. M also likes that he can get a legitimately spicy Penang curry (you can specify a heat level of 1-5). The portions at Banana Blossom are generous, and there are a wide variety of proteins: Chicken, Duck, Beef, Pork, Shrimp, Salmon, Tofu or Vegetable. Banana Blossom even has a full bar, though we usually just stick to the Thai iced teas ($3)! We have never been disappointed at Banana Blossom, and if you are looking for some comforting, classic Thai food in Cleveland, definitely visit!

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Pastry Post-Doc: Rolled Thai Ice Cream

thailandWe are all about the ice cream treats from all over the world. One that has caught our eye is Thai rolled ice cream, which looks unlike anything we have ever seen! Plus, it is a perfect way to celebrate Thai New Year, Songkran. Thai rolled ice cream is made by spreading ice cream and fillings on a round cold plate, where it is then re-frozen and rolled up into the signature shape. Thai rolled ice cream is now finding its way onto restaurant menus across the US, with Thai-style rolled ice cream joints opening up in NYC, Philly and LA. Has it made its way to your city yet? We can’t wait to try it in Cleveland or Chicago!


Thai Ice Cream. Photo by Lindsay Hunt / Via BuzzFeed

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

A New Place for Thai: Rainbow Cuisine

thailandRainbow Thai (4825 North Western Avenue) is absolutely our favorite recent food find, and it totally changed the way we think about Thai food in the city. In fact, we like it so much, a part of us wants to delete this post and not add to the increasing number of Chicagoans who swear by Rainbow Thai. We have visited Rainbow Thai 5 or 6 times now, and the major change that we noticed on our last visit is that they have expanded into the storefront next door: what was previously only three very small tables is now a welcoming, cozy, tastefully decorated space perfect for eating some of the most unique, rewarding, and clear Thai cuisine in the city.


Rainbow Thai seating: Before


Rainbow Thai seating: After

We went to Rainbow two times in as many weeks, to try to get a flavor for what they had to offer. They have 2 menus: a standard American-friendly Thai menu with your classics like pad see eiw and pad thai, as well as a “Thai” menu of untranslated dishes. Last year, the good people at LTH Forum took the trouble of translating everything on the authentic Thai menu, and good thing they did because we could not get enough of the dishes off this menu. Clients like it so much that now seatings at Rainbow Thai come with three menus: the standard menu, the Thai menu, and a print-off of the LTH Forum page translating it! Clearly, Rainbow Thai approves of the translation and descriptions.


Pad see ew (front) , jungle curry and nam khao tod

This is a family operation, the son (or sometimes the dad) takes orders and mom cooks. Dishes may not come out right together or super quickly, but that’s ok. This is a place where patience is rewarded. Usually we end up over-ordering and they will say so.They also appeared to be doing a pretty brisk carryout business. Below are some of our favorites: items with an asterisk come from the Thai menu.


Vietnamese Crepes (Kanom Buang yuan)

  • *Kanom Buang yuan – Of Vietnamese origin (banh xeo), these Thai crepes are made of a crispy egg skin and then filled with fresh vegetables. Filling and tasty, we were impressed at how thin and delicate the crepe was.
  • *Nam khao tod – When Matt finished this dish for the first time, he immediately walked to the kitchen and said it was the best thing he had eaten in Chicago this year. Five visits later, he says it is still true. Tantalizing caramelized rice is fried together with fish sauce, lime, peanuts, and a special fermented Thai sausage to create a dish that is much more than the sum of these parts: a total exploration of Thai flavor profiles that we have never had in another dish. Just spectacular.
  • *Keang paa – Thai Jungle Curry, combining fresh vegetables in a soupy curry with a little heat. This dish is clean and crisp, served with rice on the side.
  • *Kao kluk ka pi – At first glance, the various aspects of this dish make no sense together. You receive a plate with a pile of fried rice topped with small dried shrimp, all cooked in shrimp paste; a small mound of pork in sweet/fermented sauce; shredded egg; and thin apple slices. And yet, it all makes sense together. Matt typically orders this alongside the nam khao tod, and it is always too much food. But together they showcase some of the best of what Rainbow Thai has to offer.
  • Pad Kra Prow – Basil chicken, a classic finished with spicy fermented sausage, a northern Thai specialty done very well here. 
  • Pad see eiw – The classic dish and L’s favorite, featuring well-cooked greens and a flavorful soy-based sauce. This version was subtle and delicious, and not as sweet as some versions – a definite winner.


    The inimitable nam khao tod

Of course Rainbow Thai also has all your Thai favorites (we’ve heard very good things about their green curry), as well as beverage classics like bubble tea and chaa yen (Thai iced tea). But really, do not come here for the standard menu. Get out of your comfort zone and try some amazing flavor combinations prepared by loving chefs who are genuinely concerned that you like everything you are served. Everything was top notch. Totally fresh and literally made to order. We would return to Rainbow Thai again and again for some old staples as well as new favorites, and you really must get the nam khao tod! Now that there is ample seating, you can even bring your friends.


Kao kluk ka pi


Filed under Reviews

Discovering Yen Ta Foe at Win Coffee in Bangkok

Lindsay and I (now that we have revealed our real names!) were in southeast Asia in 2010, traversing around the region after a short stop-off for an academic conference in Singapore. As loyal readers know, we are big advocates for street food and small, specialty restaurants that specialize in a few items. Without painting with too broad a brush, this style is classic southeast Asian food culture, and Bangkok is no exception. 

Luckily, we made a friend. While doing some shopping and wandering around Wat Ratchabophit, we met Bee, a Bangkok native who had gone to school in North Carolina (we speak hardly any Thai, but she speaks perfect English). And she was eager to show us her favorite restaurant: Win Coffee, not far from her shop on Thanon Tanao. We’re actually not sure how to render the address, but they have a  Google Plus page.


Win Coffee, though billed as a coffee place, had what Bee said was her favorite Yen Ta Foe in the city, a classic Thai dish made with lots of ingredients that, at least according to her, would make Americans cringe. Ingredients l fish balls, squid slices, and coagulated blood are put in a soup flavored with chilis, fish sauce, and fermented soybean paste, and topped with crispy chips like the casing for Crab Rangoon.  Eatingthaifood.com has a great description of Yen Ta Foe if you would like more detail. Though Bee suggested the dish, in Thai, to the owner, I heard the owner say back to her something about a farang – the Thai word for a foreigner.


If there’s any point we try to make on this blog, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. And for me in particular, the more a local person tells me I won’t like something, the more I want to try it. And I loved the Yen Ta Foe (ordered extra Thai spicy, of course). Bangkok street food provides a thrilling mix of textures and flavors, unlocking palettes that other regional cuisines don’t. Yen Ta Foe is great at this – it’s an exciting mix of textures and flavors, and I loved it. While Win Coffee is well off the standard Bangkok tourist trail, we would encourage visitors to explore these lesser-known areas of town. Any small place that is open is going to make you happy, and Win Coffee definitely did.

On a sidenote, Bee was supposed to facebook us after we parted ways (and after she so graciously paid for our food), but we never connected. Bee, if you stumble upon this, send us an email! We’d love to head back to Thailand and try more food with you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Northern Thai Cuisine in Chicago at Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice
4018 N Western Ave.
Chicago, IL

thailandOne of our favorite cuisines is Thai, and though we love our go-tos, sometimes we get a little suck in a rut and keep ordering the same thing. However, Sticky Rice is the perfect antidote. Most Thai restaurants in Chicago specialize in Southern Thai food, and the cuisine of Bangkok. However, Chicago is lucky enough to have Sticky Rice, a Northern Thai restaurant that has dishes that are uniquely local. Sticky Rice is cute, clean and open, and was pretty crowded (though the photo from this angle doesn’t show it) when we arrived on a Saturday night. The menu is prodigious, covering, curries, soups and noodle dishes; but on this night we made a beeline for the Thai Northern specialties. 
Sticky Rice

For appetizers, we ordered Som Tum, papaya salad with lime ($5.95), chicken satay ($5.95- not adventurous, but delicious) and the sugarcane shrimp ($6.25). Our food arrived surprisingly quickly, and we dove right in. The papaya salad was light and refreshing, and the sugarcane shrimp was not exactly what we expected – shrimp patties on huge hunks of sugarcane, but it was still tasty.

Sticky Rice

M ordered the Gang Hung Lay ($7.50), pork garlic and ginger in a Northern Thai chili paste and L ordered Chicken Kow Soy ($7.50), a Northern coconut curry soup. We also were intrigued by the Gang Kae frogs legs, cooked in a spicy soup ($8.95). The Kow Soi was delicious and creamy, was richly spiced with turmeric and cardamom, and was reminiscent of Indian cuisine. turns out this dish is the result of Yunnanese traders who settled along the trade routes from India and China crossing in Thailand – delicious. M’s curry was spicy and hearty, and he slurped up the broth.

Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice is a great place to try to different flavors of Northern Thai cuisine, and we can’t wait to go back and work our way through some of the Northern Thai specialties. However, if you or your dining companions are feeling more in the mood for a classic curry or Pad Thai, you can find it here too.

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

The Impending Srirachapocalypse 2K14

Everybody watch out, because we are about to hit a shortage of the famous Huy Fong Sriracha Thai/Vietnamese hot sauce – THE SRIRACHAPOCALYPSE! Due to legal entanglements in the Huy Fong factory in Irwindale, California, bottles are now being held 30 days before shipping, causing a major delay in restocking Sriracha on the shelves. Since the stoppage hit in mid-December, customers may really start to feel the effects of the ban soon. Serious Eats conducts a taste test of other sriracha brands so you can get your hot sauce fix in a pinch.

Sriracha in Memphis

Sriracha in Memphis by Memphis CVB

Leave a comment

Filed under Links

If we had an ice cream maker….

…we would definitely make this Thai Tea Ice Cream – it sounds amazing!

Leave a comment

Filed under Links, Recipes

Eating the Thailand Menu at Next

953 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL

Our vain efforts at reading the Thai newspaper on our table were interrupted by our server: “Have you ever heard Thai hip-hop?” The music moving through the spare dining room was far from our usual interests, but our server’s first question seemed to set the tone for our evening at NEXT: unabashedly sophisticated delights, innovative presentations, and informed, efficient, and unpretentious service.

We entered the restaurant at 5:15, fifteen minutes ahead of our ticket time. As such, we were the first ones to sit down, and so we stayed a course ahead of everyone else in the place for the night, so we were first to find out the next surprise. What followed were nine courses spread over 2 1/2 hours, and easily one of the great meals of our lives. Each flavor, bold and distinct, melded together with a carefully orchestrated set of sensory stimuli Grant Achatz threw at us: the smell of flowers worked subtly into dishes; the flash of color changes of napkins and place settings; the tactility of piles of chopped cocount shells; and the flavors, monotonously recited by our waiters until the explosion of that first bite. What follows is less of a review than a memory recap, and sincere apologies to all of you who were not able to get tickets. Enjoy:

Course 1: “Thai street food.” Utensils: a Thai newspaper, a banana leaf; paper plates, and plastic knives and forks. Dishes: Roasted bananas topped with pickled garlic, fried shallots, tiny Thai chilis, cilantro flowers and leaves; Fried Prawn cake with white pepper, lime zest, and coriander; Sweet shrimp with raw garlic and bird chilis, wrapped in a mint leaf; Fermented Thai sausage topped with peanuts, galangal, and and grilled scallions.

Cleanser 1: Juice of guava, mango, and papaya.

Course 2:  Thai street finished with two steamed buns, filled with mushrooms and spicy green curry.

Cleanser 2: Juice of chrysanthemum, lemongrass, and lychee.

Course 3: A riff on Tom Yum Soup: hot and sour broth with pork belly, tomato, and kaffir lime.

Course 4: A bamboo basket of steamed rice, paired with three sauces: a) A spicy mixture – the finest combination of flavor and capsaicin M has ever had – with chilis, shallots, and garlic; b) a sauce of salted duck egg with green mango and white radishes; and c) a sauce of pickled fruits and vegetables mixed with basil (pictured).

Course 5: Catfish braised in caramel sauce with celery, coriander root, a hibiscus flower, and the most amazing pearl onions we’ve ever had. No idea what he put in those things, but they were worth the price of admission.

Cleanser 3: Juice of carrot, ginger, and orange.

Course 6: Panang Curry remix: braised beef cheek in a curry of peanut, nutmeg, coconut, and lemongrass.

Cleanser 4: Juice of watermelon and lemongrass.

Course 7: A hollowed out coconut, served two ways. On the left: freeze-dried egg yolk, coconut, chili flakes, and licorice-infused tapioca balls. On the right: sweet coconut sorbet.

Cleanser 5: Juice of corn and pineapple.

Course 8: Half of a dragon fruit, served with a “smelling pairing” of a pink rose. We were instructed to eat half of the fruit, then smell the rose and eat the second half, taking note of the difference in flavor.

Course 9: Thai iced tea served in a to-go bag, as is common in Bangkok.

For the price we paid this was an unbelievable amount of food, and all of it executed to perfection. We have never been so full or satisfied with such a high-end meal in our lives. And we hear there is a Sicilian menu in the works….

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Thailand: Ruby of Siam [closed]

Ruby of Siam
170 W Washington St
Chicago, IL

This post is going to be brief, since we actually ate there a while ago, so the pictures will have to mostly speak for themselves. While the food itself was good, solid Thai (though nothing spectacular) the location is really what sets it apart. Perfect before catching the Metra, a movie or a jaunt at the AIC. We were impressed by the elegant decor and comfortable booths –  a big step up from many more spartan takeout places in the area. The early dinner crowd was somewhat thin, but we hear they have a good lunch buffet – also possibly of note – RoS is BYOB. If you’re not feeling like Potbelly or bar food Ruby of Siam was, quick, efficient and tasty Thai in the loop. However, for Thai food in the loop area Star of Siam is still our reigning favorite.


Mussaman Curry ($10.95)cimg1522

[below] Pad See Eiw (8.95) Note the Cool aluminum bowl for the rice.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

The Origins of Pad Thai

The ever-impressive food journal Gastronomica published a history of the origins of Pad Thai. While considered THE quintessential Thai dish by many Americans, Pad Thai’s origins are significantly murkier, and is much less common in Thailand itself than in Thai restaurants in other countries.Within Thailand we had our only Pad Thai experience on Khao San road, an area notorious for its amounts of European and North American backpackers. The Pad Thai vendors there were definitely catering to an audience! The full name of the dish, Kway teow pad Thai even indicates Pad Thai may even have Chinese origins. Check out the Gastronomica article for a full history of Pad Thai.

Our picture of some stateside Pad Thai


Filed under Reviews

Thailand: Rotis for Breakfast

Roti Mataba
136 Phra Athit Rd.
Banglamphu, Bangkok

When you are in a different country sometimes you have to do things a little differently…. M’s breakfast in the US usually consists of cereal, and L’s consists of a bagel. However while in Thailand we opted  for something a bit different (but still carbo-loaded) –  Rotis – a typical indian flatbread. Rotis, though native to India, are very popular as a street food in Thailand and there are ton of great places to sample them in Bangkok.

In the shadow of a whitewashed fort from the 17th century sits a tiny store manned by an industrious woman with a supernatural ability to turn out hundreds of rotis. The menu at the place, unsurprisingly was mainly rotis, which we dug, and all fr less than 100B (about 3 dollars).

Feeling unconventional, even at 9 AM, we opted for a sweet and savory mix: one chicken Curry roti and two others topped with chocolate sauce and condensed milk. The rotis were literally piping hot of the griddle and were presented to us in no time. The curry was a good mix of sweet and spicy, and the chocolate roti was perfect in its simplicity. Nothing like a little curry and chocolate for breakfast!

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

A New Place for… Thai Groceries

Having just gotten back from Thailand we were eager to try recreating some of our favorite dishes at home. There used to be a store on Argyle appropriately called “Thai Grocery” but it closed semi-recently. Without any other obviously-named choices, we were pleased when we randomly saw a sign on a store on Dempster proclaiming “We now carry Thai Groceries”.

The aptly named Uni-Mart mainly sells Filipino food (both in a restaurant and grocery store), there was a healthy helping of Thai food mixed in. There was a huge selection of canned Thai sauces and bags of cookies, but what most intrigued us was the beverage selection. Happily, we found both of the items (both beverages) that we were looking for – Milo ($3.25), a powdered chocolate malt drink and loose Thai Tea ($1.85).

The Thai Tea was an especially fortuitous find since we like to brew our own Thai iced teas and all of the blends we had tried in America had not been up to snuff (Thai Tea is very fine, full of red dye and contains other spices like Vanilla and cinnamon). We are happy to report that it was worth many times the $1.85 we had paid for it. We are looking forward to visiting the Uni-Mart again to sample some more Thai groceries and hopefully try out some Filipino food too, a regretfully blank spot on our global food quest.

7315 Dempster Street
Niles, IL 60714

Leave a comment

Filed under A New Place

Thailand: Enjoying Chaa Yen in Bangkok

We love Thai iced teas stateside and were pleased to learn that they actually are popular in Thailand as well (unlike some other of our favorite Thai dishes). Thai Iced teas are called “Chaa Yen” in Thai which literally means “Tea Iced.” Haphazardly we found out that by ordering a cha yen flavored smoothie at an Au Bon Pain outside the Grand Palace (not our finest culinary moment).

A typical Chaa Yen is an uber-sweet, red, spiced Thai tea with condensed milk. The best Thai iced tea we had was in Chinatown in Bangkok from a mobile coffee stand called Coffee Cop on Rachawongse. The proprietor could not be nicer and the Chaa Yen was amazing! Back home, we have tried to recreate the recipe, with varying success. Thai tea is somewhat difficult to get in the US, so we have had some luck using Vanilla-flavored Rooibos instead.

1 Comment

Filed under Tea, World Eats

Coming in June… Asia Tour 2k10

L and M head to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.

We’re excited.

Leave a comment

Filed under Note, Quest, World Eats

Quick Bite: Bangkok Cafe

Bangkok Cafe
17 N Vail Ave
Arlington Heights, IL 60005

Downtown Arlington Heights is a surprisingly nice little place, with a range of restaurants ranging from bars to Spanish Tapas. And for the burbs, it has a surprising number of Thai places, too. However, Bangkok Cafe is a notch above the typical strip-mall Thai offering endemic to the area. All in all, Bangkok Cafe is the type of local Thai place you would expect to find in a trendier area of Chicago – not too expensive (dishes under about $9 apiece), muted, modern decor, with the requisite gamut of noodle and curry dishes represented.


A friend in town and I were craving Thai while in the area, so we decided to give Bangkok Cafe a try. We stuck with some standby favorites – Mussaman Curry and the Pad See Eiw, though the menu did offer some more unusual seafood dishes. The  Mussaman curry was good, but seemed to contain less coconut milk than usual, though it came with a nice topping of cashews. The Pad See Eiw was a bit unusual in that it came ontop 0f a bed of spinach – never seen that presentation before!

We were pleased with our meals, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasant and conducive to chatting (though it was surprisingly full of teenagers at the time). We hear Bangkok Cafe also does a brisk lunch business and has a $6.99 special. Bangkok Cafe doesn’t break  the mold (or the bank), but it’s a great place for a nice, low key dinner in the burbs if you are craving solid American Thai food.


Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Thailand: Sala Thai

Sala Thai
36 S Fair Oaks Ave
Madison, WI 53714

L and I had long meant to head to Madison’s east side and sample some of the famous curries at The Corner Store on Willy Street, but never had the opportunity. But when I found out that the shop’s owners had opened a full-service Thai restaurant, we had to give it a shot.

Sala Thai is located in an unsuspecting location, a remodeled building tucked between a 50s-style diner and a residential street. Still, the restaurant manages a fine ambiance with intricate Thai wood decorations and carvings, plenty of artwork, and a large, well-lit dining room. From reviews we read previously, service was supposedly notoriously slow, but we found the exact opposite. This may have been because the waitstaff was really on its game, or they had little to care about at 4PM on a Friday. We’ll never know unless we make a return trip, but our small meal was definitely enough to bring us back if we ever again find ourselves in the area.

L had a bowl of the delicious Tom Yum soup. The unsuspecting dish packed a great deal of flavor (provided mostly by lemongrass and ginger), mushrooms, and a good amount of heat. The soup’s broth was thin enough to really put the focus on the big ingredients (although it would have helped if it had a “don’t eat the ginger” sign). For $5.95, it was a great afternoon snack, one we wish we had the recipe for to try to make it at home.

I (M) had one of my classic favorites, Panang Curry. I’ve been frustrated recently by a number of Thai restaurants that pass off glorified soups as curries, sacrificing the hearty thickness of the curry in favor of thinner, more “healthy” curries. But just as advertised, Sala Thai did not disappoint. Thick and full of coconut cream, the curry mixed together carrots and other vegetables with well-prepared chicken (another recent sticking point of Thai restaurants with me) in a sauce that, thick and tasty as it was, could have used a few more peanuts (though I do like peanuts far more than most). At $7.95, the curry was comparably priced in comparison to other Thai restaurants in the city, and didn’t hurt itself with the free large rice.

Final verdict: good food, excellent curries, quick service, good decor, and apparently a brisk takeout business. We wish them well, and will be back should the opportunity present itself.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Thailand: TAC Quick

TAC Quick
3930 N Sheridan Rd
Chicago, IL

TAC Quick gets a lot of glowing praise as one of the top Thai Restaurants in Chicago so I was excited when my [L] friend and I popped in for dinner last week. TAC is literally right next to the Sheridan Red line el stop, so it could not be easier to get to. The space itself is modern and inviting with wooden tables, and the staff is pleasant and efficient. Not to mention the prices are ridiculously cheap. I ordered the Peanut Curry ($7.50) which consisted of a deep bowl filled with egg noodles, chicken, bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro and peanut curry. The peanut curry was (coconut) milky and soupy and had a little kick to it, perfect for slurping up with the provided soup spoon.

The verdict? It’s all about expectations. I felt the same about TAC Quick as I did about Juno. The reviews ruined a perfectly good thing for me, because there was no way it could live up to the hype. Maybe I was expecting TAC Quick to be some kind of holy Thai epicurean grail, but I didn’t find it much better than my usual local haunt, Thai Sookdee. In any case, I think I’ll have to be back to sample more of TAC’s esoteric specialties. There is a ‘secret’ Thai menu that also contains inventive and unique dishes. I guess the protocol is that you have to ask the waiter for the menu, and some of the specials are also publicized on a chalkboard. Maybe next time I’ll feel like nominating TAC Quick for an Oscar?

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Rama Chicken Quest: We Take Matters Into Our Own Hands

Thai CookbookMy (M) quest for the perfect Rama Chicken began years ago when I first had the dish at a Thai restaurant in Urbana, Illinois. Since then, I’ve gone around the Chicago area looking for the perfect manifestation of my favorite peanut-sauce chicken delight. But it had never occurred to me to actually try to make the dish myself, so last week, L and I gave it a try. A while back we had picked up a copy of Jennifer Brennan’s Original Thai Cookbook at a used bookstore in Wrigleyville. It’s the first Thai cookbook ever published in the United States, so we figured it would be a good bet for a more “authentic” recipe. Here’s the recipe the book gives (this makes 4 servings, we halved it for the 2 of us. Our variations are in parentheses):

1 pound young spinach, washed and cut into pieces
4 cups thick coconut milk
2 pounds chicken (cut into thin slices)
3 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons palm sugar, or brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour, mixed with 4 tablespoons water
5 dried red chillies, seeded and finely chopped
1 teaspoon Laos powder (we couldn’t figure out what this is, so we didn’t use it)
7 shallots, chopped (we’re not big on oniony things, so we used less)
8 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemon grass, minced

1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
(we used organic PB for a more natural flavor)
1/2 cup coconut cream

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and drain. Set aside. In a large saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add the chicken, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked to your taste. Remove chicken and set aside. Simmer remaining liquid in saucepan until it is reduced by one half. Add flour/water mixture and stir until it thickens. Set pan aside. In a mortar or food processor, pound or grind the chillies, Laos, shallots, garlic, lemon grass, and salt to a paste. Stir in the peanut butter and mix well. Reserving two tablespoons of the coconut cream, heat the remainder in a wok until thick and oily. Introduce the peanut/spice paste and stir-fry until it changes color (about 2 minutes). Add chicken slices and stir until coated. Now add the coconut chicken sauce and simmer, stirring for five minutes. Arrange the spinach on a platter. Lift the chicken slices from the sauce and arrange on the bed of spinach. Pour the sauce from the wok over and around the chicken slices. Spoon the little dollops of the reserved coconut cream on the chicken slices and serve immediately.

cimg0234.jpgWe have to say, for our first time making a really complicated dish, this turned out pretty well. The sauce could have been more peanut-y, so we’d probably recommend reducing the coconut milk/peanut butter ratio. We also didn’t feel the need to bother with the “little dollops” of coconut cream. We also made some rice to serve alongside our concoction – because really, what is Thai food without a small dish of rice next to it? All in all, this recipe provided a really intelligent mix of good flavors. I was originally leery about the amount of shallots and garlic in the sauce, but we trusted the recipe and were rewarded in the end. We’re looking forward to making more from this book!

Leave a comment

Filed under Quest

Quest for the perfect Rama Chicken

Sometimes there is a food so great, so delicious, that its perfect incarnation must be sought after. The subject of our latest food quest is Rama Chicken (aka Pra Ram Long Song), a traditional Thai dish consisting of peanut sauce, broccoli and rice. While deceptively simple, Rama Chicken varies greatly between restaurants. Therefore, we have set out into the world of Thai restaurants in Chicago, finding the perfect incarnation of Rama Chicken. Follow our adventure!

Leave a comment

Filed under Quest