Restaurants & Bars 13


malcarne | Sep 26, 2003 03:06 PM

Perusing the supposed Roong threads on this board I realized that there was, in fact, very little inherent content. Roong is the best Thai resaurant I've had the pleasure of dining from in the Wicker Park area. Granted I've had great meals at Roseded and Opart Thai(years ago), but those aforementioned paragons of Thai cuisine remain in Lincoln Square; a hop, skip, and a jump down Western, but outside the scope of a Wicker Park connoisseur. I have not eaten at Thai Aree or Spoon. I have not had the luck of encountering the vaunted "secret" Thai menu. To qualify my palate, I own and cook from the incunabulae of Thai cooking, David Thompson's Thai Food, and that homespun, beautifully-illustrated tome, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. Good, "authentic," Thai food is as elusive in Wicker Park as it is in Chicago-at-large. Don't get me started on the abominations passing for Chinese food(not counting Chinatown). First, most Thai food in Wicker Park isn't necessarily bad, just blase, bland, and indifferent. Hi Ricky enthralls those unappreciative of the real thing. It's an exploded pad thai palace. Thai Lagoon is similarly "whatever," average Thai food for the unassuming patron-that customer merely in search of pad thai, cuz when they say they want Thai they inevitably mean, pad.
Pot Pan is a jewelbox of a room undercut by middle of the road cuisine and off flavors. My laab(my baseline) included metallic, flat citrus notes(almost like bottled lemon juice) and, incredibly, was shaved instead of minced. I've been told I mumble so perhaps the waitress didn't understand my order? Oh, and a bland Laab is completely unacceptable, anywhere. Another chowhound offers that they always ask for the condiment tray when ordering at PotPan in order to spice things up, but the food in general is so lackluster(we ordered several plates, not just Laab) that any amount of spicing would be more to hide the off flavors than for "extra" heat. Luc Thang, that crazy grabbag of asian cuisines, of which I've written elsewhere, is, in general, merely ok and received higher marks from me in the past because I had yet to try Roong. My two baselines, Tom Kah Gai and Laab Gai, are passable at Luc Thang. Their Tom has nearly correct flavors but is, perhaps, the most heterogeneous mixture of elements in that soup I've come across: no galangal, no kaffir lime leaf, a generous amount of straw mushrooms(not my favorite 'shroom, but ok and typical in Tom Kha Gai plus way, way over-cooked chicken). Their Laab Gai is more chicken than roasted rice powder(if, in fact, included), but for all that, has some very nice almost grilled flavors.
Onto ROONG. Without compare, Roong has the BEST, the MOST AUTHENTIC Tom Kha Gai in Wicker Park. Generous coconut milk and cream, kaffir lime leaves, chewy galangal, shards of lemongrass, red pepper flakes, white mushrooms instead of the ubiquitous(and tiresome) straw mushrooms---straw mushrooms like tiny, slimy, tensile, penises bitten in half or, better yet, hastily gulped and forgotten. This is the best Tom Kha Gai outside of that typically served in a Cambodian Hot Pot. Excellent.
The Laab Gai has the fluffiness associated with correct use of roasted rice powder. Sparkly, perky, citrusy, yummy, spicy...mmmm.
Massuman curry avoids the thick slop of most restaurant versions remaining just a hair's breadth away from the more traditional broken cream, shining broth. Great flavor, maybe a little too peanutty. Bonus points for the crinkle-cut, cooked to toothsome perfection, potatoes. The rice was decent(I prefer mine a tad stickier, but that's not necessarily traditional). A side cucumber salad, unusually sweet and very good. Roong's presentation far outshines any other local Thai outfit. My only complaint is the kitchen's inability to make some dishes hot and some medium. They made them all spicy(STILL not spicy enuf, but that's an issue much discussed when it comes to Thai food for Westerners) to my delight and my dining partner's chagrin. This could be the fault of the order-taker, or, my mumbling. Delivery from Roong is the best in the neighborhood.

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