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China Porn, I mean, Thai Nakorn - Combined Review of 8 Diners. LONG!

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China Porn, I mean, Thai Nakorn - Combined Review of 8 Diners. LONG!

bottomlesspit | Jan 16, 2006 11:35 AM

Since the inaugural meeting of our OC dining group was to take place right after the holidays, I figured I'd pick something in the lower price range and centrally located. So, with all its recent buzz here on the board, I chose Thai Nakorn, which, apparently tends to sound like "China Porn" when uttered to someone who doesn't have "Thai Nakorn" on the brain or who doesn't spend what should be otherwise productive hours lurking this board.

I had been to TN once before, and frankly came away with a neutral impression, but with so much good press of late, I thought it would be fun to get a range of opinions on the place.

8 of us met on Saturday night, and everyone was a real sport to not only fill out my review form, but also be subjected to a Thai trivia quiz. Everyone should have friends who are willing to sit at a restaurant table taking quizzes and filling out forms for your foodnerd enjoyment. =) Some were even quite descriptive, going above and beyond assigning ratings and checking boxes.

So! Having spent 3 hours at the restaurant and sampling in excess of 10 different dishes, what did we think of the place?

AMBIENCE: It's a well known fact that at Chinese restaurants, there's an inverse relationship between level of service and quality of food. When it comes to Asian restaurants in general, it seems there's also an inverse relationship between level of ambience and quality of food. Thai Nakorn is no exception. With relatively good marks for food (see below), it's no surprise that we gave TN its lowest marks for ambience and deemed it unfit for a romantic evening across the board. This is not the place you go to get some afterward, if you know what I mean...

* "A tad on the cafeteria side..."
* "...typical Asian spot. Not too chic, not totally shabby."
* " Nice enough and clean enough with the bustle of a good dim sum joint."

Score: 5.38 Low/3, High/7

CLEANLINESS: Above average marks for cleanliness, and I can personally vouch that the bathroom was clean, with a lovely little peony blossom floated in a bowl between the two sinks.

"Eat off the floor, see your face in the silverware clean? No, but you know it's clean."

Score: 7 Low/5, High/8

SERVICE: We gave TN its highest marks for service. I liked the fact that they literally reserved our table for eight in advance, placing a marker on the table to ensure no one else was seated there. (We've all been to hoity-toitier places that seem to think taking a reservation means writing your name on a list and then making you wait for the next available table regardless.) Our selections were delivered promptly, our beverages were refilled reliably, and our chatty, affable and knowledgeable server made the evening all the more interesting and colorful.

* "...service was excellent."
* "(Service was) consistent. Good suggestions from the server."
* "I like when jovial, talkative, grandfatherly servers tell you what you want to eat."
* "TN graciously allows patrons to talk, laugh and linger after the meal, but clearly not out of neglect. They maintained attentiveness and hospitality long after we finished eating, and this, to me, is a huge component of service."

Score: 8 Low/7, High/9

FOOD: Scoring fairly well, but not quite living up to the word on the street (that would be the street where the OC foodgeeks hang out, which would be HERE), TN got good marks for food, but not the 9s and 10s one might expect from the press on this place.

We sampled:

* Chicken Satay
* Spring Rolls
* Crab Egg Rolls
* Beef with Basil
* Thai BBQ Beef
* Malaysian Chicken Curry
* Piguaut Curry
* Thai Sausage with Sticky Rice
* Tom Yum Khai
* Tom Kha Khai
* Pahd Thai
* Coconut with Egg Custard

The Coconut Egg Custard was a favorite, getting 3 votes for favorite dish, with the Chicken Satay coming in 2nd with 2 votes for favorite dish. There were only two candidates for least favorite dish - one for the Coconut Egg Custard and the other for Crab Egg Rolls for a perceived crab/pork bait and switch. As one of the Coconut Egg Custard lovers, I quote James Frey: "let the (coconut) haters be haters...". As to the Crab Egg Roll nomination, the nominator, in the spirit of our earlier fried food lovin' discussion, did mention that it had a nice, crunchy exterior. Speaking of baiting and switching, they refer to their spring rolls on the menu by the Vietnamese name for summer rolls, leading more than one of us to wonder why they came out fried, but that's a semantics thing... well, sort of.

* "The food was good, quick and plenty of it."
* "(The Coconut Egg Custard) had a nice consistency in between a flan and egg custard tart - one of those Chinese ones, but without the egg taste - and a hint of coconut to round out the flavor. Yummy."
* "The Curry Malaysia has a nice broth, but I found the aftertaste to be a bit salty."
* "The Beef with Basil had the right amount of spice - not too hot. And the basil mellowed any remnant spice to it. The beef was lean and chewy, but not gummy."
* "The Piguaut Curry had a pungent, complex flavor to it (suited more to the native palate, according to our server), but my own palate would have appreciated a bit more sour to offset the pungency, sweetness and saltiness. Oh, and it didn't make me cry like the server said it would. Promises, promises... But that Tom Kha Khai and Coconut Egg Custard, gooood stuff."

Score: 7.25 Low = 5, High = 8

VALUE: Funny how you can score the food lower than the overall value, but that's exactly what a lot of us did. It might have had something to do with ordering a buttload of food, more than a couple of alcoholic beverages, and a couple of desserts and getting out of there for under $25/person. Or maybe it's that some of us didn't personally care for Thai food as much as other stuff but still thought that it was a good value. Either or neither way, no one felt ripped off, and that's a good thing.

Score: 7.56 Low/6, High/10

FAMILY/KID FRIENDLINESS: There's not always a direct relationship between noise level and kid-friendliness (think PF Chang's polished concrete floors or any other quasi-industrially decorated scene restaurant in Newport Beach and environs), but, as one of us noted,

"It's loud, so if your kids scream, it won't bother the other patrons."

That's very true, because at one point, I vaguely remember hearing a child scream behind me and not caring in the least. (Or is it that I hear crazy children screaming in the background everyday and have become completely desensitized?) Actually, on a less busy night when the place was not so hopping, my own kids were hanging out near, but not at, our table, playing with another little girl from another nearby table, and no one batted an eye (and no one lost an eye, thank God). Though not a Lamppost Pizza or Chuck E. Cheese on the kid-friendly scale, I'd personally give TN the highest kid friendliness rating possible for a place that serves food remotely suited to the adult palate.

Score: 7.63 Low/6, High/9

A 2ND VISIT? When asked if we would return, 7 of 8 said yes, and those of us who would return all agreed that TN is appropriate for a weeknight or casual weekend dinner. Some also thought it ok for birthdays, family gatherings and business dinners. Romantic evenings, however, are definitely out.

The lone dissenter felt it was a marginal likelihood at best to return...

"...it would be low on my return list."

Of the 7 who would return, 6 of us said we would return whenever we were in the mood for Thai. 1 of us made it conditional on already being in the neighborhood. The one who didn't care for the place so much may have been thinking, "So many restaurants, so little time..."

OVERALL, we got some good to very good, not quite to-die-for food at a decent price point in NOT the most cozy, comfortable or upscale of settings. A fairly good Asian night out for most, but as one diner summed it up,

"The company really made the meal."

Our next stop is Onotria, Costa Mesa.

Link: http://www.2ndsat.blogspot.com

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