As mentioned in the Tribune a week ago Friday, Pad Thai, etc. lives in a strip mall just west of downtown Wheaton (563 W Liberty, I believe) and was selected by the Thai consul as a great place to get authentic Thai food. So we set out for lunch there on Friday.
In defense of the place, there were two challenges for them, the first being the decision to go for a late lunch, when they seemed to have a small staff, and were winding down, and the second was the previously discussed challenge of being taken seriously at Thai places when they are trying to protect one from strange and challenging tastes. Perhaps one needs to take lists of foods one has eaten at other restaurants, or printouts of Chowhound postings to convince them that, yes, I know what I am ordering, have eaten it before and enjoy it.
I tried the trick of asking our waitperson, whom I believe was the owner, to season the food as she would for herself. She did a double take at that, and then apparently ignored my request. I would have expected them to at least make the food a bit spicy - if they did I cannot imagine how bland it is normally.
We started with Tom Yum with Chicken, a reasonable baseline I thought. Decent broth, okay flavor, but woefully under-seasoned. We then continued to Thai barbecued chicken (do not remember the Thai name) because there had been a discussion about that recently which piqued my curiosity, and there was no Thai fried chicken on the menu. The chicken was seasoned as a satay, little touch of curry. Boneless, skinless breast and my dining companion and Indian coworker opined that it had been pre-seasoned, pre-cooked, and frozen then popped on the grill to finish. Dry, fairly bland, and not very good. (This chicken's seasoning put me in mind of one of the best dishes I have ever eaten, Grilled Squid in Hanoi, similar seasoning with more kick, on tender, lightly grilled baby squid, blissful, but I digress) Grilled vegetables and fried rice(!) came with it, and were just fine. We then had Massuman (sp?) curry, which was very good. Rich from the coconut, many layers of flavor with a decent pepper kick that continued to build for some time. Not really hot by my standards, but with some noticeable spice. We agreed that this dish saved the meal from being awful and showed what the kitchen is able to do if properly motivated.
Our hostess was busy and we had little chance to talk. It had been my plan to speak with her about secret menus, off menu dishes and where she came from, but the meal was such that I just was not that interested. It was fairly pricey as well - a bowl of Tom Yum (single bowl serving one person, not even that big a bowl) cost $4.50! The frozen chicken ran $9.95, I think. Lunch specials were about $8.
To be fair, I believe you could eat pretty well at this place once you establish your bona fides and manage the menu properly. But it did not compare well with Lemongrass in Naperville either in terms of price or what was on the plate, and is not anywhere close to Yum Thai or Spoon Thai, which was what I had hoped for. So I think I will invest my energies in expanding my relationship with Lemongrass (and perhaps Bangkok Village, as suggested by C1) and seeing if they will offer me some things off the menu.
I will report on the other western recommendation in that Trib article, Old Peking in N'ville next week, though I know that place, having lunched there more times than I can count, and it has already been discussed on the Board.