I was in a grumpy mood today. Due to the fact that the fiscal year for the place I work ends on Thursday, everyone is going crazy making sure that all reports are filed, checks cut, budgets exhausted, etc. before July 1st rolls around and we can all stress about what needs to get done first.
So, the grumps set in when I had to finish a report before 3 PM. This meant working well past a reasonable lunch hour. Grrrr. But, being a team player and all that, I finished my project, made the boss happy and left for lunch at 2:30 PM.
I decided a treat was in order and thought that Thai food would be great. The nearest Thai establishment was just a few blocks from work central. Wild Thaiger (http://www.wildthaiger.com) moved into the Phoenix Central Corridor in 2003, taking over one of the older buildings and right across a vacant lot from the incomparable Durants.
Parking for Wild Thaiger is in the back, so you have to maneuver down a very narrow alley way between Wild Thaiger and Jordans Mexican food. Aim for the spot between the two buildings and you will be right where you need to be. I parked the car and walked back toward the front where the entrance is.
The entrance separates the outside patio dining area from the inside space. The outdoor patio is decorated in lush plants, large tables and plenty of misters to counteract the summer heat. Inside, the building is decorated with a subdued Asian flair and the two-toned floor is a nice touch. Asian pop music wafted through the building.
The host approached me and asked if I would mind sitting at the bar since they were resetting the inside and patio for the dinner set. I would have preferred a table, to be honest, but there was no one else at the bar and the host was very gracious about it, so I thought I would be a trooper. I asked for a Diet Coke and a glass of ice water and within seconds I had both. Extra points were given because both glasses quart sized and filled to the brim. Copious amounts of refreshing beverages are always nice.
The host was also acting as my server and said that I could order from the lunch menu even though it was after 2 PM when they switch over to the dinner menu. I think this was his way of thanking me for sitting at the bar. I reviewed the menu and was torn. Not surprisingly, there were plenty of dishes heavy on the curries and peanut sauce.
I was having a tough time deciding between the Grilled Peanut Chicken ($7.95) and the Beef Panang ($7.95). Both were served with rice and a spring roll. I consulted the server for a recommendation and he said the beef was very popular at lunch. I selected it and asked for the spice level to be medium. There had been rumors as of late that Wild Thaiger had been making their entrees more bland and mild to cater to American tastes. So, I made sure I reiterated a medium spiciness.
After placing my order, the serve came back and handed me the remote control to the TV at the bar along with the channel guide. Knock yourself out! he said with a big grin. Okay, this was better than home, except the chair wasnt as comfy as my sofa. But here I am having Thai food, drinking a huge Diet Coke and channel surfing. Good times.
My lunch arrived about 15 minutes later. I am estimating because I was too wrapped up watching some cooking show on Food TV. The server set my large plate down and I could smell the curry instantly.
The menu described Beef Panang as Tender beef in zesty red curry with kaffir lime. On the plate was a sizable mound of white rice, the Beef Panang and a small spring roll resting on a tiny bowl of plum sauce. It was garnished with a couple of sprigs of cilantro and a sliced jalapeño. Before I even had my first bite, the server made it clear that if the spiciness was not enough, he would gladly take it back to add more heat.
I tried the spring roll first, but had to abandon that as it was simply too hot to eat. So, I went for a piece of the beef. Uh-oh. My first piece was a bit grisly. This didnt set a good tone and I was worried that it would just go downhill. I took another piece of the beef and it was perfect. Tender, fresh and a good mix with the red curry. The curry itself was excellent and a great mixture of spice, lime and heat, with also a bit of a creamy texture to it. The rice was very good and not overcooked.
I got about halfway through the entrée before tasting the spring roll. It has finally cooled enough to be handled and I took a bite of the roll along with a bit of the plum sauce. The wrapper was crunchy and similar to phyllo dough in texture. The filling was very nice, with a crunchy texture from the vegetables and softness from the pork. The sauce was nothing spectacular, but added some sweetness. What really stuck out in the spring roll was the cabbage in the filling. It was a nice shade of green as opposed to pale or almost yellow color you would find in most fillings.
By the time I finished my meal, my lips were tingling and my mouth a bit warm from the spice. I probably could have gone up one or two more levels on the spice, but this was perfectly acceptable. I really would have loved a small bowl of fried wonton wrappers or even a piece of bread to soak up the remaining curry sauce. You wont get this quality of curry spice from the McCormick spice display in the grocery store.
The server decided to do his Salome act and was enticing me to have dessert. I had only briefly glanced at the dessert menu when I ordered and immediately saw coconut ice cream. Eh, I was going to bypass dessert when he suggested the Coconut Fried Bananas with Coconut Ice Cream. How could I refuse?
My dessert arrived within a few minutes and I could smell the coconut from the batter along with a nice honey scent. On the plate were two medium scoops of coconut ice cream saddled on either side by bananas that had been dipped in a honey batter, rolled in coconut and deep fried. A little squeeze of caramel dressed the plate and the ice cream was topped with a zap of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry.
Frankly, they need to drop the whipped cream and cherry. I know it is all about presentation, but the golden fried bananas and the ice cream were the showcase. I tasted the ice cream. It was not overly sweet and had a nice coconut flavor. The bananas, however, were the star of this dish. Soft, but still with some body, the batter was perfect and the drizzle of caramel really complimented everything. This was a splurge dessert at $5.95, but I was going to treat myself no matter what.
The interesting thing I noticed was that this place gets a thorough scrubbing between the lunch and dinner scene. The outdoor patio was covered in suds and water as the man doing the cleaning was scouring the floor and rinsing off everything as he progressed. Inside, the tables were being cleaned and dressed for dinner.
As I finished my dessert and the last bit of my Diet Coke, I paid my bill ($16 and change plus the tip) and headed to the entrance. My server, the other staff and the matriarch of the whole group were all having their communal meal. The server stopped, got up and asked me if everything was okay. This was followed by the matriarch thanking me for coming in and asking if there was anything they could do to make things better.
No. It was a fine lunch.
The best part was that the grumpiness was just a memory.
The Wild Thaiger
2631 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
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