Howdy from Phoenix!
I normally post over on the Southwest board, but I was in Orange County this past weekend and thought I would review a few of the restaurants that I dine at during my visit to your neck of the woods. I hope you enjoy the reviews.
Since I hadn't seen my fiance in quite some time (we live in different states), it was time to make a visit to Orange County, California and have a romantic weekend. The best thing about my fiance is the yin and yang we share. I am a chowhound and J. is a foodie. We can make any restaurant experience work.
On the advice of an Orange County chowhound, we ventured up to Garden Grove from Irvine for dinner Friday night. We wanted Thai and I had been informed that Thainakorn was an excellent choice.
After meandering our way around various highways and interstates, we landed on Garden Grove Boulevard and found the place not to far from the I-5 and 22. J. and I were impressed that at 9:00 PM, the place was jumping. We found a parking spot and walked in hoping we didn't have to wait. The interior was noisy and frenetic and exciting. Large groups of people were at long tables enjoying some community eating. The place was scented with spice and herbs.
In a flash, we were seated near the front next to a window that looked out on to Garden Grove Blvd. The restaurant doesn't have any fancy decorations, save a few prints, some plants and a great cardboard cutout advertisement for Thai Airlines. We dove into the menu and were pleased with the expansive choices. All the usual suspects were there (Mee Krob, Tom Yum Kah Gai soup, Pahd Thai, etc.).
After some great negotiating on my part, I convince J. that it would be okay to be adventurous, but not outrageous. We agreed to try something new as well as a nice standby to see how the restaurant handled it all. I selected the Chickent Satay ($6.95) as my appetizer and the Pork with Chili and Cashew ($6.95) as the shared entree. J. was immediately attracted to the Nam Sod ($6.50) and a curry dish, but wasn't sure which one.
Our waiter arrived with his pad and pen and we ordered away, with our waiter giving us some great tips along the way. When asked abour the Nam Sod, he told us that there were two Nam Sod's on the menu and in great detail told us the difference between the two and why we should order one over the other. J. asked about a curry dish and the waiter waived us away from the Piguaut Curry Beef as more for a Thai palate than an American palate. I knew that J. would have ordered that in a heartbeat, but decided on the Beef Panang ($6.95) as a diplomatic gesture toward me and my tastes. (I am convinced that this move was to ensure that I send flowers this week.)
We sipped our beverages and chatted about the wine tasting we had just left before coming to dinner. After a few minutes, our appetizers arrived. The aroma was incredible. The satay plate held six large skewers of char-grilled chicken, a sizable amount of peanut sauce and a little bowl of cucumber salad. The Nam Sod was a oval plate of ground pork, peanuts, ginger, onions, lime juice and chili's. We dove in and were silent for several minutes. Both were outstanding.
The satay was hot, smokey and tender. The peanut sauce only enhanced the flavors and I was thrilled at the dish. The Nam Sod was a sharp contrast to the satay. This dish was savory and spice, and the lime juice was a fresh kick to the dish. J. was enjoying every bite thoroughly. We also noticed that the Nam Sod has two levels of spice. We got the nice upfront spice followed by a blast of spice a few moments later. This caught us off guard, but it was an enjoyable part of the dish.
Just as we were on our last satay skewers, our entrees arrived. We were first given a large tureen of rice ($1.00 per person charge with dinner) followed by the beef dish and the pork. The Beef Panang was a surpise to me as the dish was a large bowl filled with a curry broth in which huge chunks of beef were residing. The Pork with Chili and Cashew was set down and I immediately detected the ginger. J. and I were both drooling.
I served the rice and then was dying to try the beef. I scooped up one of the large chunks of beef and then ladled some of the broth on my rice. I covered the rest of the rice with the pork. J. was tackling the dishes in the same way.
The beef was amazingly tender. I cut with my fork a bit of the beef and mixed it with the rice and broth. One bite and I was hooked. It was fantastic. If there is a Thai comfort food, this is it. It was, literally, Thai pot roast. The meat had both a savory and salty flavor and the broth added a slightly sweet component. It was a perfectly executed dish when the spice appeared between bites. We both loved this dish.
Next up was the pork. Slices of pork were mixed with onions and ginger, then cooked with chilis and topped with cashews. The sauce for the dish was a surprise because its consistency was similar to molasses. The pork was tender and the onions were tender-crisp. The cashews were delicious and the sauce was exceptionally savory. This was a nice mix of tastes to counter the beef. This dish was stellar.
While both dishes were exceptional, J. and I clearly preferred the beef dish. It was such a nice surprise on all levels that it endeared itself to us in short order.
After we finished polishing off the entrees, J. was still snacking on the Nam Sod. I was eyeing the dessert menu and upon the waiter's return, I asked for a dish of the coconut ice cream ($3.95). Minutes later, it arrived and a big smile came across my face. The bowl contained two large scoops of ice cream. The scoops were then topped with coconut milk and sprinkled with small gelatin ovals for supporting texture. This was, indeed, a nice treat. The ice cream was grand and the addition of the milk made it exceptionally rich. The gelatin ovals were the interesting part. They did add a neat texture to balance out the ice cream, but the taste and texture reminded me of jelly beans. We enjoyed the dish so much, we could have easily ordered another serving.
When we finished, we were presented with our bill: two appetizers, two entrees, rice for two, one ice cream, one thai iced tea, and one Diet Coke set us back a meager $39.42 plus tip. Based on the quality and excellence of the food, J. and I thought the meal was a steal. After some discussion, we agreed that this was some of the finest Thai food we have ever had.
Between the food and the service, Thainakorn was wonderful. We had zero complaints and will be returning in the near future.
I only hope J. remembers that diplomacy in ordering will indeed get me to send flowers. Godiva chocolates and Dom Perginon are another story.
12532 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Directions: Take I-5 to the 22 East. Exit at Haster Street. Take a left at the end of the ramp. Then turn right at the light. The restaurant is about 4 blocks down on the left side of the street.
Notes: There is also a location at 25482 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo, CA.
(Next up: I have lunch with the future in-laws at Dana Point Harbor and discover our waiter thinks we have scurvy. Stay tuned.)