Last, I showed up at Spoon Thai at about 8:00 with 9 other people. Mim, one of my favorites on the Spoon Thai staff (whose mother is one of the chefs that prepares the issan specialties (and the only one that makes the gaeng lao)), had already set up a table for ten with forks, and the amerithai menu. When I walked in with my brother, she immediately smiled and greeted us and said while picking up the american menu "Oh, you won't be needing these, right?". We chatted for a while, caught up, talked about her having seen the Gorilla Gourmet Maxwell St video, and then ordered. Spoon hit a series of home runs - fried chicken fresh out of the frier, spurting hot grease on my pristine white shirt, sour curry with whole mudfish and cauliflower was great, clean crisp sour funk uncut by any bitterness, with slightly overfried mudfish, pork neck laab ordered "pet pet", thai spicy, with great kernels of course-ground rice, among an array of other dishes.
My parents, (though not Thai like Chicago Mike's ex) who spent 2 years in Peace Corps in the far south of Thailand, who stopped eating Thai food in restaurants in DC for thirty years because it always fell so short of the remembered mark, ate it all up with gusto, and were happy. Wanna and her husband (whose name I forget) came by periodically to check on us, and smiled appreciatively when they overheard a conversation about which hotdog stand (between Wolfies and Gene and Judes) presents the better product. 10 people ate a phenomenal meal for about 12 bucks/person, with plenty of tom yum and fried rice with kapi to take home for the next day.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that a little time invested in getting to know the people who own and work for a restaurant can yield many benefits, including but not limited to terrific meals.
Which all leads me to TAC Quick and Erik M.
About a year ago, Erik M posted a translation of the Thai Menu at TAC Quick, an attractive little restaurant two door south of the Sheridan Red line El Stop. Despite the fact that both khanom jeen nam ya and kow mun gai are on the menu, I hadn't gone to try them out. Until last week that is, when Erik, who is buddies with the chef, arranged a mini-chowathon there at the Elusive RST's urging.
Let me say right off the bat - this meal was incredible; in some places better than Spoon, in some areas on a par with Thai Aree at its best, in all regards a top-tier restaurant. I'm sure that part of that derives from the relationship Erik has with Andy, the chef/owner. But you too can have this meal, with a little persistence and research.
The space itself is very pleasant - it feels a little like an art gallery with paintings on clean white walls, a metal counter and a pass-through to an itty bitty kitchen. Most of the clientele we saw were local Lakeview types - a bodybuilder, a couple of young professionals, and us, a scruffy ragtag crew of eaters.
Here's what we ate (helpfully transcribed by Erik M (multiple times (who is eager that this review come out accurate)):
Gaeng Khiaw-wan kumi-jiaw - green curry with chicken and thai eggplant over an omelette. This was slightly sweet coconutty; the thai globe eggplant were al dente, with some raw bitterness off setting the sweetness.
Khai tawt - thai style marinated fried chicken. This came with a dipping sauce, clean chili flavor, with maybe a little nam pla, not as concentrated as the Spoon Thai dip, nor as interesting as the Thai Ave chili dip, but I liked it. The chicken was very good - my hunk o breast cooked slightly longer than optimal, but was still very good. TAC includes wings along with chunks of breast and thigh unlike spoon or SNAR which serve only hacked up chunk and only wings respectively
Kha mun - red braised pork hock in a deep rich star anise-y broth, with braised mustard greens; this was a dish where the chinese influence on this menu was most evident. It was a highlight - tender pork hock with a strata of glistening fat braised to perfect texture. Crazy C mooned over this bowl, saying it was better than the version made be her singaporean grandmother. Oh crap - does she read the site C? Sorry if you get into trouble.
Gaeng Som Cha Om - a sour curry with cha-om omelette and cabbage. Cha Om is a thai herb whose flavor I recognized the night we had it but which I can't identify in retrospect. I wasn't swept away by this dish, it may be that I'm not crazy about too much Cha Om, there was a medicinal after taste that I found a little off-putting; I've had the same experience at Thai Aree, of disliking the after taste, but I don't know if that's a feature of gaeng som in general, the spoon version last night had no unpleasantness. Others at the table liked it better than me.
Som Tam - green papaya salad - both the "thai" version with dried shrimp and the "puu" issan version with raw blue crab. These were phenomenal - TAC uses the thai long bean, and had gorgeous intact crab claws in the puu version. They were fiery as all hell - kerensa got a hunk of whole chili and turned green and red in succession until little sips of half and half, and mouthfuls of rice.
Saikrawk Isaan - northern style slightly sour issan sausage. A terrific version of this dish, made in house, with a funk-level in between the sour issan sausage and the regular sausage at spoon. It comes with raw cabbage to make a little sausage bundle with salted peanuts, ginger and chili.
Khao Kao Yen Ta Fo with beansprouts instead of noodles - fluorescent red broth with little pieces of tofu and squid floating around. This dish made the least impact on me.
Yam Gra Paw Plaa - fish maw salad with deep fried puffed fish maws, like amore resilient shrimp cracker. I loved this dish, basil, lettuce, a rainbow of different veggies with the maw sprinkled on top like croutons.
Kra Prao Krob Khai Yeow ma - a modified basil chicken with deep-fried crisp holy basil leaves garnished with fried 1000 year old black eggs. This was an ostensibly nouveau style dish, a variation on the classic pad ka prow. Incredible.
Khao Mun Daeng - bbq pork and sausage over rice. Another Chinese style dish, with red rimmed bbq pork loin and sweet Chinese-style sausage over rice with a sweet sauce on top.
Goong Cha Naam Plaw - raw shrimp with an unimaginable amount of raw garlic with nam pla and lots of lime juice and cilantro. Another highlight. I couldve eaten a dozen of these little shrimpies, plus I was still tasting the raw garlic the next morning even after two toothbrushings.
Tom Sado - a tom yum like broth with all the sour galangal and kaffir lime notes with beef organ meat - tripe mostly.
I can't remember if we had sticky rice or steamed rice. The meal came to about 16 bucks a person plus tip, the whole thai menu is very reasonably priced. I recommend this place highly. I was ready to go back last night instead of Spoon, but deferred to the pleas of Kerensa who didn't want to return to the same place two nights in the same week. This is a very good place, with a really interesting menu, well-worth further investigation.
STP, ChiMike, we drank beer Gary brought along something from the Bells family. Crazy C brought a bottle of wine, but I didnt have any.
RST also brought along of few palate-shocking cambodian treats for us to sample after dinner a papaya pickle with anchovies and fish paste that makes your tear ducts contract with sour/salt/ferment, and a remarkable fishpaste condiment, that was both awful and fascinating. We topped all that off with RST-contributed guatemalan annatto pastries (and others) from Markellos 24-hr bakery in Albany Park.
3930 N Sheridan
3520 W. Lawrence
I think it's the grocery store on BWay south of Wilson.