Saturday, I accompanied a group of Thai friends as they made their annual pilgrimage to the Thai Buddhist Temple in Bridgeview to celebrate the New Year. [For the most part, we were going for the food. ;)] On the way down, I was quizzed on my knowledge of Thai food. "This isn't like any of the stuff that you've had in the restaurants," they chided. Reminding them that I'd spent time in Thailand, and that I considered myself to be kinda sorta proficient in Thai cookery, I was assured that this was going to be "the real deal, the hardcore stuff." Well, they were *largely* right.
Upon arrival, and after a long series of greetings, salutations, and introductions, we worked our way to the community room. Ringing its entire perimeter were stations set up for the service of all manner of food. There were stations for drinks, soups, salads, desserts, noodle bowls, curries, skewered meats, etc.
I put myself in the care of "J," who had arrived earlier, and who assured me that he would help me navigate the somewhat intimidating terrain. "You like papaya salad, right? You've gotta start with the papaya salad," he said. We walked over to a station where a couple was preparing papaya salads to order. "Can you eat hot?," I was asked. After being repeatedly assured that I could, a woman set out mixing and mashing ingredients in a deep, mortar-like basin. She added a small amount of dressing, turned the lot out onto a plate, and finally topped it with a generous amount of hand-sliced pork. I handed her $5 and we quickly moved along. We didn't get far. At the adjacent table, I spied individual tins or Har Mok. I asked "J" if he had tried it. "No. That's, that's..." "Har Mok," I interjected. His eyes lit up. "Yeah! You want that?" I did. Again, a small bill changed hands and we continued the rotation.
At "J's" recommendation, I completed my rounds with the purchase of iced longan juice, a chicken dish (with loads of ginger and "monkey ear" mushrooms), a trio of deep-fried pomfret (with an accompanying dipping sauce), and a bowl of soup (which included --amongst other things-- pressed tofu sheets and rice noodle rolls). We then moved to a dining table, where our friends had already piled up their independent contributions to our communal repast. In addition to the above, I managed to try a BBQ'd pork skewer, a BBQ'd pork sausage, a red chicken curry, and some fried catfish. Coasting on the fumes of a Ba Le banh mi sandwich consumed seven hours earlier, I must admit that I wasn't very interested in critically processing all of the foods that I tried. Suffice it to say that, for the most part, the food was exceptional, and, as I'd been previously assured, at significant remove from most of the local ThaiAm restaurant offerings.
We were absolutely stuffed when we left.
Oh, I think that the owner of Thai Grocery was absolutely *shocked* to see me in attendance.
Now, here's where it gets interesting...
I'd already commited to a "going away" party for a common friend of the group, so when I was casually informed that we'd be making a stop at Roong for drinks, I was a little leery. Granted, I'd never been to Roong (even though its mere blocks from my home), but I didn't see the sense in drinking at *Roong*.
What did I know...
We rolled up at around midnight. The first thing that I noticed was that black curtains had been drawn in the front windows. Inside, I noticed that the regular tables had been cleared from the room and replaced with cheaper tables in, what I can only describe as, a "church supper" configuration. The place looked deserted.
Upon being seated at a table in the otherwise empty room, we were presented with menus with the header "Roong After Hours." On one side was the food menu, printed entirely in Thai. The flip side, the beverage menu, was printed in English. There was a beer list, a mixed drink list, a bubble tea list, and a by-the-bottle list. Once I understood that we would be eating, I turned to "J." As at the Temple, he was quick to make suggestions, this time ordering for the table.
After we'd settled on our food and drink orders, I began to take note of what was going on around us. The room was beginning to fill and the lights were turned *way* down. Two Thai DJ's had taken up residence towards the back of the room and had started into a mid-tempo Thai Pop set. At the other tables, the standard operating procedure seemed to be the by-the-bottle option. Johnnie Walker Black, to put a fine point on it. At almost every table every table, I saw a bottle of J.W.B., a fresh bottle of club soda, a bucket of ice, and enough glassware to go around. It was the make-your-own-party option, resonably priced at the low, low price of just $50.
Our food began to arrive... I couldn't tell you exactly what "J" ordered, but I do know that none of it was listed on the regular menu. These were considered "bar snacks," and were priced accordingly. [$4-7] Aside from two different plates of marinated, fried/BBQ'd pork "nibbles," we had a dish that merits a better description. Small slices of steamed pork sausage (like Vietnamese cha lua), bean sprouts, bell pepper, ginger, and flowering Chinese cabbage (choi sum), had been stir-fried in a thin and spicy gravy. Delicious.
We ended up leaving between 1:30 and 2:00. At this time, every table was at capacity and there were 15-20 people at the bar, anxiously awaiting tables. The Thai DJs were now bumpin' Jigga.
I will give the board proper notification, next year. My impression was that most of the non-Thais in attendance at the Temple were close friends and family, but I was told that all are welcome.
I was one of *maybe* four non-Thais at Roong. I recognized *alot* of the people there from the Temple.
I was assured that the Roong occasion was *not* an anomaly. The Roong After Hours schedule? Beats me. I'm gonna try and get the menu translated, though.
I was promised an escort to Chicagoland's "best" Thai restaurant. To my knowledge it hasn't been mentioned here. Mum's the word, until I get there...
The most sincere thanks to "PC," "J," "A," and "P," for making me feel so welcome. Much love.