Here's a confession: I am very snobby when it comes to Asian food. I will almost never, if possible, eat Chinese food unless in Chinatown or the Argyle area--extending the latter as far north as Mei Shung. While I adore Thai food, I must face the problem that there is no "thaitown" in Chicago. My answer has been to generally limit myself to a few places I know will be reallly good.
For a while, my standard thai was Ruby of Siam, in Evanston, but especially the branch in Bannockburn. The menu was vast, so I could never tire of going there. Family members still have fond (or less fond) memories of when we asked for the tom yum soup, hot. Alas, the Bannockburn branch closed, and the Evanston branch went severly downhill. Another long gone option was the sunday buffet at Bangkok, where they used to simulate actual Bangkok street food each week. Today's buffet pales. This primarily left me with Thai Super Chef on Lawrence, near Sheridan. The only place I knew where Thai customers always outnumbered. Then, we moved away from that hood. Was I destined to wait for the occasional long trips from Oak Park to Uptown?
There is no shortage of Thai places in or near Oak Park, and we tried a bunch, especially the places flagged by the Chicago Tribune. None came close. Weak flavors, lousy produce, and limited menus were not what we wanted.
Ms. VI was less willing than me to just give up on Thai. She pushed me to try new places. I relented one sunday and tried Yum Thai on Madison in Forest Park, way past nightlife row, west of Des Plaines Av., (c.f., recent posts by Dave Hammond for additional info on forest park). Our first meal at Yum Thai was good enough to get us back. In fact, our first good meal was good enough to compensate for an occasional less than good meal.
One day, however, we spotted a seperate menu written in Thai. I assumed that it was essentially the same menu, just written differently. Until I recieved this startling confession from the waitress. Not only was the food on the Thai menu different, it was better! And she told us that she'd help us order from it.
Since that revelation, we have been dying to return. We did, last night. Wow. For those getting bored with the length of this post, let me tell you what we had, and you can just go yourself: Mee Krob (fried noodles), beef salad with garlic, green curry with chicken, pork in garlic, thai style; chinese brocoli in oyster sauce and satay for the chowhounditas.
To be honest, except for the pork, I do not know if there was anything we ordered that was not on the regular menu. Maybe it was because we let her order for us or maybe it was because some secret code said, this is from the "real menu", but the food was cooked with more care, more variety and more flavor dimmension than anything we'd ever had there, and maybe more than we'd ever had locally. OK, this is not inovative, artful Thai like Amarind or (I guess) Arun, but boy did it satisfy.
Mee Krob is one an odd dish. Is there anything else so authentic that seems so un-authentic. You got to wonder, do real thai's eat this cotton-candy like production of sticky noodles. Well, yes, especially when done as good as Yum Thai's. Sure it was sweet, but with a strong undercurrent of chili. Chewy in a great way, like thai rice crispy treats.
Again it was my imagination, but the steak salad which has always been my favorite dish at Yum Thai, was even more better yesterday. As good as the same dish from famed Lotus of Siam. Let me just say that no vampire dare visit me today. The green curry featured an amazing collection of vegetables for this time of year. Plus, the cocunut milk was so deft that you barely noticed its presence. What made the pork, thai style, I have no idea. Pieces the size of torn paper tossed in a black pepper, garlic sauce that was mild, compared with the heat of the curry and the raw garlic/peppers of the steak. My only quibble was that a few pork slices were a tad too chewy.
I once read a theory that the reason that French women are so chicly, skinny is that french food is so good; thus they only need to get by on very small portions. Needless to say, I do not subscribe to this theory. When faced with great food, I find myself needing to eat it until either the food dissappears or my stomach looks like cool hand luke after 50 eggs. It was very hard to stop last night.
I am not sure of the exact address of Yum Thai, but it is on Madison Ave. in Forest Park, a few blocks west of Des Plaines Ave. If you've reached 1st Ave., then you've gone too far west.