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Naem Khao Thawt at Spoon Thai [Pic]

Naem Khao Thawt at Spoon Thai [Pic]
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  • Naem Khao Thawt at Spoon Thai [Pic]

    Post #1 - March 23rd, 2005, 8:55 pm
    Post #1 - March 23rd, 2005, 8:55 pm Post #1 - March 23rd, 2005, 8:55 pm
    Within the traditional culinary repetoire of Thailand, there exists a whole class of foods, called kàp klâem, that are specifically intended as accompaniments to alcohol. These unique dishes are most often characterized by their bracing chile heat, pungent aroma, and brashly assertive flavour-profile. As I have remarked before, it is believed that these especially robust dishes provide the greatest resistance to the dulling effects of alcohol on the palate.

    Spoon Thai offers some of the very best preparations of this type to be found in Chicago. These offerings include: mũu pîng (grilled pork skewers), thâwt man (fried fish cakes), kao lĩao mũu yâw (a salad with Vietnamese-style steamed pork sausage, steamed beansprouts, and steamed Chinese broccoli), yam maa-mâa (a salad made with MaMa™ instant noodles), and nãem khâo thâwt (a deep-fried rice salad, with Northern Thai-style "pressed ham"). This last item is perhaps my very favourite one of all.

    Image
    nãem khâo thâwt

    Traditionally, for the preparation of this dish, steamed Jasmine rice is formed into small clumps with the inclusion of curry paste and beaten egg. These small "fritters" are subsequently deep-fried until crisp. To serve, the fried "fritters" are broken up and mixed with nãem, or Northern Thai "pressed ham," chile, cilantro, peanuts, and slivered red onion and scallion. The whole lot is then dressed with plenty of lime juice and fish sauce.

    Spoon Thai generally uses nãem which is made locally, by either Kritsana Moungkeow at Sticky Rice, or by a kindly Lao woman that vends her wares to some of the local Thai grocers. Either way, it is a real treat, and vastly superior in taste and texture to that produced commercially, and shipped from California.

    Please be aware of the fact that this dish is particularly rich and filling. In fact, whenever I order this dish, the waitresses marvel at how I manage to stay so slim. :wink:


    Regards,
    Erik M.
  • Post #2 - March 23rd, 2005, 9:01 pm
    Post #2 - March 23rd, 2005, 9:01 pm Post #2 - March 23rd, 2005, 9:01 pm
    Wow. I missed that one, and it looks great, thanks Erik.

    Is the naem sold (and I believe, made) at Ba Le much different than the Thai ham?
  • Post #3 - March 23rd, 2005, 10:12 pm
    Post #3 - March 23rd, 2005, 10:12 pm Post #3 - March 23rd, 2005, 10:12 pm
    I have very little doubt that you will enjoy this dish, Jeff.

    I am not exactly sure which Ba Le pork product you are referring to. Did you notice my mention of a "Vietnamese-style steamed pork loaf" in the OP? Perhaps that is what you mean, but that is a different creature altogether.

    Nãem is a lightly-fermented pork product that is not unlike the Thai encased sausages--sâi kràwk isãan and sâi ùa--with which you are likely familiar. For the preparation of nãem, minced pork, minced pork skin, cooked sticky rice, chile, and seasonings are all mixed together and "pressed" into a mold and then set aside to ferment for a few days. Unlike the encased sausages, though, nãem does not need to be cooked before it is eaten.

    Alternately, the Vietnamese steamed pork loaf* that I mentioned is about three inches in diameter and has a texture and taste similar to a frankfurter sausage. I would imagine that it is produced in a similar way to a frankfurter, too. As it is at Spoon Thai, this type of sausage is often used in Thai restaurants and homes in the U.S. in place of genuine Thai mũu yâw sausage. At any rate, I would strongly suggest that you try the kao-lão mũu yâw, mentioned above, if you have not already. It is another favourite of mine.

    FYI: I hope to debut a website that I am creating within the next week or so. It is intended to be a place where all my translated Thai Menus can be easily accessed, referenced, and downloaded. Right off the bat, this will include six different menus, one of which will be the latest Spoon Thai menu translation. And, this Spoon Thai menu translation most assuredly contains all of the items that I mentioned in my O.P.

    Regards,
    Erik M.

    * Chả lụa in Vietnamese.
    Last edited by Erik M. on March 26th, 2005, 5:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #4 - March 24th, 2005, 8:59 am
    Post #4 - March 24th, 2005, 8:59 am Post #4 - March 24th, 2005, 8:59 am
    The dish(es) look and sound great. I look forward to trying some of them soon and to your website. Sounds really great!
    Thanks!
  • Post #5 - March 24th, 2005, 11:57 am
    Post #5 - March 24th, 2005, 11:57 am Post #5 - March 24th, 2005, 11:57 am
    Erik, sure, I know what naem is. Goes great with beer, even the pre-packaged ones from LA that look quite a bit like the weird Southen gas station snack, the Pickled Pete (like a pickled Vienna Sausage in plastic, right by the Slim Jims and Corn Nuts). From Spoon, I usually just order it plain, and it comes with the usual drinking garnishes such as peppers, ginger and peanuts. I am happy to see it incorporated into what looks like a great rice dish.

    I just wondered whether the naem (looks the same and was pronounced very similarly by the counter girl) for sale at Ba Le was the same stuff. I figured that it was either a Vietnamese version, or that they were selling something that's not really Vietnamese, but Thai. I am distinguishing the naem-like product, squarish with a garlic clove on top, from the saran-wrapped, pinkish "Vietnamese brat," which I have taken to adding to my Ba Le #1, creating a sort of "combo."

    Similarly, last time I was at Ba Le, my kid grabbed a bunch of coconut-tapioca and egg based sweets for the road. The exact same stuff, from the same kitchen was available for much less money next door at the Thai Grocery. Shared foods at home or just in Chicago?
  • Post #6 - March 24th, 2005, 2:20 pm
    Post #6 - March 24th, 2005, 2:20 pm Post #6 - March 24th, 2005, 2:20 pm
    JeffB wrote:Erik, sure, I know what naem is.


    I don't doubt that you do.

    Indulge me, though, Jeff. I try to write, respond, and provide exposition for everyone's sake.

    Regards,
    Erik M.
  • Post #7 - March 24th, 2005, 2:37 pm
    Post #7 - March 24th, 2005, 2:37 pm Post #7 - March 24th, 2005, 2:37 pm
    Erik, is this the same dish (or similar) to the crispy rice always referenced in reports of world famous Lotus of Siam?
  • Post #8 - March 24th, 2005, 3:32 pm
    Post #8 - March 24th, 2005, 3:32 pm Post #8 - March 24th, 2005, 3:32 pm
    Vital Information wrote:Erik, is this the same dish (or similar) to the crispy rice always referenced in reports of world famous Lotus of Siam?


    Yes, it is exactly the same. And, just as with the famed LOS dish, "Northern Thai Pork Stew,"* it is my opinion that there are better versions of these respective dishes produced in this town.**

    Erik M.

    * Kaeng hangleh in Thai, and identified by me on the Sticky Rice menu translation as, "Burmese-style curry // pork, pickled garlic, ginger and red chile in a pungent, oily, and complex curry sauce [no coconut milk]."

    ** For some glimpse into why I believe that the version of kaeng hangleh, at least, is better at Sticky Rice than it is at Lotus of Siam, read this thread.
    Last edited by Erik M. on March 24th, 2005, 5:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #9 - March 24th, 2005, 4:39 pm
    Post #9 - March 24th, 2005, 4:39 pm Post #9 - March 24th, 2005, 4:39 pm
    Erik, I'm not sure if this basic question has been asked: Why is Thai cooking at such a high level in Chicago?

    I mean really, the stuff you are posting about, the stuff that I pay way too little to have delivered to my door at least a couple of times a week from four or five top-notch places (not to mention the scores of just-fine places that I don't even think about) is great food by any measure, not just good Thai food. Ingredients, taste, technique, respect, innovation. It's all there.

    Chicago's a decent sized population center, with a Thai consulate. But there are a half dozen other cities with comparable populations and a couple that dwarf Chicago's Thai community.

    What is it? Word of mouth in Thailand, the consulate, Arun, our tropical climate? You know these people, what is it?
  • Post #10 - March 24th, 2005, 5:45 pm
    Post #10 - March 24th, 2005, 5:45 pm Post #10 - March 24th, 2005, 5:45 pm
    JeffB wrote:Erik, I'm not sure if this basic question has been asked: Why is Thai cooking at such a high level in Chicago?

    I mean really, the stuff you are posting about, the stuff that I pay way too little to have delivered to my door at least a couple of times a week from four or five top-notch places (not to mention the scores of just-fine places that I don't even think about) is great food by any measure, not just good Thai food. Ingredients, taste, technique, respect, innovation. It's all there.

    Chicago's a decent sized population center, with a Thai consulate. But there are a half dozen other cities with comparable populations and a couple that dwarf Chicago's Thai community.

    What is it? Word of mouth in Thailand, the consulate, Arun, our tropical climate? You know these people, what is it?


    That's a great question. I've wondered that myself. I've posted this before, but my meal at Renu Nakorn in LA was not even close to as good as Spoon, Thai Avenue or TAC (but that is only one data point).

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #11 - March 24th, 2005, 6:18 pm
    Post #11 - March 24th, 2005, 6:18 pm Post #11 - March 24th, 2005, 6:18 pm
    My theory would be that Thai Grocery and perhaps other importers raised the level of ingredients available-- so you could actually get galangal instead of ginger, Thai basil rather than Italian, etc. (The irony of that being that he told us during the Gorilla Gourmet shoot that Italian chefs come for Thai basil now, it's stronger.)

    Then you had Arun's. Set aside how you feel about the restaurant and the impact of there just being a fine dining Thai place raised horizons and set a bar higher during the 80s and 90s.

    Finally, I think the general mediocrity of so much takeout Chinese in this city-- and for all that there are great Chinese restaurants here, none of them include me in their delivery area-- created an opportunity for Thai, and more specifically a certain set of gringo-friendly dishes, to become the default Asian delivery food. Quite literally, if our Chinese was generally as good as New York's or LA's, our Thai wouldn't be as good as it is.

    I have little to no evidence to back any of this up, but these are my theories.
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  • Post #12 - March 25th, 2005, 9:30 am
    Post #12 - March 25th, 2005, 9:30 am Post #12 - March 25th, 2005, 9:30 am
    Mike G wrote:My theory would be that Thai Grocery and perhaps other importers raised the level of ingredients available-- so you could actually get galangal instead of ginger, Thai basil rather than Italian, etc. (The irony of that being that he told us during the Gorilla Gourmet shoot that Italian chefs come for Thai basil now, it's stronger.)

    Then you had Arun's. Set aside how you feel about the restaurant and the impact of there just being a fine dining Thai place raised horizons and set a bar higher during the 80s and 90s.

    Finally, I think the general mediocrity of so much takeout Chinese in this city-- and for all that there are great Chinese restaurants here, none of them include me in their delivery area-- created an opportunity for Thai, and more specifically a certain set of gringo-friendly dishes, to become the default Asian delivery food. Quite literally, if our Chinese was generally as good as New York's or LA's, our Thai wouldn't be as good as it is.

    I have little to no evidence to back any of this up, but these are my theories.


    I'm still (very) curious on Erik's supposition, but Mike your answer prompts me to think of some answers, mainly 'cause I do not necessarily agree with all your points.

    The thing is, the cool Thai "scene" we recognize is hardly a scene, cribbing Metromix reporter be damned. The places we adore, TAC, Spoon, Thai Avenue, got the way by creating exceedingly pure Thai food with little thought to the mainstream. As seen so often, the fans of Arun's are not fans of Spoon, and vice-versa.

    So, what I do think is this. I agree with MikeG that Thai restaurants took a role in Chicago dining that perhaps Chinese did in NYC. A lot of Thai places, a lot of OK to good Thai places opened up in Chicago and the suburbs as the go-to alternative. Thai Aree is a great example of how a very outlying area could get a decent Thai restaurant. Now, what I think is that the "Thai food industry" in Chicago drove a population of Thai to Chicago. And these people started seeking both better and "real" Thai food.

    The story of Spoon shows this. Spoon did not start out serving the kinda food picutred above. It was only after prompting by Thai friends and customers that the place started adding the food that some of us crave. I believe TAC would fall into a similiar catagory, Andy saw a market of savvy Thai customers, and jumped in to serve it.

    Here's my summary recap

    Few good Chinese restaurants in Chicago (Chinese immigration limited for many years) ---> Opportunity for "new thing", Thai ---> All sortsa Thai places open in Chicago including faux star Arun's ----> Thai's come to Chicago to deal with demand for Thai food ----> Thai's want to eat out at times too ---> Leading to restaurants catering to Thai customers.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #13 - March 25th, 2005, 11:02 am
    Post #13 - March 25th, 2005, 11:02 am Post #13 - March 25th, 2005, 11:02 am
    And, of course, Thailand is among those nations (maybe only France, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Lousiana compare) where food is taken very seriously at every level by nearly every citizen.

    And the government is into it. See the link re Thailand's wacky plan to ensure authenticity by opening Thai-government owned restairants in the US. This never came to pass, but I also have read that the government offer help to Thai chefs looking to open US restaurants.

    OK, none of this answers the question: Why Chicago?

    http://www.hospitalitynet.org/news/4007 ... aurants+us
  • Post #14 - March 25th, 2005, 11:10 am
    Post #14 - March 25th, 2005, 11:10 am Post #14 - March 25th, 2005, 11:10 am
    Interesting. Could it be more than coincidence that Silver Spoon (710 N. Rush) is next door to the Thai Consulate (700 N. Rush)? The first time I noticed this, I remember thinking that was the most brilliant choice any restaurant owner ever made -- guaranteed lunch trade! But now I wonder, what's the rest of the story? :wink:
  • Post #15 - March 25th, 2005, 3:59 pm
    Post #15 - March 25th, 2005, 3:59 pm Post #15 - March 25th, 2005, 3:59 pm
    Vital Information wrote:The story of Spoon shows this. Spoon did not start out serving the kinda food picutred above. It was only after prompting by Thai friends and customers that the place started adding the food that some of us crave. I believe TAC would fall into a similiar catagory, Andy saw a market of savvy Thai customers, and jumped in to serve it.


    Is the Thai cuisine (in Chicago) skewed towards any particular region of Thailand? 'Authentic' cooking generally is more focussed and leads to better food. I don't know anything about Thai regional cooking and whether it is very diverse/disparate - and how they are represented in the restaurants. If the Thai population in Chicago led towards the establishment of specific types of Thai cuisine, that could be a reason for the better Thai food in Chicago, beyond a generic "Thai"
    A similar argument perhaps applies to Chinese and Indian cuisine.


    added on edit
    Erik, I saw your post on Thai drinks and I was wondering if there were any coconut/palm based alcoholic drinks?
  • Post #16 - March 25th, 2005, 4:17 pm
    Post #16 - March 25th, 2005, 4:17 pm Post #16 - March 25th, 2005, 4:17 pm
    sazerac wrote:
    Vital Information wrote:The story of Spoon shows this. Spoon did not start out serving the kinda food picutred above. It was only after prompting by Thai friends and customers that the place started adding the food that some of us crave. I believe TAC would fall into a similiar catagory, Andy saw a market of savvy Thai customers, and jumped in to serve it.


    Is the Thai cuisine (in Chicago) skewed towards any particular region of Thailand? 'Authentic' cooking generally is more focussed and leads to better food. I don't know anything about Thai regional cooking and whether it is very diverse/disparate - and how they are represented in the restaurants. If the Thai population in Chicago led towards the establishment of specific types of Thai cuisine, that could be a reason for the better Thai food in Chicago, beyond a generic "Thai"
    A similar argument perhaps applies to Chinese and Indian cuisine.


    added on edit
    Erik, I saw your post on Thai drinks and I was wondering if there were any coconut/palm based alcoholic drinks?


    I'll take a small stab at this, although I am sure Erik M or Zim could probably add better.

    First, let me say, that I think that the divisions in India and China are a bit more profound, more distictive than the divisions in Thailand, which is not to say that there is not strong regional differences in Thai food.

    Now, regional Thai in Chicago. I think Sticky Rice is the only restaurant that really plays up its regional direction, in this case, Northern Thai food (see Erik's translated menus). Thai Avenue is strongly orientated towards Issan, and their Thai menu is mostly Issan and Northern Thai food. Both TAC and Spoon feature regional dishes without being specifically regional. For instance, Erik has written about certain southern style Thai dishes at TAC. I remember from a long ago post from foodfirst on Chowhound, that in Thailand, strictly regional restaurants are not that common, that most restaurants feature a range of dishes.
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #17 - March 26th, 2005, 11:29 am
    Post #17 - March 26th, 2005, 11:29 am Post #17 - March 26th, 2005, 11:29 am
    Jeff et al.,

    Your bait smells delicious, but I've got a website to get up and running.

    A couple of remarks* in response to what has already been said:

    1) At present, I am unable to locate reliably accurate population numbers for the Chicagoland area. I hope to be able to do so, shortly.

    2) It is the youngest generations of Chicagoland Thais (35yrs. and under) that eat out at the Thai restaurants with any frequency. Perhaps 3-8 times per month. The elder generations of Chicagoland Thais (36yrs. +) eat out at the Thai restaurants relatively infrequently. Perhaps 3 or less times per month.** Make of this what you will.

    3) I agree that the efforts of Mr. Lin at Thai Grocery, as well as those efforts of the folks at Thailand Imports, etc., have contributed significantly to the quality and variety of Thai foodstuffs that are available to Chicagoland's Thai restaurant industry. However, in this day and age, the vast majority of foodstuffs used by Chicagoland's Thai restaurant industry do not come from these sources. Instead, they are largely sourced from the wholesalers that service Chicagoland's Vietnamese, Chinese, and Hispanic restaurant industries. Make of this what you will.

    4) Within the top-tier*** of Thai restaurants in Chicagoland, the number of cooks from the Northern provinces of Thailand is significant. Make of this what you will.****

    5) I do not know one Thai restaurateur in Chicagoland that ascribes any significance to the presence of the Thai Consulate in Chicago. Make of this what you will.

    6) I do not know one Thai restaurateur in Chicagoland that ascribes any significance to the presence of Arun Sampanthavivat. Make of this what you will. Further, the number of Chicagoland Thais--restaurateurs, cooks, or otherwise--that have eaten at Arun's is negligible. Make of this what you will. :wink:


    Regards,
    Erik M.

    Edit: gleam was kind enough to point me to this CH post by Rob Paral on Thai population numbers in the Chicagoland area according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

    * At present, I have neither the time nor the inclination to provide anything even roughly discursory in nature.

    ** These are merely my own approximations, but several Thai restuaranteurs have confirmed these approximations, nonetheless. And, FWIW, all of those restaurateurs that I managed to consult found my estimates to be quite generous.

    *** Defined by me as follows: Sticky Rice, Spoon Thai, T.A.C., Aroy Thai, Yum Thai, Siam's House, and Thai Avenue.

    ****I would caution against ascribing any statistical significance to this number.
  • Post #18 - March 26th, 2005, 11:00 pm
    Post #18 - March 26th, 2005, 11:00 pm Post #18 - March 26th, 2005, 11:00 pm
    Hey, aren't you guys jumping the gun a little and assuming facts not in evidence? What's the basis for saying that Chicago's Thai scene is so far ahead other cities' Thai scenes. Thai food is certainly trending upwards everywhere.

    Just on my own limited experience, I certainly wouldn't be suggesting that Chicago's Thai food is better than LA's without doing a lot of work to prove it.

    There seem to be a couple issues here beyond just whether there's some over-zealous Chicagoland pride: 1) is having interesting "hidden" menus the same as having good food? 2) is the number of high quality Thai restaurants in Chicago statistically significant?

    I also have a feeling that the perception may be benefitting from an active online foodie community that publicizes such so actively. I'm not even implying that then these places get significant business, etc, etc, just that you know about them and can thus make the perception on online communities that Chicago has a Thai food scene that's better than elsewhere. Hey, it's Chicago. It gets cold in winter. More babies, more online talk.

    I'll admit that my meal at TAC Quick was fantastic. But I suspect this may have a lot to do with one great artisan who maintains excellent quality control. We have a fantastic pizza maker here in Portland who makes pizzas that Brooklyners claim is better than what they grew up with. But I wouldn't claim that we're a pizza destination, even with other good and interesting options.

    I'm not trying to just be provocative here. I just think you should have to prove a claim first. Who, here, has gone exploring in other cities for Thai food, especially LA and SF, which I think would be the first places to look. The Texas cities have large populations of SE Asians, but terrible online communities so I don't get the sense farangs know much at all about the food options there.

    Erik, I'd be surprised if the Thai populations were substantially different in proportion from the link you gave me a while back for Vietnamese populations:

    http://vstudies.learnabouthmong.org/top50usmetar.html

    Oh, and here in Portland, many of our Thai restaurants are run by Lao people, along with Vietnamese people who usually make Viet-Thai restaurants.
  • Post #19 - March 27th, 2005, 8:46 am
    Post #19 - March 27th, 2005, 8:46 am Post #19 - March 27th, 2005, 8:46 am
    I have a couple questions/ideas about this (speaking with absolutely no authority of course)

    first, as Erik mentioned, there might be an evolution demographically and now exists a larger second generation thai community that eats out, and so restaurants are forced to cook for other thais and sort of match the food they are used to getting at home, whereas first generation places were largely cooking for western palates, as first generation thais were eating at home. I know in terms of indian food demographics have played a large part in the availability of more homestyle dishes, as a large population of single male immigrants who were not as likely to cook at home arrived to the US.

    secondly, how do we know that the thai "scene" really has changed at all. I mean it seems to me, that maybe the possibility of this more true thai style of cooking was there before, but its only recently we became aware/were given access to it, by folks like Erik and foodfirst decoding thai language menus. If so, isn't there the possibility that such cooking exists in other cities as well? I think you would probably have to talk to thai folks who've grown up/spent a long time in the area to really get a sense of whether the thai food available now for thais is really all that different than what existed before
  • Post #20 - March 27th, 2005, 9:03 am
    Post #20 - March 27th, 2005, 9:03 am Post #20 - March 27th, 2005, 9:03 am
    Nick, look at the the proposition:

    Why is Thai cooking at such a high level in Chicago?


    That's a good and fair question, and it has nothing to do with ranking Chicago's Thai places against Thai places in other cities. The question is just why are there so many good Thai places in Chicago, especially against two factors, not a huge population of Thai immigrants and less natural access to the foodstuffs of Thai cooking.

    As to whether the food IS really at a high level, well, it is in my opinion. I have eaten Thai food in Thailand, in LA, Washington DC, Great Britain, New Orleans, Florida and at world famous Lotus of Siam (on more than one occasion). I agree I cannot fairly rank the Thai food I have eaten against Thai food in Portland or San Jose or whatever, but I think I can say, IMO, that certain places in Chicago are of exceedingly high quality.

    Rob
    Think Yiddish, Dress British - Advice of Evil Ronnie to me.
  • Post #21 - March 27th, 2005, 9:13 am
    Post #21 - March 27th, 2005, 9:13 am Post #21 - March 27th, 2005, 9:13 am
    extramsg wrote:Hey, aren't you guys jumping the gun a little and assuming facts not in evidence? What's the basis for saying that Chicago's Thai scene is so far ahead other cities' Thai scenes. Thai food is certainly trending upwards everywhere.


    Just so we are clear, Nick, I have not made any such claim. I merely stated that IMO there are versions of both nãem khâo thâwt and kaeng hangleh in Chicago which surpass the respective versions at Lotus of Siam, in Las Vegas.


    extramsg wrote:Just on my own limited experience, I certainly wouldn't be suggesting that Chicago's Thai food is better than LA's without doing a lot of work to prove it.


    My experience with the Thai food scenes in both Chicago and Los Angeles is very extensive, and to this day I am reluctant to make any kind of pronouncement about which is better.

    At any rate, I hoped that a close reading of the above would reveal the tremendous amount of skepticism that I have for many of the claims that have been made about the Thai food scene in Chicago, the antecedents and consequents of such, etc.


    So go ahead and cook fools, Nick, but be sure to leave me out of it.

    Erik M.
  • Post #22 - March 28th, 2005, 12:15 pm
    Post #22 - March 28th, 2005, 12:15 pm Post #22 - March 28th, 2005, 12:15 pm
    Nick, I think you are looking for controversy that was never there. You ask whether some have jumped the gun and state,

    "Just on my own limited experience, I certainly wouldn't be suggesting that Chicago's Thai food is better than LA's without doing a lot of work to prove it."

    If you're going to go legal on us, haven't you just tilted at a straw man? 'Cause I don't think that anyone purported to elevate Chicago Thai above LA Thai.

    Nonetheless, and to be fair (to me), I have substantial experience consuming Thai food in both cities. I am not a scholar of the cuisine, but I have eaten at each of the most notable (as per J. Gold and Chowhound Regulars, at least) Thai Town places multiple times, as several of my in-laws live on Normandie south of Hollywood Blvd. I admit, I've never been to Norwalk unless I got lost on the way to LAX.

    I think that much of what I've had here compares favorably. But that is not the point, never was. LA has a huge Thai population that dwarfs that of every other Thai US community. LA almost has to have great Thai food, for the same reason Chicago must have great Mexican and Polish food. No other city has the very specific drinking, BBQ and sweets options, for example, that you get in LA.

    My original premise was that Thai food is especially good here in spite of the relatively small community. I believe that there are similar populations of Thais in, for example, the Tampa St. Pete area and in New Orleans. I can tell you with much certainty that there is nothing to write home about, Thai restaurant wise, in Tampa/St. Pete. A friend in NO who seeks out Thai in a serious way tells me no dice there, either.

    The point is, many people that know and appreciate food in Chicago direct visitors not from SoCal to try the Thai. That seems a little odd, if you don't know better, for a city that is well known for other huge ethnic enclaves.
  • Post #23 - March 29th, 2005, 4:50 pm
    Post #23 - March 29th, 2005, 4:50 pm Post #23 - March 29th, 2005, 4:50 pm
    Erik M. wrote:Indulge me, though, Jeff. I try to write, respond, and provide exposition for everyone's sake.

    I, for one, appreciate the detail. Thanks for not "assuming too much" of your readers, Erik.

    Great photo and report, as always. I wish we had such diversity of Thai offerings in my town.

    Scott
  • Post #24 - March 29th, 2005, 5:23 pm
    Post #24 - March 29th, 2005, 5:23 pm Post #24 - March 29th, 2005, 5:23 pm
    (I don't know why I'm just receiving a notice of this, but...)

    Jeff, I wasn't trying to build a straw man, but I may have misread. I don't have enough experience with Chicago Thai food to make a judgment as to where it ranks. It obviously has at least a few interesting, quality spots, however. I would just be suspicious of attempts to conclude too much from that relative to other cities.

    I'd note, though, that I think Thai food, because of its trendiness, has a disproportionate number of restaurants in most cities. I bet in most cities of any size the number of Thai restaurants outnumber the Vietnamese restaurants despite there probably being many more Vietnamese in these same cities. They far outnumber German and Russian restaurants here in Portland despite those being two of the largest foreign nationalities, along with Mexicans, in Portland, I believe.

    What Thai options lie between the typical spot and Arun's? It seems like the best opportunity for truly good Thai will be when there are ** and *** Thai places in significant numbers, like there are with Mexican restaurants, in Chicago. Then it won't be just an artisan like Andy at TAC Quick, but restauranteurs with a commitment to making quality food within the cuisine, and customers who can tell the difference, creating a very strong "scene". Has it happened yet, or is still places like Quick and Spoon that still have to cater to people who go out for Thai because it's the new Chinese and they can get a meal under $10. It seems to me that it takes a lot more courage and dedication on the part of a cook/owner in that situation and you're less likely to get any kind of "scene".

    To emphasize: I'm not saying these places that you love are less good. I'm just saying to keep them so at their pricing requires a lot more effort and commitment. When you can charge $20 for bistro or trattoria entrees, it's a lot easier to maintain a level of quality.
  • Post #25 - March 29th, 2005, 8:14 pm
    Post #25 - March 29th, 2005, 8:14 pm Post #25 - March 29th, 2005, 8:14 pm
    Nick, thanks for the reasoned response. I just wanted to be clear that I was not saying that Chicago is ground zero for Thai in the US, just that it is especially strong here these days. Thais are skilled and serious about their food, so it might be the case that Thai restaurants are more likely to be excellent than other kinds of restaurants. But I see a remarkable concentration of particularly fine Thai restaurants within a relatively small area in Chicago, as exemplified by Erik's list of seven or so places.

    I'm not sure that there are seven Italian restaurants here on the north side that represent the same quality of the places listed by Erik. That's what I find remarkable.
  • Post #26 - March 30th, 2005, 9:12 am
    Post #26 - March 30th, 2005, 9:12 am Post #26 - March 30th, 2005, 9:12 am
    sorry to get this thread back on track, but:

    After learning that Spoon Thai was in delivery range, I ordered dinner from them last night. The prices are quite cheap ($5 for an entree), although the portions are significantly smaller than other Thai places I get delivery from (PS Bangkok being the main one).

    The food was pretty good, but not exceptional. Just a hint better than PS Bangkok for the standards -- basil chicken, red curry, tom kha soup. However the dish pictured in this thread, Naem Khao Thawt, was indeed fantastic and unlike anything Thai I'd tried before.

    My confusion lies in the fact that the paper menu they delivered, and the one they have online, are oddly limited in options and rather pedestrian. It would seem by Erik M.'s many posts that there is a lot available off the menu (Naem Khao Thawt being a good example). This is going to make future experimentations a bit difficult.
  • Post #27 - March 30th, 2005, 9:14 am
    Post #27 - March 30th, 2005, 9:14 am Post #27 - March 30th, 2005, 9:14 am
    Ralph Wiggum wrote:My confusion lies in the fact that the paper menu they delivered, and the one they have online, are oddly limited in options and rather pedestrian. It would seem by Erik M.'s many posts that there is a lot available off the menu (Naem Khao Thawt being a good example). This is going to make future experimentations a bit difficult.


    If you dine in, there are two other menus -- a "recommended by chicago tribune" menu and erik's translated menu. They'll normally give you the former automatically, but you have to ask for the thai menu to get the latter.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #28 - March 30th, 2005, 9:21 am
    Post #28 - March 30th, 2005, 9:21 am Post #28 - March 30th, 2005, 9:21 am
    gleam wrote:
    Ralph Wiggum wrote:My confusion lies in the fact that the paper menu they delivered, and the one they have online, are oddly limited in options and rather pedestrian. It would seem by Erik M.'s many posts that there is a lot available off the menu (Naem Khao Thawt being a good example). This is going to make future experimentations a bit difficult.


    If you dine in, there are two other menus -- a "recommended by chicago tribune" menu and erik's translated menu. They'll normally give you the former automatically, but you have to ask for the thai menu to get the latter.


    This isn't Erik's translation (is Erik's at the restaurant now?), but it gets the job done, and may allow you to order for takeout. It's not always easy making your pronunciations understood over the phone, but it's worth the effort. Note that foodfirst's transliteration is different than Erik's, though not so different that you can't match them up. I believe Erik's translation will be available online soon.

    Cheers,

    Aaron
  • Post #29 - March 30th, 2005, 9:24 am
    Post #29 - March 30th, 2005, 9:24 am Post #29 - March 30th, 2005, 9:24 am
    My confusion lies in the fact that the paper menu they delivered, and the one they have online, are oddly limited in options and rather pedestrian. It would seem by Erik M.'s many posts that there is a lot available off the menu (Naem Khao Thawt being a good example). This is going to make future experimentations a bit difficult.


    To echo Ed's comment. I once brought a friend there who enjoyed the hit parade of my favorites. She walked over to the vestibule, grabbed the take-out menu with plans to check off everything we ordered for a future visit. She did a quick read through to find absolutely nothing on the take-out menu was present on our table.

    As has been mentioned long ago, there are two different chef's in the kitchen. One chef does the 'pedestrian' stuff which is on the take-out or American Thai menu. The other chef cooks the translated menu options, which are more complex preparations.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #30 - March 30th, 2005, 9:27 am
    Post #30 - March 30th, 2005, 9:27 am Post #30 - March 30th, 2005, 9:27 am
    Aaron Deacon wrote:This isn't Erik's translation (is Erik's at the restaurant now?), but it gets the job done, and may allow you to order for takeout.


    Oh, I thought he had already finished his and deposited it at the restaurant :) Soon, I hope.

    Now if only someone could tell me the secret to getting the thai/japanese fusion dishes from the kitchen at Silver Spoon!
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.

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