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    Post #1 - August 16th, 2006, 12:50 am
    Post #1 - August 16th, 2006, 12:50 am Post #1 - August 16th, 2006, 12:50 am
    I always feel a little funny posting about a place that is so beloved and so well-covered here... you certainly don't need me to tell you how fantastic Spoon Thai is... but I was invited along for another one of Erik M. feasts and got a bunch of good photos and figured you all might enjoy them.

    Consider this something of a companion piece to the TAC Quick post from a few weeks back. I'm starting to find my footing, but it's still largely a whirlwind for me, so here are the dishes along with my thoughts, vague and disjointed as they are at times. As always, photos are of the click to enlarge variety. Dish names, translations and a wonderful evening courtesy of Erik M.:


    Image
    kài thâwt
    Thai-style fried chicken served with a spicy tamarind dipping sauce

    Similar to the kài thâwt we had at TAC, it's a heavily marinated chicken fried crispy on the outside and wonderfully tender and juicy in the middle, along with a tart and spicy tamarind dipping sauce. In some ways I hate to make head-to-head comparisons between great restaurants, but... well, I'm going to do it anyway. Both were fantastic, but I thought Spoon's was something really special. Great dish.


    Image
    néua tàet dìaw
    dried “jerky” beef served with a sweet and salty dipping sauce

    I'm a sucker for good beef jerky, so I was somewhat predisposed to love this one. My ladylove, on the other hand, absolutely hates beef jerky, but this may have been her favorite dish of the night. It crossed the aisle, so to speak. It had a great potent, fish sauce-laden flavor, but the texture was what made it awesome. It had the "jerky" chewy thing going on, but was hot and crisp on the outside as well.


    Image
    kûng châe náam plaa
    raw shrimp marinated with lime juice, fish sauce, garlic and chile

    Erik doesn't know enough about my tastes to cater to them, nor should I be lucky enough to have a Thai feast centered around my favorites, but between the jerky, this dish and a few others, that's what I got, even if it wasn't by design. I'm also a sucker for raw shrimp. Technically, this one is cured in a ceviche-esque manner with lime, fish sauce, chiles and garlic, but it maintained a very raw shrimp flavor which I love. It was quite fiery, predictably citrusy and really garlicky.


    Image
    náam phrík kà-pì - plaa thuu
    shrimp paste “dip,” served with grilled mackerel and crudités

    This was the other head-to-head with a TAC dish, but here I think I preferred TAC's version. They're both fantastic, it's just a matter of personal preference. TAC's was a little gnarlier while Spoon's was a little cleaner... inasmuch as a fermented shrimp dip can be clean. Also, I loved the accompanying egg crepe at TAC. But I did prefer the mackerel at Spoon.


    Image
    yam hèt khẽm thawng
    enoki mushroom salad with roasted rice powder

    On first glance, I thought this was the somtam with noodles that Erik posted about a few weeks back, but I was delighted to discover that it was simply a big ol' pile of enoki mushrooms with a typical (though excellent) Thai light, citrusy, spicy, fishy dressing. I love enoki mushrooms, especially texturally speaking, and it was great to have them in a non-Japanese context.


    Image
    kra-dòok mũu thâwt kài krà-thiam phrík thai
    pork ribs stir-fried with garlic and black pepper

    This is one of two dishes we had that, like the pork dish we had at TAC, struck me as very similar to the Chinese dishes to which I'm accustomed. Fried, garlicky pork pretty much sells itself, but I'll help it along anyway. I'm of the opinion that deep frying is a pork rib preparation that we don't see nearly enough outside of a traditional Asian context. That crispy exterior on succulent pork is a thing of beauty. Nicely done.


    Image
    phàk bûng fai daeng
    water spinach stir-fried with fermented yellow bean sauce & chile

    Aaaaaand, here's the other. Chinese and SE Asian cuisine seems stocked to the brim with a seemingly infinite number of very distinct, very green greens, and I may or may not ever reach the point where I can keep them straight, but I'm content to just enjoy them. This one was referred to as water spinach, and it provided a great combination of light, crispy stalks and intensely green leaves. Whenever I hear anybody recycling the old cliche that kids don't like greens, I always think to myself that it's because they're not getting greens like these.


    Image
    phàt phrík sà-tàw kûng sàp
    minced shrimp and bitter bean (Parkia speciosa) stir-fry

    Okay, totally new experience here. I've never had the "bitter bean" before and I don't think there's anything I can compare it to. It had a really funky, pungent aroma that otherwise defies description, and some of that funkiness was present in the flavor, but mostly in the aroma. The texture was very waxy and squeaky. In any case, a totally new flavor to me that I'd get again in a heartbeat.


    Image
    phàt phèt mũu pàa
    spicy stir-fry with wild boar

    Again, it's like this menu was designed for me. This was a tasty wild boar curry that had all sorts of weird, fatty chunks of meat from indeterminate parts of the animal... so, again, right up my alley. It's definitely one you aren't going to enjoy unless you're into the gnarly bits, but I loved it.


    Image
    kaeng liang kûng sòt (mâw fai)
    spicy peppercorn curry with assorted vegetables and shrimp (served in a firepot)

    It may technically be so, but I kind of feel like billing this as a curry is misleading, at least for a traditional Thai peon like me. It's a very nice broth that's imbued with a spicy, peppery, herby mixture of solids that's either mixed throughout the soup or sitting in the bottom, depending on whether or not you've given the soup time to settle. I kind of inhaled it, so I'm not certain if I was supposed to stir it up or not, but I got the curry through and through. Though the flavors were all familiar, the intersection of the almost mealy curry and light broth was totally new and I enjoyed it an awful lot.


    Image
    kaeng khĩaw-wãan lûuk chín plaa kraay
    green curry with homemade fishballs

    Hooray for green curry! Spoon's was very much on the sweet, coconutty side, and I loved the fish balls as a meaty accompaniament. Spongy texture, light flavor... went beautifully with the curry.


    Image
    plaa sôm
    Isaan-style sour fish

    This was probably the highlight of the evening for me, and it kills me that it's something I can't go back for. Erik could elaborate, I'm sure, but I understand it's a very labor-intensive dish that wasn't even intended for us. In any case, I understand the fish is stuffed with rice and left for a few days, imbuing the flesh of the fish with a really neat fermented sour flavor. This was not a subtle sour flavor. It was accompanied by a very potent sour dipping sauce, and the flavor in the fish still came through. Loved it.


    Image
    sômtam pôh la mâi
    pounded mixed fruit salad with fish sauce and dried shrimp

    Sadly, my ladylove and I had to bail before the rest of the desserts hit the table, but luckily we caught this one. I think it was the first time I've seen fish sauce used in a sweet and fruity context, but the fruit was dressed in an almost syrupy sweet fish-imbued sauce with dried shrimp, and it worked beautifully. Again, very new to me, and very much appreciated.

    In sum, a spectacular dinner top to bottom. In some ways, I'm getting so many new flavors at once, I feel like I'm going to need another 3-4 return visits before I can start to get a handle on them. I'm anxious to explore further, but I need to revisit a few of these first. At any rate, my education continues, and I couldn't imagine a better curriculum.

    Spoon Thai
    4608 N. Western Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60625
    773-769-1173
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #2 - August 16th, 2006, 10:16 am
    Post #2 - August 16th, 2006, 10:16 am Post #2 - August 16th, 2006, 10:16 am
    Wow! Thanks, Dom, for the fantastic descriptions and photos of all the dishes. I can't wait to go back and try some *new* things at Spoon this coming weekend. Bring on the fermented foods!

    Cheers,
    Susan
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #3 - August 16th, 2006, 10:45 am
    Post #3 - August 16th, 2006, 10:45 am Post #3 - August 16th, 2006, 10:45 am
    Dmnkly wrote:Image
    plaa sôm
    Isaan-style sour fish

    This was probably the highlight of the evening for me, and it kills me that it's something I can't go back for. Erik could elaborate, I'm sure, but I understand it's a very labor-intensive dish that wasn't even intended for us. In any case, I understand the fish is stuffed with rice and left for a few days, imbuing the flesh of the fish with a really neat fermented sour flavor. This was not a subtle sour flavor. It was accompanied by a very potent sour dipping sauce, and the flavor in the fish still came through. Loved it.


    I have been planning special events at Spoon Thai for quite some time now and Chai and Wanna continue to amaze me. It didn't take them long to recognize that I enjoy surprises as much as I enjoy surprising my guests, so whenever we sit down to plan an event menu they are always sure to include a "surprise" for me too. [A number of the "new" additions to the 2006 Thai Language Menu are actually things which first debuted at one of my events.] This time, our menu planning conversation somehow drifted to fried whole fish preparations and Wanna asked me if I had ever tried plaa sôm. At that point I had not, but I assured her that after hearing my Isaan-born friend, Ed, speak about his mother's version I had placed it at the top of my list of dishes to try on my upcoming trip to Isaan. "I have some," she said demurely. "I made it for myself, but if you'd like, I can give it your guests."

    So, that was that.

    The manner of preparation for plaa sôm is very similar to that of Isaan Thai-style sausage (sâi kràwk isãan): cooked sticky rice is used as the catalyst in a (multi-day) process of controlled fermentation, which "sours" the product and gives it an unmistakable tang.

    Ed's mother still makes plaa sôm for special occasions at her home in Forest Park, and after hearing me rave about the version we had at Spoon Thai, she kindly offered to make it for me soon. She also granted me permission to document the entire process, and if I am successful in that endeavour I would like to make the video and the recipe available on my website. We'll see... I've got another Thai friend who is in the process of designing a special vblogging template. :wink:

    E.M.
  • Post #4 - August 16th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    Post #4 - August 16th, 2006, 12:22 pm Post #4 - August 16th, 2006, 12:22 pm
    How much of the food pictured above is special ordered and how much is actually on the menu?
  • Post #5 - August 16th, 2006, 1:04 pm
    Post #5 - August 16th, 2006, 1:04 pm Post #5 - August 16th, 2006, 1:04 pm
    jlawrence01 wrote:How much of the food pictured above is special ordered and how much is actually on the menu?


    With the exception of the plaa sôm (Isaan-style sour fish), the kaeng khĩaw-wãan lûuk chín plaa kraay (green curry with homemade fishballs), and the sômtam pôh la mâi (pounded mixed fruit salad with fish sauce and dried shrimp), all of the above items can be found on the 2006 Spoon Thai Language Menu. There is no guarantee that all of the necessary ingredients for each menu item are on hand, so if you have your heart set on certain items you will be best served by making menu arrangements in advance.*

    E.M.

    * Generally speaking, no more than a two-day notice is required.
  • Post #6 - August 16th, 2006, 7:04 pm
    Post #6 - August 16th, 2006, 7:04 pm Post #6 - August 16th, 2006, 7:04 pm
    Dear lord.... the mere thought of a fish dish that is prepared in a manner that is "very similar to that of Isaan Thai-style sausage" has me drooling on my keyboard at work. I still constantly think about the first time I had the Issan sausage at Spoon Thai (being back in the city for only 3 months, it wasn't that long ago :wink: ). Given that I can't just walk in and order this, I have a feeling my apartment will smell a whole lot like fermenting fish when that tutorial is done :lol: .
  • Post #7 - August 16th, 2006, 7:10 pm
    Post #7 - August 16th, 2006, 7:10 pm Post #7 - August 16th, 2006, 7:10 pm
    Stagger wrote:Given that I can't just walk in and order this, I have a feeling my apartment will smell a whole lot like fermenting fish when that tutorial is done :lol: .

    The book I've been reading (and posting about here) Thai Food has a number of recipes with fermented fishy products.

    Since I'm the only one in my house that will eat seafood that didn't either come out of a shell or currently reside in breading... that just won't fly in this household.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #8 - November 25th, 2006, 11:42 am
    Post #8 - November 25th, 2006, 11:42 am Post #8 - November 25th, 2006, 11:42 am
    Stagger wrote: Given that I can't just walk in and order this, I have a feeling my apartment will Ismell a whole lot like fermenting fish when that tutorial is done :lol: .


    Wait, why can't you walk in and order this?

    I tried Spoon Thai for the first time about a month ago with Jimthebeerguy and two friends, and thought the food we had was exceptionally well-cooked. We went on a Saturday night - I have no idea why there wasn't a line out the door like there usually is at Sticky Rice.

    The dishes we ordered weren't that exotic (beef salad, a chicken & vegetables noodle dish, and two pad thai); still, everything was very, very good. I'm thinking about stopping by there today for a late lunch of beef salad and/or "kai thawt" (thanks to Dmnkly for the wonderful picture and idea).

    It was my husband who had ordered the beef salad - every time he orders this dish, I always take a bite and wish I'd been the one to order it. I've been ordering pad thai an *awful* lot lately, which is boring (it's like the Thai version of chicken noodle soup, right?) but dependable. The beef salad at Thai Spoon was the best either of us had ever had.[/b]
    "Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you want and let the food fight it out inside."
    -Mark Twain
  • Post #9 - November 25th, 2006, 12:03 pm
    Post #9 - November 25th, 2006, 12:03 pm Post #9 - November 25th, 2006, 12:03 pm
    Saint Pizza wrote:Wait, why can't you walk in and order this?


    Please refer to my first post in this thread.

    E.M.
  • Post #10 - November 27th, 2006, 11:08 am
    Post #10 - November 27th, 2006, 11:08 am Post #10 - November 27th, 2006, 11:08 am
    Sorry, Erik.


    I went there on Saturday night and tried to order the fruit salad, but the waitress said it was out of season. So I ordered the papaya salad & the fried chicken instead. The papaya salad was very spicy, but by the time the chicken came, my taste buds had finally submitted and I was able to enjoy the salad better near the end of my meal.

    I'm so glad I saw the suggestions in this thread, and so glad I didn't order pad thai!
    "Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you want and let the food fight it out inside."
    -Mark Twain
  • Post #11 - November 27th, 2006, 1:10 pm
    Post #11 - November 27th, 2006, 1:10 pm Post #11 - November 27th, 2006, 1:10 pm
    Saint Pizza wrote:I went there on Saturday night and tried to order the fruit salad, but the waitress said it was out of season.


    The fruit salad was a special offering the night we visited.*

    Saint Pizza wrote:I'm so glad I saw the suggestions in this thread, and so glad I didn't order pad thai!


    As phat thai goes, the version at Spoon is not bad.**

    E.M.

    * FWIW, special offerings are generally listed on a small white erasable board at the counter.

    ** But, fried noodles are not generally one of Spoon's strongest suits.
  • Post #12 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:53 am
    Post #12 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:53 am Post #12 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:53 am
    LTH,

    Hadn't been to Spoon for a few months, guess the lure of crispy On Choy at TAC has been a little too compelling, but last evenings meal will insure it won't be long before I'm back.

    Enoki mushroom salad with roasted rice is a favorite, though last evenings version was ordered spicy and it took the complex, though somewhat subtle, dish in a completely different direction. Peppercorn curry with assorted vegetables and shrimp gained in momentum as it gently simmered over the tabletop fire pot. Pork neck naam tok, Isaan style sausage, Thai fried chicken and sticky rice rounded out our hitting on all 8-cylinders meal. Even the pot stickers and mixed tempura we ordered for the two children at the table were spot on.

    Spoon was busy, but not over crowded, though they were pumping out the take out orders,* Wanna was working the room to insure everything moved along smoothly. A terrific meal, as I've come to expect from Spoon.

    The lure of crispy on choy may be strong, but it won't be long before I'm warming a chair at Spoon.

    Note: Pictures of enoki salad, Thai fried chicken and peppercorn soup may be found upthread in Dmnkly's post.

    Enjoy,
    Gary

    *Had the pleasure of running into Saint Pizza who was there to pick up a take out order
    One minute to Wapner.
    Raymond Babbitt

    Low & Slow
  • Post #13 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:59 pm
    Post #13 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:59 pm Post #13 - March 3rd, 2007, 6:59 pm
    G Wiv wrote:LTH,

    Hadn't been to Spoon for a few months, guess the lure of crispy On Choy at TAC has been a little too compelling, but last evenings meal will insure it won't be long before I'm back.

    That's funny, I just returned to Spoon Thai after a long absence for lunch on Friday myself. What a coinky-dink... :)

    Wanted to try something new so I finally hunkered down and ordered the Thai fried chicken along with my staple of pad see eiuw (this time with chicken instead of beef). Guess I shoulda gotten a separate bowl of rice to go along with, however, as my dining companion found both dishes overly seasoned -- which I can understand given my choices of entree. (By the way, the lunch special at $5.95 is a decent one when you mix an appetizer -- spring rolls, crab rangoon, shrimp egg roll, or another item or two -- along with some of the regular menu staples. $5.95's also the regular price for both pad thai and pad see eiuw alone.)

    To compensate for the two previous dishes, I then requested another item off the translated menu, this time the stir-fried vegetables and pork. That ended up a bit less salty than the other dishes, but I realize how used to highly seasoned dishes I am. There's still much I have to learn of the art of ordering a balanced meal! The leftover pork and veggies were fried up with rice earlier today, but I wonder how one of the "bland"-labeled dishes from Erik's translated menu (from 2005) might've complemented the pad see eiuw instead. I just couldn't bring myself to order something that was intentionally labeled "bland." (Silly me...)

    --Dan
  • Post #14 - March 3rd, 2007, 11:42 pm
    Post #14 - March 3rd, 2007, 11:42 pm Post #14 - March 3rd, 2007, 11:42 pm
    fastfoodsnob wrote:The leftover pork and veggies were fried up with rice earlier today, but I wonder how one of the "bland"-labeled dishes from Erik's translated menu (from 2005) might've complemented the pad see eiuw instead. I just couldn't bring myself to order something that was intentionally labeled "bland." (Silly me...)


    Kaeng jeut, or "bland" soups, were conceived to provide respite from chile heat, as well as lubrication (and palate cleansing) over the course of a meal. Traditionally, one would never accompany something like the "soy sauce" noodles you ordered with such a soup, as this sort of soup is properly attended by rice and dishes meant to accompany rice; steamed rice and rice noodles are not considered proper tablemates. At any rate, Spoon makes what I consider to be the best kaeng jeut in town. I am most keen on the one which features pork-stuffed cucumber, the one which features pork-stuffed bitter melon, and the one which features pork and pickled Chinese vegetable. These particular soups are ideal accompaniments to a meal which includes a spicy coconut milk-based curry or a spicy stir-fry.

    E.M.

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