Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taste of Thai ... not Thailand but delicious

... actually, I don't know if it is anything like Thailand, having never once been to Southeast Asia! I've had loads of Thai cuisine in cities and towns all over the West, Southwest, and NYC, and Taste of Thai is comparable to many of them. I was hoping for a spice-fest of incomparable proportions after reading the reviews declaring the food edible lava. Regrettably, it did not live up to those standards at all, but having visited it twice in two days (thanks to an enterprising co-worker), I can say it is certainly very tasty.

I have many favorite dishes in the broad selection of Thai dishes, and most of them are present and accounted for on the menu: Curry (of course, but of several varieties including green, red, yellow, masaman, rama, and my favorite, penang), Tom Yum Gai, a chicken soup with coconut milk also available under a similar name, beef salad, green papaya salad, and a wide variety of noodle and rice dishes including the requisite Pud Thai. The heat selection is on a scale of 1-5 where 5 is meant to be "Thai Hot," an often feared and always respected title. Being into very spicy thai food (or macho according to friends) I, of course, demanded at least one dish be a 5 (and I always order Indian food "Indian hot" because I'm like that).

Our party ordered one rama curry with pork (3/5 for flavor), one red curry with beef(5/5 - Thai hot), one garlic sauce with chicken (3/5 to prevent the chicken from being over-powered), and to start a green papaya salad and an order of crab cheese rolls along with the requisite Thai iced tea. The tea is delicious, and a mandatory experience for those unfamiliar with the delightful drink. The concoction of condensed milk, tea, and sugar is pretty amazing and recalls melted rich vanilla ice-cream! I had never had crab cheese rolls and they were tasty regardless of their authenticity (I have no idea... are they traditional??) The green papaya salad was extremely tasty and is highly recommended. It lacked the tiny dried shrimp it often has, which are delicious, but remained a great appetizer and I even resisted licking the plate clean.

The main courses arrived and I was disappointed to find that the "thai hot" red curry was just not hot, but it was tasty. It was a bit heavy on the coconut milk, which while being required for all curry, isn't generally the predominant ingredient in the sauce. After getting past my disappointment at not fainting from capsaicin poisoning (often a goal of mine, unless the source is raw cayenne, and then I am punished but unexcited) I found the dish quite tasty. The asian eggplant was perfectly cooked and the dish was well executed. The rama curry was equally tasty and not intended to be nearly as spicy a I had hoped mine would be. The garlic sauce chicken was, strangely, spicier than my curry, quite tasty, and seemed to satisfy.

The service was attentive, friendly, and with a great sense of humor. Our server was in the midst of explaining that to make the papaya salad they had to get a papaya from the tree, which wasn't quite finished growing according to him, but the salad arrived in the midst of the story. His disappointment was palpable and made the joke even funnier.

Dessert was just not to happen but the fried ice cream was definitely calling me and will have to be revisited sometime when I don't make a complete pig of myself.

Strangely I was to return to the restaurant less that 16 hours after my first visit during a lunch break from work. I was really excited to try dishes that I had missed from my first visit: tom yum gai and beef salad (that was lunch if I had my way). I found that the lunch menu is a very abbreviated version of the evening menu so I was to be denied both soup and salad and ended up with Rag Nar (chicken, broccoli, wide noodles, and gravy) which was quite tasty but has 0 spice (and usually does so I was surprised when they gave me the ole 1-5 spice option). Others in my party ordered Pud Thai (which looked tasty and the inexperienced thai diner who ordered it seemed happy), Red Curry (ordered with 2/5 heat and was exactly as spicy as the night before), and cashew chicken (which also looked good and nothing like the standard chinese version of the dish).

Lunch found all of the tables jammed and the staff working double-time but the service was prompt and friendly.

The only strange thing is the menu posted in the window which insists that entreés are not to be shared! I saw no evidence of this being enforced as I ate off of everyone else's plates both days (not that I'm embarrassed about it... I was a complete piggy!!)

Don't be put off by the dire warnings of insane heat that pepper the newspaper clippings in the window (ahem... that pun is pretty terrible), I've seen no evidence of said spice (and would like to)! If you find yourself in West Knoxville for whatever reason, probably against your will, this is one more good lunch or dinner option to investigate.

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