Thursday, January 20, 2005

Thai in Chicago

It really amazes me that the level of Thai food is so high in Chicago (and of course, not at the most famous Chicago Thai, Arun's.) I recently visited two of the best in Chicago.

Spoon Thai

A dinner was organized for the weekend visit of sergeant-At-Arms, Shirley the Hammer, at Spoon. Not a huge crowd, but a huge amount of food:

Ja plon, or something like that. - A small crab shell stuffed with cheap crab meat (claw meat), small shrimps and perhaps squid. Well done. I mean the fying was perfect. But more of a snackin' item.

Whole mudfish, fried and then put in red curry with a few vegetables - spicy and good

Pork neck laab - fatty in a great way, very spicy

Exploded catfish salad, bigger pieces of catfish, maybe a bit too cold, still good

Fried chicken - yea

Nam prik with vegetables and small fish - artfully presented, and the nam prik was (well, was what you want in a nam prik, direct, smelly, spicy, mysterious...)

Rice cooked with shrimp paste, with sweet pork and other things to eat with it - smelled a lot worse when cooking

Catfish custard - A Spoon Thai classic, steamed soft fish in a delicate yet spicy custard block

Boat noodles - not really a dinner dish, but very well done

Ice cream in pineapple - nothing special

As at any hound gathering the company was foodly intense as well. It was also the first time at Spoon that there was leftover sticky rice.

Spoon Thai
4608 N. Western Ave
Chicago, IL

TAC Quick

I am slowly catching up to others at this terrific spot under the El Tracks. With the kidz off of school, we used the chance to roam afar for lunch. Met the Zim family and Erik for lunch. Because of a vegetarian and the kidz we had to cater our ordering a bit towards their needs.

Pad thai folded in omelet - nice idea to create "something" out of this warhorse, nice presentation too, with the condiments put in little piles on the outside of the main item.

Papaya salad - ordered "medium" and with tiny shrimps on the side, but it still had plenty of flavor and heat.

Green curry "fish cake" - not so much fish cake, but fish balls - Erik notes that TAC makes their own fish balls. Truthfully, they tasted like pretty much any fish ball, but they were good. The green curry was a bit gloppy, yet spicy and sweet at the same time.

Crispy pork on greens - This is one of Erik's favorite dishes here. I liked the heavily flavored greens, tons of garlic, but I was less keen on the pork, which was more like cracklin's

Braised pork belly with eggs and tofu - The best dish in the house? - Very rich broth, almost too sweet on the tongue but with flavors that bloom and emerge in the mouth, including a nice hot finish. The fatty pork pretty much "literally" melted in the mouth. The eggs and tofu were good for the non meat eaters.

Grilled chicken over curry rice - Loved the spicy curry rice, more Malaysian tasting than Thai. Hardly got to try the chicken, but from its curry marinade, looked great.

Ginger tofu - For others. I sampled a jalepeno.

I believe there is one more dish, but it is slipping my mind.

3930 N. Sheridan Rd.
Le Coq, Your Neighborhood Bistro

We had another excellent if slightly flawed meal at Le Coq on Saturday. For a change, we got shunted off to the alcove near the front window. It meant that the Condiment Queen and I sat perpendicular to each other. Perhaps not as romantic. Worse, the place at various times got too full, and the waiters (and waiters) got stuffed into the space around us. Still, I enjoy the hyper-real décor and spirit of Le Coq. It is the kinda place you want in your front yard.

Our dinner did slip just a bit on one plate, my wife’s skate. Meals begin with a complimentary taste, and ours began with a small cup of cold potato soup—yes I know why cold potato soup in January, but the menu also had a medley of summer vegetables in harissa broth on it. Outstanding soup, tasting like supreme liquid mashed potatoes. We noticed the intense underlying flavor of butter in the soup, and I commented on how Le Coq’s chef does not fear the butter. Yet, with the skate, the butter went too far. It sogged up the fish, leaving the whole dish mushy and unpleasant.

All the rest of the plates tasted fine. We started with two raw fish dishes, house-made gravlax and tuna tartare in a caper dressing. Gravlax is one of those dishes that an even average version tastes great. This one was not average. What made it (more) special was a texture verging on leather, but not quite, think proscuitto. Pickled onions, avocado and crème fraiche nicely garnished the salmon. Those prickly capers contrasted equally well to the raw tuna. My short ribs were not fatty at all, although with a bit of cow gelatin (to slightly paraphrase Bob Kopinski). Opera cake finished us off well.

Wine by the glass was a biodynamic, horn-o-crap, Chaputier Cote de Rhone, heavy and fruity. Le Coq is doing a dinner with Chaputier wines in Februrary. With our certificate, the meal came to $62, which was a nice surprise (and that with expensive options).

Cafe Le Coq
734 W Lake, Oak Park