Sunday, February 3, 2013

Thai Kitchen - Austin, TX

My sincerest apologies in advance, I took pictures but can't for the life of me find them.  My descriptions will have to do on this one.  So close your eyes and imagine...

I've long been in search of a Thai restaurant that lives up to it's reputation as some of the hottest food on the planet.  The white suburbanite costume I've worn since 1976 masks my Southeast Asian soul's desire for the type of food that numbs the mouth completely and gives one the ability to map out the entire path of the digestive tract over the next hour or so as that sweet heat embarks on its long journey to the South Austin Wastewater Treatment plant and its ultimate home, the Earth from which it came from.  Combined with my midwestern dialect, it also evidently leads area Thai chefs to believe that I don't have the steel innards to handle what they can.

So when a friend recommended to me Thai Kitchen, with a menu that skips straight from a two-chile symbol rating on the normal menus to a five-chile symbol rating on the "Specialty Menu", and features such descriptive items such as Nuclear Shrimp, Crying Now, Never Never Again, Hurts So Good, Tiger Cry, Heat Treatment, and my personal favorite, Spontaneous Combustion, I figured this is my best chance.

My friend did warn me that he never actually eats there (the Bee Caves location at least), and recommended I use it only for carry-outs, and upon entry, I concur.  The place has the look and feel of a circa 1965 south Florida seafood market, which smells of the same, likely because of the large, uncapped fish tank anchoring the decor in the center of the dining area.  The walls and ceiling are a sickly lime green, certainly original paint which most certainly flaked off deadly lead when the pictures and paintings of great Thai leaders and religious figures were nailed into it in two foot increments.    That said, the owners were extremely nice, and the food was very good.

Let me back up though.  After my attendance of countless auto races over the past 27 years, before earplugs were invented up through this current period when earplugs are still referred to as "gay" by the Nascar faithful, my hearing has been reduced to something along the lines of that which little Randy must have had, suited up for the blizzard of the century for the harrowing walk to school with Ralphie, Flick and Schwartz.  My Lovely Wife Mrs. Gordo will attest.  This, along with an inability to decipher anything with an accent, the background noise of a beautiful Friday afternoon on the porch of Little Woodrow's, and an unnumbered online menu, made the telephone ordering process...well, difficult to say the least.

"Carry out, please."

"Yes.  What do you want?"

"I need one order of 'NOW PET NOW'"



"What number?"

"I have no idea."

(strange, fast noises)

"I don't know, it's called NOW PET NOW.  Do you have a word like NOW, spelled N-A-U?"

"N-A-U?  No.  (strange, fast noises)"

"Maybe N-U-A?"

"N-U-A!  PEET!   PEET!   PEET!"

"Ok, sure.  Peet.  One please."

"Bamboo.  Zucchini.  PEET!"

"Sure.  One N-U-A Peet N-U-A, one Crying Now, four vegetable eggrolls, one Ba Mi Num, and one Duck Duck Goose" (the latter not a menu item and clearly not recognizable sarcasm on the Indochina peninsula, it was met with a silence as awkward as any I've encountered).

Ordering process done, I headed to the fish market and picked up my nicely and securely packaged order, watched the incredible math skills of the patriarch, multiplying eggrolls and computing tax in his head with the speed and precision of only the upper echelon of beancounters, while the only other people in the place stood transfixed on the forty inch plasma perilously perched on the counter facing away from me and toward the spacious dining area.

So first, the Nua Pet Nua.  Stir-fried beef in Thai hot curry with bamboo strips, zucchini and Thai seasoning.  Not what I got.  I blame the language barrier as well as the fact that while Nua Pet Nua was on the online menu, it was Phat Pet Nua on the carryout menu I picked up while walking out.  What I actually got appears to have been Gang Pet Nua, which is the same, but instead of stir-fried, it's simmered in a coconut milk laced with those other ingredients.  Advertised as "it's very hot" and marked with the one-chile designation, my typical Thai experience prevailed.  Not at all.  Flavor was nice, but not strong enough, and I think some additional heat, which clearly ended up tempered by the coconut milk, would have made this a very a good dish.

Crying Now - five-chile designation with the additional warning, "These Dishes are for People Who Love Extremely Hot or Super Hot Food Only".  Now we're talking.  NOW, WE ARE TALKING!  Chicken simmered in a hot green curry, hot bird pepper, jalapeno, markroot and Thai seasoning.  BAM.  We did it.  Searing hot spice at the top end, but within range, of what I can tolerate.  Certain to take down 95% of its buyers, THIS is what I have been looking for, and THIS, I enjoyed every bite of.   Not just heat though, good flavor of green curry and of chiles.  Served over rice it needs just a little saltiness of soy to bring out its true potential, but this, this is great stuff.

The Ba Mi Num was an excellent soup, served for takeout with the noodles in a separate container, a flavorful chicken broth with the flavors of green onion and cilantro, the crunch of bean sprouts, and the meatiness of succulent duck, these things sang in perfect harmony.

Eggrolls, well, they're eggrolls.  Like the stereotype of their creators, they don't seem to travel well, but the flavor was nice, and anything that can be dipped in the stinging Chinese Hot Mustard is good by me.

All in all, a great takeout spot, and one that I'll try again.  Next up for me, the Just Say No...sliced grilled beef mixed with rice powder, seasoned well with lemon juice, mint leaves, and chile pepper.  And we'll try for that stir fry one more time....


Atmosphere:  1960's south Florida seafood market with the smell of fish since gone, uninviting, and vacant

Food:  Thai, very good at that.

Crowd:  All three of them were southeast Asian

When to Go:  Dinner, carryout only.

What to Order:  Give anything a go, but the Crying Now is a good start for heat lovers, and the Ba Mi Num a great soup.

Dog Friendly:  Trust me on this one.  No.

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