Silky tofu is just one of the sublime textures of Thai Taste
The trade negotiators have got it all wrong: It’s not Chinese textile imports we have to worry about, it’s the Chinese buffet that’s taking over the world. Granted, the buffet serves a useful family function, but in the face of overwhelming dominance in whatever arena, it’s always tempting to root for the underdog. For me, the feisty runner-up is Thai cuisine.
Considering that I’m herewith admitting to being a Thai junkie, it’s amazing that I had never made it to Thai Taste before, especially since it anchors a small collection of Asian grocery stores and restaurants clustered around Evers, just north of 410. You can tell that Thai Taste has been around for a while: The red vinyl upholstery is beginning to split, and minimal effort has been made in the direction of exotic decor.
|Clockwise from bottom: Gang Ped, red curry paste in coconut milk, bamboo shoots, basil and chicken; Yum Pla Muk, boiled squid with vegetables and a spicy dressing; One Sun Beef, Thai styled beef jerky; and Pad Kee Mao, stir-fried flat noodles served with basil, onions, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and chicken, and seasoned with chile sauce. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
But any place that can turn out tofu with foie gras texture can be forgiven decorative disinclination. Deep-fried, with a crunchy crust and silken interior, the cubes of tofu are served with a sauce that’s sweet and sour, is embellished with ground peanut, and holds a hint of heat. The combination is sublime. Altogether different in texture and philosophy, the dried and deep-fried beef jerky is chewy yet moist and comes with an incendiary, sriracha-like chile sauce. Slather it on, the heat will fade in due time.
If you must speed the dissipation, bring your own beer or wine as Thai Taste has no liquor license. Let it be known, too, that the spiciness scale at Thai Taste runs from 1-10. We opted for 5 on all dishes and found that a 5 for the yum pla muk may be hot, while a 5 for the pad pak may be mild.
Yum pla muk is squid salad, consisting of diamond-scored squid, cucumber, scallions, and chopped lettuce bathed in a fish sauce and strewn with chili flakes. Easily the spiciest dish of the evening, it hurt so good with a smoky-herbal heat.
| Thai Taste
5220 Evers Rd.
Price range: $5.95-10.95
The palate sufficiently aroused, a plate of pad pak, mixed vegetables sautéed over high heat with more tofu (chicken, pork, beef, and shrimp are other options) pleased with its contrast of textures and bland and assertive flavors, but needed more punch. Live it up and ask for this one at level 6.
I wouldn’t change a thing about the pad kee mao, subtitled Spicy Crazy Noodles. In this dish, broad noodles are stir-fried with your choice of protein (we picked pork), onions, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and lots of anise-flavored Thai basil — all heightened with a liberal splash of chile sauce. The heat level was perfect, the basil flavor almost intoxicating, and the pork took on a very appealing sweetness in context.
Rice isn’t needed with the noodles, but it’s essential with a dish such as the Pa-nang curry, to which we added shrimp. The red curry paste base is mellowed with coconut milk and, at 5, the spice level did not overwhelm the delicate shrimp, but the sauce’s thin consistency detracted a tad from the lushness of the flavors. Hence, rice to the rescue; it added weight on the plate and served as a perfect vehicle for retrieving the maximum amount of sauce.
Gang curry gai, a yellow curry, comes with chicken, carrot, and potato, and is also mitigated with cool-tasting coconut milk and the refreshing lilt of lemon grass. Containing more ingredients than the Pa-nang, the dish is also a little more substantial, though I had the impression the potato and carrot hadn’t met the sauce before their marriage on the plate. Still, this was a group favorite and will be ordered again, maybe even at a daring level 6.
Coconut makes another appearance at meal’s end in the form of ice cream, and Thai Taste’s is especially good, with a smooth, sorbet-like texture and robust coconut flavor. Served atop sticky rice, it’s another example of the combination of textures that gives Thai cuisine its special appeal. That and the fact that it is rarely found in buffet form. •