Welcome to another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores our city’s culinary nooks and crannies. As before, the team consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier at Le Rêve), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, informal taco scholar), me (recovering vegan and known taco-truck stalker), and this month’s special guest, Mat Roy, a tenure-track math professor at Northwest Vista Community College and thrash-metal drummer for the Spark.
It was a day for heavy-metal drummers, as Frenchie coincidentally met the kit man for the ’80s band Saxon earlier in the morning while getting coffee at Sip downtown. The Saxon drummer was in town for a concert at Sunken Garden theater, but wasn’t able to join us. Just as well. Taking along two drummers to review a Thai restaurant tucked away in Windcrest might be a bit much.
Though it’s best known for Christmas lights and Rackspace, Windcrest is in fact a crossroads of cultures, with black, Asian, Mexican, and white communities all co-existing within its limited borders. At a strip mall with a Vietnamese restaurant and a fish market, we found the relatively new Thai Chalurn (4941 Walzem, thaichalurn.com).
We began with a round of Thai tea, which was served in amazingly tall, futuristic glasses that reminded us of something Captain Kirk and Spock might sip from after hours. Thai Chalurn offers a fairly straightforward, standard Thai menu, however, with the exception of several market-price fish plates.
Carlos is fond of spring rolls, and keep in mind, we’re talking about the deep-fried variety. (We tried to finally solve the summer/spring/egg roll confusion by renaming the fried ones “winter rolls,” but we doubt that will catch on. Mat’s suggestion — “autumn rolls” — is probably more dignified.) The egg rolls were quite crispy but still delicate, and Frenchie and Carlos found them to have great flavor. Frenchie ordered the satay appetizer (grilled chicken skewers with a peanut sauce). Oddly, the chicken was breaded and resembled plantains. The chicken was dry, but the peanut sauce was rich and sweet.
Mat is a vegetarian (technically, a “pescatarian”) and enjoyed the fresh cucumber side salad. While we waited for his fish entrée, a variety of other plates arrived. The panang beef curry was quite standard — not bad, but nothing that stood above the crowd. Mat ordered the classic drunken noodles with fried tofu at the highest spice level. I typically plumb the lower spice depths, but even this seemed mild, at least at first. Eventually the heat picked up, prompting us to dub it “creeper spice.”
Carlos surprised us by ordering a light duck soup. Carlos and Frenchie were ecstatic over the duck and the rich broth, though Frenchie later decided it had too much garlic. With the fish entrée moments away, the conversation returned to heavy-metal drumming, the salacious background on the recording of Guns N’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen,” and whether or not Axl Rose is clinically insane. (The consensus: yes.) And just as the waitress began to think we were in a band, a full Red Snapper arrived, cooked in fish sauce and lime juice. Our anticipation resulted in anticlimax, because the fish was slightly overcooked. The sauce was sweet and full of good flavor, but the fish was just too dry.
Mat fared better with the excellent drunken noodles and was interested in returning to explore the menu further. Perhaps the vegetarian options were the way to go. The rest of us felt varying degrees of enthusiasm depending on the items we ordered. The local Thai restaurant scene is quite competitive now, with options all across the city, and although Thai Chalurn is a contender, they’re not yet in the top tier.
Frenchie: The sauces had great flavor, as did the stock for the duck soup.
Carlos: The portions were good; the “autumn rolls” were flavorful and complex. I’ll be back.
Mat: I’ve always wanted to have a cooking throwdown, but instead of cooking, it’s a throwdown to just munch. I happily achieved that
Mark: Not every item was consistent, but they did many things quite well. I want to try more of those noodles.