A welcoming taste of Thai

Some of the best meals I have ever had have come from local, quintessential “ticky-tacky” places. Delicious fare- the best hot dogs, good Chinese food, and even fried chicken- is tastier when the room fits only five people and the eclectic décor is from the 1970s. This theory holds true for the Thai Country Café in the Loop. The walls are faux wood with pictures of waterfalls. Small Buddha statues, wicker baskets, and other knick-knacks are perched on the shelves lining the walls. These touches make the restaurant extra homey, welcoming you as you walk in off the street.

To celebrate the arrival of a close friend, I took a group to the restaurant on a Friday night. Getting a table next to the kitchen, I proceeded to order a cup of jasmine tea- my favorite- while I pondered the menu. Some people never step out of their culinary comfort zone in fear of not understanding the menu. I say, stop in the name of food: try taking baby steps instead of giving up completely on different cuisines.

The first baby step was to order a plate of pad thai, a rice noodle dish that is stir-fried with chicken, bean sprouts, green onions, egg, and ground peanuts. The tasty peanut sauce that came with the dish had the consistency of sauce, not of peanut butter, which some do. A great dish. The sweetness of the peanuts worked well with the noodles and the saltiness of the egg, although personally, I enjoy more herbs in my pad thai, namely mint and basil.

Another step towards enjoying Thai food would be chicken satay, which is one of the appetizers on the Café’s menu. Made of chicken skewers marinated in Thai spices, the dish comes with two dipping sauces: a peanut sauce and a sweet cucumber sauce. For my taste, there was not enough heat in the dish, and it needed an acidic element to cut the creaminess and sweetness of the sauces. The chicken was excellently cooked, and made for a great overall meat dish.

Now, for the more culinary daring, I recommend the tom kha soup, a coconut milk-based broth with chicken or tofu, cabbage, mushrooms, green onions, lemon grass, lime leaves, and a spice called galangal. Galangal is from Southeast Asia, and has a piney, earthy, almost soapy flavor. I know. Sounds different, right? Oddly enough, it is perfect in the soup. The pine accents work miracles with the other flavors, and there is no soap-like aftertaste. It’s a big bowl of amazing flavor. If you love coconut milk and lemongrass, it is the soup for you. Trust me.
I’ve always had a poor relationship with spiciness (thanks, Mom), but recently I’ve begun to form a beautiful friendship with heat in foods. The dish called pad kee maow ba mee, is an egg noodle stir-fry with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and Thai basil leaves. Thai basil is a flat leaf, different than the round Italian basil leaf, which almost has a peppery lemon taste to it. It’s delicious in this dish, and gives spring rolls a freshness that I go weak for. The plate definitely has heat to it, but the burn almost accents the flavor combinations of the sweet sauce with the basil and vegetables. I found it delicious — something I would order again, along with a glass of milk to cut the heat.

Thai Country Restaurant at 6223 Delmar Blvd is a perfect place to experience good Thai food. With extremely reasonable prices and portions that scream “doggy bag,” it is the perfect spot for any college student with a love for Thai.

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