By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
At dinner Saturday, I skipped the flu shot soup because I was hungry for something more substantial and less...medicinal. Looking over the menu, I figured my body could hold out a couple more days on its sushi and bacon and beer and dumplings diet. It had become acclimated, after all. Eating healthy might be as much a shock to my system as eating kittfo, foie gras, shrimp heads and three meatloaf sandwiches a day might be to a normal person's.
So I asked for satay, because it is one of my favorite simple foods and because Noy brushes hers with sweet coconut milk before serving. The satay came with a handmade spicy peanut sauce that was merely okay, and a bright and vinegary cucumber sauce that was fantastic. After that, I had chicken dumplings wrapped like shumai, like beggar's purses stuffed with ground chicken, two kinds of garlic and little jewels of cooked carrot. They were small enough to eat whole, and I did, not even bothering with the decency of chopsticks.
The masaman curry was thin as water and almost tasteless at first. Poured over rice served out of the big silver tureen, it seemed to disappear between the grains, the big chunks of potato and curls of simmered beef remaining behind as though they'd been sieved. Expecting the thicker, sweeter, more punch-in-the-face directness of the curries to which I have become accustomed over the years, I was disappointed. But after a few bites, my opinion changed. The curry had a subtlety, a dim background sweetness that, rather than overpowering, allowed the bright spikes of red chile and curry paste to blink through, the flavors of soft onions and fresh carrots to add their own savory notes. It was unusual, yes, but after finishing two plates, I decided that I kind of liked it.
504 E. Hampden Ave.
Englewood, CO 80113
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
So I had a third, just to make sure.
Noy, Rick and their crew focus primarily on Thai comfort food, on traditional family-kitchen preparations of dishes that might not have been classic fifteen or twenty years ago in America, but are certainly mainstays today: pad Thai, drunken noodles, larb salads. But I skipped all that and went for the street food, for the Thai party grub: whole fried fish (a specialty of the house, ordered in advance by a lot of Noy's regulars) and garlic squid, spring rolls made with pork and bean thread noodles and fresh herbs. Kow pad kra prow is a use-up-the-leftovers concept; Taste of Thailand's version was a beautiful and fragrant jumble of fried rice studded with egg and broccoli florets, garlic and basil from the garden, sautéed chopped onions, hot chiles, cabbage, carrots and small shrimp, roughly shelled, tossed in with their tails still attached. It was delicious — the kind of dish that made me want to buy some disreputable shirts, go to Thailand and squat beside a river, eating this with my fingers while the night lit up behind me and I contemplated getting up to nothing but trouble. As only certain Asian foods can, the particular spice architecture inspired thoughts of both good times and larceny. It was a damn lucky thing I didn't have my passport.
I was back for lunch on Tuesday and joined the people waiting on the sidewalk out front, craning their necks to see inside, wondering how long it might be before they could eat, wondering if they should nibble from the small window box full of fresh herbs in the meantime. I was finally seated at a back corner table, where — in imitation of the tables all around me, the two doctors by the window, the two nurses next to me, the guy with the bum foot on one side and the two men discussing lung cancer and addiction recovery just beyond him — I at last ordered a bowl of flu shot soup.
The broth was fragrant, heavily spiced with fresh garlic and diced ginger root, with tiny flakes of red Thai chiles and bits and pieces of other plants that I couldn't name on a bet and which Noy won't name for strangers. This is her secret recipe, after all, a Thailand home remedy that she contends can both cure the flu (if given a few days) and prevent it altogether; a bowl or two can make you healthy and then keep you healthy, provided you come back for regular top-ups, she says. More important to me, though, the soup was ridiculously delicious. The garlic was powerful and savory, the ginger its balance on the opposite end of the flavor spectrum. There was red chard unlike any I'd had before — tough and hardy, not coddled, not kind, with a peppery aftertaste and taking some effort to chew — and planks of carrot that had retained their vegetable sweetness even after cooking in the spice-heavy broth. And the dumplings — similar to the dumplings on the app menu but smaller, their thin, drifting skins filled with ground chicken — had sponged up all the flavors of the two dozen or more ingredients, secret and otherwise, and seemed to burst in the mouth like tiny chicken-and-garlic-flavored bombs.