Second Helpings

Thai Monkey Club doesn't monkey around with its food

After the grim green curry at Phat Thai, I decided to try Thai Monkey Club, a tiny spot that Kong Phom, a native of Thailand, opened in August on South Broadway. Unlike Phat Thai, Thai Monkey Club claims to serve authentic Thai cuisine, including some of that country's most recognizable staples: curries, soups, green papaya salad, fried noodles and whole fish. The heat of these dishes is definitely authentic; Thai Monkey doesn't make any concessions for gringos. I ordered all of my dishes medium, and my first bite of green papaya salad unleashed a pleasant tingle. By the third bite, I was begging for some rice or dairy-spiked Thai iced tea to gain control of the raging fire in my mouth, since not even Singha beer was doing the trick.

The true mark of authenticity, though? Even through the heat, I could detect the nuances of flavor layered into each dish. That green papaya salad, though wickedly hot, was also tarted up with lime, softened with the sweetness of fish sauce and made earthy by a sprinkling of peanuts — and the shreds of papaya were crisp, juicy and obviously fresh.

Sadly, the green curry didn't sate my craving. The flavor was good, with sweet coconut milk taking the edge off some of the heat, and fresh basil and bamboo shoots adding an herbal note to a bowl swimming with eggplant, snow peas, broccoli and hunks of chicken. But the base was a little thin and watery: I like my curry stewier.

I loved Thai Monkey's soup, however. The tom yum seemed even spicier than the green papaya salad, if possible, and I ate through the pain to get at the velvety mushrooms, bits of tomato and bamboo and, at my request, plump prawns in the savory-tart broth. Coconut milk added another layer of flavor to the tom kha, with slices of carrot and cabbage taking the place of the tomato. Both soups were intensely flavored but absolutely balanced, so that each bite just invited another.

The food at Thai Monkey Club is authentic, all right. Better yet, it's delicious.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk