I have to admit, one of the wonderful benefits of writing a food blog is that I often find myself on the receiving end of invitations to a diverse array of food experiences. While I would love nothing more than to attend every single event to which I am invited, time and money limitations are constant companions as I chart my way through the local food scene. Sure, I think that there are some absolutely terrific deals out there that you absolutely cannot pass up such as Vaccaro's four for $40 prix fixe wine paired dinner or Crop Bistro's $25 Sunday Suppers. While these are amazing deals in my mind, it is when I came across my latest invitation that I thought I must have misunderstood the terms of the dinner.
My good friend Nancy contacted me recently and invited me to a special chef's whim dinner at Ty Fun Thai Bistro where chef and proprietor Sonny had proposed to do a multi-course dinner for only $20 per person. Having eaten there only one time prior, I couldn't say "yes" fast enough. When I asked Nancy who had set up the dinner, she indicated that it was actually Sonny Tingpatana and his partner Greg Binford who had noticed that several members of our dining group had not only ordered, but were also immensely enjoying several of the authentic dishes being served at Wonton Gourmet the last time they had visited. While details of the actual meal we would be served tonight were a bit sketchy, for $20 per person, how could you go wrong?
Ty Fun Thai Bistro was located at 815 Jefferson Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113 and can be reached at 216-664-1000. There was a parking lot available directly to the side of the restaurant. Street parking was also available close to the restaurant. Ty Fun was located in Tremont, just outside of the downtown Cleveland area.
Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:
Once inside, I joined my other nine companions (there were supposed to be eleven of us, but one person bowed out at the last minute) in anticipation of the meal to come. The only information I knew for certain was that the chef would be preparing a mixture of items from the menu and items from his family's recipes. I grabbed a take-out menu on the way out of the restaurant so that I could tell you, gentle reader, of the items you can readily order for yourself when you decide to check Ty Fun out.
Within minutes of us arriving, the first appetizer course came out:
Several plates of Thai-style chicken wings appeared on the table. Here was a closer shot of my portion (although technically by the end of the course, I ended up having three chicken wings total):
Deftly fried to a crispy golden brown, the wings had been sauced in a combination of sweet chili sauce, garlic, and fresh cilantro. In an overture to the whole fried red snapper that was to come later, this was a killer chicken wing. The meat was perfectly cooked and the skin was nice and crispy. The combination of flavors in the sauce was pure Thai. It was spicy, sweet, salty, and herbaceous all at the same time. Honestly, I would've been happy with a dozen of these bad boys for my entire meal. Sadly, these aren't on their regular menu, but they should be.
A few minutes later, our second appetizer course arrived at the table:
This was a cold chopped pork salad and Boston Bibb lettuce cups. The idea for this dish is that you take some of the pork filling and place it in a line down the middle of your lettuce leaf, something similar to this:
Once filled, you roll the lettuce up around the filling like a Mexican taco and take a bite. And, oh what a bite this was! The pork was tender and juicy and had clearly been diced by hand since there was so much texture as you continued to chew it. Spiced with fresh Thai chilies, galangal, Keffir Lime leaves, and lemongrass, this was truly a flavor explosion in your mouth. The coolness of the salad along with the crispy lettuce cups helped to allay much of the spiciness from the chilies. This also isn't available on the regular menu.
Served along with the cold pork salad were several bowls of sticky Jasmine rice:
Some people put a little bit of rice in their wraps and others, like myself, just placed a spoonful on my plate and ate the rice in small clumps with my hands as Chef Sonny demonstrated for us. The rice had a lovely delicate smell and even though it was plain, it actually had a wonderful unique flavor to it. The rice also helped to alleviate some of the heat from the pork for those who sought relief.
Our next course was described to us as a palate cleanser between the appetizers and the main courses. Each of us received our own bowl of stuffed bitter melon soup:
Sitting on the spoon was a round of bitter melon that had been stuffed with a little more ground pork and fresh mushrooms. In case you've never heard of bitter melon before, it is a gourd commonly found in Asian cuisine that is ... well, um, bitter. That being said, the amount of bitterness varies from vegetable to vegetable, just like how some chilies vary in hotness from one specimen to the next. The chef also blanched the bitter melon first to help reduce any excessive bitterness from the variety he used today. While this dish was not spicy at all, it still embraced the mantra of Thai cuisine to create dishes that are balanced. The soup broth itself was excellently seasoned and reminded me of a superb Wonton soup broth. In the end, the flavors of salty, umami, bitter, and sweet from the ground pork meat made this dish a real winner. While the regular menu has many great Thai soups, sadly this bowl of deliciousness isn't one of them.
Two appetizers and one soup course now out of the way, things started happening very quickly at this point. Before you knew it, four entrees and one vegetable course just appeared out of nowhere and took up every single inch of available table space we could muster. I'll label each dish that was brought to our table and then talk about each one when I describe what I am eating on my dinner plate.
First up, a wonderful boneless roasted duck in red curry sauce (the closest thing available on the menu is the Gang Phed Ped Yang):
Next up we have the beef and rice noodle dish, Lad Nar (also seen on menus as Lard Nar):
Next up is one of my truly all-time favorite Thai dishes, fried Red Snapper served with a sweet and spicy garlic chili sauce, or Pla Rad Prig:
Our fourth and final entree was a spicy minced chicken and fresh green beans with onions, carrots, and red bell peppers (this one isn't on the menu):
Our vegetable course was a crispy stir-fried tofu and mixed vegetable dish in a garlic sauce, known as Pad Tofu on the menu:
For my first pass, I started with the Duck Red Curry, the Lad Nar, and the Pla Rad Prig (left, top right, and bottom right, respectively):
Let's start with the duck curry. This was wonderfully balanced. Spicy, sweet, savory, and salty all rolled up into one fantastic dish. As with many of the dishes we would have tonight, I could've simply spooned the sauce right onto some plain Jasmine rice and been a terrifically happy camper. The duck was tender and juicy and because it was completely de-boned, you didn't have to worry about biting into anything inedible as you made your way through this dish. In addition to the duck, there were also chunks of pineapple and small Indian and Thai eggplants. Next up was the Lad Nar. The beef was nicely cooked and surprisingly tender. Stir-fried with broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn, and carrots, it was served over perfectly cooked wide rice noodles (think a little wider than fettuccine) in a garlic brown sauce. Finally, there was the Pla Rad Prig, or fried Red Snapper. I've had this before where they only fry the individual fish fillets, but in Ty Fun's case, the entire fish is presented at the table in a spectacular display of epicurean glory. For those who might be squeamish about your food staring back at you, just turn it around so that you are staring at the tail end of the creature. The fish was everything I love in this dish: Creamy flesh inside with crunchy coating. The fact that it was made all the better by adding that addictive sweet chili and garlic sauce only made this experience even better. While good on the chicken wings, on the Red Snapper it worked magical together.
For round two, I went for the Pad Tofu (on the top left of the dish) and the spicy minced chicken with green beans (on the bottom right of the dish). First, let's talk about the spicy minced chicken. Similar to the minced pork from the appetizer portion of our meal, the chicken had a wonderful texture to it. It was also probably the spiciest dish of the evening, a good 5-6 for me on the spice scale (10 being maximum), but for others, I feel like they would've rated it higher. The green beans and the red bell pepper added a nice crunch and sweetness to the dish that counteracted some of the heat. The Pad Tofu, although it had no heat and no meat) was also quite tasty. I don't know if it was because there was no chili in this dish, but it almost had a very mild sweetness to the flavor. While I like tofu in all its forms, this particular preparation was one of my favorites. Essentially, you press the water content out of the tofu and then wok-fry the tofu until it is crispy on the outside and creamy and tender on the inside. While I do not label myself a vegetarian, this was one dish I would be happy to have for my entire meal.
Along with our entrees, Chef Sonny brought out a condiment for us to use as we saw fit:
While the photo is a little bit blurry, this was a combination of fresh Thai chilies, scallions, and fish sauce. The specks floating on the top were not minced garlic, but the actual seeds of the chilies, which house quite a bit of the heat. I used this condiment sparingly, not because I was worried about blowing my taste buds away, but because too much of the fish sauce would alter the flavor of the already perfected dishes. Clearly this was a hit with our party because by the time this condiment had made its way up and down the table, the bowl was nearly empty.
Needless to say, having made our way through this onslaught of food, there wasn't a single one of us who had room for a slice of their homemade mango cheesecake (which wasn't part of our Thai meal). After lauding praise on Sonny for an amazing meal, I packed up some leftovers, paid the check and waddled back out to my car. The entire meal turned out to be a 2 1/2 hour affair which I would gladly do again.
I think Sonny found it extremely gratifying to find customers who wanted an authentic Thai experience. I found it extremely gratifying to find a chef who was willing to give us authentic Thai flavors. While this was a one-off dinner, there is no reason that you can't get in touch with Sonny or Greg and plan your own dinner party. While many of the outstanding dishes we had tonight are readily available for sampling right off the menu, don't be afraid to set something up that will titillate every taste bud in your mouth. Whether ordering from the menu or setting up something special, Ty Fun Thai Bistro is highly recommended.