Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Buster Poindexter Must Like His Green Curry Mild

In an effort to show me as much of Scranton's cultural diversity as possible, my host Chris decided that on my second night he would take me to a restaurant that just happened to be right around the corner from Cosmo's Cheesesteaks called Thai Rak Thai. Chris and I share the same love of ethnic cuisines and I knew that if he recommended it, it must be worth a try. Given the fact that Thai Rak may also be the only game in town if you are looking for Thai food, this was doubly good news. Yahoo Maps does indicate the presence of another Thai restaurant, Le Thai, but when I mentioned it to him, he thought that they had closed.

Thai Rak Thai was located at 349 Adams Avenue, Scranton, PA 18503 and can be reached at 570-344-2240. You can also visit them at their website. The restaurant was on the corner of a series of buildings in downtown Scranton and as such, there was no lot to park in. We opted for a curbside parking space just down from the restaurant.

Here was a photograph of the front of the restaurant:

Considering we went on a Friday evening during prime dinner hours, I was surprised to see that they weren't fully packed. Perhaps the lack of business was due to the holidays. In any event, we were seated at a table by the window and I ordered a Thai Iced Tea to start off my meal:

A nice mixture of cool, sweet, creamy, and just a hint of smokiness from the tea, this concoction was also delicious and would serve to cool my mouth from the hopefully fiery curry I was planning on ordering. At $2.25, this wasn't overly expensive, however, refills were not free so I alternated between this and my complimentary glass of water during the course of the meal.

I opted not to take photographs of the menu since the lighting was so subdued in the restaurant. The menu is available on their website, so if you want to check it out before actually going to the restaurant, feel free to do so. I asked Chris if he wanted to split an appetizer and he agreed. We both sat and silently studied the menu for a moment and when each of finally announced what we thought we should order, it turned out that we were on the same page, Tod Mun Pla:

As described on their menu, "Mince kneaded with chili paste deep fried to golden born served with sweet chili sauce." It turned out that the sauce is actually a combination of the traditional sweet and sour cucumber sauce that is normally served with chicken satay combined with sweet chili sauce. The fish cakes themselves have a bit of chili heat already in them and the sweetness from the sauce counterbalanced the fish cakes nicely. The cakes were fried well and were not oily, but Chris didn't particularly care for the texture. I agreed with him that they had the texture of a fried tofu which doesn't bother me.

Since I had come all of this way, I decided that I would give their Tom Yum Goong soup a try. Here was a shot of my bowl of soup:

At $4.95 for a small serving, this was borderline on a touch too expensive for what this was. A combination of shrimp, mushrooms, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, this soup was just mediocre. The three shrimp were cooked nicely and weren't rubbery, but what really disappointed me was the lack of an assertive flavor from the soup stock itself. Perhaps the lack of the chili heat normally associated with this most famous Thai soup was its downfall.

Finally, Chris and I each decided to order a curry dish, him a Massaman curry with beef and me a green curry with chicken. In respect to spice levels, Chris ordered his as it came on the menu, but I wanted something spicier (surprise, surprise, right gentle reader?). I asked my server what my options were and she started rattling off a litany of spice levels that ended with "Hot Hot Hot." I proceeded to ask her if the "Hot Hot Hot" actually had Thai chillies in it and she nodded affirmatively. My decision now made easy, I asked for "Hot Hot Hot" only to be confronted with a pained look on her face as she responded, "Are you sure?" "Definitely."

Chris and I chatted a bit while we waited for our food to arrive. Being the realist that I have learned how to become when it comes to actually receiving food spiced at the level for which I ask, I bet Chris $5 that my dish would come out at somewhere near a medium level. A few moments after making my bet, a bowl of steamed rice arrived at the table:

Followed quickly by Chris's Massaman curry with beef:

And my green curry with chicken:

Knowing that each would be curious to try not only our own menu selection, but also the other's as well, I made myself up a plate of rice and both curries:

I decided to try the Massaman curry first since it was supposed to be the milder of the two. Comprised of incredibly tender cuts of beef with potatoes, onion, pineapple and peanuts, this was a delicious curry. In addition to the Massaman curry flavor, you could also detect hints of cinnamon and clove, too. It instantly reminded me of the cinnamon soup I had eaten while at V-Li's in Canal Fulton. Chris thoroughly enjoyed the dish as well, but for him, the beef was superfluous. He would've gladly eaten just the sauce and rice.

Next I moved on to my green curry. My curry contained chicken, green beans, red and green peppers, bamboo, coconut milk, kaffir lime and basil leaves, and tiny eggplant. While the flavor of the curry was consistent with other green curries I've eaten at other restaurants, it just didn't have the depth of flavor that the Massaman curry had. However, everything was cooked nicely and the chicken wasn't tough. As to the burning question of the spice level, it turns out that both the mildly spiced Massaman curry and my green curry were alike in that the initial heat gradually grew and plateaued slightly higher by the end. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the hottest), my curry probably started out at about a 3 and finished at about a 4. From what I could tell, there wasn't a Thai chili anywhere to be found in my curry. In fact, the curry was so mild that my normally sensitive sinuses didn't even react.

When my server returned to clear the plates, I told her that I didn't think what I had been served was "Hot Hot Hot." Obviously having been caught, she sheepishly admitted that not only wasn't it "Hot Hot Hot," but that she had purposely ordered it a level or two below "Hot Hot Hot." It was also at that point that she also offered up that "Hot Hot Hot" wasn't the hottest level. Apparently the restaurant has something called "5 Stars" which must be equivalent to "Hot Hot Hot Hot Hot." Although I was mildly annoyed to find out this fact after I had thought I had asked the right questions up front, it still didn't take away from the fact that flavor-wise, the meal was pretty decent. However, I thought that I would include this side story for anyone else who might be so inclined to want their food actually spicy so that they know how to order it correctly.

I would definitely recommend you give Thai Rak Thai a visit if you like or would like to learn what proper Thai flavors and spices should taste like. Personally, I'd skip the Tom Yum soup as I don't think it is good enough for the price they are charging. Other prices seem to be in-line with Thai restaurants from the Akron and Cleveland area, although they do seem a little high for the Scranton area. Then again, if you are the only place in town that offers this cuisine, the only guideline you have to follow is what your customers are willing to pay.

Thai Rak Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon Thai Rak Thai on Restaurantica

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