Thai Alert!! Thai Alert!!!
Run, do not walk, to Khao Sarn Cuisine in Coolidge Corner...It's only been open 3 weeks, and it may not stay this good!
I picked up their take-out menu a couple of weeks ago when I was too sick to consider eating, and have been using it for recreational reading ever since...It had some very authentic dishes, but I had doubts, because the decor is upscale, and they serve martinis...These 2 things are usually a bad sign for an ethnic restaurant....
I was wrong!!! In an impromptu chow-meeting, Rubee and I needed Thai food...She loves the Northern Thai menu at Bangkok City, and as any readers of this board know, I swear by Dok Bua...And we each wanted to try each others fave....But this could be good Thai in my nabe, certainly worth a try...
So, our first must have was the Thai street snack, Miang Kum...get it, get it, get it... A Thai spinach leaf (more neutral, like a grape leaf, but fresh..) piled with roasted dry shrimp, roasted peanuts, roasted coconut, ginger, red onion, chopped chili, and the piece de resistance, little chunks of fresh lime..The lime was IT!!. It also had a duck-like sauce on the side..I could sit all afternoon eating this with their mango martinis!! I know, ethnic rests. don't have good bars, but there you are..
Our next app wasn't as exciting, Mee Grob, crispey rice noodles, topped w/ tamarind sauce, some bean sprouts, shrimp, tofu and scallion..A little too sweet for our taste, could have used a little more fish sacue...But after asking for extra cilantro, we started liking it a lot more...There are a ton of unusual apps, our problem was, there were only 2 of us, so we had to use some restraint...
At this point, we worried they had dumbed down the noodles, so I pulled out my chowhound passport..The waitress burst out laughing..She called a waiter over, who translated as "No tourist food, we like real Thai food, the spicier it is; the better we like it" Or something like that!
Rubee ordered Larb Kai, ground chicken mixed w/shallots, scallions, mint leaves, hot lime sauce and cilantro..She was transported...She kept trying to make me try it!!! I will have to leave the commentary to her...
But I CAN comment on the Steamed Whole Sea Bass with 3 Thai Chilis, GARLIC and Lime sauce....UNBELIEVABLE!!
Rubee kept asking if it was the best steamed fish I'd ever had, and I was cagey, then she finally said, "Admit it, you're a food snob..You can't admit you can get authentic Thai in an upscale place!!" She was right...This was the one of best steamed fish ever..it looked bland, but when I bit into that mix of garlic, chilis, lime and fish sauce, I fell in love. I also reeked of garlic the rest of the day..(And, BTW, it was a 2-person sized fish, fresh and sweet, and it was $14.95!!!)
We had no room for noodles, or noodle soups, or dessert..I REALLY wanted to try some of their seafood noodle combination, and we didn't hit the pad thai...But it's her new favorite, and mine too...Go there, try more dishes, and report!!
I went to KS for lunch today. Overall, I was very impressed. I asked for the traditional menu. They don't have a separate Thai menu, but the waitress pointed out traditional dishes from the regular menu. She even brought me the dinner menu because it has a larger selection of traditional fare.
The spinach leaf snack that galleygirl was talking about was one of the most deliciously complex things I've ever tasted. The leaves were arranged like oysters on the half shell and filled with dried shrimp, fried coconut, a pinkie-sized chunk of lime, tiny cube of raw ginger, whole peanuts, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting. The leaves came with a very sweet, slightly fishy sauce. I'm guessing it had cane sugar, minced ginger, fish sauce, and some sort of shrimp paste.
The waitress assured me that the dry tamarind chicken curry was traditional. It wasn't. Tamarind chicken turned out to be a well-prepared stir fry of chicken breast, bell peppers, green beans and onions in a pretty saffron colored coconut milk sauce. Despite the chili pepper next to it on the menu, it wasn't spicy at all. It wasn't what I was hoping for, but it was a very good example of its type. The green beans were perfect.
I'm definitely going back, but I'll be a little more insistent about spiciness next time.
re: Lindsay B.
I was there for lunch today also..about noon..sitting by the window..did you come in a little after that? 2 guys..I wondered if they were chowhounds. We had the spinach app too.. great..under native dishes on the back...chinese broccoli stir fried with crispy pork, and choo chee curry duck..a very good version of the dish. I also asked for "very hot." The waitress seemed to understand..but it was definitely not. I asked for some chili peppers and that was a good move. They brought a 3 condiment spice rack..traditional red chili sauce, another type of peppers, and the third..A Thai hot sauce..finely minced peppers ina fish sauce, according to the waitress. Delish and brought up the heat factor.
Walked up Harvard St..stopped in to check out Dok Bua.. bought some smoked fish at a Russian market..and a few things at Wolf's Fish Market..best fish store I've seen in the Boston area.
Thanks GG for the reco.
What! No more Dok Bua? Does this mean it's over? I'll just have to give it a try though it will be tough to transfer my allegiance. Let me know the next time you want to share a whole fish. I've been hoping that a Cambridge type bistro would open in Coolidge Corner but this doesn't sound bad.
re: chuck s
No, I wouldn't desert Dok Bua (that lovely spicey-squid salad!!), BUT, DB can be surprisingly non-cheap when you get to the whole fish, and some other special-type items. Always worth it, for the ing. and home-style cooking, but I was surprised on that fish comparison, this new place came out way ahead. DB only has , I think, one fish noodle soup, and this menu several, as well as more fish-friendly noodle variations. Course, the tab on those cocktails can wrack up, and DB is BYOB..I'll definitely be hitting CS again this week; fish time!! (BTW, the whole fish was on the dinner menu..And they do a fried version in Hot chili sauce too...)
I really liked the Miang Kum, the combination of flavors and textures. You put a dollop of the sweet sauce on top, roll it in the leaf, and take a bite. The sweet, roasted flavors of coconut and peanut, bites of ginger, onion, and fresh chili, saltiness of the dried shrimp, and that burst of lime is just addictive. I loved the Larb - excellent balance of the four Thai flavors - hot, sour, salty, sweet. The ground chicken absorbed all the flavors of the lime/fish sauce/chili and fresh onions, scallions, mint, and cilantro.
There was a nice selection of appetizers for grazing - including the usual satay/both fried and fresh rolls/chicken wings, tofu etc. but also Tod Mun, Mussels in "aromatic Thai spices", Moo Wan/Nuer Wan (grilled marinated beef or pork served with sticky rice), and Thai "fish balls".
The whole-fish items looked mouth-watering. In addition to the steamed we tried, there was a fried fish topped with "house special sauce, shredded pork, ginger, black mushrooms, onion, and scallions" and the classic whole fried fish topped with chili garlic sauce. There was a "crispy shredded catfish mixed with slivers of green mango, red onion, hot chili, and a lemon dressing." that I'll probably order next time.
What really looked interesting on the menu were the items that said "country style", "traditional" or "Northern favorite" and those listed under "Khao Sarn Signature Dishes". Just a few examples:
"Ga Rot Pla (soup)
A very traditional Thai favorite, with shredded chicken, quail eggs, bamboo, Fried fish (ga-prot pla), black mushrooms, and crabmeat"
Hall Moak with chicken/salmon
"Northern Thai spices, coconut milk, and curry pasted steamed in banana leaves. A truly Authentic dish"
They also had "Khao Soi", egg noodles with Thai radishes and "northern curry sauce..The most popular entree in Northern Thailand", and "Yum Nuer", grilled beef mixed with "traditional seasonings and a spicy lime dressing...A favorite among Northern Thais".
Nice selection of desserts too - sticky rice with mango, thai custard with sticky rice; red bean/ginger/ green tea ice cream, etc. Hmmmm. Maybe next week?
great story, GG, thanks for posting. Our first in-the-field report for the Chowhound Passport!
the passport really works. We took a LOT of time to ensure that the eight different language versions not only inform staff you want the real thing, but tell them in witty vernacular designed to amuse and disarm them and persuade them you're a hip insider. If a customer's gone to this much trouble, s/he must be very serious about real Thai food (lots of gringos come in saying so, but don't really mean it).
The REALLY coool thing is that after two or three more hounds whip out the card in this place, they'll recognize the card at a glance.....and know you're a totally cool customer who knows the cuisine and is a low-maintenance, friendly and experienced diner-out. We can use these to "break in" restaurants that are skittish about serving the Real Deal to gringos (as some of the best places are).
It truly is a passport to the kind of in-restaurant experiences chowhounds crave.
Order a Chowhound Passport Here
re: Jim Leff
Hey Jim, it would be cool (and maybe sell more passports!!) if the vernacular translations appeared somewhere, like here, or the General Board. I got mine awhile ago, but finally used it after I found out the Chinese one said, "My face may be foreign, but my stomach is Chinese!!" I'd LOVE to know what the others actually SAY, before I show them to any waitstaff, who will hopefully enjoy it as much as the staff at KS...
re: Jim Leff
I want to buy a passport. I think it's a terrific idea. But I'm afraid of hurting the waitress's feelings, or something, you know? It's hard to explain why I'm uneasy about it, and I'm probably just being irrational. I wouldn't hesitate to use my passport abroad where the presumption is that the servers don't speak my language. To do the same at home creates a strange dynamic if the server seems to speak some English. If I were such a waitress I might feel like the customer was insulting my English skills.
Of course, that's the last thing Chowhounds want to do, and maybe if more people use their passports the problem will solve itself.
re: Lindsay B.
Interesting...I was a little hesistant, til I found out the Chinese one was so funny; a little humor always seems to get you the benefit of the doubt!...
But actually, I feel like it's trying to excuse my OWN bad Chinese, or Thai, or whatever, in a humorous way..Kinda like when I have to ask for help translating the wall specials at a Chinese place. It's not THEIR lack of English, but MY lack of Cantonese..It's funny, I always seem to treat such places as tho they are foreign countries, and I am afraid of being an ugly American, so maybe my slightly defferential air helps..
I think I'd pull out the passport for those times I end up drawing a fish for a waiter! But, after a few exchanges, you can sort of guage someone's level of English..("Yes, she's being very nice to me, and she doesn't have a CLUE as to what I'm saying!!") You know, that look of RELIEF you sometimes see on a servers face, when you or s/he finally hits a clue that helps the other communicate? I felt that the passport was a shortcut to that..
re: Lindsay B.
Listen, the passport's like this goofy slide card with this goofy chowing dog on it, on which the waiter will read a funny, disarming phrase he/she'd never expect a gringo to hand him. If the waiter speaks PERFECT English, it's still really funny and out of left field--your handing him/her this thing is so totally "off the script". It's not about hurting feelings. There's nothing about this transaction which says "I'm so frustrated by your lack of English that I need to communicate via coded cards". It's not like talking sloooowly and loudly to "the foreigner". It's just a cool/fun thing.
Re: the actual translations, the Chinese one is the only language that's catchy and poetic translated back into English. The others are all varying translations rendered in a hip enough way (as you'd expect from a Chowhound.com product) so the waiter will giggle and know you mean business. They all translate roughly to "please bring me the serious stuff, not the tourist chow", but all in a light-hearted, insider way. The literal translations sound as stilted and weird as literal translations often do.
I think the Japanese, for ex, translates to very roughly "please bring me foods prepared in a way which would explode desired flavors in the mouth of even the most experienced Japanese gourmand". It's better in Japanese.
re: Lindsay B.
Just from the reaction we got at KS, it's very easy to use the passport. Everyone spoke English to us, but I think GG just said something like, "could you translate something for us?" The waitress read it and started giggling, called another waiter over, and he laughed and translated it. It lightened the mood, they seemed to appreciate that we were serious enough about Thai food to carry it!, and everyone was smiling..... :) (Not to mention that the food was plenty HOT!).