Chao Thai short report
Tried Chao Thai in Elmhurst Friday night for the first time. We ordered A-3 Tod Mun - mixture of ground fish with string bean and curry paste with cucumber salad - but I wonder if maybe instead we got A-1, fried fish balls with sweet chili sauce, since what we got sure looked more like A-1's description than A-3's. In any case, quite delicious. Also we got the stir-fried duck with basil sauce from the "specials" menu. My husband complained that a few of the pieces he had were too gristly, but I didn't get any of those! We're used to eating, and loving, seriously spicy food, and even so we thought this was verging on too spicy to be enjoyable. I did quite like the flavor, though, when I could taste anything besides the intense spice level (and we even trusted Chao enough to not make a big deal about wanting spicy food - just asked for things to be truly spicy). The last dish we had was crispy pork in prik khing curry. This was nice - very fresh tasting green beans and nice crispy pork - but didn't blow us away. A little one-dimensional. The tiny space was packed with diners and the waitresses were very sweet.
Based on a single meal of three dishes (so not really enough to know the restaurant), I'd say it was better than almost all Thai food I've had . . . but didn't enjoy it as much as all my many meals at Zabb or Sripraphai. Since those are equally close to where I live, I don't think I'll be back at Chao unless I read more to make me think we didn't hit it on a good night.
Man was that duck hard to eat though. I've had dishes at Zabb, for instance, that were so spicy that I was crying, but they were so delicious that I couldn't stop eating. But the duck was closer to just being painful, not painfully good. Avoiding the basil leaves, which seemed to have absorbed most of whatever the heat sources were, made the dish edible, but also cut down on the complexity of the flavor.
You're pretty much describing my experience to the letter with a frog dish I ordered, also off the specials menu, and also with the request that they do it up "Thai Spicy." Painful. No flavor. It was the one clunker amongst 7 to 8 dishes I've ordered there.
By comparison, we ordered two salads today at Sripraphai - my wife having specified "Thai spicy" - and, while there was enough heat to coat the tongue completely - the layers of flavor were still happening.