Category Archives: Thai

Songkran Thai

New job, new lunch crew. We had our first group outing last week to try a recent entry into the Thai arena, Songkran Thai.

Atmosphere
I wish I understood what’s happening in Songkran’s neighborhood, Uptown Park. On the one hand it offers high-brow venues catering to the wealthy Central American residents who buy up all the glossy, multi-million dollar condos. On the other hand it definitely tries to appeal to those who want sit-down fast food. Maybe the combination works.

Songkran Thai is in the newer section of Uptown Park. Its a small space inside and they do have limited outdoor seating, not that you’ll remotely consider that an option in Houston during the summer. Exposed brick, brightly colored Buddha art, modern music at conversation-level volume, polished but casual. For lunch they seemed to attract entry-level professionals in skinny suits and shiny, pointy shoes.

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Food
We’ll be returning for a Restaurant Weeks dinner this weekend but this time was lunch which was mostly good. Lunch offerings are ‘plates’; entree, salad and soup. The soup was hot but unfortunately it lacked any flavour and we all moved it aside rapidly. Salad was good but not notable; most of the enjoyment came from the creamy sesame-ginger dressing. Removing the dressing you’d have some torn lettuce, carrots shreds and a few fried wonton strips.

My main event was excellent; fish in tamarind sauce. Lightly floured and pan-fried but I couldn’t tell you what kind of fish was used, it was about the sauce – basil, ginger, tamarind, fish sauce and garlic was strong but enjoyable. Broccoli and rice were along for the ride, apparently more for visual appeal and texture.

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Service
We arrived at the very start of lunch, 1130, and it was clear they were in the middle of setting up for a lunch crowd coming much later. Given that, the service was pleasant and efficient but often distracted. Orders for our table of 8 arrived in 20 minutes.

Price
Acceptable for the Uptown Park area but a little higher than normal for Thai food. Lunch plates ranged from $10-15.

While we liked Songkran and I’ll be returning this weekend to try it again for dinner, it does not dethrone Thai Gourmet as best Thai in Houston.

Lunch: August 2016

Songkran Thai | 1101-08 Uptown Park Blvd. | HTX 77056

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Savannah | King And I

Coming from a city with Thai venues on every corner it might seem odd to declare Savannah, Georgia as the city with the best Thai food. But there it is, you just never know where a Thai family is going to land and work for decades to hone their family recipes to perfection with local ingredients. Invariably The King and I is a destination when family gathers in Savannah.

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Atmosphere
Its buried in a small innocuous strip mall with other restaurants and doesn’t look like much from the outside. But you know the book-cover judgement thing already. The inside is clean, well-dressed in white tablecloths and noise levels are conducive to conversation. I’ve seen many a low key birthday party here and it seems quite popular for date night with the 20-somethings.

Food
You can get the requisite Thai dishes here like Pad Thai and Pad See Ew but what sets King apart from other Thai venues is the what they create with locally caught seafood. They aren’t always available but if you see Soft Shelled Crab in Lemongrass, Kefir Lime sauce or Panang Prawns, definitely try those or any other local seafood options which typically show up in the specials menu; you can circle back to the staples on another visit.

This time I tried Panang Prawns, delicious. The prawns they use are the 12/18 count variety so about 6 is more than enough. First basted in the Panang curry and grilled, then served atop the remaining curry and vegetables. The prawns had the consistency of steak; firm but pliable and juicy all the way.  I’ve made Panang curry paste from scratch and compared it to packaged but it wasn’t much better so I don’t do that anymore. However, King’s is much better, a more prominent lemongrass and peanut flavour, my guess is that they get much fresher or more authentic ingredients to make the paste. I tried to extract the secret from the owner but short of waterboarding I don’t think I’ll ever get anymore than what I got – a smile and ‘Glad you like it’. Fair enough.

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My dad ordered up the Soft Shelled Crab which was a knockout. With this dish the focus is on the sauce; which is rich and buttery but with contrasting citrus notes from the lemongrass and Kefir lime.  The crab is flash fried, which, of course, makes it soo much better.

King also focuses on presentation. I’ve noticed after many trips that almost all the veggies are etched or carved in some way. When the owner brings out the plates, he is very specific about how the plate is delivered to the table and the angle the plate is turned before he walks away. The dish’s focal point must be centered with the customers line of slight.

Service
Its spectacular service. However, if you pop by anytime after they open on Friday or Saturday you might wait upwards of 30 minutes for a table.

Price
Seems on par with what I would spend in Houston. Most of the dishes hover in the $8-13 range, however the seafood specials are often closer to $20.

If I’m in Savannah I know I’m going to eat at King and I,  the only decision is which seafood specials to order once we get there.

Dinner: December 2014

The King And I | 7098 Hodgson Memorial | Savannah GA 31406

Sriracha Pasta | Shrimp

With a new bottle of sriracha I was curious how it would work as the base for a pasta sauce. Short answer, extremely well!

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Pasta Sauce

  • 3 T Sriracha
  • 3 T Green Onion, chopped
  • 2 T Peanut Butter (or almond, sunflower, cashew butter)
  • 2 T Coconut Sugar
  • 2 T Lime Juice, fresh
  • 2 T Soy Sauce (or fish sauce)
  • 1 T Olive Oil

Other

  • 8 oz Whole Wheat Pasta
  • 8 oz Shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 2-3 C Zucchini, Yellow Squash, Red Bells, julienned
  • 2 T Olive Oil, divided
  • 2t Salt, divided
  • 2 t Pepper, divided

Prepare

  • Whisk together all sauce ingredients until blended, set aside
  • Boil up the pasta to your liking
  • While pasta is cooking, in a large pan, sautee the veggies in 1T Olive over medium high heat, season with 1t salt and 1t pepper; remove and set aside. Repeat the sautee with the shrimp using the remaining olive oil, salt and pepper. Remove and set aside.
  • When the pasta is done, drain and immediately place in a large bowl with the sauce, toss to coat.

Deliver

  • Plate up a tangle of pasta, top with some veggies and shrimp, that’s all.

All of the research assistants loved this quick-fix meal, which took about 15 minutes to prepare from start to finish, including prep. Without the shrimp you are going vegan and the two vegan assistants are leveraging the results to further their not so secret agenda of vegan domination of the planet.

 

 

Gecko Gecko

Gecko1After taking niece on a tour of UC Berkeley, we wandered through the rest of the city so she could get a feel for the ‘interesting’ lifestyle of the city. Aside from the rank homeless park and the constant smell of weed, she liked it. One aspect that appealed to her, being a life-long vegetarian, was that there’s no need to seek out vegetarian restaurants specifically, since it seemed they all catered to vegetarians.

Atmosphere

I’m not sure if Gecko Gecko existed back in the days I was an undergrad, probably not. It’s a small shotgun restaurant just a few block west of campus. All windows, tastefully decorated, calming but fantastically busy, mostly with students queuing up for takeaway.

Food

For me Thai for is either really good or really bad; balancing the sweet, salty and sour is key. Often I find Thai food to be disgustingly sweet however at Gecko, they have the balance.

Curried Potato Puffs : These appealed after 7 miles of campus and city tour. I’d like to compare them to samosas but the casing was more like a croissant. The filling exploded with turmeric, cumin and a dash of hot pepper. Two sauces accompanied; peanut and sweet-hot Thai chili. Niece liked these so much she got an additional order after our mains.

Pumpkin Panang Curry : Since I was on a mostly vegetarian kick, I ordered the Panang Curry with pumpkin instead of beef. It was a good call. A good balance of coconut milk, ginger, soy, fish sauce, tomato and cumin on the initial taste, following up with a little hot pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg. The pumpkin was chunked up big but fork tender. This was a milder than normal version of Panang but the subtle flavour of pumpkin would have been lost with more heat.

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Service

There was a bit of pressure to take the second order of Curried Potato Puffs to go. Or maybe it was just a misunderstanding. In either case, the service here is surprisingly fast considering the large queue of takeaway which does not seem to dissipate even following lunch rush. Also, since niece is a militant vegetarian, the server was very helpful in making sure there were NO animal-based products in her lunch.

Price

Reasonable, generally. Inexpensive for CA. Puffs $8, Curry $8.50

Lunch: April 2014

Gecko Gecko | 2101 Milvia | Berkeley, CA 94704

Thai Gourmet

Most of the Thai I’ve had in Houston has been mediocre except Thai Gourmet. I’ve only been 3 times but each time it exceeds expectations.

IMG_1666Atmosphere
Thai Gourmet is located in a neglected strip mall west of the Galleria. It is next door to a gym which has some their equipment outside so that you can witness the ‘man-mountains’ in action;  a misguided marketing technique perhaps. The interior reminds me of those old-school, out-of-synch, English-dubbed Kung Fu films; its OK on the surface but there is something way off-center. Its an ultra-casual, big open room, which is predictably loud, often with animated patrons traveling in large packs. Also, what takes most people off guard is the frantic, fast-paced timing, particularly at lunch; volume is key to their business’ success. Successful they are considering each time I’ve been it is essentially a full house with a short wait.

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Food
Atmosphere, who cares. Thai Gourmet is not a place to impress a date, its a place to experience the best Thai food in Houston. For my third visit I tried what I should have tried on my first visit – the Thai litmus test – Pad Thai.

Pad Thai sounds easy to make; some rice noodles, chicken, sundry veggies and the sauce. Its the sauce where things typically go wrong. Its basically tamarind, fish sauce, chili sauce and brown sugar but balancing the sour quality of tamarind seems elusive to most Thai restaurants in Houston. Without that balance you get a mouthful of too sour or something that tastes like dessert noodles with chicken. I’m happy to report, Thai Gourmet is spot on.

Service
Service is polite and efficient but accept that they run on a high-volume premise so lingering will be constantly interrupted by ‘Is there anything else before we kick your table-hogging ass out?’; only it won’t come out that obviously. This is one the best places for time-constrained people; I’m 99% certain you can order, eat, pay and be out the door in 40 minutes or less.

Price
Prices are reasonable; lunch specials are $9.50 for any of the dozen selections – salad and spring roll included. Dinners are $10-20 but the offerings on the dinner menu are more interesting; there are a number of duck selections, which I’m going to try next time.
Lunch: 27 December 2013

Thai Gourmet | 6324 Richmond | HTX 77057