Denveater - Deconstructing Colorado Cuisine, Dish by Dish

Boston Tea Party Turns Denver Thai Party: Thai Basil & the dearth of dandy Mile High Thai take-out

I’ve roasted the skin (hope it’s thick!) off poor Thai Green Chile; I’ve sprayed phrase-mace in Jason of Jason’s Thai Bistro’s face; I haven’t bothered wasting even an inch of cyberspace—& it’s infinite!—on Swing Thai or Spicy Basil. Yet looking at the menus of the likes of  Chada Thai, with its miang kum & haw moak, and reading the raves for Edgewater’s US Thai, I realize that it’s too soon to conclude from my experiences thus far that there’s no Thai around here to speak of except in snarky tones.

That’s especially true insofar as I’ve been insisting, by a series of associations, on ordering the stuff in. I tend (as I think most humans, with our serotonin levels & various biological drives, do) to associate carbs & fat with comfort. I tend (as the luckier among us humans do) to associate home, with its old sofas & filthy sweatshirts & sweethearts lounging around on & in them, with comfort too. Thus I tend, as I think a lot of lucky-gimme-gimme-yay Americans do, to associate the delivery of carb-heavy, fatty foods to my front door with comfort. And thus in turn, I think, do we tend to order in those dishes immigrant cooks have altered precisely to suit our inborn palates, as opposed to the more “authentic” (whatever that means, as usual) dishes we’re more willing to try when already out of our comfort zones anyway, i.e., seated in the restaurants, away from our couches. To basically quote what I wrote in this Chowhound thread I started to get to the bottom of precisely this here theory (which is already yielding interesting & insightful answers, God bless that site), “Takeout/delivery seems to center on Americanized versions of dishes, be it pizza, Chinese, or whatever.
For instance, when I think of eating Chinese in, I think of Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in bed digging with their chopsticks into moo choppy gumshoe or whatever in Manhattan…No one’s ordering, say, tripe and jellyfish. As for pizza, if I’m ordering it in, I’m not likely to be getting a pie topped with zucchini blossoms and fresh mozzarella.”

And as for Thai, the ultimate hot-sour-salty-sweet cuisine, if we’re ordering it in, we’re not likely to be calling up the joints that specialize in miang kum & haw moak; we’re going for noodles whose sauces are oozing with brown sugar, tamarind &, for fuck’s sake, ketchup.

Point being twofold: A, as an American I can’t ask to be catered to like everyone else & then complain when I’m catered to like everyone else. I can’t shit on, say, Thai Basil for loading everything I order with sugar & thickeners when sugar & thickeners are where it’s at in most of the stuff I order. And yet B, as an American, just because I can’t doesn’t mean I can’t. I’m an American! As no less a quintessential American poet than Whitman put it, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” True that.

In short, I still say Denver Thai take-out largely sucks until proven otherwise. As for Thai Basil specifically, about half of my fair sampling of dishes can be taken & shoved, to use another expressly American line:

TBhotandsoursoup
hot & sour soup, actually sweet & starchy viscous liquid

TBdrunkennoodles
drunken noodles, actually oil junkies

TBtofu
golden tofu, actually beige cushion stuffing

TBcrispyfish
& crispy fish with black bean sauce, actually breaded whatever (for a while we thought it might be some funky duck; that’s how unfishlike it was) with

TBblackbeansauce
shiny chunky fructose glop.

But I guess if (duck-fish aside) it walks like junk food & talks like junk food, then it’s probably junk food. By contrast, the green curry with chicken, if neither particularly green nor chickeny, at least had a nice medium texture & a moderate kick;

TBgreenchixcurry

TBscallopredcurry
ditto the more generously laden red curry with scallops.

Potstickers & spring rolls were potstickers & spring rolls, neither here nor there—which is a good thing; both are all about soothing texture, remarkable only (unless you’re in the rare presence of a dumpling master) in the negative, i.e. if the former are doughy or the latter loose. These weren’t, so okay then.

TBpotstickers

TBspringrolls

Both here & there, meanwhile, were the marinated crispy duck—rich & glistening & definitely *not* to be confused with the aforementioned crispy fish—

TBduck

& the Indonesian chicken salad, not to be confused with…anything definitively from Indonesian cuisine or any another so far as I know (do tell if you know otherwise), but yum nonetheless with roast chicken, cashews, raisins, mixed greens & peanut sauce.

TBsalad

These latter appeased me just enough to keep me from throwing Thai iced tea into the harbor—Rocky Mountain spring, whatever—at least until I’ve made it over to Chada.

Thai Basil on Urbanspoon

Comparing apples & crappy oranges: Dong Khanh Saigon Bowl v. Jason’s Thai Bistro

I don’t know if that’s as wholly fair as it is kinda funny, but
the point is this: just because you can’t compare Vietnamese
cuisine & Thai cuisine per se doesn’t mean you can’t mention
a prime Vietnamese joint & a middling Thai, er, bistro in the
same sentence. See, I just did.

And having happened to sample the repertoire of both
Dong Khanh Saigon Bowl
(in the Far East Center at Federal
& Alameda) & Jason’s
Thai Bistro
near DU on the same day, I couldn’t not be struck
by the culinary pride & generosity of spirit of the one in
light of the overall dumbed-down corners-cutting of the other.

My pal Larry (he’s the photographer whose stellar portfolio of
the pickles & pumelos & plucky or puckered faces of their
vendors in marketplaces around the world
I’ve referenced
before) & I spent a hyperleisurely lunch the other day
picking over the pile of tidbits & morsels & fry candy
that is Dong Khanh’s all-of-$18 signature appetizer platter the
other day—

SBapps

shrimp cakes & egg rolls & half a softshell crab on top,
grilled chicken & pork strips & cold rice noodles on
bottom, lettuce & basil & sliced cukes & shredded
carrots & daikon & peanuts, all for wrapping in rice
paper disks softened in warm water like so

SBricepaperdip

(the tricks: be quick before they get sticky on you, & keep
the mix of fillings to a minimum sizewise so they’ll hold) to
form your own fat cigars of goodness graciousness, which you dip
in the classic Vietnamese sauce, sweetish nuoc cham (think duck sauce with
class), before chomping away.

SBsauce

We also split goi tom
thit
& got this gorgeously crisp & kicky
concoction of cold sliced roast pork & plump shrimp, sprouts
& mint & sliced chilies & more basil & peanuts
drizzled in a dressing not unlike nuoc cham, but lighter &
more than a bit spicy.

SBsalad

Dim-lit styrofoam aside, how could the Director’s & my
take-out trash from Jason’s not pale in comparison to what
remained as fresh & vivid in my memory as it was on the
plate?

Mind you, I’m all for rifling through trash upon occasion—who
doesn’t get down with a gloppy gallon of sweet & sour pork or
fettuccine Alfredo or chile con queso now & then?—but, to
paraphrase Stephen King, who once said of his writing something
like, “Sure, it’s salami, but it’s good salami,” if I ask nicely
for soppressata you’d better not toss me Oscar Mayer.

And if I order crab—not krab, crab—& avocado salad, you’d
better not serve me a bunch of lettuce with a smattering of
shredded processed whitefish on top.

JTsalad

And if I order fried tofu, I want crunchy golden-brown chunks of
soybean curd, not marshmallows or cotton balls.

JTtofu

And if I order plain old steamed veggies with beef, chicken,
shrimp & scallops, I’d better not get plain old steamed
veggies with beef, chicken & shrimp. (No photo necessary, I
presume.)

To end on a positive note, though, I will give it up for the snap
pea–studded signature rolls with beef, unexpectedly stirfried
with onions until caramelized & juicy, accompanied by a
peanut sauce that actually was, as opposed to just melted peanut
butter.


JTrolls

Now that’s more like it. I mean, not like it—Dong Khanh—but adequate in &
of itself.

Saigon Bowl on Urbanspoon

Dinner & a Movie 6: generic Thai takeout & The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T

The Thai joint we ordered takeout from the other night lacks so thoroughly in character that it’s almost anti-fascinating: the only way it could ever possibly distinguish itself is by making an honest mockery of its own mediocrity, say by changing its moniker to Generic Thai Takeout Joint, which is what its former and current names, Wild Basil & Thai Green Chile respectively, translate as anyway—as, surely, will its future name, Sweet Hot Ginger Pepper Brasserie & Curry Hut or some such.

It’s a damn shame, because I could use me some fine drunken noodles from time to time, never mind the hard-to-find-in-the-heartland likes of haw moak, a curried fish (or chicken) mousse steamed in banana leaf I used to order back in Brookline at Khao Sarn:

2Steamed Curried Fish

Instead we were stuck with Thai eggplant without a hint of mint or basil or a trace of funky fish sauce but way more than its share of sugar. (Don’t let the green leaf  in the bottom left corner fool you, that’s probably just pastillage. In fact, the whole thing, in all its bland sweetness, could very well have been decorative confectionery.)

TGCeggplant

The pork with garlic sauce was initially more redolent with basil (as opposed, inexplicably, to garlic)—but ultimately no less coarse & sticky.

TGCpork

Ditto the Singapore rice noodles, although nice fat shrimp & goodly chunks of chicken bespoke a generosity that went a short way toward compensating for the dumbed-down sensibility,

TGCnoodles

as did a complimentary if weird order of wontons that smacked of nothing if not recycled sopaipillas, with the honey drained out & cream cheese poured in.

TGCwontons

I confess I feel a touch guilty harshing on one of my stretch of South Broadway’s few ethnic eateries insofar as it appears, between the name change & the consistent lack of traffic foot or otherwise, to be struggling; I can’t help but picture some graying mom & pop alone behind the counter, chins propped on elbows, no longer focusing on the American dream as they dreamed it as youths by the palm-fringed Andaman seaside but staring silently out the window across the street onto the shambles of the construction site where the Gates factory used to stand.

Then again, if they’d just cook like Thais instead of like Thais cooking like Americans, they might find their little nothing-to-lose risk paying off big as business picked up.

Then again again, what do I know, especially about my fellow Americans’ tastes? I drink pickle juice, which, per none other than Dr. Seuss—secret Jekyll to McCarthy’s Hyde as the mind behind the para-Technicolor, loop-the-loop descent into fascist paranoia that we happened to be taking vicariously over dinner, the cult ’50s flick The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T*—is but the Lethean liquor of commie homos bent on world destruction in the form of musical education as they prance about trilling, “Dress me up in silk & spinach!”

5000fingers

Oh, Dr. Terwilliker the main piano-teaching commie homo villain,

Shadow

if only you were real, & we could dine à deux on haw moak with pickle juice, seduced by the strains of Chopsticks as pounded out by 500 nubile boys-next-door-turned-pitch-perfect-slaves. Now that’s my American dream.

*Available at Netflix.