Friday, April 15, 2005

Thai Feud

It's official: I am a Thai food snob. That's why I write this blog, so I can help you, the readers, avoid the crap and skip straight to the cream. So you'll probably not be surprised when I say that I take food pretty seriously, even when it's something as inelegant as a grilled cheese on sourdough. When it comes to Thai, I've been cooking it so long and am so specialized in it now that if I'm going to go to a Thai restaurant it better be pretty damn good.

Some restaurants aren't all that hot and they know it. Some restaurants have excessive decor where the menu is lacking; others have a great selection and dirty bathrooms. The worst ones out there are the ones that don't know they suck.

As I have discovered today, Thai Stick of Millbrae (www.thaisticksf.com) is among these. This is your typical turn 'em and burn 'em human cattle run style lemongrass-scented feed bag. You can tell a lot from this restaurant's web site, in fact; the shoddy web design is a perfect digital representation of the lackluster quality of the establishment. Let's turn for a moment to the name as well. What kind of lame Cheech and Chongery is that, splayed along the side of the building, its cold, nonfunctioning neon tubes proclaiming that this is a restaurant where you, gentle reader, may find yourself with the desire to take a bunch of weed and tie it to a stick. My co-worker, who loves this restaurant, is a speaker of English who adds the English equivalent of chez to everything. That is, for any place she wants to go there will invariably be an apostrophe-s ending appended to it. Ironically, she is the one who introduced me to Specialty's®, itself an offender of this particular law of English grammar. So when she brought up the restaurant she of course called it "Thai Stick's", as if we were headed out to Chez Thai Stick. Or perhaps she meant Thai Sticks, as in there are more than one of them; or maybe it's meant to convey that Thai Stick is something, as in "Thai Stick's fucking awful!"

Now, before anyone says "Why would you go there if you thought it would be bad?" I'll let you know that I had no choice in the matter. My punk-ass coworker (who I don't believe cooks much Thai food) wanted to go to this restaurant, citing its wondrous cuisine and how it's great every time. I didn't put up a fight, and I did go to the restaurant with an open mind, hoping that it would be good. Hell, it was on the company anyway (first free lunch in my 8 months on the job!), so why not?

We entered the place. The first thing I noticed was that the menu sucked. When you don't pay attention to your menu, it's a good bet you're not concerned with your customers either. The appetizers were abysmal; the only one that caught my eye was "My Aunt's Eggrolls". Thankfully someone else ordered the appetizers so I was free from the conundrum. We got two orders of fried tofu which was not bad at all. When the tofu first came out, it had a wonderful texture and was nice and warm. There was a sauce with it (in the menu called a tamarind dip) that did not taste of tamarind at all. As the tofu cooled it got much less tasty, and with everyone trying to be polite and not hog the tofu it had all the time it needed to get cold.

The next sign of trouble was when I asked the waitress if they made Chu-chee curry. Chu-chee is my current holy grail of curries, because no one seems to know how to make it, but it's on lots and lots of Thai menus. In fact, if I could read Thai I'd have a great recipe for it right now, as my Thai friend sent me one as a joke. So, wherever I go I order it, as it is one of the few menu choices at most Thai restaurants that I can't easily make myself. Enter the waitress: "Do we have what?" "Chu-chee curry." "I never hear before." OK. Brick wall. But, I consoled myself, they do have massaman curry, which is close to the same thing. I ordered me up a pork massaman and prepared to enjoy the deliciousness of the irony of ordering a halaal curry with pork if not the deliciousness of anything else. The person seated to my left, who also hates this restaurant, ordered padt thai, which I think we both tacitly acknowledged was a safe choice in any unknown Thai spot.

One shelter in any storm, I have found, is my newfound love for spicy-ass Thai chilis. Most self-respecting restaurants, if you ask, will bring you a variety of peppers, from wagon wheel jalapenos to crushed dry red chilis. My favorite right now are the birdshit/bird's eye chilis (depending on who you talk to) cut into rounds and floating in vinegar. I can usually put away a couple of spoonfuls of these with any given meal. Thai stick was surprisingly great about this and brought us a veritable cornucopia of ruminant-vexing bounty. Their birdshit chilis shared their vinegar with tiny pieces of lemon. The lemon was awesome! It was so good I will begin curing it at home. Now, THIS is what Thai food is all about. The condiment tray said it all. For salty, you had the soy sauce or nam pla in the middle. All about it were the savory (the ubiquitous Chinese 'wet' red chili sauce) spicy (the birdshit chilis) and the aromatic/sweet (the lemons). I don't know what category the jalapenos fall into, but they definitely completed the color scheme quite well.

Back to Ms. Brick Wall. This was one of the rudest and least capable waitresses I've ever seen--and she's obviously been on this job a long time. When I had exhausted my water supply due to the large amount of chilis I was eating, I started looking around hopefully for her. She swooped in and began doling out the H2O to my table. I had my hand on my glass and my eyes on hers trying to indicate that I wanted water. What did she do? She poured for everyone BUT me. I know, I know, it is pretty funny, but you wouldn't think so if you were the one clutching the glass. She blustered past me and I had to go chase her down just to git my whistle whet. Next, she and someone who looked like a relative started jumbling tables and chairs around next to our table. Now, I know that it was lunchtime and the place was packed with people in golf shorts and Donna Karen all trying to elbow their way to a table, while the small but stalwart Thai staff had to do whatever they could to wrangle these whiteys around. But please, don't just hit people in the back with chairs (this happened to my coworkers who were seated to my left) as you rummage around arguing loudly. It is painfully obvious that these people don't care about their customers at all, since they have a captive audience every day of the workweek. They don't have to impress them, because half these people go home and eat Kirkland Signature genetically modified products anyways. These are the kind of folks that will become convinced that a restaurant like this is sometheing that needs to be revered, respected, and revisited; and by the way, I don't like driving that far just for some crappy food.

Millbrae is not without its good restaurants, of that one can be sure. I saw two restaurants on the way in that now I'm dying to try out. The first is Seafood Harbor Restaurant at 279 El Camino Real that looks like it would be a contender with Yuet Foo. The second is the literally palatial Hong Kong Flower Lounge, which apparently serves great dim sum and peking duck. All is not lost for Millbrae, I just happened to go to one of its worse restaurants.

2 Comments:

Blogger uncle jazzbeau said...

Ah, the Hong Kong Flower Lounge. I ate there a couple of times back in the day (mid '90s) when I worked at the Big O in Emerald City. At the time, the better choice was Fook Yuen, just down the Fractal Real at 195. Then they changed hands and began the long decline into suckage, but I hear it's changed hands again, and perhaps it's worth a try. Dim sum, yum.

Loved your destructo review of Tied Stix. I may have to go there just to revel in its mediocrity. Keep up the fab food blogging, nephew.

4:36 AM  
Blogger bombisrael said...

fuckyour motherfuckin bullshit!.oneeoen bomb israel!

1:12 PM  

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