sengchai thai, thai, Thai-o-rama

Thai-o-Rama 13–Sengchai Thai

9 Months and endless plates of Drunken Noodle with Chicken and we’re finally over. So, I’ve ended it exactly how it began–with a simple red leather notebook and pen.

The notes of a very tired, very happy blogger from the final Thai-o-Rama dinner on 11/14/10.
Food:
Tom Kah Gai
Drunken Noodle w/Chicken
Thai Iced Tea

Seng Chai Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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Thai-O-Rama pt. 10: Vientiane

When I first started visiting, then subsequently moving to, Portland I quickly became familiarized with a few places around. Places like Benkay, Portland Public Market and Vientiane became my ‘go-to’s’ when ever I was up for a weekend. But, a lot changes in six years. Portland Public Market has been relocated and renamed. Benkay has long been replaced by King of the Roll as our place for inexpensive and tasty sushi. Yet, for a while, Vientiane remained a sentimental favorite for us. For me, while the food was filling and inexpensive, it was the smile of the owner–a woman whose name I can’t remember–and who was always dressed nicer than the interior called for. She was always very kind, very engaging and very thankful. So, it’s easy to understand why we went there so often, she made me feel familiar in a town that I was a complete stranger in.

But, again, a lot changes. I had heard from the Missus that the owner retired and passed the establishment onto her son and/or daughter over a year ago. Truthfully, until June, it had been over a year and a half since we had gotten take out from here and my last venture, completely on a whim and feeling sentimental, wasn’t that fantastic. Two stars, to both the Drunken Noodles and Laab Gai, left my mouth uncomfortably burned and unable to enjoy the meal. But, because I loved this place so much, I chalked it up to my own fault for not ordering one star. Duly noted and not a mistake I would repeat again.

So, when the heat index on Monday reached well into the low 90’s, I was so thankful that we would be picking up Vientiane for dinner. Thankful that I didn’t have to cook and looking forward to our first Thai–outside of Boda–in a while.

The Missus opted for the Pad Thai, minus shrimp as she’s adverse to the shellfish since a bad experience back in March at Vietbangkok Thai. This use to be her favorite Pad Thai, but when I asked her for her opinion of it after she started digging in she replied, “Oddly sweet.”

“Do you want any of my Noodles?” I asked.
“No, thanks, they look like a volcanic bed of fire,” she replied


She was right. My trying to undo the last experience I had with the dish, knocking down the heat level from two stars to one, didn’t quite work. It was, it seemed, as hot as it had been in June. Thankfully, though, the nuoc mam sauce that came with our standard issue non-Thai Rangoon, was just sweet and acidic enough to cut into the heat. I’m sure it was also helped by the fact that I stirred in some of her Pad Thai to lower the temperature a bit. Otherwise, the flavors and ingredients were wonderful and, as it has always been, the portion was generous for the price. But, a short time after the meal, I reflected that it didn’t ‘Wow’ me as it once had.

Later on that evening we talked about our dishes and I came to a conclusion: Perhaps, over the past six years of trying other places in town, it wasn’t really Vientiane that had changed but us. The meal was still enjoyable, just not the best we’ve had. Our tastes and preferences now lie elsewhere in the Thai spectrum offered in and around Portland. Like any relationship that fades away because people change I have this to say to Vientiane, “I’m sorry, it’s not you–it’s me.”

Vientiane Market on Urbanspoon

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Thai-O-Rama pt. 8–Veranda Thai

I’m completely cheating on this review as I kind of dropped the ball. Honestly, I ate there early in the month and completely forgot that I was suppose to review it. I give you a simple review of, what I feel is, the best take-out Thai in Portland.

When the Mrs. said she was going to grab lunch at Veranda, and did I want anything to take away, I stayed true to form and ordered the Drunken Noodle with Chicken. Their version of the dish is the standard by which I’ve been measuring every other one of the variations I’ve had so far. And, so far, no one has compared. Because that singular dish is the embodiment of my Thai comfort food, and because they do it so well, I can only say that Veranda is my sentimental favorite of the pack.

It’s saucy and spicy and they are more than generous with the chicken and Thai basil. One different twist in it, and by different I really mean puzzling, is the addition of pineapple chunks. While a welcomed compliment to the chili pepper in the dish, it’s honestly the only time, so far, I’ve seen it added in. I’m always on the fence about it, and know I could order without it, but sometimes I do enjoy it. I’m curious to see if any of the other bloggers mention it in their reviews.

Other than that, I’ve got nothing. So, to fill in the void of what should be a proper review, I’ve compiled a list of dishes that have become standard for us at Veranda. Their menu can be located over here.

Veranda Thai is located at 9 Veranda Street in Portland, just off exit 8 on 295–it’s worth the trip.

  1. Veranda Thai Dumpling(6) $5.95
    Grounded pork and shrimp specially prepared and wrap with wonton skin. Served with ginger sauce
  2. Crab Rangoon (6) $5.95
    Crab meat with cream cheese wrapped in crispy wonton skins. Served with sweet & sour sauce
  3. Crunchy Thai Veggie Roll (2) $3.95
    Deep-fried stuffed spring rolls with carrots, cabbage, black mushroom, scallion, and clear noodles served with sweet & sour sauce
  4. Chicken Tom Yum, $3.50 $6.95
  5. Thai Radnar
    Sauteed with veggie combo poured over flat noodle stir fry with egg
  6. Drunken Noodle
    Combination of vegetables pan fried with flat rice noodles in drunken sauce
  7. Masaman Curry,
    Pineapple, onion, potato, carrot, bamboo shoot, basil leave, chopped peanut in coconut milk with masaman curry
  8. B.B.Q. Pork Chop or Grilled Chicken $9.95
    Marinated Vietnamese style served over Jasmine steamed rice with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, diced cucumber and a special fish sauce set a side

Veranda Thai on Urbanspoon

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Thai-o-Rama pt. 6–Boda

When we were polled by A., organizer of the ongoing Thai restaurant adventures and gate keeper to Portland Food Map, as to where the next restaurant should be there was one clear winner: Boda. I was one of two that voted for another choice but, really…why fight it? Since I published my review in March, the Missus and I have been there a few more times and still have yet to have a bad experience. So, as it happened to be, last week we also celebrated our birthdays–my partner and I share the same date..creepy, I know–and a friend invited us out to celebrate and indulge in some peanut laden Thai food while his allergic girlfriend was out of town for the weekend. Again, why fight it?

Because this was our friends first trip to Boda we ordered a variety of dishes:

Miang Kum Som-oh ( 4 bite-sizes of pummelo fruit salad on betel leaves with toasted coconut, peanut, lime, ginger, shrimp, and shallots in a flavorful palm sugar dressing)

Taro Fries

Jalapeno Pork–Think ‘popper’ with ground pork instead of cheese.

A couple of grilled shrimp and chicken skewers and then our entrees:

Beef panaeng: Braised beef in a flavorful panaeng curry paste (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves with a background taste of peanuts) and coconut cream, served with jasmine steamed rice. Panaeng curry is one of the most popular dishes in the Thai repertoire.

Fried Rice with Crab: Stir-fried jasmine rice with Jonah crab claws, Maine crab meat, onion, green onion, garlic, egg, fish sauce, and Thai bird chili. Fried rice made its debut on the streets of Thailand about 80 years ago. In Thailand, fried rice always comes with a few slices of cucumber as well as a few wedges of lime to squeeze over the rice.

From the first bite of the Pummelo fruit our friend seemed to float away in happiness. I watched his face for the same reaction I had when I had my first taste of Boda and it took only seconds. He nodded his head and smiled. And he reacted, in turn, to every dish that followed. The taro fries, coming in more of a steak cut than the past shoestring variety, were the best batch we’ve had to date. Just crunchy enough, while being more meaty than they had in the past. The pork stuffed jalapeno’s were addictive, to say the least. The pork held a nice lime bite, which coupled nicely with the kick of the pepper. I hope this special app. sold well that night, because I’d like to see this on the menu again.

Again, I found myself unable to veer from the Beef Panaeng and was just as blissed out as the previous times. If I were to lodge a complaint, and it would simply be for the sake of it, I do wish they served just a wee bit more of the curry with the dish. Make the beef swim, I’m not picky, I just want more of it.
The Fried Rice with Crab was beyond any expectation that was held at the table. The rice was perfectly done and was more than generous with the whole Jonah crab claws, which you were hitting with your fork every time you set it into the mound of rice. A chili sauce, that was served on the side, gave you the option of firing things up a bit more if you so chose to do and was definitely appreciated by our friend who ate the rice down to the last grain.

So, what can I say? Boda, in my book, is the best Thai place in town. If you go, don’t go there with preconceived notions based on Take Out Thai. Go with an empty belly and an open mind. And try a lot of different things. Order enough for left overs, trust me on this the panaeng is quite yummy cold when you’re intoxicated. But, by all means, just go.

Boda on Urbanspoon

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Thai-o-Rama pt. 5–Mekhong Thai

I’m starting to get a bit depressed. When A., from Portland Food Map, threw out the idea of reviewing all the Thai places in Portland I was really, really fucking excited. I was. I thought this was going to be an easy excuse to be gluttonous and consume mass amounts of Thai food on a bi-weekly basis–one that the Mrs. couldn’t really argue because it was all in the good name of blogging. Now, nearly half way through the list I feel wronged, cheated and disheartened and I’m starting to get a wee bit bitter.

Oh.. Hello and Welcome to Thai-o-Rama pt. 5.

This round brought the lot of us to Mekhong Thai, neighbor to both Haggerty’s Brit-Indi and the space formerly known as Mexican Lindo on outer Forest Ave. From a quick glance at their menu, it looked to be pretty straight ahead Thai with noodles, curries and other usual Thai suspects on the menu with a Pho menu offered inside the restaurant, which I saw when I stopped in there this past weekend for take out. You also learn, from checking out their website, that they have establishments in both Kennebunk and Wells.

The space, from what I saw from the bar area was pretty bare, though there was a nook by the front door that openly housed old Christmas and Halloween decorations that looked like they were bought at the Goodwill up the road. One thing that stood out in the bar was a vent system that turned on and off in seven second intervals(yes, I counted). I could not see myself dining in comfort with the constant chugging of machinery in the background and was a bit glad I was taking the meal with me. Aside from myself, only three other people were in the restaurant and one sat at the bar for several minutes before any staff came out to greet him.

By the time I made the trip back home, I was salivating and still a little buzzy from the vent noise. And, at first glances, the food was going to make everything alright.

Going with our usual safe bets, we ordered up Crab Rangoon served with a ‘cocktail sauce’ and Thai dumplings which are described on the menu as “Steamed wonton skin stuffed with chicken, shrimp and scallions,served with ginger sauce.The Rangoon were pretty much identical to every other batch you can find in town, though the ‘cocktail sauce’ served with it was an absolutely foul blend of ketchup and some chili based sauce. It was sickeningly sweet from the ketchup and whatever sauce it was blended was in complete conflict with it. It was bad and sat unused. The dumplings were ok, but I thought they would have been paired with a lighter based sauce and not the ginger heavy soy one that was found in the to go container.

The Mrs.’ had the lunch portion of General Thai, their take on the Chinese dish of General Tso’s. To be honest, the color of the dish kind of turned me off, so I can’t speak on any aspect of it. When I asked her what she thought of it, she replied “It’s ok. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there again, though.”

Now, when I opened up my container of Drunken Noodles with Chicken, I was quite excited. The dish smelled wonderful and the portion was more than generous. And, on the first few bites, I thought it to be one of the best. But then the burning in my mouth took over to the point of nearly being inedible. This wasn’t the feel good burn I normally associate with this dish, as it tends to be heavy with thai chilies–in fact the menu says it uses a chili paste in the dish– but something else. After a few pokes of my fork, I realized that there didn’t seem to be ANY thai chilies present whatsoever and the heat was all coming from what looked to be an insane amount of black pepper. Black f’ing pepper. Are you kidding me? Please..please tell me you’re kidding me. Please?

But, there was no kidding. In my rush to eat, I had completely missed the fact that this dish looked like someone had just taken a pepper shaker and dumped the whole thing in. Truly, I wanted to cry. I wanted to call them up and tell them that this, and their ketchup dipping sauce, was a crime against Thai food and everything I loved about it. But, instead, I got up and threw it out.

And a few hours later I chewed on some Tums to stave off the awful indigestion that had set in from the food and the disappointment of the whole meal. Scratch another from the list.

Mekhong Thai Portland on Urbanspoon

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33 dishes, 5 restaurants, 3 days, 2 people–Day One

The Mission: Challenge myself to dine at 4 restaurants during “Restaurant Week” over the short course of two days; consume approx. 6 courses over the span of 5 hours. My partner, whose dishes are also included in this count, joined me on 4 of , what turned into, 5.

This was all well and good until we decided to start things a smidge early and stop by for a first look at Boda.
They were not “officially” participating in Maine Restaurant Week, but they are a restaurant in Maine, so I think they qualify to be counted.

Boda
March 4, 2010–7:30ish

First impression: I want to live there or, if I can’t, then I want to steal all of their wood tables (salvaged wood that was shipped from Thailand). The walls are earth tones and decorations simple. Stripped down and comfortable, it was homey. I can see why they wanted this to be the antithesis of Bangkok and it’s mass of take out–here, they make it so you never want to leave. The only odd piece is the large tv above the bar in the back. When we were there they were playing BBC America, so it wasn’t obnoxious as say, COPS. On first glimpses this was a far cry from Bangkok and I was already grateful.
We were seated, ordered House made Mango Iced Teas and proceeded to have an unexpectedly amazing meal.


Split:
Fried taro sticks: seasoned with sea salt. Served with spicy chili Sriracha sauce
Pork belly skewers: marinated with salt, sprinkled with chopped scallion.

The presentation on the Taro Sticks was great: simple spider cradling a decent batch of fresh taro fries. And it’s served with Sriracha. Really you need more? Ok, they were perfect. Now, fry them in duckfat and I would dub them “Grandruler of All Fries in Portland!” They would be stern, but gentle rulers.
Grilled Pork belly was nice, nothing overly fancy. The ridge of fat at the top had a decided crunch that was a bit surprising. I’m still debating if they would have benefited from some sort of sauce or if they were served as they should be and I’m just missing it.

The Mrs.: Pork hocks braised with Star Anise Simmered in a rich dark stock made with “parlow spice”(Chinese five spice). Served with jasmine steamed rice, hardboiled egg, tofu, Asian mustard green pickles, and spicy & sour chili sauce. One of the most popular street foods in Thailand.

Me: Beef Panaeng: Braised beef in a flavorful panaeng curry paste (salty and sweet with aromas of Thai basil and lime leaves with a background taste of peanuts) and coconut cream, served with jasmine steamed rice. Panaeng curry is one of the most popular dishes in the Thai repertoire.

Ok, I do have to confess that I got nearly a bit weepy when my meal was placed in front of me and I was taken back to BABA, a Malaysian restaurant in NYC that closed after 9/11. Only there, it was Beef Rendang. And it was my favorite dish in the world. And I’ve been chasing that particular dish, or one to match it of that level, for nearly 10 years. The beef was painfully tender, slightly spicy and drizzled with coconut cream to bring the dish around with a bit of sweetness. While this one had it’s particular regional differences, it was just as comforting. Though the portions are generous there, I have to say that I held back on my hunger so I could have something to bring home to savor later on. I tried to convey all of this to the waitress, she just smiled and looked a bit sad for me.
But, through my own Oprah moment at my plate, my partner was presented with the most tenderly shredded ham hock I have ever seen. And, god, the sauce that was served with it was rich and earthy; peppery with a bit of sour. I picked at her plate as often as I could tear myself away from my own. The only odd thing for me was the pickled egg–just odd. She, too, ended up having enough to take home and enjoy later that night.
The last course was inevitable. I wouldn’t stop going on about how happy the food made me and how I truly didn’t want the experience to end until I was at complete and utter sensory satiation.

Dessert:
Chinese Doughnut: Fried dough, coffee served over ice cream
Thai Rice Pudding
Vietnamese Coffee

First, I’m going to be a 5yr old and state that ‘Chinese Doughnut’ is my new favorite term for a highly inappropriate sex act. I know it’s wrong and immature, but it’s funny..so it’s mine. For a doughnut, of any sort, it was kind of meh.
However, the black thai rice pudding was striking in appearance and delicious beyond words. Thick with coconut and sweetened condensed milk, the only thing missing were some black eyed peas and I would have been food bliss overdrive. I’m not sure if this is a regular item that they make, but I highly recommend you order it if given the chance.

Actually, I hold that to all of the dishes that we sampled.

Breakdown:
Ambiance:
I want all of the furniture in my next house. No campy decorations, tourism posters or weird animals hanging from the ceiling.
Service: Younger waitress, a bit inexperienced or just flighty. Ok, but not great. Hostess/Manager was definitely on top of things, swooping in behind our waitress when drinks were refilled or dishes cleared. Probably one of the most attentive hosts in Portland.
Food: Brought Thai in Portland to a whole new level. We left very happy and it actually made us very interested in trying their other venture, The Green Elephant.

Overall 8/10

Boda on Urbanspoon

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2 Down, 12 to Go

And as we stand, it’s 0-2.
My introduction to Viet Bangkok Thai was both odd and highly disappointing.
I’m just going to be polite and not go on a rant, but I’ll give you a little narrative:

Sample Platter. 2 Chicken wings, 2 Crab Rangoons, 2 Egg rolls, 2 Shrimp rolls, 2 Beef Satay, 2 chicken satays served with plum sauce and fish sauce
Beef Satay was microwaved–we heard the ‘DING!’ over the episode of ‘COPS’ that was playing on the large TV screen that dominated the back of the bar. Bonus because the Mrs. could identify what street they were on in St. Petersburgh, FL.
The meat was gray.


Crab Rangoon. Standard.


Drunken Noodle with Chicken. From the second I removed the lid I questioned the smell of the dish, which seemed drenched in fish sauce.


House Pad Thai.
There was very bad shrimp.
All food was trashed.

Probably won’t be heading back.

Viet Bangkok Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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