907 N. Truman Blvd.
Crystal City, Mo.
On the web
First, The artists, producers, photographers, writers, editors and researchers at Eat and Critique would like to send out a big thank you to you, all of you, for making this epic and cosmically important review blog the unimaginable success it has been.
This week marks seven years, 307 posts and nearly 200,000 views. Wow, right?
Though we may occasionally boast, we are quite humbled on the inside.
Here we go.
Yes, I know We've never reviewed a Thai restaurant before. Not because there were none available, or that we were not aware of them, but for cultural reasons. Not the Thai culture, but that of my family.
Angel and I are culinarily, purely Midwestern. Born and bred on meat and potatoes, fried chicken, pot roast, burgers, hot dogs and bologna sandwiches. Our major spices are salt and pepper. Red sauce is ketchup.
We really like (air quotes) 'Chinese food', because what we have at Chinese restaurants is mostly invented or perfected in the USA. Just recently when we went out for Chinese, I inwardly lamented that everything seemed to taste the same, breaded, fried, you know.
We've always known that Thai or Indian would not be that comfortable taste profile. When Adam was going with us regularly, Thai was not even an option. Adam only likes about seven things, and none of them are coated with curry or peanut sauce.
So this was a big deal for us.
I'd had Thai before, maybe three or four times, at lunch with co-workers back when I lunched with co-workers, a thing I only do very rarely now, more for medical reasons than that I can't stand to eat with them. I've even tried a couple of Indian places with actual people from India. More on that in a future episode.
When I do eat with co-workers I tend to drown in the anxiety of having to socialize with a larger group of people. Yeah, I'm one of those. I don't follow sports or fashion trends or have young kids or vacations like the rest of them and that seems to be what they like to talk about. So stressful is it that I rarely even notice the meal itself.
In an unassuming shopping center next door to Twin City Monuments, a headstone operation that I've always wanted to visit. I've got this thing about headstones, I once asked another monument company to let me buy a couple of small 'mistake' stones. You know, just to have around the yard.
We would not be dining in. Angel called it in, I made the hour long solo trek (extra 15-20 minutes thanks to the bridge work I mentioned last week) to Festus/Crystal City and back. Angel had created and called in the order, all I had to do was go get it. Inside was well staffed, deceptively large and nicely decorated.
When I went in the order was on the counter. There were several folks there, some eating, some waiting. The young man at the counter, as well as the three or four others, were all smiling and friendly, they seemed to be genuinely content. The transaction went straight through, I barely had time to look around. It was definitely clean and orderly, at least out front. Nothing fancy, well, except for the big mural on the wall, but nothing over the top or too kitschy. The aroma of the place was intoxicating, in a good way.
We decided to do it 'make-your-own-buffet' style as we do with Chinese take-out. Since neither of us knew what we would like, she studied the menu a day ahead of time to create a buffet of possibilities. I knew Pad Thai with chicken was pretty tame, so she made sure to order that.
A2 - Thai Spring Roll - cucumber, carrot, green onion, egg tofu, in rice paper, with a plum sauce.
C4 - Panang Curry - milk, bell peppers, basil, and peanut sauce, chicken.
H3 - Gang Quah Shrimp - Panang Curry (above), pineapple, tomatoes, bell peppers, basil.
Yes, curry. Crazy, right?
Curry refers to a blend of spices. The word itself derives from the Tamil (Southeast India) word 'kari' which translates to 'sauce, relish for rice.' Thai Rama's curries are definitely the wet version of curry, sauces to serve over rice or noodles. We had already had noodles in the Pad Thai, so Angel ordered up some plain white rice as well, to host the curries.
In Indian restaurants there is a flat bread, similar to a pita, called naan, that you dip into the various curries.
Rice is good for that too, you just can't really pick it up with your hands.
I was a little worried. One of those times I did go Thai with co-workers, one guy, who I'll refer to as Doug, asked for the full five-alarm spice tray. He's light complected and even with a decades old, built up tolerance to most things, including almost daily 7-11 hot dogs, he turned so bright red that we considered calling 911. In fact, if we liked him more, we probably would have.
Just kidding, Doug is great, even though he curiously thinks Trump is a reasonable candidate, I like him anyhow.
I knew the milky, creamy sauces contained hidden secrets though.
We each dished up some rice and distributed each of the three curries around our plates. They still looked very similar, but the meats, especially the shrimp gave up hints. The curry sauce for the shrimp and chicken was the same, though with slightly different veggie chunks.
The spring rolls were fresh, crisp and cool. Fresh chilled veggies in strips wrapped in a very thin, nearly transparent rice wrap. I tried eating one in two bites, but the wrap burst on several sides when I bit into the veggies and was useless for another unified bite. Probably intended for a single thrust.
They were very good, providing a springtime contrast to the heartier rice and milky sauces.
The Pad Thai was a dish I recalled, very tame. If you too are wary about Thai food, Pad Thai is a safe choice. Not very spicy. Noodles, veggies, chicken. . . I tried it first, about as good as I remembered it, though after eating some of the curries, it seemed quite bland. The tickle of heat in the Panang curry was enough to make the more subtle spices in the noodle dish disappear completely.
And it was just a tickle. I don't like heat for heat's sake. I have no tolerance for pepper spices, even Tabasco. I never use the stuff.
This is that cultural thing I mentioned earlier. There's nothing insane or even rare about hotter spices,
The use of tomatoes and pineapple seemed a little weird as well. I love tomatoes, I love pineapple, but I'm just not accustomed to finding them cooked into a creamy, savory sauce. I tried them anyhow. It's something I could get used to, but it will take a while. I didn't find it disgusting, or even bad, it's just my under-trained taste buds were having trouble translating it to my brain.
The curries here, Panang and Musaman are both Thai standards. I'll not go into the specific details here, that's what we built the internet for. Suffice it to say that they have different taste profiles.
We took a poll and we both agreed that the shrimp was our favorite, but only by a little.
And that's what we both noticed. There's a lot going on with the depth and breadth of tastes, all of them. This was not flour, grease and milk gravy, nor was it a basic two-spice tomato sauce. There was a lot going on.
Neither of us are experienced enough to be able to define it better than that. This stuff was very, very different from the mac and cheese and pigs in a blanket styles of food we grew knowing and loving.
It was an awakening, of what, we're not sure. It seemed exotic, foreign, unfamiliar, yet enticing. We felt like explorers.
This buffet cost a little over fifty bucks, but there was a lot of food. When we do this we end up with two or three meals worth of stuff, so prorate it based on that.
We'll definitely go back, to try different things, to expand our vocabulary, to experience some authentic and excellent cuisine, carefully and thoughtfully prepared.