Friday, June 1, 2012

The bar, raised a notch

Thai Dee
5307 Blanco
(just south of Jackson-Keller)

Could a great restaurant hide in any less promising spot than the cramped, litter-strewn, delapidated little strip center inhabited by Thai Dee? It seems unlikely. Yet there it is. Fight off the competition for the one remaining parking space, carefully lock your car and step over the rubbish, and enter what I firmly believe is the best Thai restaurant, bar none, in this part of the world. 

I first tried it, I don't know how many years ago, and liked it, but promptly forgot all about it; it's a little off my most-beaten paths, and when we think of Thai food in this household, we always think first of the place on Austin Highway — you know which one — that was our first favourite Thai place. Habits die hard. (And besides, the other place has those bubble drinks that my wife enjoys so much, as an extra-special treat.)

But lately, Thai Dee has resurfaced in my consciousness, and after taking my friend Rick there a few months back, it immediately became his favourite Thai place. So now, when the subject of Thai arises, he thinks of Thai Dee.

The interior is panelled in a medium wood; the only natural light is through the door, which is tempered with glare-reduction plastic. The resulting mix of natural and artificial light (at lunchtime) produces a modestly cool ambience. The décor is, shall we say, eclectic, with inexpensive-looking pictures of traditional Thai dancers, and similar cultural knick-knacks, stuck somewhat haphazardly along the walls, with no apparent regard for the strongly carved pattern of the wood panelling. A counter hovers along the back wall of the dining room, de-emphasizing the service areas beyond. About fifteen to twenty tables are lined up front to back: mostly tables for four, with tables for two along the wall. Surprisingly, considering how good this place is, we've only once had to wait any time at all for a table: the staff is exceptionally industrious, and the kitchen is quick to fill orders, so the turnover at even the busiest times is quick.

Before you order, you're presented with a cup of the soup of the day. The hot-and-sour soup is tasty, but won't win any awards for exceptionalism. Several of the other soups I've tried were superior among their types, and deserving of some sort of medal. (If I could remember which, I'd tell you; I can't, so don't ask.) The lunch specials, which include the aforementioned soup, plus spring rolls and your choice of meat, run generally around eight bucks; a little more if you want shrimp. And for that money you will get enough outstanding food for two lunches. It's all so good, you won't want to stop eating just because you're full, so I have reverted to the old WeightWatchers trick of asking for a go-box as soon as my meal is served. (You always have to ask twice, no matter where you eat. Usually it's because they don't realize you mean you want it right away; at Thai Dee I had to ask two different people because the first guy's English did not extend far enough, and my Thai is limited to mispronouncing words I've seen on a menu.)

Last city inspection: May 2012
7 demerits
Lunching at Thai Dee has forced me to expand my preferences in the cuisine. I used to be smitten with the wonderful dish called (with various spellings) pad wun sen, a mix of glass noodles, egg and meat (usually chicken) with half a dozen vegetables, all stir-fried in a light sauce. It's still a favourite, though I don't think it's a dish Thai Dee excels at. Or maybe it's just that other things I've tried there have been far, far better: lad na, pad see ewe, and khee mao (my new favourite), to name a few. The food has been so good that I have tried to pay it the ultimate compliment of imitation, with limited success: the recipes I've located for these dishes vary enough from the restaurant's that there is, sadly, no comparison. 
Thai Dee on Urbanspoon

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