After a brief and intense period of searching for good Chinese food, I have decided to take a break. While I may not find the holy grail of Chinese food in Milwaukee (but I promise to keep looking), I thought I’d branch out to other Asian cuisines. I have tried a few Vietnamese restaurant and was ready to step out and try some Thai. While I am not an expert on Thai food (or really anything), I get nervous about food that might be disingenuous food or pandering. I hesitate to say inauthentic.
(Seems there is a lot of backlash out there concerning the search for authenticity. Anthony Bourdain has famously railed against authenticity and I have been hearing murmurs of such sentiments seemingly everywhere. Although, I don’t buy any of the ‘there is no such thing as authenticity’ arguments. In a way, it’sl like arguing there is no such thing as good or bad food. As with all things, it can be taken too far. Perhaps Francis Lam presented it best: “I just think authenticity doesn’t mean something that’s frozen in time.” May be authenticity is like pornography, you know it when you see it … or rather eat it.)
So for years I had stayed away from Thai food all together because all I found were places that sling bad pad thai and that trying to pass off mediocre Chinese food as Thai. I thought, may be there was no Thai food for me in ____ city. But then I decided that it wasn’t the city that was the problem, but where in the city I was looking; and things got much better.
So when it came time to look for Thai in Milwaukee, I wasn’t sure where to start. Ironically, the place that turned out to be most helpful was an old Chicago resource – LTH forum. In a board discussing Milwaukee’s National Ave, I found out about Thai Bar-B-Que and decided to check it out.
The restaurant’s decor is comfortable. Nothing over the top and has a certain warmth to it. I was a completely fixated on the golden lotuses and still am not sure how I feel about them.
Both Kennyz and Happy_Stomach tried the northern sausage and thought it was worth trying, though I was tempted to try the Issan sausage which is short and fat as opposed to the Northern sausage which is long and thin (how do you prefer your sausage?).
The sausage is filled with grilled marinated ground pork with Thai spices. The casing is charred and crisp and the meat is moist and fragrant with distinct notes of lemongrass. Occasionally, I like my sausage with a bit of gristle and fat, and this is one of those occasions where it works well in the sausage.
Next we tried the Num Tok which is a salad of grilled sliced beef mixed with roasted rice powder, red onion, mint leaves lime juice and chili. Now Happy_Stomach had said that she was offered a heat scale, which I was not. And while I am not a chili-head I think I can handle my own when it comes to heat. And for some reason when asked how spicy I wanted the food, I just answered: “spicy.” What I meant to say was: “I would like just enough heat so I know the chilis are there, but I don’t need to be sweating when I leave the restaurant.” What they heard may have been: “I have sinus congestion, is there anything you can do to help?” I probably should have known as soon as the food came, they put devils horns on the salad as a warning.
Either way, I have only myself to blame. It was tasty nonetheless.
The Laos papaya salad came soon after Grace and I set our mouth on fire and in comparison less hot. It’s a salad of shredded raw papaya mixed with tomatoes, long beans, fresh chili, fresh Loas makok and homemade Lao’s salad sauce. The heat has a slow build, but the primary flavor of the salad is the funky fishy Lao’s salad sauce. It is not for those afraid of funk, which I am not.
Grace and I were in the mood for noodles so we ordered the Khao Poun and Duck Noodles.
The Khao Poun is a large bowl of chicken curry, meat balls with rice vermicelli. Mixed in are a healthy serving of basil, scallion and bamboo shoots. The broth is warm with a milky sweetness from the coconut. It is a fabulous bowl of soup and noodles, and really well suited for the cold Wisconsin days ahead.
The Thai duck noodles were a rice noodles in a duck stew topped with cilantro and scallion. It was served like a Vietnamese Pho with bean sprouts and limes to the side. As the noodles sat, they absorbed some of the deep brown broth. The bowl was big and if we had not engorged ourselves with so much before, would have been eaten much faster than it was.
3417 West National Avenue