Northwest Chinese Food

NW Chinese FoodFinding veritable Chinese cuisine in the DMV is as challenging as locating an endangered species.  I attribute that to two causes: the long history of Chinese-American food that was introduced by Chinese immigrants in the West Coast at the turn of the 20th century, and the lack of demand for authentic Chinese cuisine until recently with the tide of immigrants from the Mainland.  In the last couple of years I have come across establishments serving fare that would satisfy the truth-seeker culinary wise.  Recently, I read that there was a small hole-in-the-wall in my old college neighborhood, College Park, MD, serving regional Chinese food.  Northwest Chinese Food (name lacks originality, but not culinary confusion) is located on the main drag sandwiched by other eating establishments that are desperately calling the hungry students’ attention to walk through their doors.  I paid it three visits for this review, and I was lucky to have a table by the window for the photo shots despite it’s busyness and the cramped space holding only 9 tables.

Black Vinegar Peanuts, NW Chinese Food

This place has garnered lots of online reviews and recommendations, and with that list in hand I placed my first appetizer/opener.  Black Vinegar Peanuts was frequently mentioned and high on my list too.  The plate of nuts arrived with skin intact swimming in a pool of black sauce.  One bite revealed the dish’s nature.   Toasted peanuts were punchy to the taste, made even more aromatic by pungent raw garlic and herbaceous cilantro, spicy by red chili flakes and finely julienned ginger, and picked up by a slightly earthy black vinegar that reminded me of good Balsamico.  These nibbles were highly addictive and we couldn’t stop serving ourselves of it despite the other ordered dishes and the dish’s copious amount.

Shredded Potato Salad, NW Chinese Food

Sesame Chili Sauce, NW Chinese FoodThe other highly raved dish is Shredded Potato.  This vegan dish sounded and looked unique at first glance.  The plate was filled with very finely shredded pieces of white potato that has been marinated in a sauce.  The matchstick slivers had a most interesting texture, tasting barely cooked, yet exuding a crunch that would suggest it being raw and reminding me of Asian radish.  But it was the seasoning that elevated this lowly tuber to an ethereal level, tasting spicy from the chili sesame seed oil (also served at the table), fragrant cilantro, raw garlic, and a hint of vinegar to counteract this starch.  I was quite blown away by this simple dish since its treatment and flavors hit all the right spots.

Sour Soup Dumplings, NW Chinese Food

Another appetizer that looked like a dish I had savored before was Sour Soup Dumplings.  The bowl arrived with these stuffed pasta floating in a bowl of broth.  However, they tasted quite different from the Shanghainese version that I was used to.  The dough was thicker than wanton skins but the stuffing was the same aromatic and moist finely minced pork mixture.  It was the broth that took it in an interesting direction with a mild savory flavor spiked by some chili sesame seed oil, made sour by pieces of pickled mustard green, and some body added by chunks of raw garlic.  There was a soulful element to this dish that did not taste stodgy or passé, and it can definitely make a complete dish by itself.

Spicy Beef & Lamb Skewers, NW Chinese CuisineSkewers seem quite popular among the reviewers and other customers during my stopovers. On my visits, I tried the ones made with beef, with lamb, and with chicken.  The sticks came filled to the brim with thin small pieces of meat.  All the meat versions (a couple of non-meat versions are offered too) were seasoned with the chili sesame seed seasoning and whole cumin seeds.  The bites were quite spicy and aromatic from the seasoning and spices, but they lacked some salt.  Their slight oiliness indicated that they were cooked in oil, but I was missing the grill char that would have made them more interesting and flavorful.  As for the cuts of meat, the lamb was a bit tough, but the rest of the meats were quite tender to the bite.  As small bites, they were not bad though.

Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger, NW Chinese Cuisine

Along the same line as the above skewered meat are the burgers, and I tried the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger on one occasion.  The sandwich arrived in a basket laced with sandwich paper.  The bun was a flat unleavened bread showing its in-house quality and reminding me of a thick pita bread, an indicator of the Muslim influence in that part of the world.  Its stuffing was dripping with grease, unfortunately, but one bite into it detracted me from its flaws. The meat was chopped up from whole pieces, tasting very spicy from chili flakes and very aromatic from toasted whole cumin seeds that immediately perked the senses up.  After allowing some more of the grease to drip out of the burger, I was enjoying every bite while relishing its flavors and textures.  The beef version was much less greasy, as well as spicy, coupled with some sweet vegetable elements of red onions and green peppers.  Hey, after all, “burgers” are meant to be greasy, and this is my new find of this type of handheld food.

Sesame Sauce Rolled Noodles, NW Chinese FoodThis place is known for noodle dishes from that part of the world, especially hand-cut noodles.  Since it was getting rather warm from the strong Spring sun, I ordered Sesame Sauce Rolled Noodles. The bowl arrived with the disparate elements arranged in their areas, reminding me of Vietnamese Bun Noodle Salad:  cucumber, bean sprouts, finely shredded carrot, cilantro, peanuts, raw garlic, all sitting on a mound of wheat noodles lathered with sesame sauce and the chili sesame seed oil.  One swirl and a chopstick full immediately perked my interest.  All the ingredients contributed their flavor element of spiciness, nuttiness, herbaceous quality, garlic pungency, cooling quality, along with different textures that made each bite quite a kaleidoscope.  The sesame sauce was the perfect liaison that added its tahini-like creaminess with a hint of vinegar that elevated the noodles that were perfectly al dente and tasted handmade, akin to Spaghetti alla Chitarra.  This vegan dish comes without protein, but I added a topping of minced pork that was moist and made fragrant from the use of Asian cinnamon (cassia) exuding a faint note of enticing licorice to the protein.  This is the perfect summer dish in the next few months, and I will be planning to order it then, vegan or not.

Spicy Beef Noodles, NW Chinese Food

One of the most mentioned dishes online is Spicy Beef Noodles, and it is one that I recognized from this region due to my addiction to food and travel programs.  The bowl arrived wafting with an enticing smell and immediate appeal.  The soup, like most noodle soup dishes, is the key to the success to any dish of this kind.  This version had a body, probably from beef bones, made aromatic with hints of star anise, spiked by the mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorn, and it carried sour and salty notes from the pickled mustard green.  The beef chunks were amazingly sumptuous with its tender and fall apart quality, tasting more seasoned than the soup due to its cooking apart from the stock, which added to its appeal.  Additionally, the rice noodles had an al dente quality that did not turn mushy throughout the meal, reminding me of well-made fresh egg pasta.  The pool of chili condiment (not the table type) added some extra zing to the whole mix but still made it quite palatable.  I could not get enough of this dish as it was exciting both flavor and texture wise.  This soup noodle has now been added to my eating repertoire of this genre.

NW Chinese FoodNorthwest Chinese Food has become one of the most exciting discoveries for me on this gastronomic journey.  Partly it is because this is newfound territory, and also because this regional food is exciting and downright delicious.  This excitement was found in the flavors in nearly all the dishes  especially the peanut dish, shredded potato salad, the lamb burger, and both beef soup and sesame sauce noodle dishes.  In addition, the wheat and the rice noodles that I savored had a texture that I have never tasted in other Chinese establishments due to their hand-made quality and perfect cooking treatment.  Yes, the place is small and quite crowded on certain days, and I was even scolded by a waitress for holding a table while I waited for my party  – typically Chinese.  But with food this exciting and quite mind-blowing, such inconveniences can be tolerated or even overlooked.  This is definitely my latest gastronomic find, and it quickly ranks high on my personal list.

Unforgettable Flavors

Unforgettable Flavors RestaurantSince writing about a Jamaican Jerk shack a couple of years ago (read blog), I have been on a hunt for a similar eatery serving this Caribbean cuisine that many establishments disappointingly offer as pale versions for my taste buds. So, when a reader following my blog made mentioned of a nearby location, my ears perked up as I listened attentively.  Unfortunately, due to distractions and slow-firing synapses, I  did not follow-up with my intention and I forgot the name of the place.  A couple of weeks ago, such place was highlighted in one of my restaurant online review weekly mailings.  That night itself, I paid the first of a series of visits to write this review.

Amuse Bouche Demi-tasseUnforgettable Flavors (yeah, I know, how could I forget it) is located in College Park, MD, at the basement of a multi-story apartment building in a cluster of them, a most unlikely place to run an eating business.  After reading many glowing reviews online and tips on how to reach the place, I did not have problems finding it and walking through its doors, unlike some online reviewers and a Washington Post reviewer, who wrote two paragraphs on his woe (seriously?). Walking into the brightly lit space with only 8 formica laminate tables, a take-out sofa, and some wall countertops, one notices that half of the shop space is taken up by the order counter and the kitchen. Despite the lackluster appearance of things in the space, although brightened up by the vivid wall paint and equally colorful paintings, there is a buzz that forecasts that something exciting is happening here.  While sipping on the complementary amuse-bouche of a demi-tasse of soup (different concoctions on each visit: oxtail stew, red snapper bisque, chicken and 16 beans – all well-seasoned and packed with flavor) that injected more anticipation within, I quickly surveyed the menu with the traditionally inspired dishes that would make up this review.


Sorrel Drink

Pineapple Ginger JuiceMost Jamaican eateries have their homemade drinks and juices displayed in the mixer sitting on the order counter, and this place is no exception – but I had to try them.  The first glass was Sorrel, a hibiscus flower drink.  The wine glass contained the reddish drink that had its characteristic slightly tart quality, a light tannin puckeriness, slight ginger bite (a new twist), and a judicious amount of sugar that was just right for my taste buds, all elements bringing a smile to my lips, and a sense of antioxidant relief to the body. Another day’s drink was made with pineapple juice and ginger.  This mixture was irresistible with the fresh and naturally sweet fruit juice, punctuated by a stronger ginger note that provided some heat to the back of the throat and woke all the senses up.  The chef said it was made with fresh pineapple juice, which I appreciated every drop of its oh-so-goodness.   Again, the sugar level was just right, allowing this sugar-sensitive imbiber to return to his tall glass without any reservation.

Beef Patty

Spinach PattyOne of the litmus tests of a Caribbean eatery is usually with the Patties.  The first version I tried was made with beef. The cut-up pastries arrived on a bed of mixed leaf salad (nice chefy touch) looking similar yet different from the versions I’ve had.  The pastry was the orange-hued flaky dough, a tradition trait, but there was no pocket of air like others I’ve seen.  The filling was savory without the usual over-seasoning (others), and there was a mild chili burn that crept up after a few bites.  What I enjoyed about these bites was the home-made quality and the balanced seasoning that did not make them too “beefy”.  A spinach version was ordered on another occasion.  The pale flaky crust (traditional look) held a smooth filling exuding a mild vegetable flavor with bare bitterness, an intriguing Indian-inspired spice note, and a level of savoriness that brought a level of satisfaction and fascination with each bite – I just could not get enough of it.  The side sweet sauce was unnecessary when we already have a wonderfully made vegetable pastry like this version here.   The patties here standout in a subtle way with their well-balanced flavors and seasoning, as well as their in-house made appearance, which make them worthy meal-openers.

Jerk WingsAnother appetizer savored was Jerk Wingettes.  Usually, I would turn my nose up on an order of wings as I find most renditions to be characterless and rather pedestrian.  But I was curious to see how these wings would be treated with the classic Jamaican seasoning.  One bite into the first morsel hooked me immediately.  The flesh was well-cooked, firm yet moist, with a slide-off-the-bone quality.  But what reeled me in was the jerk seasoning that was generous on each piece, dried out from the cooking and smoking, and permeating all the way to the bone judging by the light pinkish hue (not signs of raw meat) found in each bite.  Before I knew it, my partner and I wiped the plate clean with no shame.  The side of ranch dressing was home-made, tasting more flavorful than the store-bought version – but, it was more a distraction from the real star of this small plate.



Ackee and Saltfish with Fried BreadA portion of the menu is dedicated to breakfast, and there was a single dish that grabbed my attention.  For the longest, I had heard of Ackee and Saltfish, and I was thrilled to find it here.  So, after a busy morning helping out at a food pantry, I arrived past breakfast time to order this, and Chef Neville was happy to oblige me with this late order.  The dish arrived with a melange of colorful ingredients looking like scrambled eggs accompanied by some fried bread.  My first bite spoke ,”Now, this is what they have been talking about.”  The yellow bits of the Ackee fruit had the soft texture of French-style omelette while they exuded a light tartness that made them more intriguing, this coupled by the acid in the tomato pieces  The shredded salted fish still retained its salinity along as its slightly rough firmness.  But it was the pieces of fried bread that tied all flavors together with its perfectly fried lightness, and a slightly savory dough that acted as the perfect canvas for all the disparate elements in this composition. I was thoroughly enjoying this dish not just for its satisfying flavors, but also for the cultural and gastronomic journey that whisked me away to warm waters.  This is truly The Breakfast of Champions (what say you, Mr. Bolt?), at least for that part of the world, and for this diner that afternoon.

Spiced Tilapia Sandwich and Fried PlantainsFor another trip during lunch, I chose the Spiced Tilapia Sandwich that is listed on the menu as one of their popular dishes.  The plate arrived with fish fillets sandwiched by Coco bread and the usual tomato and lettuce garnishes. Since I’m not a big french fries type of guy, I opted for something more interesting and appropriate for the cuisine – fried plantains.  The pieces of seafood were well-cooked since they were quite moist and tasted fairly fresh, while the Coco bread was pillowy soft and added a slight sweet note to the mix.  However, my taste buds were distracted by a number of things. The filets were underseasoned and I was barely detecting any spice heat that would make them exciting.  Furthermore, the soft texture of the fish paired with the soft bread became a gray-on-gray textural issue for me as I was yearning for some contrasts in the flavor and texture departments – maybe a slightly crispy outer coating would have done the trick for me.  The inherent muddiness of tilapia, found in the dark red central nerve, was overwhelming for me on this occasion – I usually remove this portion when cooking this fish.  But all these issues are easy quick fixes that I know this creative kitchen can get it right.  The perfectly fried plantains (in clean fresh oil, yes!) were not too sweet nor too bland, reminding me that this is not dessert nor plain starch.

Jerk Chicken/Brown StewBraised Oxtails

Rice and Peas, Braised Curry Spinach, Curry CabbageNo Jamaican establishment would have the following meat dishes amiss from its menu, and I managed to savor a number of these offerings here.  On my first trip, I ordered a combination of Jerk Chicken and Brown Stew.  The Jerk was properly cooked with no excess moisture (usually from baking), with the firm flesh falling off the bone, and with the skin completely rendered of fat.  The seasoning was “proper” with the right mixture of aromatic spices and the scotch bonnet heat that was both present and lingering in each piece.  There was a certain smokiness that added to the flavors which I read that the kitchen has found an ingenious way of imparting it without illegally sending smoke billowing out  of the apartment building, unlike the aforementioned place in the opening paragraph.  One forkful of the Brown Stew said Grandmother’s Chicken Stew; well, my grandmother’s.  The chicken was fork-tender while holding its meaty integrity.  But it was the level of savory umami-ness that permeated throughout each bite that prevented me from putting my fork down.  It even pressed me to ask the chef if any soy sauce was present, to which he replied that it had burnt sugar to give the depth of flavor in the sauce.   An order of Braised Oxtails was equally satisfying.  The meat to bone proportion was generous in favor of meat, and each meaty morsel was braised long enough to be fork-tender without falling apart.  But again, it was the sauce that made the dish with its meaty savoriness as well as a great depth of flavor that would make it finger-licking-good.  The topping of butter beans nearly stole the show with its proper cooking and amazingly smooth quality that was making overtures to cheekily compete with its beef partner.  The sides that came with these orders (2 per order) were equally savory and impressive.  The Braised Curry Spinach won me over immediately with its smoothness like creamed spinach (maybe a bit of dairy here) and the garam massala spicing that took these greens to another interesting level.  The Rice and Beans were proper but with the use of Basmati rice that give it a twist; the undersalted perfectly cooked fluffy grains were the perfect foil to the rich brown stew sauce.  The Curried Cabbage was irresistible with the non-mushy leaves cooked with a light hint of curry and enriched by some butter that complemented the cabbage’s sweet notes.  As one notices, the kitchen does pay attention to small details, and such gesture makes the whole meal worth being resavored in the mind, even days after.

Salmon in Buerre Blanc SauceCoconut Curry Shrimp

Back to the first visit and to the sea.  My dining companion was in a mood for something rather light, and he caught eye of a salmon special listed on the specials menu board outside.  What arrived was visually appealing and it brought a smile to my friend’s mouth.  But what got him effusive with complements was the first bite of this dish – I had to have a taste of what he was raving about.  The salmon was perfectly cooked, slightly firm but moist, further moistened by a beurre blanc sauce that was rich and slightly tangy.  The topping of julienned squash, zucchini, and carrots added the healthy element to the dish, alongside a triangle of crispy puffed flatbread.  You know a dish is that good when the complements do not stop at the last mouthful, as was in the case of my friend.   A lunch order on another visit was Coconut Curry Shrimp.  When the plate arrived, I knew that the dish’s neat beautiful appearance was going to reveal something good.  The pieces of deveined shrimp were perfectly and skilfully cooked without a trace of rubberiness, which I found very impressive.  Equally impressive was the sauce that was not overwhelming with its slight coconut creaminess, the judicious scent of curry powder, and the right chili heat from dried chili flakes.  A tinge of sweetness was the agent that rounded these flavors in this impressive dish whose sauce was nearly licked off the plate – again, we see the chef’s sense of restraint and balance in his cooking. The side of Mac and Cheese made me appreciate this dish after taking a haitus from it. The perfectly cooked penne (in between al dente and overcooked) was topped by a light and flavorful bechamel sauce and gratineed with a mixture of cheeses that exuded some tartness and bitter notes in the rich creamy mix. Sometimes less is more, as in the case of the toppings in this home dish.

Escovitch Red Snapper

Escovitch Red SnapperI could not get away from the sea with the offerings here, which is of no surprise to any Jamaican.  I had in mind to try the Kingfish, which I requested it cooked “escovitched”.  However, Chef Neville came out from the kitchen to tell me that Red Snapper was a better choice, and that he would prepare it especially for me – how could one say no to that.   What came out from the kitchen was truly worthy and a spectacle for the senses.  After taking the necessary photos, I contemplated how much could I eat from the dish since I had finished off the jerk wingettes.  What was left at the end were just fins, head, and bones.  The fish was fresh tasting with its unique slightly dark seafood flavor, perfectly cooked to retain the moisture yet crispy on the edges.  The escovitch sauce possessed restrained amounts of vinegar, sugar, and chili heat along with the noticeable acrid notes from the scotch bonnet pepper, allowing for the seafood flavors to standout from a sauce that could possibly overpower the delicate flesh.  Wow.  Such skilful tight-wire act needed no comprehension by my taste buds which instinctively ravished what it knew as damn good.  What is a non-smoker’s version of a post-meal smoke especially after ingesting this incredibly well-executed dish?

Rum Cake

Lemon Meringue CakeWell, the answer to the above question (although meant to be rhetorical) is some great desserts.  Rum Cake was immediately the bulls-eye once I saw it in the display counter.  One bite into it was not what I expected at all. Familiar memories of steamed Christmas pudding came to mind (from my adolescent years in England), and I could detect bits of soft prunes and raisin in this amazingly moist and spongy cake; the kitchen staff later confirmed my suspicion of its make-up.  The rum scent was fairly adequate along with the dark molasses-like notes, but I was in the holiday mood for more alcoholic indulgence with these bites.  This was definitely not the usual rum cake but one that captivated me with this Christmas pudding version which is rarely served around here.  An order on another visit was highly recommended by online reviewers – Lemon Meringue Cake.  Again, this sweet cake commanded all my attention.  The moist cake was perfectly cooked with the right amount of ingredients and a noticeable lemon oil scent, coupled by the equally scented tart pastry cream interspacing the layers, and topped with some shavings of white chocolate.  Mind you, I had already finished off some jerk wingettes and a whole red snapper.  But this citrusy sweet finale prevented me from falling into gastronomic lethargy, and I had no problem finishing off every crumb off the plate.  No thanks to the online reviewers for contributing to my struggles with a mini-diet.

Unforgettable Flavors RestaurantRespect, Skill, Understanding, Honoring Tradition, and downright Good Eats – these are the elements that I encountered at every visit at this unassuming restaurant that just kept my interests searching for more.  Despite a minor hiccup with the fish sandwich, the rest that I savored from its menu kept calling up these thoughts about what the kitchen and Chef Neville were capable of.  Starting from the drinks, leading to the Patties and Jerk Wingettes, to the Jerk Chicken, Brown Stew, Braised Oxtail, along with the myriad of side dishes, to the seafood dishes, and finally the desserts, especially the spiked Christmas pudding.  Obviously, not only does this establishment know what they are doing, but the kitchen possesses the understanding and skill level to impress anyone who walks through its doors with its Jamaican offerings (Chef Neville has done a few stints at big hotels including The Willard).  As I end the year with this posting (Highlight 2014 blog coming soon) on a very high note, I’m glad to have stumbled across this eatery that makes me look forward to another place like this while I chase after the next gastronomic peak.  With such impressive cooking, who could forget the delectable dishes at Unforgettable Flavors.

Unforgettable Flavors on Urbanspoon

Directions: From the Beltway, take Route 1 South. Turn right at next light, Cherry Hill Rd. Pass shopping area, and look for Seven Springs Apartment on left – take the second entrance. The restaurant is located at the basement of last multi-story building on right, across from pool.

Aroy Thai


Aroy ThaiWith quite a few blogs on Thai cuisine on my site, it is hard to justify writing another one on this Southeast Asian cuisine.  However, when I heard that there was a new restaurant not far from my neighborhood serving this Asian cuisine, I knew I had to check it out after getting over my initial surprise  (“What? In Prince George’s county?”)  Reading my previous blog on another Thai establishment (see blog), you sense my frustration that my county is not as “blessed” as the neighboring ones when it comes to international cuisine, especially Thai.  Furthermore, it is located in the heart of College Park, MD  (aka Party Town) which is known for mediocre cheap eats,  drinking holes, and rambunctious fraternities – I graduated from there more than 20 years ago, so I know.  With these thoughts in mind, I knew I had to check this new place out and see whether the positive online reviews (100% on one site) were written by reviewers in a sober state.

Located just off the main drag Route 1,  Aroy is squeezed into a narrow building in a short block lined with metered parking on both sides of the street. The window is displayed with plastic rendition of their dishes that brings to mind Japanese sushi models popular in the 90’s.  Walking into the narrow building, you notice that it is a small 7-table establishment with a counter separating the dining room from the kitchen.  The bright orange walls and the long wood banquette makes the place welcoming and warm.  Having a lifetime experience with this cuisine since I was a child, I recognized many dishes on the menu and I decided to check-out their offerings by ordering some standard dishes.
Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Tom Yum GaiAs part of their lunch menu, the main dishes come with Thai Spring Rolls or Tom Yum Chicken Soup.  I must say I did not expect much from these appetizers since they were part of the lunch deal, but I was proven wrong.  The spring rolls were crispy and nearly greaseless, light from the thin wrapper, and delicious from a filling made with bean thread noodle, fine cabbage, and a surprisingly flavorful ingredient, oaky shiitake mushrooms, which elevated these bites to another level beyond its pedestrian flavor.  The soup was unexpected for me also.  Instead of an insipid sip, it was flavor packed with aromatics like lemongrass, and balanced with enough chili heat, lime tartness, fish sauce saltiness, and sweet from a pinch of sugar.  The bowl had a fair amount of mushrooms, tomatoes, and slivers of chicken breast to make it quite satisfying.  A good start to the meal, indeed.



Larb Gai/Spicy Chicken Salad

Green Papaya Salad/Som TumOn a couple of occasions, I decided to try out their traditional salads.  The first was Larb Gai.  Pieces of minced chicken are paired with sweet onions, roasted chili powder, toasted rice powder, and moistened with lime juice, fish sauce, and a hint of sugar.  This was a delicious spicy salad with the chili powder and rice powder adding a level of smokiness and heat to the sour, salty and sweet flavors of this warm bite.  If it weren’t for a couple of sinewy pieces of chicken, this would have been flawless.  The other salad was Som Tum, or Green Papaya Salad.  Thin julienned strands of the young fruit are paired with carrot, tomato, and green beans, flavored by a sauce made of fish sauce, lime juice, and fresh chilies.  What I enjoyed about the dish is the freshness of the ingredients and the balance of the bold flavors as well as the assertive spice heat – the kitchen is not holding back here.  The whole peanuts in the dish added a rich nuttiness that balanced out some of the acidity in the dish.  This was refreshing for me despite the fieriness of the chili heat – definitely, very close to Ped (Thai chili hot).

Sate Chicken

Another appetizer that is a good litmus test of a Thai kitchen is its rendition of Sate Chicken.  This restaurant’s version was out of the ordinary and it definitely wowed me.  Unlike many versions that I have eaten before, here the pieces of chicken were well marinated in turmeric and root aromatics like galangal making each moist piece full of flavor and aromatic, enough to stand by itself.  The accompanying sauce was also revelatory.  Most restaurants serve a bland version made with peanut butter but here, I tasted a version made with crushed peanuts, root aromatics, palm sugar as the sweetener, and tamarind juice as the sour element, an authentic sauce that I have tasted on the other side of the world.  The toasted pieces of bread were the perfect vehicle to mop up the sauce to its last drop.  The bowl of sweet pickles was probably a bit too fresh and they could have done with a longer pickling.  But that was very minor compared to the main players of this opening dish.  Yummm!

Pad See YuPad Kee Mao/Drunken Noodles

Noodle dishes seem to be calling my name every time I visit a Thai restaurant and I had to sample their offerings.  A friend’s order of Pad See Euw was his lunch on one occasion.  The wide pieces of rice noodles were slightly bouncy fresh and adequately sauced without being drowned by it, tasting savory from Thai soy and quite sweet that made each bite irresistible.  The crunchy broccoli, moist chicken slices, and wispy clouds of egg added the necessary tasty elements to the dish, which made this version pleasurable for my friend.  My order of Pad Kee Mao, or Drunken Noodle, was totally up my alley.  The wide noodles were fresh and not oily, adequately covered by a savory sauce (which remains a secret enigma to me to this day), mixed with slightly crunchy sweet peppers and onion strips, fragrant fresh purple basil, biting fresh bird chilies, moist meat, and pieces of sweet tomato.  This was an damn good version of my favorite Thai noodle dish, and it hit the right spots for me.

Thai Shrimp Fried Rice

Very few fried rice dishes impress me these days but my friend’s order here was something else.  The fresh tasting rice was cooked with bits of slightly crunchy carrot bits, sweet white onions, juicy tomato, topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, pungent green onions, bits of scrambled eggs, and served with fresh cucumber slices.  But what ties these disparate elements together is the flavoring added to the mixture, made from Thai soy sauce, containing a je-ne-sai-quoi added to regular soy, and a hint of fish sauce.  Despite being engrossed in my delicious noodle dish I couldn’t help but spoon from his rice place and enjoy the flavor profile of this dish.  When it is done right, this dish sings in the mouth, and it did in this case.

Green CurryRed Curry

No meal in a Thai restaurant would be complete without ordering a curry dish, or a couple of them.  On one visit, I ordered the Green Curry.  My bowl arrived with lean pork, Thai eggplant, bamboo shoots, sweet peppers, and purple basil.  Being a curry dish, the main player is the curry sauce, and this version was outstanding for me.  It had a slight peppery quality with a vegetal green chili fragrance, made more aromatic with root herbs and the basil.  But the cooking of the curry paste with fresh tasting coconut milk resulted in a well amalgamated mixture that stands out from other versions.  It was slightly sweet which points to the Thai sensibility for this seasoning as integral to the authentic palate.  Another visit’s order of the Red Curry was equally superb with the same ingredients as the above dish with exception of the curry paste.  The sauce was a bit more fiery with the use of red chilies in the paste with a darker leaf aroma from the use of Kaffir lime leaf – the evidence of a soften leaf points to adequate cooking to render all its flavor into the sauce.  I was again impressed by the skillful cooking that gave the curry a magical quality that I have not experienced often with this dish.

Mango and Sticky Rice

Fried Bananas with HoneyAlthough the sweet offerings here are sparse, I had to give them a try since they were some of my favorites.  The Fried Bananas came as mini spring rolls stuffed with pieces of banana, and topped with some honey and toasted sesame seeds.  The dough was fried crispy and nearly greaseless, encasing a filling of soft sweet banana, made even sweeter by the honey and fragrant from the sesame seeds.  An order of Mango and Sticky Rice was a special on another visit.  After getting a confirmation from the cook that the mangoes were prime and sweet, I received a plate with pieces in such heavenly state.  The side of sticky glutinous rice topped with coconut cream was an equal partner to the ripe fruit.  It had enough saltiness to match the sweet fruit and rich from some quality coconut crème made nutty from a topping of fried mung beans, an addition that wavers from the usual sesame seeds.  What impressed me the most of this dish was the rice, which was perfectly cooked and matched in seasoning and creaminess.  I know how tricky it is to cook this grain well, and that is why most restaurants can’t get it right.  However, this is the best rendition (yes!) of this dessert I have ever tasted, and its delicious ghost aftertaste still haunts my taste buds.

Something good is going on here, especially in that small kitchen: woodsy shiitake mushrooms in perfectly wrapped spring rolls, well-seasoned Tom Yum soup, fiery and smoky chicken salad, spicy and nutty papaya salad, the well-marinated Sate chicken and irresistible sauce, perfectly seasoned noodles with barely a trace of oil,  savory fried rice that puts all others to shame, curries with an aromatic sauce perfectly balanced with quality coconut milk and paired with fragrant jasmine rice, the best sticky rice ever tasted along with sweet ripe mangoes, and sweet soft bananas encased in sticky crispy dough.  Looking at the photos that I took, you see an undivided attention given to each dish even in the simple garnishes on the plate.  In Korean, this is called “hand flavor” which is indescribable but only can be felt or tasted.  Well, this place sure has it, and when I am this inspired, I want to get a glimpse of Mrs. Chef in the kitchen.  One day I hope to personally thank her for such skillful cooking.  This place is most definitely Aroy! (Tasty!)

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