Woomi Garden

Korean restaurants are hard to write about for the very fact that most are quite good and they serve basically the same array of traditional dishes.  However, my visits to various establishments were generally marred by loud and flashy restaurant environments or food that appeared mass produced without a sense of personal touch.  For these very reasons, many Korean restaurants have been visited, but only a couple have made it on my blog site.

Woomi Garden

I had passed by Woomi Garden for many years from my visits to my favorite Cantonese joint (read blog) located close by in Wheaton, MD.  Speaking to some Koreans, they always pointed to this establishment, and I had to get over my bias of the place due its rather rundown look on the exterior.  Furthermore, a great coupon offer appeared online, and that sealed the deal for me to make it through its doors.  Walking in, you immediately sense that its charm saw its heyday a few years ago with the decor looking very Old School/Old World and the place feeling that it needs a good scrub down from all the barbecue smoke from the last decade.  Counteracting my immediate reaction, the sight of expats and a fairly full house were the assurances that I needed to quell some of my trepidations.

Korean Side Dishes Miso Soup

A litmus test of Korean restaurants, in my mind, is with the side dishes placed before the arrival of any dish.  The seven small bowls were served on both occasions with only a single change on another visit.  The Kimchi tasted quite tangy and spicy, with a slightly crunch to indicate its proper breakdown from the spice marination.  The beansprouts were slightly salty with a hint of sesame oil and tasting still slightly crunchy.  The unwaxed cucumber (Kirby type found in Korean marts) were slightly wilted from a slightly sweet spicy mix.  The Chinese spinach was barely wilted and slightly salty and aromatic from sesame oil. The shredded daikon was crunchy, sweet, and tangy. The salad was deceptively tasty from a light vinaigrette.  The pressed tofu skins were savory and meaty in texture.  The potato was savory from soy sauce and slightly sweet.  All these dishes passed the litmus test well, and not a single morsel was left on both visits.  The complementary Miso soup was properly made with enough bean paste in the soup, mixed with pieces of tofu, umami-filled Wakame seaweed, and slivers of green onion.


One appetizer that is a favorite of mine is Mandu or Fried Dumplings.  The appetizer portion here is quite sizable with six rather large pockets making it to the table.  The skin was the thick version made blistered from some good hot frying, but it was not too stodgy to fill one up quickly.  One bite into it revealed a fairly savory mixture of minced pork and beef, made a bit fragrant from a good amount of finely chopped green onion.  The side sauce was tasting salty from soy sauce, tangy from vinegar, and spicy from slices of jalapeño, making the pockets even more tempting.  Despite having eaten three of them, they didn’t fill me up nor prevented me from looking forward to the rest of the meal.  Not a bad start.

Beef Bulgogi

Beef Bulgogi

On one occasion, we ordered two main proteins for the mains.  The first was the obligatory Beef Bulgogi.  The plate of raw meat arrived looking bright red and very freshly prepared.  Our waitress had heated up the grill plate and thankfully the strong vents were working, a common complaint I have about many such eateries.  The grilled product was tender pieces of beef, tasting well-seasoned of slightly sweet and quite peppery from white pepper.   The lettuce leaves served as wraps for these meaty morsels, but I found the side miso-based sauce too salty with each packet.  I have had many versions of this dish, and I must admit that this is a very good rendition here.




Barbecue Pork Belly

The other main was Marinated Pork.  Just when I thought that the beef dish was a great hit, this meat cut did not take a secondary role. The pieces of pork were quite tender, tasting quite sweet, and made spicy and slightly smoky from the use of dried chili powder.  It was this combination of flavors that made each piece irresistible and especially interesting from that smoky note which reminded me of smoked paprika.  I must have had overdosed on meat that night due to the latter two meat dishes and their well-marinated flavors.  But with such wonderful flavors and quality meat cuts, one just can’t help himself from doing so.



Jap Chae

Jap Chae is a common dish found in most Korean places, and an order was placed here. The large plate arrived with a generous portion.  What I appreciated about what I ate was the tapioca noodles that were slightly al dente, the pieces of carrot, sweet onion, red pepper that were quite slightly crunchy to provide a textural counterpoint, pieces of green onion that added the slightly pungency, the wood fungus that added the slippery texture, all topped by egg strands.  The seasoning was perfect with its savoriness and the right amount of sesame oil as to not overwhelm the whole mix.  This is another must-order here in my books.

Barbecue Shrimp

Another visit was marked by two other proteins for the grill pan.  The first was Large Shrimp.  The order was generous with around a dozen of the butterflied large pieces.  Our waitress was so busy running around that night, being a full house on the weekend, that I had to attend to the cooking.  The pieces were well-marinated tasting slightly sweet with a bite from a good dose of black pepper, which made the seafood more interesting than the usual treatment.  Unfortunately, the pieces were slightly overcooked due to my late rescue, but the flavors made up for that flaw.  The vegetable sides were sweet red pepper, sweet onion, button mushroom, broccoli, and Shiitake mushroom, the latter being the star among the veggies with its meaty texture and boschy notes.  If weren’t for the overcooking, this would have been the perfect dish.

Barbecue Chicken Breast

To balance things out, we had to order the Chicken dish which comes in the breast form.  The fairly large pieces tasted well-marinated, as in the case of all the above proteins, quite sweet from the caramelization on the grill, and a hint of white pepper.  Yes, the poultry was a bit dry due to the lack of attention from our super busy waitress, but I managed to save it from beyond redemption. If chicken breast is your thing, I won’t hesitate ordering it here due to the flavors that each piece carried.

Sweet Rice Soup


To end the meal, we were served wth a traditional “dessert”.  It consisted of a slightly sweet soup made “milky” from grains of rice boiled until it is quite spongy.  The soup tasted sweet from the use of rock sugar which has a subtle distinctive taste from granular sugar.  This reminded me of my grandmother’s version, but she would let the brew ferment for a few days to produce an amazing boozy elixir.  But this meal-ender was refreshing and enough to give me the sugar fix without saturating my taste buds.






Woomi GardenWoomi Garden is definitely a great find for Korean fare.  Yes, its decor is screaming for a serious update and a heavy scrub down.  Putting that aside, what makes this place spectacular is the finesse and flavors in all the dishes that we ordered, starting from the proper Miso soup, to the pretty good dumplings, to the scrumptious side dishes that balanced the meal perfectly, to the proteins that were well-marinated and from good cuts, and to the Jap Chae that had a perfect balance of flavors and textures.  Again, never judge a restaurant by its faded front and decor, but by its offerings and the sight of a filled dining room.  Now, time for me to get a couple more coupons before the offer is over.

Woomi Garden Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thai Taste

Thai TasteChange usually usurps the comforts of complacency.  In the last few years, my usual go-to Southeast Asian market and my favorite Thai restaurant were casualties of the recent recession, both located within walking distance from each other in Wheaton, MD.  Since then I had been on the search for worthy replacements for both categories.  After many months, I found a grocery store carrying many difficult-to-find ingredients, located a stone throw away from the defunct businesses.  As I left the location, I noticed a newly opened eatery at the end of the parking lot.  Walking in, I asked for a copy of their menu, and after perusing its extensive offerings, I was inspired to pay this eatery quite a number of visits before writing this review.




Spicy Seafood Pho TaekThai Taste Crispy Spring Rolls

The menu at Thai Taste is a bit of a maze, much like the streets in Bangkok, partly due to the extensive offerings and most dishes listed in the Thai language, in addition to the rather creative and zany English descriptions.  After familiarizing myself with the menu while munching on some peppery and savory complementary Fish/Shrimp Crackers (nice touch) reminding me of Grandma’s, I decided to go with a couple of familiar appetizers.  I started with the Spicy Seafood Pho Taek.   The bowl arrived with pieces of shrimp and squid, bits of bay scallop and a mussel, covered by a clear broth that is akin to Tom Yum with its spicy bite, sour notes from lime juice, fish sauce saltiness, and pungency from root aromatics evidenced by the bits of lemongrass, kafir lime leaves, galangal root, and fragrant basil leaves.  What was lacking in the less-than-inspiring bits of seafood was made up by the full-bodied clear soup that woke up all the taste buds.  An order of the Thai Taste Crispy Spring Roll was out of the ordinary.  Crispy rolls made with an outer shell of rice skin, not the usual wheat flour skin, encased a savory mix of ground chicken, carrot, glass noodles, celery, and a surprising ingredient, taro root, that exuded a smooth sweet note to the whole mix. The light dipping sauce, unlike the usual sweet chili sauce, consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, chili, and garlic provided the complementary notes to these tasty bites. Already, one notices a different direction from the usual coming from this Thai kitchen.

Look Chin Ping - Grilled Meat BallsLucky Bags

Gai Yang - Grilled Marinated ChickenThe menu in this establishment offers many street food dishes, those not usually found in most Thai restaurants. Look Chin Ping is skewered meatballs or fishballs that are grilled or fried, served with a tamarind chili sauce. One bite into it brought me back to the food stalls in front of Cathay movie theater in my homeland during the 70’s.  What made the dish work for me was the pepperyness along with the umami-ness that each bit possessed, balanced by the fruity and spicy tamarind dipping sauce.  Another opener was Lucky Bags.  Pouches of ground chicken mixed with sweet potato were seasoned with curry powder and wrapped in spring roll dough.  I found the fried bags a bit greasy, given that sweet potato easily absorbs some of the oil, and the mix rather interesting but perhaps missing one more element to make this appetizer successful for me.  Another order of Gai Yang peaked my interest.  Pieces of skewered chicken thigh meat came well-marinated and grilled with some burnt marks.  The seasoning permeated each morsel with slight sweet notes (server wouldn’t divulge the seasoning secret), a bit dry but at least not like breast meat, and complemented by a fiery sour sauce made with lime juice and smoky toasted chili flakes.  The meat balls and skewered chicken are definitely street food offerings usually not found in most Thai establishments and they are worth the order here.

Larb Gai - Chicken SaladYum Pla Duk Foo - Fluffy Catfish Salad

On a couple of occasions, I tried the salad dishes.  Larb Gai is a standard found in most Thai establishments.  My order arrived with a heaping mound of ground chicken sitting on lettuce leaves, along with some slices of red onion and some cilantro.  The dish was still warm pointing towards its freshly made nature.  After a few bites and despite my appreciation of it coming straight from the wok, the dish proved a bit of a ho-hum due to the lack of punch in the seasoning which usually consists of lime juice, fish sauce, toasted rice powder, and smoked chili flakes; perhaps, the chef forgot to taste this batch, which could have easily been rectified.  Another day’s order was Yum Pla Duk Foo or Catfish Salad.  When the dish arrived, a mound of brown fried lace was sitting on the green elements waiting to be stirred with the side sauce.  After mixing it, I was wondering where was the fish element.  My server pointed out that the lacy topping was made from finely shaved catfish, which amazed and perplexed me.  I thoroughly enjoyed this popular dish here with the different textures and flavors, aided by some nutty peanuts. some sweet julienned green apple, and a well-balanced chili-laced sour and salty sauce that provided the much-needed flavorings and moisture to the whole mix.

Shrimp Pad ThaiPad Kee Mao - Drunken Noodles

Bangkok NoodlesThai street food denotes dishes that are quick to prepare and fairly complete in its make up, which noodles make a good medium.  The menu lists the ubiquitous Pad Thai “cooked with a tamarind sauce”.  Usually one to avoid this dish which I have found to be pedestrian in most places, the rendition here did not belie its description, being made with the faintly clove-scented fruity tamarind, sweetened with slight molasses-like palm sugar, and the saltiness from fish sauce.  I could not believe that I was inspired by this dish that I pretty much wrote off some time ago due to poorly made versions made with vinegar and sugar; never mind the smaller lunch portion since it was satisfyingly compensated by the wonderfully seasoned and bouncy noodles. Another lunch order was a favorite of mine: Pad Kee Mao or Drunken Noodle.  My dish arrived with some very fresh noodles judging by its slightly firm “bounce” moistened by a slightly sweeter than usual sauce, and studded with bits of different seafood and fishballs cooked with some cherry tomatoes and sweet peppers.  I truly enjoyed this plateful which was hitting the right spots including the chili heat and fragrant basil leaves.  A lunch order on another visit was Bangkok Noodles.   A plate arrived with a melange of egg noodles, cooked vegetables, and a shrimp and crabmeat omelette a la Egg Foo Yong.  It was a bit sloppy but street food is not meant to be overly refined.  What I appreciated in this dish was the well-sauced egg noodles and the omelette despite me not being able to discern the crabmeat in the egg mixture.  But I could imagine someone ordering this noodle dish from a street vendor as part of his daily meal after a hard day’s work.

Chiang Mai NoodlesNam Tok Moo - Floating Market Noodle Soup

Ka Nom Chine - Fish Curry NoodlesFrom the section on noodles with gravy/soup, my server highly recommended Chiang Mai Noodles.  The slanted bowl arrived with disparate elements ready to be mixed together: boiled egg noodles, crispy fried noodles, beansprouts, fried shallots, cilantro, a slice of lime, and chicken drumsticks, all sitting on a pool of chicken curry.  After giving everything a good stir and a squeeze of lime, I took my first bite.  Wow!  The flavor in the curry sauce was the perfect agent to amalgamate the different textures and flavor elements, exuding its spiciness, rich coconut cream base, and a tinge of sweetness, reminding me of Southern Thai Massaman curry.  The pieces of chicken had the curry flavors permeating through the flesh, along with the fall-of-the-bone quality that made them irresistible – I think I just found a new noodle favorite with this discovery.  An order on another occasion was Nam Tok Moo or Floating Market Noodle Soup.  A bowl of wide rice noodle filled with a dark soup was accompanied by fresh herbs, beansprouts, and pork crackling.  The saying is that the broth in a noodle soup makes the dish, and this bowl was no exception with its aromatic and rich soup supported by lean pork, bouncy noodles, fragrant basil leaves, green onions, and the irresistible crackling that took each spoonful to gastronomic stratosphere.  A final order of Ka Nom Chine was unchartered territory for me.  My server brought the deconstructed elements in a separate plate accompanied by a bowl of fish and fishball curry.  After assembling my plate with the wheat/cornstarch noodles, green beans, carrot strands, beansprouts, pickled mustard green, and a boiled egg, I slathered the combination with the curry.  I have to admit that my mind and tongue had a bit of a hard time wrapping themselves around this new dish with the cold noodles and raw elements trying to find marriage with the hot spicy curry.  But I quickly fell for the curry with the fish flesh finely shredded in the fiery gravy exuding strong notes of kafir lime leaf and Thai rhizome.

Thai Taste Duck and Crispy BasilPad Ped Pla Dook - Spicy Catfish

Kao Ka Moo - 5-Spice Powder Pork Leg StewA couple of spicy main dishes made up dinner on a visit.  The first was Thai Taste Duck and Crispy Basil.  The dish arrived looking a bit sloppy with sliced battered duck pieces topped with a copious amount of deep-fried basil, along with some boiled vegetables under a blanket of sweet and spicy sauce.  Never mind the lack of finesse in this dish; what made it up was the duck that impressed me with the five-spice powder aroma permeating the fairly moist dark meat, coated by a well-seasoned light and nearly grease-less crispy batter that tempted me to eat every morsel of its crunchy goodness (I can’t – on a mini diet here).  The other dish was Pad Ped Pla Duk or Spicy Fried Catfish.  My dining companion decided to order it ped or spicy, and one bite into his dish, he broke out into a sweat.  Beyond the spicy heat, I could discern the sauce that was replete with root aromatics, further made flavorful with green peppercorns and Thai rhizome that lent its je-ne-sais-quoi appealing element.  The pieces of catfish were crispy on the outside but still moist and clean-flavored inside.  Sorry buddy, Ped in the title means no compromise in its spice level, at least not in this kitchen.  Another order of Kao Ka Moo comprised of pork leg stewed in a dark aromatic sauce.  Yes, there was quite a bit of fat with each piece of meat, but that comes with the territory with this cut of meat.  The pieces were extremely tender after being cooked in the mouth sticky broth tasting of five-spice powder with pieces of pickled mustard green.  Again, this dish pointed towards its origin either from the home kitchen or street vendor.  The side chili sauce was the perfect spicy acid relief with its fresh chili notes mixed with some garlic, vinegar, and ginger – I could have eaten the whole amount if weren’t for the chili heat.

Pad Khing - Chicken Ginger in Bean Sauce

Pad Ma Kuea - Eggplant with Crispy PorkNot all Thai offerings are on the singe-the-tongue level. A few mild ones on the menu were quite memorable.  Pad Khing is a stir fry that consists of onions, mushroom, carrot, green onions, Chinese fungus, green chilies, red bell pepper, along the choice of meat or seafood. The version here was a savory one with a full-bodied sauce spiked with some young ginger that added quite a bit of bite to each mouthful.  Another dish worth considering is Pad Ma Kuea.  Pieces of Chinese eggplant were perfectly cooked, without being mushy, along with onion, green chili, red bell pepper and basil leaves, moistened by a savory bean sauce.  This mixture was very appealing due to the skillful cooking and wonderful sauce, made even more luscious by the pieces of crispy belly pork that was the choice protein of my dining companion.  This dish hit all the notes for my friend especially the crispy pork for which he has a strong penchant.


Mango Sticky Rice

Taro Egg CustardEnough of the savories – time for the sweets.   A must-order, and a litmus test for a Thai eatery, is Mango Sticky Rice.  The glutinous rice was fragrant and rich from the use of coconut cream in the steaming process, nearly as good as my favorite rendition from another Thai establishment.  However, since it was not peak season for mango, as the fruit was not soft and it lacked the necessary sweetness to match the rich grains.  The sprinkling of toasted coconut on top added more of the nutty notes, although I felt the dish could have done without this extra element.  The other sweet offering was Taro Custard.  The small cake was creamy rich and slightly nutty from the use of coconut cream, with a soft mash potato-like texture that spoke of the taro root used in the mix.  I love this stuff and the version here was not short in any of the categories – a wonderful (slightly) sweet ending indeed.


Thai TasteWhew, that was quite an extensive menu and I had to pay many trips to Thai Taste to get a good feel of its kitchen.  It is a small place with only 11 tables available with only a small window for natural light.  The place does get quite loud with Thai pop music pumping through the sound system, but the ambience is only befitting of the street food dishes on its menu.  What the restaurant impressed me most besides the breadth of the menu, were the consistently well-executed and well-seasoned dishes, in addition to the uncompromising qualities evidenced by the chili heat levels and the authentic use of ingredients (tamarind, pickled mustard green) which some shy away from.  What also makes this establishment stand out from its peers (one located just next door and the other across the road) besides the above, is the unique offerings that would whisk anyone away to that Southeast Asian environment renown for its alluring cuisine.  No surprise that I could hear the Thai language coming out from most customers’ mouth, this being a reassuring note for this reviewer and gourmand.  Yes, with a number of Thai restaurants around the area and a few already on my blog site, this place was well worth writing about, and it sits very high on my list as of today.

Thai Taste By Kob on Urbanspoon

Full Key

Full Key Restaurant

Riddle:  What do a Buddhist, a Jew, and a Muslim do to celebrate the most high of feast days in the Christian calendar, Christmas?  They go to a Chinese restaurant for their yearly seasonal “celebration”.  After all, where else would be open on this most anticipated winter holiday when most folks wake up to a shower of gifts and a large spread of home-cooked meals and sweet delights?  Chinese eateries are very cognizant of the Asian population’s preference for feasting on their restaurant delights on such holidays, and they prepare themselves for such onslaught of customers. With my usual suspects in tow, along with a new friend who hails from Togo, we headed to Full Key, a regular Cantonese haunt located in Wheaton, MD,  that I have not stepped into in many moons, which explains this much tardy write-up on this place.

Shrimp Dumpling Soup

Arriving at the right time with no waiting line and a recently abandoned table covered with its aftermath, it was not long before we settled into the well-worn booth.  With a medium din level of diners and clinking bowls in the background, we quickly ordered our customary opener – Shrimp Dumpling Soup.  The bowl arrived with some whitish dumplings visible through a clear broth, much like a Monet of submerged lilies in a lake.  But one bite brought clarity with its tasty presence.  Under the silky thin dough skin, a slightly firm stuffing of well-seasoned minced shrimp mixed with some minced pork excites the palate with its Umami savoriness, along with strands of wood fungus giving each mouthful a slight soft crunch to these slightly bouncy bites.  The clear soup is the strong supporting actor to the dumplings, made from bonito flakes  and meat stocks (I learned their secret recipe from a restauranter friend) , that adds just the right amount of additional Umami-ness to each sip.  A great starter for a cold winter day that brings back memories of eating it in Southeast Asia.

Roast Duck Noodle Soup

Wanton Noodle SoupThis place is well-known for Hong Kong-style Noodle Soup dishes that are a main staple of the cuisine.  My Muslim friend decided to order a bowl accompanied by pieces of roast duck, following his dietary restrictions.  However, being a carnivore Buddhist, I prefer mine with wanton and a side of Chinese vegetables, Choy Sum.  Back to the noodle – strand of alkaline noodles are slightly chewy and eggy with the perfect al dente bite.  Again, the bonito-meat broth is the savory clean foil to the main ingredients.  The wanton dumplings are just like the shrimp version above except for its firmer texture due to the inverse proportions of shrimp and pork, but not short of its rich flavors.  A requested addition of greens makes the bowl a complete meal with most food groups included as well as a mouthful of textures and flavors.  I mentally kick myself for not coming here more often for this bowlful of childhood memories of Sunday coffee shop breakfast that I missed dearly, especially given its so-goodness here.

Another staple made a la Hong Kong is the Congee dishes, or Rice Porridge.  The plain starch is paired with different elements and I have a couple of favorites after having tasted many bowlfuls.  A popular version is made with Beef, Squid and Peanuts.  According to my Hong Kong-born friend, this is a popular dish with fisherman living in boats on the shores of Kowloon.  I must say that this strange combo works with the pieces of minced beef, strands of tender squid and nutty toasted peanuts.  Another combination is made with Pork and Preserved Egg.  Slivers of boiled pork are paired with an egg that has been allowed to ferment in ash and straw.  This is definitely not a dish for the non-initiated but it is totally up my alley with the mildness of the pork and the ashy bitterness and pungency (spell “stink”) of the fermented egg.  A side of Chinese Breadstick is de rigueur for such a dish adding its slight saltiness and crunch to the thick gruel.  Definitely The Breakfast of Champions for some, including me,

Roast Chicken Roast Duck Rice

Any dish category that this eatery is known for is the Cantonese-styled roast meats.  Unfortunately, when we arrived there, the Roast Pork was already gone – the waiter told us that customers were coming in with 5-lb orders for their family dinners – it must be that good.  My African friend was stuck with a choice of Roast Duck and Roast Chicken.  He told me he enjoyed the duck including the slightly fatty skin (not quite Peking Duck here) and the slightly dark gamey notes that this dark-meat poultry is known for.  The chicken is roasted with a mild soy sauce on the skin which was lacking in flavor for my friend, despite the tasty marinade sauce served on the side. The mentioned fellow vowed to come back and get a taste of that ever-so-popular roast pork.

Beef Gailan Chow Fun

Another style of noodle dish served here comes not with soup but stir-fried.  On this day, I was inspired by the sight of a familiar dish that I had not tasted for some time – Beef and Broccoli Chow Foon.  Wide strands of rice noodles have been slightly wok-fried and covered with a thick brown sauce with slivers of beef, carrots, Chinese broccoli (Gailan), and straw mushrooms swimming in it.  The noodles were bouncy fresh with a slight wok-char flavor, beef seasoned well and tender, vegetables still crunchy but not raw, and the mushrooms slightly woodsy, all disparate elements brought together by the tasty brown sauce tasting of oyster sauce and soy.  Looks like the back kitchen is as skilful with the fried dishes as the front noodle and roast meat counter.

Spicy Salt Crispy SeafoodEqually deft in execution as with the above dish was an order of Deep Fried Shrimp, Scallops & Squid with Spicy Salt. Bits of seafood have been lightly battered and deep-fried until crispy, seasoned with salt and a topping of fried jalapeño slices and green onions.  This dish hit the spot for my Jewish/Latino/Agnostic ex-roomie.  The crispy batter coats morsels of fresh-tasting moist pieces of seafood, seasoned with a sprinkling of salt.  The fried green pepper slices and green onions added the necessary spicy heat and slight sweet pungency.  As my friend put it to my friend from Togo, it is not an everyday dish, but worth relishing every bit of the barely greasy, crispy and salty bites.  Deep-fried and salty seafood – Yummm!

I sometimes wonder why I have deserted this Cantonese style eatery as of late after many years of patronizing it.  I guess I can blame it on gastronomic wanderlust that is enabled by the myriad of cuisines that the DC area offers to its citizens.  It could also be palate apathy that tends to set in after one has grown up eating certain cuisines his or her whole life.  But this last visit only reminded me that yes, these familiar dishes are still worth raving about, especially when well-executed as in the case of Full Key.  So instead of just a yearly visit, I will be back more often for more of the wonderful soup, noodle, rice, roast meat, and seafood dishes that hit both the gastronomic and nostalgic spots.

Full Key on Urbanspoon

Ruan Thai

Ruan Thai 019.jpgRuan Thai was really not on my radar that day.  Initially, I was going to review a Japanese ramen-noodle house a couple of doors away.  I decided to meet up with my college-mate who lives around the corner for lunch on Easter Monday when we teachers are granted this rare weekday respite (slave labor here).   Upon entering the noodle house, it appeared empty and I asked the young host if I could sit near the window for some good photos.  He was very amenable and I plunked myself at my table of choice.   While I was testing the camera’s settings with a test shot of the tableware, I heard a knock on the table.  There was Mr. Chef staring me down and asking why was I taking a picture.  I explained my purpose of visiting his eatery with my equipment, but he denied me permission to use my baby Nikon – two run-ins now with Mr. Chef’s over photos in the course of two days (see last blog – Ristorante Piccolo).  I packed my stuff up and quickly bolted out of there – I refuse to write a blog without a single visual representation.  No photo, no food, no blog!

I walked out feeling incredulous that a restaurant would not want some free publicity.  Looking around and waiting for my ambling friend, I noticed Ruan Thai, a place mentioned by another friend about his foray into this Southeast Asian eatery as a Thai virgin (foodwise, that is).   When my buddy arrived, I told him of the incident and we made our entrance into our chosen place.  Even though I have already reviewed 3 Thai eateries, the demise of my favorite Thai restaurant around the corner has spurred me to find a decent and veritable replacement.  And I am glad that fate has pointed me to Ruan Thai, and I paid it a couple of visits to write this review.


062.jpgTo start the meal off, I decided to order a couple of traditional appetizers.  Kanum Jeeb are steamed dumplings with a ground chicken and crabmeat stuffing.  The filling was rather bland and the wrapping a bit understeamed.  But the thick caramelized soy sauce brought these small bites to life with its sweet and salty flavors – I find that most Thai appetizers are underseasoned  in order to allow the accompanying sauces to play a vital role in the dish.  The next opener was Peek Kai Yud Sai which are deep-fried chicken wings that are stuffed with a filling of chicken, crabmeat, Chinese black mushroom, and spring onions.   The filling here had more flavor and the tempura-like batter provided the contrasting crunch to the moist stuffing.  The  sweet and spicy sauce added another interesting note to one of my favorite Thai appetizers, which are not often found in many eateries these days.  It did bring up memories of the version served by my favorite eatery before its closing.

Ruan Thai 002.jpgRuan Thai 005.jpg

On another visit, some friends and I decided to try out their soups.  Gang Jued Woon Sen is a clear chicken broth filled with minced pork or chicken, slippery beanthread noodles, crunchy wood fungus, and fragrant spring onions.  I had a taste from my friend’s bowl and I really enjoyed a couple of spoonfuls.  What elevates this soup is the use of the dried salted vegetable that adds a salty and slightly crunchy element to this simple soup.  For my order, I had a classic – Tom Kha.  It is a rich coconut milk soup spiked with chili paste, lemongrass, galangal root, kaffir lime leaf, cooked with shrimp and straw mushrooms, and lifted by a sour hit of fresh lime juice.  This is a true study of contrast with the rich coconut against the sour citrus, the strong flavored spices and aromatics against the mild shrimp and mushrooms. Love the soup offerings here.

066.jpgOne of the strong suits in a Thai restaurant is the curry that it serves, and I decided to try out the Green Curry.  My dish came with slivers of pork, crunchy bamboo shoots,  not-to-soft asian eggplant, fragrant basil leaves, crunchy sweet peppers, all in a spicy, slightly sweet and coconut-rich green curry that exuded a complex flavor profile. The dish would have been perfect if the pork had not been overcooked, thus its slight toughness – Asian restaurants tend to do this with this meat, perhaps a common practice on the other side of the globe.  However, I enjoyed its rich tastiness with the fluffy jasmine rice which made the perfect foil.

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My eating companion’s entrée was Pla Pad Ped, which is fried catfish bites in a spicy red chilli sauce along with sweet peppers, basil leaves, and julienned rhizome.  The fish pieces were slightly crispy, the sauce real ped (fiery), while the basil leaves provided the fragrant relief from the heat, and the julienned rhizome an interesting je-ne-sais-quoi note to the sauce, akin to mild ginger.  Even though my friend was comparing it to the version from our defunct favorite joint, he seemed pretty pleased with this rendition, and the searing heat was totally up his alley, which is a far cry from his earlier virgin days when he was intolerant of such spiciness.

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Ruan Thai 013.jpgOn my second visit, I ordered Gai Yang Som Tum as my main course.  It is a grilled young chicken that has been marinated in coconut milk and fragrant spices like coriander root (stronger than the leaves themselves) and pungent black pepper.  This is a Northeast Thailand dish that is not commonly served in the restaurants, and I’m glad that this eatery had offers it as one of its specials.  The chicken was moist and fragrant from the marinade, covered by the skin made crispy from the grilling.  Accompanying the chicken were the customary sides of steamed sticky rice that came in traditional rice basket (keep it in the container or not it will dry out quickly), and a Green Papaya Salad.  The salad was a hit with its slighty crunchiness, the sweet and sour lime juice dressing, the briny dried shrimps, and the nutty crushed peanuts – a perfectly balanced salad that complemented and rounded-off the chicken dish.  A great offering, indeed.

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Another friend’s order one night was Ped Tod Kob, a half duck that has been marinated in aromatics and fried crispy.  It was fragrant from the use of the complex 5-spice powder, flesh still quite moist, and the skin properly rendered from its fat and made crispy from the frying.  The sweet 5-spice infused sauce added the necessary moisture and flavor to the duck meat.  Even a mate who finds duck quite unappealing said that the skin was nearly devoid of the fat and he found it quite palatable.

Ruan Thai offers many classic dishes that are commonly found in most restaurants.  What sets it apart from the others are the not-so-common offerings like the stuffed chicken wings and the Isaan grilled marinated chicken.  Whether the dish is easily recognizable or a new discovery for the eater, the kitchen does a good job providing authentic flavors and it delivers in its tasty offerings.   So far, it is nearly tops in my search for a replacement for my favorite Thai restaurant.  I see myself making future visits to sample more of this kitchen’s wonderful cooking.

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