Thai Bowl Me Over

As much as I love taking personal holidays abroad, the one thing I hate the most about such vacations is WHEN THEY END. There is something incredibly wrong with being able to spend a great length of time away from work and work involved in holding friends’ hands and playing psychologist only to return to the very things you were thanking God for having escaped, even if only for a few weeks. No one ever said that life was fair. But I will be the first to say that returning to the great city of Chicago takes the edge off the disappointment a little.

Thai Bowl

I wasn’t off the plane that long before my stomach had started growling. Not that I didn’t indulge a fair amount of food while relaxing in business class on the flight coming back to Chicago, but my “Must Eat All the Time” switch got reset immediately and that meant jet lag and whatever else had to be put on hold until I dealt with my hunger. Needless to say, my mind was all over the place and I was not particularly in the mood for anything akin to fine dining or too fast that I would feel I had slipped back into indulging McDonald’s. So, I decided to make a quick dash to University Village, of all places, and go into extemporaneous mode after getting there. And where should I end up but at a hole in the wall by the name of Thai Bowl at 1049 W. Taylor Street.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

If you are looking for ambience, forget it. If you want great service, albeit with conversational English, this is the spot. If you want some Thai food that will blast you off to Saturn, look no further. When I had arrived, the restaurant was empty. That meant having the pick of any seat in the restaurant and no sooner had I taken my seat, placed my order, pulled out the camera to prepare for taking photos, and taking the white balance to make sure the colour of the photos were true to life than a group of six giggling tweens came in and sat at the table IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO ME. I swear I am either cursed or emit something that draws people almost into my personal space any time I enter an empty establishment and take a seat.

Tom Yum Goong

Tom Yum Goong

By the time my Thai iced tea arrived at the table, I had tuned out the incessant banter related to random Twitter feeds, some other young woman – not at the table – who had on an outfit that was unbecoming of her, embarrassing photos on Instagram, the laughable Miley Cyrus renaissance and her father’s stamp of approval on it, and requests for “Take a photo of me.” The iced tea really hit the spot and was a great segue to the bowl of tom yum goong. Oh so spicy, shrimp swimming so calmly in a tasty broth accented with lemon, tomatoes, mushrooms, cilantro, and ginger, my sinuses that had been compromised thanks to the pressurized cabin known as an airplane were relieved.

Panang Gari Ghai

Panang Gari Ghai

After finishing the bowl of tom yum goong and waiting a few minutes, the greatest love of all came to the table. I had ordered a panang curry with chicken. Thinking that I would receive a bowl of panang and a cup of rice, I was a bit dismayed initially when there was only a giant bowl of what I thought was only panang that had arrived. I pulled the bowl closer and saw that the panang had been poured on top of the rice. No problem, I thought, as I began mixing the curry and rice. There were baby corn, mushrooms, and green peppers in it instead of the usual green and red peppers. It was the flavour that left me dreamy-eyed. OH MY GOD! Being all involved with the dish, I somehow managed to work the chopsticks so properly that I had finished all except for a smearing of gravy in the bowl. Although I can’t say that I remembered if this happened, or not, but I have a feeling I was transported to Bangkok briefly because the authenticity in that dish screamed “All that other stuff you have been eating is all wrong.”

Tom Kha Goong

Tom Kha Goong

I had to return so that I could sample something else. The tom yum goong and panang curry chicken were not enough. For my second visit, I tried something different just to mix things up a bit. I started with a bowl of tom kha goong. This was such a drool-worthy bowl of soup, unlike what I have had at many Thai restaurants. Instead of seeming to have only a coconut milk base, there was the necessary hint of curry that made it that more appetizing. The mushrooms that burst with every bite, the fresh tomatoes that didn’t taste like they had been grown prematurely, the cilantro that you can never go wrong with in any dish, and the few morsels of shrimp created a recipe that makes for a fantastic year-round soup. I rounded out my meal with a bowl of basil chicken. Although not as spicy as I have had at other Thai restaurants, it still rang with flavour. Not wanting it to end, I saved some to take home with me so that I could continue my Thai happiness later, like around the middle of the night when I sleepwalk to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator.

Basil Chicken

Basil Chicken

The prices, I guess you could say, are comparable to what you find at other Thai restaurants. Where I think Thai Bowl may be cheating themselves is with the prices because the quality and flavours remove them from being “just another Thai restaurant.” It is clear that Thai Bowl is a favourite among the students at neighbouring University of Illinois Circle Centre and residents in the nearby area because there was a constant flow of them coming to get take-away orders. I understand fully. Logan Square may not be in the immediate vicinity, but for any food that bowls me over like Thai Bowl did, the return trips are worthwhile.

Thai Bowl on Urbanspoon Thai Bowl on Foodio54

Thai Language and Food Course

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp

Today was one of those days when all I wanted was to be outside and away from the condo. The previous week was blocked with the beginning stages of the renovation on my hallway bathroom. After five years of living in the condo, it is time for me to grow up. Although the complete renovation of my condo unit will be over the period of a few years, it is necessary. And as my neighbourhood is starting to feel the introduction of gentrification, property value will increase and it will be a good idea for me to upgrade my condo accordingly. But back to my original thought, I needed to escape so that cabin fever did not have me inside having a panic attack.

I had covered a lot of ground in terms of restaurants that I had wanted to post and there are still some that I am holding off for later dates — special dates that have meaning and significance. A lot of time had passed since I was last in Hyde Park — or rather New Hyde Park now after seeing so much change — so I made that my destination. Thankful for good parking karma, I secured a spot not far from my favourite Thai restaurant in Hyde Park. Thai 55 at 1607 55th Street was my stopping ground for putting my feet under the table for some aroy Thai. Now, I know that I have Thai restaurants galore on Chicago Alphabet Soup, but that is one cuisine I doubt I will ever tire of eating. Besides, it was Thai food that became my main staple when I was bringing my high cholesterol down — successfully — without medication. But for today, I was also going to see my great pheụ̄̀xn — friend — Wongchana for our usual discussion about politics, faulty religion, community awareness, and social consciousness. At the same time, I got to rehearse my Thai.

Basil Chicken

Basil Chicken

First, to get the tummy ready, I ordered ginger tea. This was not tea in the bag, no. This was a pot of chopped ginger root that I let steep in boiling water for at least five minutes. The kick of the ginger was all I needed to know that I was preparing my stomach for a good lunch. For an appetizer, I had coconut shrimp with a spicy plum sauce. Any time I have had shrimp that looked as plump as what I had, it turned out to be a morsel of shrimp hidden inside of a ridiculously thick façade of crust. That was not the case here. Then came the basil chicken. My common Thai entrée preference has always been a curry dish, be it gang dang gai, panang goong, or gang gari gai. Clearly I was in a different mode today, although sticking with a spicy dish. Thai chillies, red and green peppers, shredded cabbage, and ground chicken simmering in a slightly sweet — not saccharine — brown gravy made my lunch moment worthy of this blog posting. Served with jasmine rice, I was quite satisfied for settling for this option.

While my friend and I sat and talked, and oh can we talk, out came a dessert of fried banana with a light caramel glaze. They had read my mind. You know that you have established more than just a customer-client relationship with a restaurant, but you have formed a family bond instead when the wait staff knows a certain dish or dessert to bring to you. Mind you, my two favourite Thai desserts are sticky rice with mango and Thai custard. Nevertheless, I polished off the fried banana and ginger tea while giving my conspiracy theory about the Benghazi disaster and how I think that private contract firms have no business involved in managing national security interests.

Fried Banana

Fried Banana

Thai 55 may be one of my all-time favourite Thai restaurants in Chicago for sentimental reasons. As I had mentioned, this was where I started learning to speak Thai. I thank my great friend Wongchana for that. Imagine an African-Caribbean man such as me speaking something more exotic and fascinating than my own mother tongues. Because of the close relationship I have with all who work at Thai 55, it is unfair for me mention how great the service is. To me, it is simply outstanding by default. The quality of food is the next big item I seek in restaurants and I have never had a dish at Thai 55 that I found displeasing to my palate. It sounds rather fantastic saying that especially after close to, if not more than, ten years of being a regular patron of thier cuisine. But don’t just take my word for it. Go and discover for yourself that all is good and aroy at Thai 55.

Pee Chaai

Thai 55th Restaurant on UrbanspoonThai 55th Restaurant on Foodio54