Siam Thai Cuisine — How I Got Started

Siam Thai Cuisine

During my days of living in Hyde Park, I became rather acquainted with three Thai restaurants on the E. 55th Street stretch between Lake Park and Hyde Park Blvd. There were Thai Snail, Thai 55th, and Siam Thai Cuisine. Thai Snail was where I learned a few phrases in Thai. Thai 55th was where I practiced speaking Thai. Siam Thai Cuisine was where I became more conversational. Having been gone from Hyde Park for seven years, I found myself in the area checking out the new edition to 53rd Street. But for lunch, I went to Siam Thai Cuisine at 1641 E. 55th Street.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

 

The manager still remembered me, not that I changed that much, except for a full, grey beard. After greetings and pleasantries in Thai, the manager said that I should order “my usual.” I was not going to argue with him about that. I had a glass of Thai iced tea, which is my favourite kind of iced tea. There is something about the smokiness in the tea that beats any pitcher of sun tea brewed below the Mason-Dixon Line. And when there is a plate of potstickers served with it, even the chilly temperatures that we have been having were tolerable. Soy sauce accented with sesame seeds came with the potstickers that were lightly fried, so the texture was not al dente like boiled dumplings. These were my favourite appetizer.

Potstickers

Potstickers

 

Having made a conscious and disciplined decision to remove beef and pork from my diet, I was certain that I was going to have panang chicken come to the table. Ah, but I forgot. My favourite entrée was yellow curry shrimp. Hearty like a gravy instead of a thin base, this is still my favourite. Filled with plump shrimp, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, and cubes of potatoes, and served with jasmine rice, I was rather glad that the manager remembered how much I loved the dish years ago.

Yellow Curry Shrimp and Rice

Yellow Curry Shrimp and Rice

 

Siam Thai Cuisine still has a bit of a hole in the wall charm to it. The manager was an absolute great individual, very much the same outstanding person, just with more grey hair now. I went to Siam Thai Cuisine at least once a week during my Hyde Park days, either for dining in or for take-away. After this most recent visit and the temperatures warming up soon, consistently — I hope — I may have to bring myself to be okay taking the bus ride from Logan Square to Hyde Park weekly. When your Thai food is “that” aroy, you’ll understand.

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Bang the Gong

Hot Woks, Cool Sushi

ChopsticksYears ago, a great friend and I used to frequent a restaurant in downtown Chicago named My Thai. It was a fantastic escape after work on Fridays for some of the best curry dishes that you could find in the city. And if curry was not something we were hankering for, then there were other dishes like pad thai, bamee noodles, basil chicken, or ginger tofu. We never wanted for anything that was not served up lovingly from their kitchen. Then after a length of time not going, we happened to go to the restaurant one day after work and discovered a surprise — it was no longer there, but replaced with another Pan-Asian restaurant. How could this be? Who had allowed this to happen? Why were we not consulted for our permission? And the other My Thai chains were not in walking distance such that our growling bellies would entertain any more time seeking good Thai cuisine in the immediate area. So, we took a chance and had some food so yummy that it left us quivering. Bang the gong!

Fast forward to a few days ago, and I found myself at one of the chains for this new restaurant. Located at 2032 W. Roscoe Village is one of the sister restaurants for Hot Woks Cool Sushi. The first chain branch where my friend and I had gone still retained the minimalist feel that the prior My Thai restaurant had. Another branch that is two blocks from where I work in downtown Chicago has chic-chic ambience. The location in Roscoe Village brings the same air to it. Minimalist and airy, I had a window seat off to the side of the sushi chef stand. As I perused the lunch menu, I remembered saying that I would not blog chain or franchise restaurants. Well, when it is good, there is no denying that a write-up is necessary. As for Hot Woks Cool Sushi, I had to ask myself why it had taken so long to pen how worthy the whole dining experience there is.

GyosaHot Woks Cool Sushi has Japanese and Thai cuisines on the menu with a hint of Chinese added for a little more fusion appeal. I opted for the Japanese selection. As usual, I had to start with an appetizer, entertain an entrée, and work my way up to dessert. Starting out, I had gyoza. In many Asian dining, you will hear the term pot stickers. Yep, these are the same, and served with a soy sauce they are incredibly heavenly on the palate. These were a little more crispy on the outside than usual and that actually worked in their favour as they absorbed more of the sauce. And I tended to all five pieces until there was only the shredded carrots left that I also gobbled with a smirk plastered across my face.

Unagi Maki and Spicy ShrimpWith it being lunch time and me having missed breakfast, I did not hold back on ordering two maki rolls. I had a ravenous appetite — albeit no more mad than usual. There are two types of maki rolls that I love, hands down. There was unagi maki and a spicy shrimp maki. Once I got over the notion that eel was not a snake, as opposed to seafood, I could enjoy eel rolled up in some rice and served sushi style. Hence, the unagi roll being one that I ordered without hesitation. I am not one to speak to which part of the week seafood is freshest in restaurants, but the eel was absolutely tasty without any “old” or muddy accents in the flavour. I was quite happy working my chopsticks on the maki pieces and plopping them in my mouth. There were smiles, although I was not on Fantasy Island, but I was quite appreciative of the wonders of what sat before me. And when I had begun to attend to the spicy shrimp, I was devoutly in love. Having been to the East Coast and returned with a bit of sinus congestion, the kick in the spicy shrimp maki opened my nasal passages nicely. And ever so the danger boy that I am, I dipped the pieces in the soy sauce that I had primed with a few small dollops of wasabi. Happiness. Bliss. Rapture. Glee. Elation. Pick a word, any word to describe how satisfied I was and submit it to Webster’s with a photo of my smiling face for inclusion in the dictionary. Then again, only my expression could describe the satisfaction I derived from fresh ingredients wrapped in rice, stacked neatly on a plate for my temptation, and the flavour that dance about between my cheeks.

Unagi Maki and Spicy ShrimpAs if that was not enough, I simply could not leave without having dessert. No sticky rice with mango. No sticky rice, period. No Thai custard. Sure, those were on the menu, but I had to have mochi balls. I was all about them bringing me mango and green tea mochi balls. As I sat at my window seat having my way with the cold dessert, I pondered the marvel of cloud formations flying above in the sky. As you may have noticed, I have a tendency to pontificate about meaningless things when I am indulging culinary delights. I wondered where do these Asian restaurants find these ice cream balls. One friend said that I can find them at Trader Joe’s. Believe me when I say that I will go to all of the Trader Joe’s in the metropolitan Chicago area in search of these delights — until I go back to Hot Woks Cool Sushi.

Mochi Balls

Now, at most sushi restaurants that dole out the same quality as Hot Woks Cool Sushi, you can expect to pay the price handsomely. I cannot say whether it is for ambience or for name at many Japanese establishments, but at Hot Woks Cool Sushi you pay an inviting tab for atmosphere, top service, and a quality dining experience. I may have had my purist thoughts about chain restaurants when I started Chicago Alphabet Soup, but it takes certain establishments to wreck that meme and have me rumpled at the table, all but drooling while trying to figure out when next I can get my feet under the table again at — shall we say — Hot Woks Cool Sushi.

Bang the gong!

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