Tac Quick, Slow, and Delicious Thai

Tac Quick

It was Saturday morning and I had an appetite for some Thai and French fusion. There is no doubt the question floating about now as to where one may find such cuisine. I had blogged about a French restaurant in Lakeview named Crepe Town. They prepare some of the most scrumptious crepes in America and to take the addiction to them up a few notches, they have a Thai influence in the recipe. As my luck would have it, there must be a lot of people in Chicago who love Crepe Town because the restaurant was filled when I arrived. And being in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to have some options in the nearby area. Across the street was Tac Quick at 3930 N. Sheridan Road. I was aware that I would not have any French, but there was indeed Thai for me enjoy.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Beef Basil Rolls

Beef Basil Rolls

Full of light and vibrant with colours on the inside, Tac Quick looks nondescript when viewing it from the street. It’s once you get inside and the aroma of spices start to waft around you that you realize you are about to have one of many experiences. I began my first experience with beef basil rolls and a Thai iced tea. As to the rolls, think egg rolls, but stuffed with basil beef and vegetables. If you have ever had basil chicken or basil beef, think the dish stuffed into mini, crispy rolls. With a mildly sweet sauce for dipping, there simply were not enough, for these rolls were divine. And although the Brit in me loves Earl Grey tea, it does not compare to a tall glass of Thai iced tea.

Panang Gari Gai

Panang Gari Gai

Banana and Sticky Rice

Banana and Sticky Rice

I have a leaning more towards Thai curry dishes than I do other dishes. My favourite is panang curry. If I don’t have anything else at Thai restaurants, panang curry will be the only dish I will hanker for most. The panang curry at Tac Quick now ranks up there with my favourite. Instead of a thin sauce, it’s a thick gravy. Chicken, bell peppers, and basil in a panang curry is my passport to culinary heaven. Leaving a little room for dessert, I ordered a banana and sticky rice. Let me start by saying that I initially went to Tac Quick with no high expectations. After the first taste of the banana and sticky rice, they have set the bar high for what I expect from other Thai restaurants. Ripe banana over Thai sticky rice, topped with crushed peanuts, and accessorized with cashews, this is now my favourite Thai dessert. That also says a lot because I do not like the taste of dry peanuts.

Tac Quick is a quaint Thai eatery just a few steps away from the Sheridan Road Red Line stop. That section of Lakeview has a lot of charm with boutique restaurants and coffeehouses. I rank the service on the high end of customer satisfaction. Then again, the conversational Thai that I speak may have also made the service appear that more enjoyable. What I will say is that the dishes come with authenticity that makes a lot of Thai restaurants pale in comparison. There are countless Thai restaurants in Chicago that I have not journaled on Chicago Alphabet Soup because the flavouring is sub par to frozen food. But Tac Quick is absolutely reflective of Thai food prepared correctly, and that also means it does not come quick.

TAC Quick Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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

Start, Fin

Fin

Fin

When some of my university classmates who were from Chicago used to say that there are people who have lived here all of their lives and have not gone to all part of the city, I thought it was a far-reaching statement. After a few weekends of passing through several parts of the North Side where I live, I am often finding myself gasping at thinking I have discovered some unchartered section of Chicago.  Then a little later I drive through another section of the North Side that has quaint little boutiques and cafes, never thinking that I would find anything down a residential street aside from houses and apartments. And would you believe that a few blocks east of the my doctor’s office is a Japanese sushi bar that I never knew existed? I mean, I have only been going to that doctor’s location for over ten years.

Miso Yaki Soup

Miso Yaki Soup

House Salad

House Salad

Chicago’s Ravenswood neighbourhood boasts a lot of swanky boutique eateries. However, most of them are along Montrose, Irving Park, and Damen. However, if you find yourself going down side streets to avoid traffic congestion, you may wonder upon a cafe, coffee shop, bakery, or boutique that you would not otherwise see. This was the case with me going East instead of West from my doctor’s office and suddenly eyeing Fin Sushi Bar at 1742 W. Wilson Avenue.  What I had mistaken for a closed business was indeed a restaurant establishment that was open for business. Well, I had to try it out.

With plenty of windows, lots of light, and everything having straight lines throughout the restaurant, there is a spacious ambiance about it. There isn’t the Stanley Kubrick effect or Zen garden feel that you find in most sushi lounges. I went on a Sunday afternoon when the restaurant was practically empty. The host seemed politely dismissive and the server had a Stepford demeanor. Once the camera came out, that all changed, though.

Miso yaki soup. House salad. Thai iced tea. Dragon roll. Spider roll.

Thai Iced Tea

Thai Iced Tea

Dragon Roll

Dragon Roll

The miso yaki soup was nice, more for a milder palate than I had expected. The menu had listed the soup as being spicy. Even with jalapeno in it, the taste was lacking to the point of bland. With brocoli, carrots, and green beans in it, the soup seemed like an experiment than an experience. The house salad was visually stunning, blooming with vibrant reds, purples, and greens. The ginger dressing was more of a hint. You knew that it was there because the menu said so, but it wasn’t there.  The few slices of strawberry and the radish shreds reminded me of a salad I had at a sushi bar in Oak Park, Illinois. I reminisced. Where things started to make sense in terms of the flavours being so faint was with the inclusion of Thai dishes. Yes, I had a Thai iced tea, but I had an “Aha!” moment. Granted the iced tea was a major bonus, there was now the fact that I faced as it related to Fin Sushi Bar being a Pan-Asian restaurant more than a Japanese sushi bar only. There was a brief flash of what I thought were Thai dishes (e.g., pad thai, spicy basil, and pad see ew). I guess if other restaurants are pandering to a Pan-Asian want and you can’t beat them, then join them.

Spider Roll

Spider Roll

Where it really clicked that Fin Sushi Bar was more of a neighbourhood restaurant was with the sushi. Beautiful in presentation, no doubt about it, but everything was all sixes and nines with the taste. The dragon roll was excessively saccharine and the spider roll simply had me questioning what was wrong with my sense of  taste. The texture of both felt like the chewy sensation you get from pre-packaged sushi or from letting fresh sushi sit in the refrigerator overnight. With with the whole experience at Fin Sushi Bar, all I could do was hum.

For those with a milder palate, Fin Sushi Bar may be a great entry into trying sushi, maki rolls, and even dabbling in some Thai cuisine without going to any of the nearby Thai restaurants. The service was decent. Still I could not put my finger on the atmosphere of stiffness and distance. The lack of flavour in the dishes really left me quizzical. Then again, in that particular neighbourhood, I imagine those who have a tendency to put on a performance if anything spicy makes them red in the face are the more frequent customers. I doubt the restaurant wants to offend those patrons. Perhaps I will have to give them a chance in a year or two. In the meantime, I started at Fin Sushi Bar. I finished elsewhere.

Even, A Draw, It’s a Thai

Thai AddisonIt was one of those days with a blue sky, a gentle breeze, something that only Michael Franks could describe in the lyrics of any one of his summer songs. But there was still the remnants of melting ice on the ground. The hibernating bear in me was hungry. Well, it had only been since breakfast. Needless to say, if being on a diet to lose weight was a part of my resolution for the year, I have since reneged on it. My appetite has been rather fantastic and I blame it on working out and eating constantly to gain more weight by the end of the year. The thing is once summer arrives and I am enjoying my Normal Rockwell moments at window seats in any of the countless restaurants in Chicago, I may surpass my anticipated weight goal in advance of December. In the meantime, the gentle bear Gino seeks his next food offerings.

Last year when I was driving off the map to an assignment in the West Suburbs, I ached for some Thai food on occasion. Addison, Illinois, is not a bastion of restaurants a notch or two above fast food. During a brief visit with a friend who lives in one of the adjoining suburbs to Addison, I discovered with disappointment that two of the best Indian restaurants in the Chicago metropolitan area had closed their doors for business. Oh the shock. The horror. The fingernails on the chalkboard. There was only one other ethnic restaurant that I had stumbled upon and I quickly recalled its location. In a strip mall with stores that are quickly shutting their doors, at 74 W. Lake Street, is Thai Addison. I had a few days of lunch satisfaction at Thai Addison before I came to my senses and accepted an opportunity in downtown Chicago so that I could cut my commute down to thirty minutes, with meandering time for coffee.

Golden PursesDuring lunch, the moderately sized restaurant fills with patrons who appreciate Thai food that leaves you nodding your head with approval. With it being a Saturday evening and it also being kind in the temperatures outside, most who would have been there were probably partaking of whatever came to mind. My belly was growling, the bear in me at it, so I wasted no time selecting what I would have to stop the gastro noises. Instead of an appetizer and an entrée or a soup and an entrée, I opted for an appetizer, a soup, and an entrée. Realizing that I had driven off the map the way I did last year for my assignment, it would have been a crime for me to have indulged a light dinner and then cursing myself on the drive back into the city because of self deprivation of all the good things I could have had from the menu. So, in a manner that is very much unlike what people expect when they see me, I opened my mouth and out lept Thai, me placing my order a bit more fluently than I realized. [Must speak more Thai so that I can go to Thailand and really butcher the language.]

Tom Yum Goong

I started with golden purses. Forget about Louis Vuitton. Burn the Coach bag. Ditch that fake what-not you bought from the corner vender. These drops of fried wontons stuffed with crab left me with a sentiment of never wanting crab rangoon again. I savoured them. I loved them. And if the purses were stuffed with money, I would have devoured the seasoned coins and smiled just the same. So golden, so delicious, dipped in the accompanying plum sauce, they whispered to my growling belly to hush.  And then a glass bowl of tom yum goong arrived for my second course. Flavourful mushrooms and plump shrimp that screamed when my teeth sank through them, I had to pick the bowl up and finish handling business. Having requested the soup to be spicy, I was thankful for the Thai iced tea I had. Wow, in all caps. There was a woodsy catch to the tea that could be dismaying to some. However, the light sweetening and the milk made for a perfect glass of tea. Now, initially, I raised my eyebrow when I saw the colouring of the soup. It was a butternut squash orange, not the clear broth that you usually get at Thai restaurants. But it was the first spoonful of wow that put the visual in perspective. Bliss. And the third dish kicked it up a notch. The panang gari gai brought to mind the panang I love at one of my favourite Thai restaurants in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighbourhood. Unlike at the Lincoln Square restaurant where the panang comes in a clay pot, the dish is served in a ceramic bowl with complementary rice. And having it spicy was a huge bonus. The taste just danced around on my tongue. Queue me turning over the table and breaking into dance, doing jazz hands, kicks, splits, and random people dancing with me in a choreograph of food rapture. During my past lunch outings, I never had any of the curry dishes because my co-workers, all of us of the ilk that eats in a communal fashion, preferred non-curry dishes. Quite a few were Indian, so I understood. It was having the pananag at Thai Addison for the first time and finding such favour in it that it was gold to me.

Panang Gari Gai

When I had worked in the West Suburbs, I never really took the time to sit and enjoy my dishes. There was a constant need to rush back to the office, lest the managers spontaneously combust and blaze bright for those who wished they really would have caught on fire. Considering my appetite, the lunch portions were small, although they really weren’t. I simply had never sat still and savoured the dishes. Granted, I had ordered what was commonplace comfort Thai because lunch was always with a group, I always have to see if the curry dishes are worthy when I am solo. Pad Thai, bamee noodles, pad see ew, and the like are great. But for me, the mark of great Thai cuisine lies in the curry offerings. Fact great service and a reasonable price, like what I experienced at Thai Addison, and I am so. And as much as I hate to say it, I will gladly drive off the map to get some yummy Thai food to keep the bear smiling. Kab koon krub.

Thai Addison Restaurant on Urbanspoon