Thursday, April 3, 2014

Get Out Goes West: Thai Kitchen

Thai Kitchen
621 S. Pines Rd.
Spokane Valley, WA
(509) 926-8161
Thai Kitchen on Facebook

While it's always important to exercise a certain level of patience, and while the horrid cliche that good things come to those who wait might be true, it's not always quite so easy-peasy.

For example, delicious mangoes can take quite awhile to ripen enough to eat, but the sweet juiciness makes it worth it in the end. Counting the minutes until season two of Orange Is The New Black finally appears on Netflix has been nothing short of torturous, but in a few short months we will finally learn Piper's fate. Or, the years-long wait until you get that final letter from Sallie Mae letting you know your student loans are paid in full. Must be such a great feeling, one that I will likely never experience myself, unfortunately.

I've got something else to add to the list -  the simply divine cuisine at Thai Kitchen out in the Spokane Valley. Recently, I had to jet over that-a-way to give my roommate a ride to work after his car went on the fritz. We left in plenty of time to stop off for lunch somewhere and we decided that some tasty Thai food sounded mighty fine. I'm not terribly familiar with all the dining options west of the border, so I decided to Google that shizz. The first place that came up on Yelp for Thai food was Thai Kitchen on Pines, with a nearly perfect 4 1/2 star user review score overall. Bingo! And off we went.

We were lucky our timing was at least right enough to actually get a table. It was only about 11:20 am but people were already filling up the place like a cat house on free tuna day. Here's the thing we figured out later on: Thai Kitchen has weird, limited lunch hours (11 am - 1 pm, M - F), so what regular patrons do is call ahead earlier in the morning, place their orders ahead of time, and let the staff  know what time they'll be showing up to eat. That way, their meal is brought out pretty much right when they pull off their jackets and sit down. Being a small place with limited hours, Thai Kitchen likes to get 'em in and get 'em out fast.

So we're sitting there seeing all these folks that were sat WAY after we were sat have their food brought out to them right away and where in fresh hell is OUR lunch? A mild agitation set in as the seconds turned into minutes, the minutes turned into about an hour and my roommate was panicking because he had to be to work in about 19 minutes and still no food!

Let me keep you in suspense for a bit while I share a little history, etc. The Thai Kitchen opened (in another Valley location) in 1990. Owners Paul and Benjamas Hall hail directly from Bangkok, Thailand, and came to the USA to share their delicious take on Thai cuisine with us  Inland North-westerners. Paul waits tables solo in a mad kind of rush, greets regulars with his enormous enthusiastic grin and helps new customers decipher the exotic dishes. Wife Benjamas also works solo in the kitchen cooking up her unforgettable dishes all from scratch. That's right, this place is literally run by a husband and wife, two people, with no other staff that I noticed at least.

Thai Kitchen (aka ครัวไทย) is located in (I think) a small converted house about six blocks south of Sprague on Pines. The decor is simple and airy, a bit of modern, a touch of retro. People don't call hours ahead of time and make reservations because of the decor; it's the soul-satisfying, dream-state inducing food! On the menu, curries abound, including the popular Jungle Curry, and a rainbow of Red Curry, Green Curry and Yellow Curry (all $9.95-$12.95 depending on choice of protein).

Of course noodle dishes play a major role as well, and the Pad Thai ($9-95-$12.95) is a staple of any Thai Place - in fact without Pad Thai, would a Thai Place still be a Thai Place? I don't think so. The delicious combo of rice noodles, chicken or pork, and green onions smothered in sweet, hearty peanut sauce and sprinkled with crushed peanuts deservedly put Thailand on the international culinary map way back whenever.

House specials include Prawns or Squid in Chili Oil ($12), Moo Tod (crispy fried pork with garlic, $9.95), Pad Prik Khing (don't even go there with the male anatomy jokes - it's a curry flavored green bean dish with choice of meat, $9.95-$12.95), and Tom Yum Soup (spicy soup with lemongrass, mushrooms, and an assortment of meats, $8.95-$10.95).

So, while we were waiting for our main courses to arrive, before the time panic set in, we did receive our appetizer of Thai spring rolls ($7) in a reasonable amount of time. They were light and crispy, with a delicately flaky outer shell and stuffed with flavorful ground pork, transparent noodles and flecks of carrots.

I will give Paul credit for keeping us updated on the status of our order. "Coming soon, coming soon" he kept saying, pointing his finger in our general direction. Finally, with literally no time left to spare before my roommate had to show his face at work, we caught him and asked if we could get our lunch in to-go containers since we were running suddenly so late.

He leaned over our table. "Yes, yes, No problem, to go. Let me tell you secret. You call plenty ahead of time from now on, you get food right away!" He snapped his fingers and smiled wide as he handed me a business card. A-ha! That's the little trick we missed. Well, now we knew.

He arrived momentarily with our to-go containers and we zoom-zoomed the five minute drive to my roommate's work, getting him there literally in the nick of time, lunch in hand. I drove back to Coeur d'Alene, got home, nuked my food for a minute just to freshen it up and dug in to my container of heavenly fragrant Chicken Mussamun Curry ($9.95)

The chicken morsels were succulent, tender to the teeth, fresh as spring, and so very, very tasty. The red potato action is perhaps why the whole affair took such a long time, since they maybe take a bit to soften and cook to an edible consistency. Yet, oddly, only one small potato emerged from my carton. A minor discretion. The big, tender hunks of white onion and crunchy peanuts in this dish really played a strong supporting role rather than acting as a garnish, and they served to enhance the performance of the main superstar (the chicken).

The curry sauce itself was beyond perfect, blending a deep rich spice with hints of bright coconut milk sweetness lurking underneath. Thai Kitchen uses a spiciness scale of 1-10, and I could have actually stepped up the level from a 7 to an 8 (or even a brave 9). Level 7 was a terrific balance of flavor, but I truly love it when my Thai is so spicy I am literally bawling my eyes out and begging for mercy. Perhaps it was best that it was a little mellow, as I did have a job interview directly afterwards and it's never a good idea to show up to those with red, puffy, cried-out eyes like you've been watching old re-runs of One Life to Live (I may or may not be guilty of this).

I'm not a big fan of CdA's Thai Bamboo, and the new Asian Twist is quite promising with its selection of Thai food, but with such limited options in our city for GOOD Thai cuisine, it's comforting to know that the best in the area is just a quick 25 minute drive away. Forgive me for the all-caps moment I'm about to have, but I must emphasize, CALL AHEAD TO PLACE YOUR ORDER OR YOU WILL HAVE TO WAIT. AND WAIT. AND WAIT. Still, for me the wait was fully worth it.

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