It’s been a while since I did a restaurant review, but tonight I ate a really interesting, beautiful and pleasant meal. I thought I should share the experience with the general public.
I didn’t realize the little mom and pop Thai place had changed hands until I walked by a couple weeks ago and saw the new awnings and the outside tables. I kind of enjoyed the last place, but just the name of this new place made my juices start to flow. Is it just me? Or is the word Mango exquisitely tempting? I had to go. It had to be good.
My friend Annie summed up the style of the place nicely by saying it was totally Ikea. I might qualify that and say it was Thai-kea (like Ikea, but with bamboo and Thai chili peppers). Low key, unpretentious effortlessly sophisticated beyond our range. What with the varnished plywood tables and bare plywood seating area with pillows, the plastic flower petal lamps, and occasional bare bulb, it was way cooler than us. The seating we chose was weird and hard to explain other than by saying it was a table set into a sort of stage. A person has to climb onto the stage and put their feet in the depression left for the table.
The staff was super friendly, all male,oddly enough. All dressed in what they called Thai fisherman pants and flip-flops. The effect was artsy and again, cooler than us.
The noise level was just about right. I prefer a quieter environment, and this was good although it is right on Selby Avenue and the place was full up. The door was kept open, which did allow for a few persistent flies to land on our stuff, giving Annie the opportunity to remind me that flies land on poop before they land on your food. Maybe they could invest in a screen door, or little mesh curtain?
We had the mango spring rolls for an appetizer. The presentation was stunning, with carrot and jicama curlicues on top of a little mound of field greens. The rolls were sliced at an angle and set upright against the greens. They were pretty good, stuffed with field greens, avocado, shrimp and mango. The mango itself was less than stellar, but the dipping sauce rocked my world. It was a peanut sauce, but much thicker than most of the peanut sauce I’ve had. It was salty-sweet and a little spicy, and so good we wanted to ask for more to dip our entrees in. We restrained ourselves.
I got a Thai iced tea, which was very different, and very sweet. I don’t think I’d get that again. Annie said it was way better after all the ice had melted.
I got the Laab (also known as cheng mai salad), because I like to try it everywhere I go. I have had some really bad laab in my day. This was pretty good. They got the flavors just right, sour, spicy, salty and full of mint and cilantro and toasted rice powder. They didn’t serve a lime with it, or a side of rice which is unusual. They also got the texture very wrong. In my experience, laab should be meat with spices, lime, rice powder and chili. It’s dry, a kind of meat salad that you wrap in lettuce of cabbage leaves. This was all of that, except for the dry part; it swam in a viscous, soupy blob. Annie and I agreed that it looked more than a little gross. Once I recovered from the texture and appearance, I ate it all. I might order it again.
Annie got the pad Thai with tofu. It was beautiful served on top of a banana leaf, accented by the carrot and jicama ringlets again and nice golden fried bits of tofu. The tofu was as good as I’ve had, but that’s not saying much. The noodles were too sweet for me, but Annie liked them.
For dessert we split fried bananas in cinnamon ice cream. This was delicious and beautiful. The bananas were so delightfully light and crispy golden on the outside and warm yet firm on the inside. The ice cream was just a little melty, and there were strawberries and chocolate, too. We couldn’t find a hint of cinnamon, but it really was wonderful just as it was. If I were in charge, I’d lower the dessert cups from the giant martini glasses to something that the patrons can actually see into. We couldn’t ever see into the cup, because it was so tall.
Over all I think I’d give it an A minus. Almost every presentation we saw was gorgeous. Every smell was fresh and interesting. All the patrons looked happy and relaxed. I’ll be back. The price was middle of the road, it was under 40 bucks for both of us including tip.