"Delights will keep you coming back
Every time I pick up one of the lengthy menus at a new Thai restaurant, my intent is to be adventurous and try something I’ve never eaten before. Within seconds, however, I start thinking about what is surely the best known and most popular Thai dish in America, Pad Thai, that wonderful mixture of stir-fried rice noodles, scrambled eggs, tofu, bean sprouts, carrot slivers, scallions, chopped peanuts and a sauce to die for, with shrimp, chicken, pork or beef added on request. Then I decide to order the Pad Thai so that I can compare it with my favorite versions. I’ll tell you right up front that the Pad Thai at Thai Castle turned out to be fine, but not remarkable. However, there are other delights that will keep me coming back.
Thai Castle, which opened in September, is owned and operated by husband and wife Nikone and Ratchanee Unknown. The unusual last name can be traced back to when Nikone first arrived in the USA nearly 20 years ago. There was some confusion at immigration over the last name and, well, you just read the result. Ah, bureaucrats.
The Carmel restaurant, located in a strip mall on the southeast corner of 126th Street and Rangeline Road, has an inviting feel. My friend and fellow Thai food fan David noted that for a well-lit strip mall sit-down place, it was surprisingly, instantaneously calming. Pleasant and undemanding, we agreed that Thai Castle would be a good place to bring people who are generally uneasy about international food. If the atmosphere doesn’t relax them, the food will.
We started with soups. David opted for the coconut milk chicken soup ($6.95 bowl, $11.95 pot) while I ordered the glass noodles with tofu ($5.95 bowl, $10.95 pot). After we mentioned that we were going to sample each other’s dishes, our waitress thoughtfully brought us a plate/cup combo designed for sharing.
About our waitress. As we only saw two staff persons on this quiet Sunday afternoon, I believe our waitress was Mrs. Unknown and, let me tell you, she is a restaurateur who understands how to make a guest feel welcome. In addition to appearing at the table to check on us at just the right frequency, I could see her back in the kitchen area, peeping out every so often in case we looked like we might need extra attention. Charming.
While David found the coconut soup to be a letdown — not enough flavor — I enjoyed my sample. We both enjoyed the glass noodles with tofu. The soup tastes bright and those tiny transparent noodles feel good in your mouth.
For the main dish, I ordered Pad Thai ($8.95), natch, and David opted for both the Panang Curry ($9.95) and the Green Curry ($9.95), intending to try a little of each and take home the rest. Spring rolls came with our meals, with peanut sauce and sweet and sour sauce for dipping. The rolls were good, but oh those sauces. The sweet and sour was particularly impressive, so fresh and fruity that we both directly spooned the excess sauce to savor.
Of the curries, David said the green was the better of the two. He noted that the taste of each ingredient was distinct. The dish was a little less thick than what the curry buff was used to, and, having ordered it mild, the level of heat was surprising. Not at all unpleasant, just surprising. The panang, on the other hand, was as mild as he ordered. The warmer-than-expected green curry caught me off guard as well, but I found both dishes satisfying.
David also ordered Thai Tea ($3) and, after a taste, I ordered one for myself. The sweet cold tea with cream blended in was wonderful, managing to stand out without overwhelming the food. David noted that the cream was mixed in more thoroughly here than in other restaurants; he loved it enough to get a second glass.
Though we didn’t need dessert, I ordered anyway, for the sake of this article, and I’m glad I did. I opted for the fried bananas with ice cream ($3.50). What a treat! The bananas, sprinkled with brown sugar and fried until caramelized, were extraordinary, lightly crisped on the outside and warm and creamy on the inside. Not too firm, not too mushy. Perfect, and perfectly accompanied by the ice cream. We finished down the dish in seconds and agreed that we would both return for more.
Mohawk Landing Shopping Center
19 E. 126th St.
Monday-Friday: lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: dinner noon-9 p.m.
Food: Three and a half stars
Atmosphere: Three stars
Service: Four stars