Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thai Chef Restaurant, 1971 East Beltline - 4/13/11

Opened last fall, the restaurant is located in the Knapp Corners retail center and is one of the best Thai restaurants in town. And there are plenty of them.

Like most Thai restaurants in Grand Rapids, the menu is huge (this one is seven pages) and they do not have a liquor license. Unlike many others, you will find a few more unusual offerings, and not ten spice levels, but four.

We enjoyed the warning on the menu: “We will not be held responsible for any dish that is too hot or not hot enough.”

It’s a pleasant atmosphere, complete with a carpeted floor, some traditional Asian artwork, and a few typical paper menu/dishes posters. Other than the employees regularly walking past us to use the what-must-be-the-only-restrooms-in-the-restaurant, the place has a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.  
We started with Chicken Satay and Mama’s Noodle Soup. The Chicken Satay wasn’t the best we’ve had. The marinade was not noticeable but the side of peanut sauce was quite flavorful.
The soup, however, was amazingly good. It consisted of Thai hot and sour broth, shredded lettuce, crushed peanuts, fresh bean sprouts, onions, cilantro, and the noodles. It was dished, with difficulty, with a spoon from a large bowl for two. We managed to serve ourselves and consume this wonderful soup but it all would have been easier with chopsticks for assistance with the noodles. (We didn’t think to ask for them until later.) This soup is worth a take-out or dine-in any time.
Our first entree was Gaeng Garee: potatoes, white onions, and snow peas in a yellow Thai curry sauce. The vegetables were perfectly cooked and not overdone, and the dish had the perfect level of heat but did not overwhelm the vegetables.
The second entree was from the Mang Noodle category that offered three choices, and ours was the Mang Peanut Curry Noodles. The thick round noodles were stir fired with white onions and red and green bell peppers, and served in a creamy Thai peanut and coconut curry sauce. We have to go back for more of these amazing noodles!
Don’t look for an inedible, desiccated slice of fruit with your meal here. The citrus accompaniments were fresh and the perfect antidotes to a very delicious, spicy lunch
Each of the entrees offered the following additions: chicken, tofu, vegetable (not sure if this would incorporate additional vegetables or just be the absence of any meat), beef, pork, shrimp, or scallops. Our choice for the Gaeng Garee was pork and for the Mang noodles, chicken.

Spice levels are described as follows: mild, medium, hot, Thai fire. We went with hot and it was perfect for us. But we could not have gone any hotter. We respected the fact that our server and the chef took us at our word and gave us the level for which we asked.

This has nothing to do with this particular restaurant but we have developed a finer appreciation of noodles after watching these two movies: “Tampopo” and “In the Mood for Love.” They come highly recommended and you will never look at noodles the same again.

The complete menu can be found online.

Thai Chef on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011

Café San Juan, 3549 Burlingame Ave SW - 3/3/11

This little restaurant was a very happy discovery. It’s difficult to notice from the street, and the place is small, holding five booths/tables. Two TVs were playing old Dennis the Menace shows. Sports decor and other miscellaneous items fill every open wall space. When we arrived, no customers were there and the owner was running the vacuum.

The menu is large and offers Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Cuban dishes. Our server/owner/chef was very friendly and helpful. We started with appetizers: an empanada, and a plaintain with ground beef. Unlike most Mexican restaurants where the food appears instantly, your food here is prepared fresh. And these appetizers were amazingly tasty and well prepared.
For our main dishes we settled on a pork taco dinner, with an added beef enchilada, and a roast pork dinner. Ordering tacos at first seemed like a mundane choice but these were so worth it. The tortillas were fresh, and the flavors of both the tacos and the enchilada were something you won’t taste in most Mexican restaurants, and certainly not in the ubiquitous fast food chains.
The roast pork dinner was just as good. When asked what the spices were, the owner/chef laughed and said he could not tell us. Fair enough. The dinner arrived very well presented with a slice of fried banana.
Both dinners were accompanied by refried beans and rice, and these were not the usual micro-waved, bland slop that people are served and consume without objection elsewhere. Flavor and fresh preparation were the distinguishing characteristics. The pork dinner also included a fresh salad, seasoned with a house dressing.

Jaime Martinez has been in business 13 years and is a very personable and informative man (except for ingredients :). Only the catering menu is online and it lists the Mexican and Puerto Rican dishes. The restaurant has a twitter presence but hasn’t posted anything in about 3 months. So visit in person and enjoy some freshly prepared and delicious, authentic food.
Cafe San Juan on Urbanspoon