Dave and I pulled into the aging Tidemill shopping center, just outside Langley AFB. A family walked in just in front of us; other than each other, we all were facing an empty dining room. Turquoise-blue walls enclosed the expanse of tightly packed, brightly-clothed tables. Framed photographs of the Thai royal family broke up the stark walls, while tranquil countryside scenes hung from the corners.
A man motioned for us to sit wherever we liked, so we gravitated to a table just shy of the front counter, settling in with menus. As the table who entered before us placed their orders, we poured over the array of classic and delicious sounding offerings.
The gentleman who had waved us welcome paused in front of our table for a friendly, efficient order-taking session. We placed a tentative order for appies and entrees, then settled back into our seats. No music broke up the sound of the only other table's chatter, nor the steady flow of folks who strolled in to receive their take-out orders. As Dave continued to gaze over the menu, he motioned the waiter back over. An intense discussion ensued over the tantalizing choices of pad thai versus pad kua teaw. The waiter, who revealed himself to be the owner, espoused the glory of both dishes, but warned that he may not like the latter. Finally, after confirming the owner's personal taste, Dave settled upon the pad thai.
With surprising speed, our appetizers arrived alongside our entrees. The owner/waiter, smiled in cognizance of our wide eyes. "This is the only place you get appetizer and meal at the same time!"
Our chosen appetizer was the hoy jaw ($4.95), a bean curd-encased cylinder of pork-based stuffing, deep-fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce. This was my first time sampling this creation, so honestly, I'm not quite sure how it should taste. The edges were crispy and crunchy, as any good deep-fried thing should be, but the flavour was very muted. Even with the sauce, it didn't taste much like anything more than something hot, savory and fried.
As mentioned, most of the meal arrived simultaneously, so we aimed our chopsticks into dueling plates. Dave, for dish number one, chose the chicken larb ($7.95), a spicy dish of minced meat seasoned with scallions, lime juice, and mouthwatering Thai spices, all nestled into a sheath of crisp lettuce. Blessedly, cilantro made a showing not only in minced form, but also in lovely little sprigs strewn across the top. Dave normally doesn't care for the 'overpowering' taste of cilantro (his words! I love the stuff), yet managed to make short work of the spicy minced goodness.
I ordered the eggplant with basil ($8.95), and was promptly wowed by the mound set in front of me. Meat is customer's choice, and I went with the pork. At first taste, my tongue came alive, the earthiness of the eggplant offset by the bright, bold bling of peppery Thai basil. It came bathed in a sauce so delicious that I actually took to eating the rice (unusual for me) in order to soak up and savor the wonderful juices. Hints of fish sauce, garlic and chili merged into a tongue-tantalizing delight of texture, flavour and fragrance.
The secondary entree that swiftly lighted upon our table was the classic pad Thai ($8.95). Rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, scallions and a Thai-peanut sauce combined for one of the most wonderful examples of the dish that I have ever tasted. The noodles were not only perfectly cooked, but dressed in just the proper amount of peanut-tinged, spicy sauce, while deckled with juicy chunks of the requested pork. Dave has had this previously at other restaurants, but has never come close to the praise delivered upon this night's dish. Wonderful.
Now, I hate to base a review upon a single visit, but we can only eat so much on one evening; I asked for an order of Tom Yum (Shrimp) soup ($6.95) and pad khing sod (Ginger Perfect, $8.95) to go. I was quite full, but managed to take a few hot, steamy bites upon arriving home. The soup tasted more lemongrass/sour than I normally care for. Still, the shrimp soaked up the rich broth with a spicy aftertaste that was prominent, but not overwhelming.
Ginger perfect was dappled with slices of fresh ginger, buoyed by fat portions of shrimp and vegetables. At first bite, I did not like this. Somehow, the flavour kept growing, calling, and motioning back, and I found myself dipping and thrusting over and again. Possibly not for everyone, but this was a kick of sensation that delivered upon its gingery, spicy promise. Not for the meek of taste-bud.
As Dave and went to make good on our bill, he garnered a peek back into the (fairly open) kitchen. 'Is that your Mom back there?' he asked. The owner smiled and laughed in agreement. "Yes, this is my Mom!", and the pride was apparent. I looked back and watched a young boy feed boneless chicken parts into a grinder, a young woman running dishes and platters back and forth, and thought-- that's about as family run and traditional as you get. I really got the feeling that this place wasn't just about pulling in the bucks, so much as to share the spicy, fresh goodness of authentic Thai food. We'll be back, yo.
See more photos here.