Sunday, August 05, 2007

Chon Som

Thai me at the crossroads when I die

Website: ChonSom.com

It's been way too long since I had a fix of Thai, something I've been wanting to address, especially since I read this article about how capsaicin puts the smackdown on cancer. Research shows it actually binds to proteins in cancer cell mitochondria, triggering cellular death without harming healthy cells. And of course, as discussed in a previous Thai review, a capsaicin buzz is a nice healthy way to experience better living through chemistry.

So, having this whole subconscious Thai obsession as a simmering undercurrent in my little pea brain, when I hit the snooze button for the third time and heard a spot for Chon Som on the morning drive-in show, I woke up long enough to note the name. Then I dozed off as they listed all the backed up traffic I didn't have to drive through on my way downstairs to my desk. Yes, I am rubbing it in, cause life is suh-weeet.

Once at the desk and ready to grease the wheels of commerce, I discovered that Chon Som is way up north, past Parmer, so it was moved from the weekend plans and to the top of the rush hour date night queue. (Yep, I have a backlog. I wonder if I could get folks to offer me incentives to move them up the list. Hmmm.) They just opened last August and I can't believe it took me this long to find out about them. Especially when I found the following:

  1. They have sushi in addition to Thai cuisine
  2. The happy hour includes $1 nigiri sushi
  3. The happy hour includes $1 off the maki sushi rolls
  4. They have a coupon on the website that gets you a free appetizer if you get $15 of other stuff

Finally, the day I have to actually care about traffic arrived. The Woman picked me up and we took the almost deserted north lane on Mopac to Chon Som. We beat the crowd, as usual. The place looks nice, even though it has a concrete floor. There's a sushi bar just as you come in, and then table and booth seating to the sides. The tables have an interesting design on them, as you can see in the photos on their website. The walls are decorated with canvases from some local artist who paints musical instruments in unusual colors. (I didn't inspect the cards to find out who the artist is.)

The Woman picked the free appetizer. There was a choice of Vegetable Spring Rolls, Thai Tofu, Age Tofu and Hiayako (also tofu). We went with the Thai Tofu: Tofu served with sweet garlic sauce topped with herbs and crunchy peanuts. Not a real fan of tofu. I found it interesting, if not compelling. I was saving myself for some dollar raw fish.

In case you're not a sushi afficionado, here's the lowdown birds-eye on this caper. Nigiri sushi is the kind where a hunk of something sits on top of a nugget of rice. Maki sushi is the round stuff with rice (and maybe a layer of seaweed) on the outside and the good stuff on the inside, like a California roll. It's made as a long roll and then cut into slices. See Wikipedia for more detail.

Of course, nigiri is the best, cause you get that big ole slab of raw fish right there on top, like in the wiki photo. Since I was mainly there for the Thai, I decided to skip the maki and go straight for the good stuff. The $1 stuff was limited to shrimp, octopus, squid and various kinds of fish. I went with an even half-dozen fish sampler.

  • bincho (albacore tuna)
  • maguro (tuna)
  • sake (salmon)
  • suzuki (sea bass)
  • tai (snapper)
  • saba (mackerel)
Where else are you going to get 6 generous nigiri sushi for $6? These suckers had half an inch of fish touching the platter on both ends. The tuna and salmon I recognized. I couldn't tell the rest apart. The salmon was the best I've had outside of Japan. The tuna was good. I've had better, but I wouldn't turn down seconds, I assure you.

But the main attraction was the Thai menu. The Woman staged a mini celebration in our booth when she saw larb on the menu. (Romaine boats filled with minced beef, tossed with lime vinaigrette and served with red onions, green ontions and mint.) She became a fan of larb in Hawaii, where we would drive over the Pali to the windward side to our favorite Thai place in Kaneohe, Chao Praya. If you're going low carb, larb is the way to go, cause it's greens and meat, no rice.

I stuck with the old reliable, red curry: Spicy curry blended with red Thai chilies and bamboo shoots and basil. She asked for medium; I asked for hot. I should have looked a the menu because when I heard the folks behind us order, I discovered that the ratings are hot, very hot and Thai hot. And the chef mentioned there's the next, unwritten level, Chef Hot.

I thought the larb came out hotter than the curry, but The Woman wasn't sure. They both tasted great. The curry was nice and thick, with red and green peppers not mentioned on the menu as a bonus. We ordered so much food that we couldn't eat it all, so we signaled for the little red wagon and took some home. (I'm going to sneak the leftovers for lunch tomorrow when The Woman's not looking.)

Rather than go on about the rest of the menu, I'll let you check it out on the site. It looks great. We spent $25 and took food with us, which is rare for a Thai place, where prices tend to get steep. Also, it was the friendliest Thai place I've ever been. They treated us like regulars, even though it was our first visit. These folks are serious about showing you a good time and some great food. I'd say it's worth the drive, even from south Austin. Dang, all this writing is making me hungry. I wonder if it's too late for a snack?

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