This month we’re pitting two of O’Fallon’s best Thai restaurants against one another for yet another Restaurant Battle. Thai Jasmine and Thai Gourmet each get to show off what they can do with some basil leaves, hot sauce and fresh vegetables. Chime in and predict your favorite before we post the results of our battle.
Thai Gourmet is a cosy restaurant with the feel of a corner diner that happens to serve Thai food instead of burgers. Half the walls are a creamy lime green while the other half are a bright bubblegum blue. The lime side is punctuated with original art from local artists wile the blue side has framed pictures of Hindu gods. A counter in the back is cheerfully cluttered with some potted bamboo and ivy alongside action figure sized Thai dolls.
One look at the menu and it was clear Thai Gourmet and weren’t fighting for the same niche market. Thailand is located between India and Japan. While Thai Jasmine’s food had a distinctly Japanese influence, Thai Gourmet’s owed some of their flavors to India. This is the kind of battle where every diner wins.
Everything on the lunch menu was $7.50 or less. I had my choice of familiar Thai dishes such as Pad Thai noodles, Yellow Curry with potatoes and onions in a coconut milk broth and spicy stir fries spiced with fresh basil leaves.
I came down to the Spicy Basil Beef or the Bombay Chicken. The descriptions of both sounded divine. How could I choose between green beans, red peppers, onions and basil leaves versus saffron rice topped with crunchy fried onions alongside chicken seasoned with coriander and curry powder? I told the waitress to surprise me.
While I waited on my mystery entree I had her bring me some chicken eggrolls.
These were a pleasant surprise. Instead of the usual cabbage filling the eggrolls were stuffed with peas, corn and white chicken meat held together in a wonderfully spicy mix with hints of coriander and a pleasantly spicy kick. This was a dense, stick-to-your ribs appetizer. The stubby eggrolls looked small, but they were surprisingly filling.
The eggrolls came with a home made sweet and sour sauce based on sweetened rice vinegar. Instead of salt and pepper the table spices were a trio of ground peanuts, hot red pepper flakes and soy sauce.
I could really feel the Indian impact on Thai Gourmet’s kitchen. The eggrolls feel very colonial - like the British liked the idea of eggrolls but missed their peas and carrots from home, so decided to combine them both. The result reminded me of my favorite Hong Kong fusion foods.
It turned out my waitress decided I should try the Bombay Chicken. She said the Spicy Basil Chicken was one of her personal favorites, but the Bombay Chicken was their best seller.
The bright yellow saffron rice was served on a bed of hot sauce (I ordered my entree a 7 out of 10 on the spiciness scale) and topped with a mix of crunchy fried onions and fresh diced red onions. Unlike most saffron rice I’ve tried, this tasted of actual buttery saffron instead of turmeric (a cheaper way to achieve the same color.)
It was just sticky enough to keep its sculpted shape without being overly starchy. Bits of nicely chewey, grease-free fried onions were buried within for a nice texture changeup. Honestly, the rice and eggrolls alone would've made a good meal.
The Bombay Chicken’s signature meat came coated in familiar Indian stir fry spices with yellow curry powder, cumin and coriander. Since the dish’s heat was all in the rice I ended up alternating between bites of chicken, rice and cucumber salad to keep it all balanced.
The fresh cucumber salad alongside my chicken provided a cool, tangy contrast to the heat of the rice. The coolness and vinegar cut the spice and the contrast was enough to keep every bite interesting. The overall result was something just warm enough to clear my sinuses and remind me how much I love spicy food.
To tame the last of the heat in my mouth I ordered the mango sticky rice for dessert. If you're feeling overwhelmed by hot, spicy food, either alcohol or dairy will wash away the oils. (Water doesn't work. Don’t torture yourself by spreading the oils around your mouth.)
The hot, sweet rice was laced with coconut milk and served alongside a freshly sliced mango which had been treated with a dash of salt and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Most desserts are pure sweetness held together by carbohydrates. This was all about pairings. The bite of the salt alongside the sweetness of the coconut milk. The heat of the rice alongside the cool, chilled texture of the fresh mango. The crunch of the sesame seeds alongside the creaminess of both the mango flesh and the rice pudding. It was incredibly well balanced as well as darn tasty. I loved it.
Glancing at my fellow diners plates left me eager to come back.
The prices here can't be beat. My iced tea, Chicken Eggrolls, Bombay Chicken and Mango Rice dessert came to $18.88 plus a $4 tip for excellent service. My friendly server was a perky ray of sunshine in the dining room. She cheerfully explained dishes, brought things out in a good order, and was extremely friendly and efficient.
The serving sizes were deceptively huge. I only ate a little more than half my food yet still left feeling stuffed.
O’Fallon is lucky to have Thai Gourmet. I know I’ll be back. I still need to try that Spicy Basil Chicken. I'm pleased to give them a solid A for excellence.