Wednesday, January 5, 2011
The general craziness of the holidays led Mrs. Hackknife to suggest that we get her mother to watch the progeny one afternoon last week so we could have a rare afternoon "date" of sorts. Of course, most of our dates involve some kind of dining activity and this one would be no exception. After a long hiatus, we recently began watching our local foodie program "Check Please" again - for those of you out-of-towners, "Check Please" is a public television show in Chicago where a hostess (in this case, the lovely Alpana Singh) interviews three average Joe guests about their dining experience at restaurants chosen by the other two guests (i.e., 3 restaurants per show are reviewed, one for each guest). In the early days of our foodiedom, the missus and I discovered that we could learn about a lot of lesser-publicized Chicagoland eateries by simply tuning in each week. In any case, one recent taping featured a Thai restaurant in nearby Calumet City (only about 20 minutes away from the Commissary) called Siam Marina that was liked by all 3 guests. This definitely got our attention as Calumet City is not exactly known as a dining hotspot (as far as the South Suburbs go, it's among the most economically-depressed areas in the region), so we made a mental note to check it out at some future date.
Some future date having arrived, we headed over to River Oaks Mall (which experienced its peak of popularity about 25 years ago and has faded somewhat since then) at 1:30 pm on a Thursday to eat Thai food. As you might expect on a midday afternoon between Xmas and New Years', the place was mostly empty. Like many Thai restaurants, the menu was long and varied (I didn't ask about a "secret" menu, which is sort of the in-vogue thing to do at SE Asian dining places these days), with lots of intriguing choices. We each started with a nice hot bowl of a ground chicken soup, followed by an appetizer characterized as a "ravioli" or banh cuon ("rolled cake" in Vietnamese), which included two steamed rice flour crepe-like rolls filled with shrimp, chicken, mushroom, basil, carrot, mint, and onion, with a chili garlic lime dipping sauce (very nice). Mrs. Hackknife selected a soft shell crab entree, while I opted for a spicy fried catfish curry (pieces of fried catfish cooked in red curry sauce with basil and baby eggplant), both of which were quite amazing (see photo of catfish dish above). Although stuffed to the gills and still suffering from post-Xmas meal fatigue, we still managed to conclude the meal with a banana in sweet sticky rice dessert.
Now, I can't profess to be an expert in Thai dining - I've had it maybe 10 times before - but this was clearly a standout experience. We dined at Arun's (Chicago's finest Thai dining restaurant) about 5 years ago and it wasn't to that level, but it pretty much beat the pants off of just about all other Thai I'd had and at a fraction of the price of what Arun's prix fixe set us back, not to mention a much shorter drive from home and the option to get a soft pretzel in the mall later in case you want one. I'm pretty excited about making a return visit and intend to tell all of my little foodie friends about it.....