Spoon Thai – A Poor Man's Next Restaurant Tour of Thailand?

July 26 2011 - 12:12 PM

LettucesaladNot sure if this is the "Poor Man's Next Thai Menu" or the "Luckless Man's Next Thai Menu" but either way it's way cheaper and waaaay easier to get a table! That being said, while the rigamarole is apples and oranges, the food is far more similar. It's a testament to Next that they are able to shift to a Thai menu that provides a combination of authentic flavors while adding wonderful proteins and preparations that go a long way to create something more unique.

Spoon Thai has always been notorious for their Thai-language menu, which has changed a bit over the last 10 years. The last 2 pages look like an appendix but you can, and should, order off of that menu for unique and tasty fare that they, in the past, deemed too unusual for western palates. The lettuce leaf salad here is in that part of the menu.
I wasn't planning on writing this as a comparison but when I saw the catfish curry in banana leaf, it made me think of my dinner at Next. Those flavors were there but not in the same dish in the same way. In any event I ordered the Hor Mok which is steamed catfish in curry that is pressed into a banana leaf. Think of it as a curry-catfish-cake.

Catfish It was pretty spicy but savory and sweet as well. The banana leaf added an earthy aromatic. Muang Kham, the single bite lettuce leaf salad, is served in 8 bites, each one a lettuce leaf topped with fresh ginger, lime, onion and peanut then covered in toasted coconut. The sweet sauce has dried shrimp in it. Used liberally it lessens the super-crunchy combination of all the fresh vege and toasted coconut. Without the sauce it's very dry so don't skimp. With the BBQ Pork Bamee and broth, I was hoping to get a glimpse of the porky-tom yum that Next did so well but here the broth is a regular chicken base and while it has hints of lemon and onion the sweet BBQ pork dominates. It's tasty but I'd opt next time for the tom yum.

Bbqbroth Panang is ordered often enough and here it really takes on a sticky peanut identity. I usually go for tofu or chicken but this time chose beef. As with the pork in the soup, the meat preparation is not even justifiably compared. Next's braised belly in their soup was impeccable and while the Next beef panang had some flavors clashing, the texture and meaty presence was not overwhelmed by the sauce. Here the panang sauce is where the attention is and while it's very peanut-focused, you still get the diverse curry components.

Wrapping up with the coconut ice cream was indulgent but I couldn't say no. It's a creamy simple scoop with fairly bland hunks of coconut. I was debating over the sticky rice and mango – what else!

So does it compare to Next? I didn't really expect it to but considering you can't get a seat to next, I'd say it's the next best thing.

Spoon Thai
4608 N. Western
Lincoln Square
(773) 769-1173
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–Josh Brusin