Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Thai is just My Kind of Thai

Why do you go to a restaurant? I was thinking about Nancy’s post about Chinese New Years and the New York Times article about authentic Chinese cuisine. Adventure and the unexpected have become rare in our contemporary wired society. In this atmosphere, it is natural to attempt to stalk the best, the most authentic, the coolest of whatever it is that you love. For foodies, this quest for ideal food means patronizing the best restaurants or even better finding the unknown gems. But, it is not just the food—it is often the status or coolness that this find confers on the eater. These know-it-all eaters, ergh, treat food as if it is an ivory tower. The tone of the New York Times article was exactly that. Since the late 19th century, we stupid Americans have been eating non-Chinese food and the media even supports these misconceptions. The argument is so simplistic and it misses two big points: immigrancy results in hybrid cuisine and restaurants are about their audience. The Chinese have been in America since the 19th century—railroad builders, laundry men and restaurateurs, amongst them. I would think that food that has been made for more than ¾ of a century is a cuisine in and amongst itself. There has to be a Chinese-American cuisine, and while there are some practitioners who are more skilled than others, the good ones should not be disparaged for not being authentic. They are authentically Chinese-American. And, while I would welcome a Shanghai-nese meal, I would also enjoy a meal of perfectly prepared Kung Pao Chicken. Some of us eaters, like Nancy, understand the beautiful in the hybrized. After all, a restaurant is about the audience’s needs and tastes.

This brings me to the point of this post. (Long-winded much?) We went to My Thai in Chesterland on Mayfield Road near Chillicothe Road. The restaurant had piqued my interest the other week because it had the loveliest neon “open” sign. It seems likely a silly detail to choose when picking out a restaurant. But, the sign, which was all in lower case d'nealian, signaled to me that someone had taken care to make very conscious choices. If they care this much about their sign, they likely care more about their food.

The restaurant was pleasingly small and intimate. Instead of Thai tourist art, the walls were a deep red and yellow that were vibrant but not oppressive. A couple silk brocade curtains and a rattan ring panels added a subtle exoticism. It was bright and airy; the climate was family friendly, happy, and tasty. In essence, it fit our needs in terms of price-point (teens) and atmosphere. Hell, the restaurant's name says it. It is a restaurant that aims at being "my thai."

It was Valentine’s Day, so maybe the restaurant was busy with the special occasion crowd. But, the restaurant was packed. The wait-staff was young and energetic; they seemed like local high school students. We were meeting my parents for dinner, so we had 4 entrees—Duck Curry, Tofu Yellow Curry, Chicken Eggplant and Beef Sesame. Are these dishes served in Thailand? Maybe not. I don’t know? Does that matter to me? No. I loved the Chicken with Eggplant. It had big chunks of Japanese eggplant that were caramelized and sauced. It was fresh and not over-sauced. The sesame sauce was yummy and not too thick. I am already planning what to eat when I return; and I am tempted to ask Fred Feretti to join me.


Anonymous said...

David Rosegarten makes the same point about "-American" foods being just as valid and delicous as their authentic counterparts in his "It's All-American Food" cookbook - one of my favorites, not only for the point-of-view, but also for the fantastic Kung Pao Chicken recipe...

maybellesmom said...

I have not read that cookbook. For whatever reason, I have very few American food cookbooks. But, This is something that other cooks like Ming Tsai have said too, and actually something that Asian Immigrants talk about.
There was a thing a few months ago on NPR about Japanese internment camp cooking, and how those recipes persist in the Japanese community (or die out.) He was just an elist negating a large voice in America.