Monday, June 27, 2005

Thai Nakorn, Reloaded - Garden Grove



Thai food. I must be on some sort of strange binge on it right now, since yet again, I'm posting about another Thai restaurant not even a week after I reviewed Krua Thai.

This time though, it's the venerable Thai Nakorn in Garden Grove that will be the focus of my current obsession.

Thai Nakorn, is the "no contest" favorite of mine for Thai cuisine in L.A. and Orange County. No restaurant I have been to in California has come close to reaching the pinnacles of greatness in Thai cookery than Thai Nakorn. (Notice that I was careful to say "in California", since a trip to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas is a week away).

Thai Nakorn Garden Grove is the orphaned child of Thai Nakorn Buena Park, which until its recent demise was, in my opinion, the undisputed purveyor of authentic Thai cuisine. Dazzlingly bright flavors, confident spicing, and efficient service brought my family and I back, time and time again. Friends whom I've brought to dine at Thai Nakorn all agree that it was the best Thai they've had as well.

When I found out that the complex where Thai Nakorn has stood for so many years was going to be razed, I was shocked. But I was also hopeful, knowing that its new location in Garden Grove was already standing on its own two feet and well on its way to follow in daddy's footsteps.

And boy has it!

The food we had at the Garden Grove location last weekend was bold and amazing. It's probably because all of the cooks at the Buena Park branch are back at work in the new place.

We ate a Pad See Ew that puts to shame the same dish I had a Krua Thai last week. The ingredients used were identical. Chinese broccoli, beef, egg, and flat rice noodles were stir fried with soy sauce. But the execution and the resulting taste and texture were worlds apart.

The edge that Thai Nakorn's Pad See Ew had was the smoky character that comes from wok-hey. "Wok-hey", if you don't already know, is that elusive flavor that comes from cooking on a properly hot, seasoned wok. This is a wok so hot that flames erupt from it the moment the first morsel is introduced to the steel. The noodles, the meat, the veggies exuded this flavor, and it took the concoction from a simple stir fry dish to something that is both ethereal and sublime.

I can make Krua Thai's version on my home range, but only Thai Nakorn can make Pad See Ew the way that it did.



A bowl of Chicken Curry we ordered had a thin layer of glistening fat on the top with the hue of red chili oil. The curry itself was bright yellow and thick like a stew, made hearty with coconut milk and turmeric. Hunks of falling-apart chicken and potatoes completed this rustic meal. Put in on top of hot rice and you'll taste proper Thai curry for the first time. You can imagine this as a one-pot dinner a harried Thai mom would simmer all day to feed her hungry family.

Chicken Satay was also good, but an unadventurous choice. Pieces of marinated dark meat chicken were skewered and grilled, served with peanut sauce and fresh pickled cucumbers. They were no better than those I've had at Wat Thai temple, which is to say, they were excellent. But then, I've not yet encountered a Thai restaurant that does Chicken Satay badly.

To make up for the slightly tame choices so far, we picked out the Spicy Clams to ratchet our meal up a notch. The clams were probably the most challenging dish on the table. Seemingly simple and straightforward in appearance, this plate of Manila clams was coated with a dark brownish-red sauce and decorated with errant strands of Thai basil. But that sauce harbored a secret; a secret that I discovered quickly as soon as I took a taste.

A funky, mysteriously fishy and rank flavor permeated through this salty, sweet reduction. The aroma will make you think of a dirty, smelly gym sock. Added to that, in your mouth, you will detect a gritty, foreign substance.

This dish proved a little too exotic for my Caucasian friend who couldn't quite reconcile what it was he was tasting. Though, for me, it was heaven, since I grew up eating home-cooked meals made with this pungent, stinky secret ingredient of Southeast Asian cooking: fermented shrimp paste.

I guess it's just one of those acquired tastes that defines who you are and where you came from.

For dessert, we decided to forgo the usual coconut ice cream for some sweet Thai snacks since the restaurant has a counter stocked with goodies.

The first thing we picked out was a clear plastic container of dried fruit which was labeled innocently enough as "Mango Covered with Sugar". And that's what it looked like: thin, dried strips of mango covered with granulated sugar.

Okay, that sounds good, we thought. But later, when I popped one of these thin strips into my mouth, I yelped, "Holy Shiite!" The damned thing was laced with chili!

It wasn't an overwhelming heat, just unexpected. It made me think that it must be Thai Nakorn's idea of a novelty joke! Afterwards, we reread the ingredient list and saw no mention of the chili! We concluded that those sneaky Thai Nakorn people got us good. We owe them a noogie the next time!

In any case, the mango "candy", as it were, turned out to be quite addictive, once we got past the element of surprise.



Thai Nakorn Restaurant
(714) 537-5011
12532 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843

*UPDATE (January 8, 2007): Thai Nakorn has been destroyed by an early morning fire. Read the OC Register story here. And click here for a larger post with more photos.

23 Comments:

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Kirk said...

Elmo - I'm dying here!!! There really is no outstanding Thai Food in San Diego - and we've been to at least 12 places! And then you do 2 Thai reviews in a row! Oooh the humanity.....Can't wait to see what you have to say about LOS - we eat there at least once everytime we're in Vegas.

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kirk,

I feel your pain. I have a relative who lives in SD and they tell me the same thing about Thai food in San Diego. They can't wait to be taken to Thai Nakorn when they come up here to visit.

I, myself, tried Spices Thai Cafe on Mira Mesa once. I thought it was decent, but for the life of me, can't remember what I had.

I've eaten at LOS once, and was so blown away that I know this next trip will also be a memorable one.

I will definitely write about it!

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Daily Gluttony said...

i love shrimp paste, but i have to agree it is fun-KAY!!! my parents used to make a dish of roasted pork (with the crispy skins included) with shrimp paste. with some rice, aww man, it's ON!

 
At 10:10 PM, Blogger Christine D. said...

I f'n LOVe thai nakorn! been to both places but now we go to the one in GG because it's closer. But, i had no idea that the one in buena park closed down!! have u tried the thai basil and chili beef? it's practically drowned in the sauce, but i like it. my cousin loves the stuffed chicken but it's too greasy and mellow for me.

 
At 9:36 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Christine,

No I haven't tried that Thai Basil and Chili Beef...sounds wicked! Need to put that on my list and veer away from my staples...

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Justin Mason said...

elmo: can you recommend a decent Thai place near Costa Mesa? I'm sorely missing good Thai food around here.

(now, Laotian, there's quite a bit of good stuff relatively nearby, though.)

 
At 1:41 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Justin,

Unfortunately there are slim pickin's for great Thai around Costa Mesa.

George's Thai Bistro comes to mind, which I didn't particularly enjoy, although it passes for Americanized Thai, if you don't mind that.

There's Thai Spice, a take-out place on Seventeeth. I like their curry, but their other dishes are hit or miss. For example, their tom yum goong had tomatoes and celery in it!

I've heard good things about Royal Thai in Newport Beach, headed by Jet Tila's family, but I personally haven't tried it.

I recently heard good things about Bangkok Taste in Santa Ana. I might have to check that out and investigate soon.

 
At 10:00 PM, Anonymous nina said...

Thai Nakorn is THE best! I've tried a few thai restaurants in San Diego and they just don't measure up. There's a Thai Nakorn in Mission Viejo. Kirk...make the drive up there, you wont regret it.

 
At 11:49 PM, Anonymous anh said...

Elmo,

I've had the food at Thai Nakorn before and it is resonably yummy, but hands down the stuff that I have had in Thai town off of Hollywood Blvd beats this stuff by a mile. I guess it's the fierce competition much like Viet food is best if you have it in Little Saigon. I would recommend going to a little place called Ruen Pair. They've got some pretty funk fresh stuff like papaya salad with raw blue crab. Their Pad Kee Mao is way better than the plain Pad See Yew, and the seafood soup is just heaven. It's a hole in the wall that is right next to a donut shop but I love, love, love their stuff. If gas prices weren't so bad I think I would be up there every week. Hopefully you'll get a chance to check it out.

 
At 7:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

nina,

Heard that the Thai Nakorn in MV caters to local tastes. I might just try it out anyway if I'm ever in the area.

anh,

I've heard so much about Ruen Pair...and always from someone who is Thai. I seriously have to go out there one of these days...perhaps find an excuse by visiting a friend who lives up in that area. Thanks for the rec!

 
At 12:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thai Nakorn is the best... my family has been eating there for the past 19 years (first at the Buena Park location and now in GG). We discovered Jasmin Thai on Goldenwest Blvd./Westminster in Westminster.... great food very reasonable prices... home astmosphere.

 
At 12:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My fav Thai restaurant in San Diego is "Saffron" on India street in Mission Hills.

I thought their food was really good.

 
At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm thai. to find a real thai food is a challenge. thai nakorn offers taste from home. great place and service. tell sam you say hi. you'll get a great service.

 
At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, Sam only owns the one in Garden Grove. He used to have one in Buena Park (relocated to its current location in GG).

He used to own one with his sister in Aliso Viejo, but he divested himself of that one.

 
At 6:43 PM, Anonymous grow-a-brain said...

I agree. Thai Nakorn is the best Thai restaurant in this area

 
At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Craig said...

Apparently, this place burned down over the weekend. What a shame. I really wanted to try this place too.

 
At 8:41 AM, Anonymous Craig said...

Try this:

http://www.ocregister.com/ocregister

/homepage/abox/article_1538191.php

concatenate the two to reach the link

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Craig,

Thanks for the link. I've also added the article in the original post. What a sad day and a sad year. Hope they rebuild, bigger and better.

 
At 11:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG, my dad and I were supposed to go to Thai Nakorn the Friday before it burned down. My dad was so excited to go there, but he decided to go to some Thai place at Haster and Chapman. I can't believe that happened. He said that next time we go to a Thai place, we'll go to Thai Nakorn. It sucks that won't happen.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger amelia said...

just so you know, thai nakorn has opened a new location located at 11951 beach blvd. in stanton. i just got back from eating there and it's as delicious as it always has been. hands down the best thai i've eaten in the u.s.

they are rebuilding their garden grove blvd. location, but it won't be open for quite some time (trouble with permits or something).

please do go and support the new location in stanton. this restaurant is an absolute treasure. and the people who run it are wonderful.

 
At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Thai restaurant on Black Mountain Road in San Diego, kind of near costa mesa college. It has the BEST Pad Thai I've ever tasted~ I honestly haven't tasted anything else there because I was so taken by the Pad Thai. It's a small place...and buisness hours are kind of wierd. Definately give it a try though.

 
At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's back, It's back. I passed by the Beach blvd location and it is just as good as the garden grove location. The garden grove location is due to open in a few months pending approval from the city (so a few months could be a long time). Do visit the beach blvd location, it's not as nice as the garden grove one once was, but believe me the food is still incredible!

 
At 10:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

I have tried the Beach Blvd. (Stanton) location. Been there many times. And you're right. Delicious as always.

Here's a review I wrote.

 

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