By Keith Hadad
Thai food is one of my favorite things in the culinary universe, with its delightful mix of spicy, milky, sweet and sometimes sour ingredients. So to find a restaurant that is billed as the best Thai place in all of Ithaca and also delivers was a dream come true. Yet, after eating at Taste of Thai Express (bizarrely, it has no affiliation with Taste of Thai in the Commons), I honestly have to say I was not impressed.
Once we got into the restaurant, the smell that hung in the air was a tantalizing mix of curry and coconuts—a good sign in my book. Along with that, the atmosphere was generally relaxed and calm. Mellow jazz drifted through the large room. The tables had plenty of room around each other, which was a welcome contrast to the busy traffic that is just a few yards away from the full-length windows that surround the building.
For just two bucks we ordered some Thai iced tea, which is always a classic drink. Since it is infused with coconut milk, tea and sugar, it serves as a good defense and comfort from any spicy food without clashing with the flavors of what you’re eating. The carrot-colored drink actually does complement the spicy cuisine common in Thai restaurants.
Along with the tea, I ordered a cup of Tom Kha soup, which was only $2.95. As a cup of soup goes, they actually gave out a lot of food. The flavor in this soup was pretty enjoyable—a creamy coconut broth with the light citrus flavor element coming from the lemongrass and shavings of the root of the Thai and Indonesian native galangal plant. This has the look and feel of ginger without the strong flavor; it had more of a light cabbage flavor in the soup, which worked well with the other ingredients. The mushrooms in the soup were different from any other mushroom I’ve had, but were small and earthy. The flavors all got along together quite nicely.
Then there was the sweet and sour wok stir-fry. This entrée was decent, with its deep tomato red sauce, array of vegetables and your choice of meat all for $9.25. I decided on the pork, which wasn’t too chewy and tough, nor was it undercooked. Yet the flavor of the meat was lost in the blend of sauces and veggie bits. Most of the vegetables appeared to be canned, such as the baby corn and pineapple. This is not necessarily something much to complain about, but I was expecting something more fresh like the ingredients often in other Ithacan eateries.
On the other hand, the cucumbers in this dish were amazing and seemingly fresh. They were thinly sliced and absorbed the juices of the sauce and other vegetables while retaining its own watery flavor.
The sauce the dish was submersed in tasted good, but it didn’t seem all that different in appearance or in flavor from that unnaturally bright red sweet and sour sauce you get with your egg rolls from just about any Chinese restaurant. Granted, I love how that tastes, yet in this establishment and with all of the good things I heard, I expected much more.
This is exactly my point. The food isn’t bad—it’s just good, nothing to write home about. I went into the restaurant with perhaps too high expectations, but the food just didn’t wow me. And when you come right down to it, that’s all that really matters.
Looking back on what I had, I could see myself ordering that food when I’m stuck in my room studying for finals and other times when I don’t really care what I’m eating, as long as it tastes pretty good. Which is exactly what this food was intended for, I think. The location is on the side of a busy road, the atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed, and they have an extensive delivery service. I believe that this food is intended for the busy student or passerby traveler that needs comfort from the road. In the end, comfort seems to be above quality here. Not to say that the food was bad, just not the best. I recommend it to the casual diner or to anyone that wants something good that you can have delivered and munch on while you’re paying more attention to something else.
Taste of Thai Express is located at 209 S. Meadow St.
Keith Hadad is a sophomore cinema and photography major who is all Thai’ed up at the moment. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.