I must admit that Thai cuisine holds a special place in my epicurean heart and with good reason. I learned to appreciate Thai food as a graduate student while pursuing my Masters in Engineering at the University of Florida at Gainesville, at an extraordinary establishment called Bahn-Thai. Bahn Thai, founded and run by a very friendly and entrepreneurial couple -Tom and Pam Maneeratana from Thailand, really exposed me to the finer aspects, condiments and the nuances of Thai cooking.
I must candidly confess I was too lazy to cook everyday and patronized this fine establishment for dinner six nights a week! This not only gave me the opportunity to explore every item on the menu, but also, enabled an entree into the kitchen to discover for myself how these dishes were concocted using ingredients like bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn, that exotic Thai ginger called galangal, lemon grass, coconut milk, Nampla (Thai fish sauce), as well as the secrets of creating a consistent Thai delicacy every time.
Ah, the "titillation to my taste buds" from the oh, so inimitable aroma of fresh basil from Thailand, coupled with the implosion of spicy, fiery and tangy flavors from the lemon grass, lime, galangal (ginger) and Thai hot chili peppers, undulating with every successive mouthful, is "sheer gratification unplugged" for culinary hedonists like yours truly...Mamma Mia!:-)
My passion for Thai cuisine led me to introduce my newly wed bonny bride to these delights, on our honeymoon in Pattaya and Bangkok 16 years back, and was apparently persuasive enough for her to embrace Thai cuisine with a gusto and culinary fervor that happily matched my own!:-)
I (and my taste buds) were so enamored with Thai cuisine that I actually learnt to cook some of my favorite dishes from Pam, Tom and my wife and to this day, have a bit of a reputation as a "conjurer of Thai delights par excellence” within our community in Dallas!:-) What this also implies is that I am particularly discriminating when it comes to picking Thai restaurants to eat in or recommend, perhaps far more that any other cuisine save Indian, Chinese and Middle-Eastern.
Matter of fact, I can think of no more than four Thai restaurants across North-America I have frequented thus far, that meet my discerning standards, for me to recommend to my friends and family. These comprise the Bahn-Thai in Gainesville, Florida, the Teikoku in Philadelphia, the Golden Thai in downtown Toronto, Canada and one more that is arguably the finest Thai establishment in Dallas - the Banana Leaf, the focus of this expedition.What brings me back for more:
The Banana Leaf provides an extremely elegant, friendly yet unpretentious ambiance, adorned with art, crafts and sculpture that would easily transpond you to Bangkok, Phuket or Pattaya in Thailand. The people are friendly and deliver their service with a smile, with recommendations to suit your taste. But most of all, it is their award winning and innovative, off-the-beaten path repertoire of Thai delicacies that delights the gourmand in me and brings me back for more, time after time.
- The Chicken Satay (did you know that this really originated in Indonesia, but was proliferated by Thai restaurants worldwide), a perennial favorite, came extremely well presented, accompanied by the peanut sauce and was as delightful as it looked!
- The Lemon Grass Chicken with Lettuce Wraps – a mixture of minced chicken, lemon grass, onion, lime leaves, white and black pepper with iceberg lettuce, served with hoisin sauce that is familiar (relative to its Chinese counterpart raised to celebrity by P. F. Changs) yet different in that it delivers a spicy tangy taste that is unique to Thai cuisine.
- Green Papaya and Cucumber Salad, their version of the Thai classic called Som-Tam is delivered with shredded green papaya or sliced cucumber, with a mixture of crunchy peanut, tomatoes, carrot and fresh Thai chili, and flavored with line juice, to deliver a potent yet healthy combo that sets your palate yearning for the delights that follow!
- Tom Yum – my absolute favorite clear broth anywhere, delivered with chicken (or shrimps) mushroom, slices of galangal (ginger), lemon grass and lime juice, with an option to add coconut milk if you so wish, is probably the finest I have had!
In addition to the traditional and ubiquitous green, red, yellow, Panang (Malay influence) and Massaman (Indonesian influence) curries served with a coconut milk base that you expect to find at any Thai establishment (ones I conjure up in my sleep:-)), here are some of the innovative delights offered by the Banana Leaf that I would definitely recommend:
- Pad Thai – a Thai classic and a great leading indicator of the quality of an establishment’s offering, with sliced chicken stir-fried with thick rice or clear glass noodles, eggs, bean sprouts and green onion flavored with crunchy peanut, did not disappoint.
- The Eggplant with Thai Basil, served with your choice of meats stir-fried with fresh eggplant, carrots, onions and bell pepper, sautéed with chili and fresh basil from Thailand, was clever and a nice variation of my personal signature dish that I conjure up with tamarind sauce.
- Thai Lamb Chops, a signature dish you won’t find in most Thai restaurants, came to us well done and endowed with a distinct Thai character and flavor that was perceptively different from their Indian, American and Middle Eastern counterparts – Vive La Difference!
- Larb Chicken again off the beaten track, comprises chopped chicken mixed with green and red onion, ground rice, cilantro, mint and lettuce, flavored with homemade lime dressing and that inimitable Thai fish sauce (Nampla) that was sheer joy to consume and an indulgence of the palate.
- The Triple Flavored Fish, usually whole Sea Bass or Red Snapper, deep-fried and topped with their secret spicy red chili and tamarind sauce, was so well adorned and presented that it appeared to have been made for a regal banquet (see what I mean below) and drew serious attention to our table when served, and happily delivered inexorable delight to our taste buds to match!
- Fried Bananas, smothered in honey and served with cherries and slices of orange triggered peals of delight from my daughter who valiantly fought off her parents to get her share of the spoils!:-)
This adventure in Dallas, Texas begins at: The Banana Leaf, 17370 Preston Road, (between Campbell and Frankford), Dallas, Texas, 75252. Tel # (972) 713-0123/ (972) 735-8778. Click here for the Google Map and Directions.
Comments: Anonymous said:
"Dear Mr. De, I hope you remember me from our meeting in Bangkok at the Shrine of the Sleeping Buddha, when you were celebrating your honeymoon.
I was visiting the US and a friend forwarded me your blogpost which was such pleasure to read. As they say in the USA, "you have come a long way, baby"!:-)
Hope to see you in Thailand sometime and acquaint you with some more Thai delights maybe in Phuket or Pattaya.
Take care my friend and "Sawadikha", Suprit Somboonsong, Bangkok, ThailandOctober 26, 2007 11:51 AM