the best in donut shop thai food

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Cashew chicken at It’s Thai Food

Thai food in a donut shop seems to be the new Thing, since we’re largely ignoring the supermarket-donut-quality ridiculous sugarbombs at Voodoo and the “cronut,” which I simply don’t have the heart to Google and understand. Yelp tells me that they’re selling Thai food at donut shops in Santa Barbara, CA, Lawton, OK, and Annapolis, MD, so something cool is sneaking around urban centers and infiltrating small towns.  I love it.

And being on top of trends, I’m pleased to report that we have not one but TWO donut shop Thai places, and one of them is actually good.

I taste-tested both of them in a quick and dirty fashion, ordering a classic dish at each, Chicken Cashew stirfry (or perhaps pork, if I was scared to order chicken).

IMG_3684Master Donuts in Springfield (3177 Gateway), is in a little strip mall across the street from the big box annexes fringing the mall on Gateway.  The dish came out heavy with salt and very little flavor I could identify as Thai, including the taste of fish sauce.  There were a few tiny, broken pieces of raw cashew sprinkled on top of steamed low quality, tasteless pork swimming in soupy liquid and some tired steamed vegetables.  The rice wasn’t good, either, a cheap Chinese variety.  Although everyone was polite to me, the place was silent and heavy and almost sterile and cold. Neither the cook nor the clerk could care less about the food or their work, it seems, and the atmosphere was so toxic with unhappiness I left as soon as I could.  Avoid.  Not even worth the $6 an entree price.

IMG_3688IMG_3675It’s Thai Food was a different story. Inside Lee’s Donuts (1950 Echo Hollow Rd Ste A) in the same mall as Big Lots, it used to be a food cart in the parking lot, but they moved inside the restaurant.  It’s Thai Food is run by a couple, with the wife as cook and the husband as extroverted front of house.  A cute kid shows up now and again, playing quietly in the back. It’s an extremely modest place with no ambiance and a TV in the corner, with a constant stream of customers.

Here’s the difference between the two donut shop Thai places: It’s Thai Food is actually a real neighborhood joint, with pictures of customers and letters on the walls, a menu that aims to educate with photos, and kind service-oriented ownership.  I overheard the owner talking about the increase in overhead for donut supplies to a regular customer, and it seems times are tough.  But then I heard him saying that when neighborhood kids come in for a donut and they don’t quite have enough cash, he gives them the donut because they clearly want it.  (And just a note to the few people who are excited by that: don’t be a dick and try to take advantage.  Instead, do what the customer did, give an extra buck or two in tips to offset the cost of this kind man’s charity.)

Anyway, wow, I’m getting grumpier and grumpier writing this.  Sorry.  The food at It’s Thai Food (top picture) is really the most appetizing of all the low-budget Thai I’ve tried in the past couple of weeks.  The cook uses dark soy to help caramelize the chicken, and the dish boasts an appetizing array of peppers and mushrooms.  It was too salty, a common problem for Thai food, but it tasted quite good, better than many of the more standard Thai places in town.

There were a number of less common dishes being served that didn’t appear on the written menu, especially noodle dishes, so I’ll be back.  I really appreciated little touches like the kind of odd aluminium foil boat in which my meal was served, clearly added so the sauce wouldn’t soak into the paper plate below, and the little cone full of fried tofu which helped keep it crisp.  The peanut sauce, something I don’t love, was actually notably better than average so I took it home to use as a dip with green beans. Also served: Eugene’s heroine, aka teriyaki chicken, and a few common dishes that would draw the same crowd: yakisoba noodles and orange chicken and kung pao. Prices were a skosh higher than at Master’s but still cheap — my entree was $7.50.

On a slightly different trend-spotting note, please be aware of our two Thai food carts.

I found Drumrong Thai to be adequate when I went a few years ago, and found the atmosphere in the middle of a hot triangle in the middle of two busy streets in the Whiteaker stifling and loud, plus it took forever to get my food, so I haven’t been back.  It may be better now; it’s been a few years.  Let me know.

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Cashew pork at Ubon Thai

Ubon Thai out on Highway 99 (670 Hwy 99) — a joint that many people swear by as authentic and wonderful — was ok.  It was, contrary to popular belief, not a rare outpost of different types of Thai food but the same stuff you get elsewhere in Eugene, a collection of Americanized standards using packaged shortcuts just like every other place uses.  It’s cheap, fast food, really, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  And it must be a great relief to the neighborhood, which is a depressed area way out on the way to the airport.  And to their credit, they’re honest about the prefab nature of the curries; you can see the plastic tubs of Mae Ploy curry pastes lined up above the prep space.  If you want to taste the difference that homemade curry pastes make in a final dish, go to Noodle N Thai in Springfield on Main around 5th.  There, you’ll start to learn about the wonders of authentic Thai food.

The vegetables in the stirfries are all a melange of pre-cut carrot, onion, broccoli, peppers, and snow peas, and they serve really standard dishes and the usual yakisoba.  They really need to remove the broccoli from the mix. Broccoli, a substitute for gai lan, has no place in Thai food and it’s revolting once overcooked and soggy in sauce.

Nevertheless, the cook has a pretty good palate, if my single dish (the same cashew stirfry with pork I ordered elsewhere, hold the broccoli) is a guide.  Way too much liquid pooled up on my plate and waterlogged my rice, but the dish was good enough, cooked at too low a temperature but still decent.  The fresh spring rolls had larger-than-average rice noodles in the stuffing, which was odd but not a dealbreaker, and the spicy peanut sauce was peanut sauce with spice in it.  Nothing unusual and a bit of a disappointment, given how much it was talked up. Oh well.

The atmosphere I did find oddly charming, mostly the outdoor plaza space surrounded by plants and tinkly sparkly things than the somewhat claustrophobic attached house interior, but they’re welcoming spaces.  Ubon is run by a couple, she of Thai extraction and he not, and they’re terribly nice.  I’d probably go again if I were in the neighborhood, and I’d urge them to branch out into more interesting territory in the specials, at least.  Different vegetables and not so many in one dish would be really welcome, as would be regional delights.

thai hot and sour green tomato stirfry

One more green tomato dish, this one a delicious and gorgeous Thai hot and sour stirfry that goes particularly well with fish, shrimp, or pork.  The marinade is delicious on its own, but when you add chopped green tomatoes, it’s really quite something.  Some folks have an issue with eating partially cooked green tomatoes because they can be a bit slimy, but I find chopping them into smaller pieces and using a strong sauce, plus the contrasting textures of soft cherry tomatoes and fleshy fish, make that issue moot.

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

Thai Hot & Sour Green Tomato Stirfry

Serves 4 with another dish.  Great with grilled salmon — pour the sauce on top of cooked salmon and arrange tomatoes around fish for a beautiful presentation.

  • 1 lb. fillet of fresh salmon to grill (fatty Chinook is best; substitute shrimp or pork)
  • 1 lb. or as many green tomatoes as you like, cut into bite-sized chunks (err on the small side)
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes for color and sweetness, halved
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced pole-to-pole thinly
  • A couple of red Italian frying peppers (the long skinny sweet peppers), sliced thinly
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • white pepper to taste

Prepare your ingredients before you start grilling the salmon (or shrimp or pork).  Chop the green tomatoes in bite-sized pieces and halve the cherry tomatoes; mince the garlic; slice the onion and peppers.  Mix together fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl, and use a bit to marinate your salmon.

Grill salmon.  As it is cooking:

Heat wok until very hot on high heat.  Add oil and wait a minute to pre-heat, then sear green tomatoes and onion.  Add garlic and peppers after onions and tomatoes brown a bit, cook a moment longer, then remove from heat.  Add fish sauce mixture and white pepper to taste.  Let sit and marinate while the fish finishes grilling.

Plate the grilled fish, and carefully pour sauce over fish.  Arrange tomatoes around fish and serve with jasmine rice and another dish for a complete meal.

razor sharp: clam recipe ideas from a disgruntled shopper

PartyCart razor clam ceviche with chermoula

I went into a local fish store recently and saw a big heap of razor clams (silqua patula).  They’re the long, skinny clams that when pounded flat yield a piece of meat about as big as a nice T-bone.  I had had them recently on the coast in Yachats, pan-fried, and I wondered what other popular ways they might be served. I was thinking about a delicious abalone rice I had had in Japan, where a small abalone we procured on a boat trip in the Sea of Japan was chopped up and added to the rice water to make the most delicious, subtle rice.

So I asked the fishmonger who was helping me if he knew any other ways to cook razor clams other than pan-fried.  He said he had never had them and didn’t know, so he’d get someone else.  Fair enough.

The second person told me that they must be pan-fried. That was the only way to eat them.

Really? I asked.

Yes, he said, dismissively. The only way.

I replied, so nobody EVER eats them any other way?

Nope, he said.  Cover them in breadcrumbs and panfry them.  You just want to cook them quickly.  I WOULD NOT chop them up and put them in a chowder.  They’re too nice for that.  You’d waste them.

Naturally, I said, trying not to be annoyed.  But what about without breadcrumbs?  Maybe quickly seared and tossed with pasta, or a light sauté with butter and wine?  You’ve never heard of any other recipe from anyone else?

You ought to be on Top Chef! exclaimed the first fishmonger.

Nope, he said. There’s only one way.

Do you think anyone else here might know another way? I said.

Nope, he said.

Clearly not.

I really thought about whether I wanted to name the fish store, but I usually like them very much, so I’ll leave it to word of mouth.  If you know someone who works at a fish store that sells razor clams in Eugene, direct them to my blog, if you please.  At this place, the service can be taciturn at times, and they rarely have time to chat — but they let you know it.  This time, I was asked if I needed help the second I stepped up to the counter and then again about two minutes later, then had my order totaled up and presented to me as finished twice before I was finished choosing.  I’m not the speediest customer in the world, but I wasn’t exactly dawdling, either. But I understand how intense it gets behind the counter.  I don’t understand, though, when businesses don’t educate their staff well about the items they’re selling.  It means a lost sale.  Period.

Soooo…for those who are interested, since razor clam season is still open in Washington and Oregon, and the clams should still be around for a week or so, here are some other ways to prepare razor clams.

1) Razor clam ceviche with chermoula, an herb sauce with garlic and cumin from Morocco on a homemade pita chip.  I had the one pictured above at PartyCart.  There might still be some if you hurry down there.  There’s another recipe for razor clam ceviche with bright chili and red onions, plus the nice briny flavor of samphire (aka sea beans) here.

2) Two ideas posted in this thread of people searching like me.  The first is an impossibly long, slow braise, which makes octopus and squid tender, so I guess it works with big clams, too: “[Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant Chef Dustin] Clark sears pounded, tenderized [razor] clams in olive oil, then simmers them in an intense sauce of preserved tomato, fennel, shallot, white wine and green garlic for a long time in a slow oven. ‘I like to reduce the sauce way down because the clams will exude juice as they cook,’ Clark says. ‘The clams need to cook for an hour or two to have a chance to relax and become really, really tender.'”

3) And the second idea is rather brilliant, a PNW gravlax-style cured razor clam with conifer tips instead of fennel fronds:  “Equal parts sea salt and sugar, pinch or fresh pepper, pine needles or cedar tips. Chop the needles or cedar mix in with the rest. Coat liberally onto clams, wrap in cling film, place in flat container with weight on top of it. Wait 2 days then brush off and slice and eat on some crisp bread, or better yet, very fast, like 10 seconds on each side, sear, slice into inch long strips and place on light salad.”

4)  Thai razor clam salad with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, fresh green mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese sawtooth cilantro (which they’re selling at Grey’s right now as a start), and fried garlic and shallot.   The recipe is complex, but I think that you could improvise and still have a wonderful offering.  I don’t know what vegetables they use, probably a pickled mustard green.  But you could quick pickle carrots or cucumber or cabbage with salt for a couple of hours on the counter (toss with a handful of salt, let sit, then rinse off the pickles and squeeze all the water out of them).  Or maybe use chopped pickled chard stems?  Not remotely authentic but DELICIOUS.  Or heck, just use chopped fresh carrots and cabbage.

I’ve also seen razor clams grilled in their shells and dressed with a vinaigrette.  Or butter.  Can’t go wrong there.  Any other ideas?  I’m open.

my summer cup runneth over: thai hot and sour cucumber stirfry

This is a gorgeous dish, one of my favorites from Thailand.  I mentioned it as my “meal of the week” on KLCC’s Food for Thought last Sunday.  It’s an interpretation of a hot and sour shrimp recipe by San Francisco Bay Area Thai food maven Kasma Loha-Unchit, and a great way to use up extra cucumbers and hot peppers in the garden.

Kasma was the Julia Child of Thai food for a certain group of Bayareans who came of age in the gay ’90s and noughts; she still cooks and hosts Thailand trips for students from her home in Oakland.  For those of us who had fled the stodgy food of the Midwest in the late-1980s and found our culinary footing before the days of molecular gastronomy and fusion street food, Thai food was literally the taste of freedom.  It was like Chinese food (which we knew, or thought we knew) but with vibrant, living flavors.  Fresh vegetables! Coconut milk! Seafood! Not fried! And hot! O so hot! Kaffir lime leaf! Lemongrass! Over fragrant rice that took longer than a Minute!

Everything about it was technicolor, in stereo, 3-D, digital, 3G.

And Kasma, who offered classes in actually cooking what we were sampling at restaurants, offered the same thrill,  I’d imagine, that Julia’s French cooking did for young American sophisticates in the 1960s.  As for me, I was most assuredly a not-quite-sophisticate, as I relied on my lessons from my ex-boyfriend, who would come back from class and practice his dishes on me as I served as his sous-chef.

Because that’s the beauty of cooking, right?  We learn by sharing new techniques and ingredients, and by testing variations until we’ve hit on the perfect combination (that fleeting perfection).  This joy is spread from one friend to the next through potlucks, dinner parties, and celebrations.  And with each recipe we receive, each time we cook a dish prepared by someone who wowed us on a perfect evening and share it with others who exhale “wow,” the hues of our lives deepen and take on a richer sheen.  And if you can find someone whose wow is your wow, then that, my friend, is one of the finest pleasures in the world.

But back to the fish.  I bought a pound of black cod at Newman’s, too much, but it was so pretty and I was seduced.  The dish is usually for shrimp and is called, I believe, Pad Priow Wahn, or Hot and Sour Shrimp (with vegetables).  The spicy vinegar a surprisingly natural combination for cucumbers, which we Americans never eat cooked. This stirfry just softens the cukes a bit, makes them more receptive for the sauce and seafood.

I thought the fresh peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes would be just as good over a mild pan-fried fish as they are with shrimp, and I was right.

I served the other half of the fish in an equally gorgeous dish, also with tomatoes, but this one radically different.  It used the same sauce as my Thai salmon “burger” recipe, which is also based on Kasma’s cuisine.  Fragrant with sweet-spicy roasted chili paste, and strewn with Thai basil from the garden.  The dish is balanced by slightly bittersweet little ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes and yet more sunkissed peppers.

Both dishes together are the essence of summer: one hot and sultry, one fresh and breezy.  Work fast and hot.  This is not the dish to simmer.  No, work fast and hot.  Run like the last days of summer.

Hot & Sour Cucumber Stirfry with Black Cod

Recipe adapted from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s pad priow wahn recipe (undated handout)

Serves 4 with another dish.

  • 1/4 cup rice flour or cornstarch
  • 1/2 lb. black cod or other thick fillet of mild, white fish (or substitute large shrimp, peeled and deveined)
  • 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced in half and then thinly
  • 2 long banana or wax peppers or other frying peppers if you’d like it less hot
  • 4 med. pickling cucumbers or 1-2 garden slicers, halved and sliced at angle about 1/8th-inch thick (peel slicers)
  • 2-3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 plum tomatoes or slightly underripe small slicers, cut in bite-sized chunks.
  • white pepper to taste

Set up your ingredients in separate, small dishes — mince the garlic; slice the onion, peppers, and cucumbers; chunk the tomatoes. Mix together fish sauce, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Marinate fish fillet in a bit of this sauce and some white pepper.  Put rice flour on salad-sized plate or in shallow bowl for dredging fish.

Heat your pan until very hot on high heat. Just before frying, dredge fish fillet in rice flour on both sides and shake off the extra.  (If you are using shrimp, skip this step.)

When pan is hot, add oil and wait a minute to pre-heat, then add fish fillet or shrimp.  Cook fish until about 2/3 done (it will be brown on bottom and white most of the way up), then flip over in pan (for shrimp, just stirfry them until they are thoroughly pink).

Add onion and garlic, which should start to brown immediately.  Slow it down by adding the hot peppers.  Remove fish and set aside in a serving dish.  Add cucumbers and fish sauce mixture, then stirfry for a minute or so.  Add tomatoes and sprinkle with white pepper to taste.  Carefully arrange vegetables and sauce around fillet, or break apart fillet into four pieces and integrate into vegetables prior to serving.  Garnish with cilantro, if you have it.

noodle n thai: a springfield surprise

If you’re working as hard as me, trying to get summer (spring?) projects finished before school starts at the end of the month, you will surely need a new Thai restaurant to help.  Check out my latest restaurant review for Noodle N Thai in Springfield.  It appeared this week in Eugene Weekly‘s Chow! quarterly dining guide.  I think the Register-Guard really dropped the ball on this one, as the quasi-review in the strange Q&A format restaurant column last month didn’t pick up on the fact that they make their own noodles and curry pastes.  This is Crucial Information, fellow foodies, Crucial.  (And I would encourage all restaurant reviewers to eat more than one dish one time at a restaurant before writing a review…these shouldn’t be marketing pieces but an assessment of the food!) Pictured above, Thai “spaghetti” red curry, made with said homemade curry paste and rice noodles.

By the way, the restaurant is down the street from Momma’s Kitchen, a great place for fried chicken.  The reviews have been mixed, but my admittedly and unabashedly northern taste buds quite enjoyed it, especially the collards and fried okra.

dining niblets: hot stuff edition

I love the predicted 20-degree drop in temperatures for tomorrow.  Until then, let’s talk hot stuff.

  • Inspired by a trip to the coast and gorgeous albacore tuna troll-caught just off the Newport coast, I documented the OSU Extension tuna canning class at the beginning of the week.  I hope to have a blog post up soon that provides notes and annotations for our tested recipe.  I’m under pressure (get it?) to finish an article for school right now.
  • Or, perhaps, you’ll hear me talk about canning tuna fish on the upcoming hot new radio show, Food For Thought on KLCC (89.7 FM), our NPR affiliate.  This week’s theme is preservation, and I’ve been invited to share my experiences.  Listen from noon – 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 29.  I’d love to hear your questions and comments via phone or email!
  • New restaurant alert, and this one is almost too good to be true.  Run, don’t walk, to Noodle & Thai, 553 Main St., Springfield.  I don’t even know where to begin.  They make their own noodles — that’s a great place to start:

fresh rice noodle rolls

drunken noodles with fat slices of beef

homemade red curry over fresh thin rice noodles

And they make their own curry pastes.  Order ‘medium’ for very spicy.  The chef says he strives to shop organically and locally.  I haven’t had Thai food this good in a very, very long time.  And the prices are Springfield, not Eugene.  Right now, there’s a healthy lunch crowd, since the place is near City Hall, but they’ve only just opened for dinner.  The restaurant appears to be a remodeled diner with a semi-open kitchen, and its small storefront belies the larger, pleasantly redecorated space inside.

Since I’ve been gone for most of the summer, I’ve missed…not much in terms of produce.  Since everything’s so late, I am pleased to see all the mid-summer produce ready and willing to be put up.  Here are some of the hot finds I saw in markets this week:

  • Bodacious corn at Thistledown Farm on River Road.  I haven’t seen such a nice corn season since I’ve lived in Oregon. Boo on the California tomatoes at the farm, though. (But I understand. Not hot: too-early heirloom slicers at the farmer’s market.  Ick.  Mealy.)
  • A new blackberry variety called ‘Diamond Jim,’ or so they said (could be ‘Black Diamond’?) at Lone Pine Farm on River Road.
  • Crabapples and gorgeous Chester blackberries at Hentze Farm, a couple miles farther north on River Road.  I made pie and a long-cooked, French-style jam from the latter.  Hentze is one of my favorite farms in the area.  They have a small processing equipment facility (with machines purchased from the once-ubiquitous processing plants in our valley) so you can buy freshly cut corn and beans in bulk for canning.
  • Beans look great everywhere.  Plums and peppers are just beginning, they tell me.
  • Veteran and Suncrest peaches at River Bend Farm off Highway 58 southeast of Eugene.  Annette reports that Veterans are easy to can, being a true freestone, with skins that slip off easily.  Donna in the OSU Extension Master Food Preserver office likes to can Suncrests because of the flavor.  She says that the Elbertas also make great canning peaches, so look for them in the coming weeks.  The hottest preservation gig in town is Annette’s jam classes, by the way.  The next one is full, but you can still sign up (if you hurry) for the following:  Thursday, 9/14 from 6:30-8:30 pm, or Saturday, 9/18 from 2-4:00 pm. The classes are held at the farm, and cost $30.  For this low price, you’ll learn jam-making basics and receive 12 half-pints of assorted jams made in class.  More information through the link above.
  • Speaking of the Extension MFP office, the hotline will be leaving Lane County on Sept. 2, when the office closes.  For the rest of September, you can still use the statewide hotline, as we will be handling calls from the Douglas County Extension office.  But if you need to drop by the Lane County office with your food safety or gardening questions, do so before Sept. 2.
  • If you enjoy Marché’s monthly regional French dinners, you will be excited to hear about the regional Italian menus served by its sister restaurant, Osteria Sfizio.  The first monthly dinner will feature the foods of Puglia, and will be held on August 29.  Cost is $40.  Read more here.  Sfizio has an excellent bar menu and some enlightened options for supper, both small plates and large.  Personally, I can’t wait for the Fruili menu in November!
  • Again with the noodles!  Chef June at Café AriRang on Broadway is serving a summer special — spicy noodle and vegetable salad.  Perfect for these hot days.
  • Did you see the numbers for the canned food drive held at the Lane County Fair?  23,919 pounds of food within two hours.  Now that’s hot.  You rock, Eugene.
  • Oh, and one more thing.  Don’t forget to vote in Eugene Weekly’s annual Best of Eugene.  You need to register at this website first to help combat ballot-stuffing (don’t worry, they won’t spam you).  If you can support my blog for “best blog,” I’d appreciate it!  Vote for at least 10 categories for the ballot to count.

fresh local green beans meet their maker in a Thai stirfry

DSCF4965I’m workin’ on stuff, but I thought I’d just pop my head in here and sigh happily about the impromptu Thai stirfry I made with the season’s first local green beans.

I love, love, LOVE fresh, sunwarmed, slender green beans, their sweetness, their bouncy snap when you break off the little stems.

I had some leftover ground pork, so I browned it with some onion and new garlic.  Then, when it was crispy and rich brown, I added some Thai fish sauce and sugar, which carmelized beautifully, creating a sweet, salty, crusty, oniony pork confit.  Then I threw in big handfuls of green beans and cooked them for a few minutes.  Finally, I added a few leftover cashews and a handful of Thai basil.  I ate the whole mess over jasmine rice.  NOM.

In other news, have you registered yet for “Backyard Food Solutions,” this year’s Gardeners Mini College?  Tomorrow’s the deadline for registration.  More info if you click here and to the right.  Apparently, we’ve hit a record number of enrollees, but there’s still room for you!