We mutter about the far reaches of the area and Joe frets about fire-breathing dragons out there at the ends of the earth, living, perhaps, in the Missouri River. But sometimes you find something that’s worth the trip and braving the dragons, especially if it’s a little spot that hasn’t had the fanfare and reviews that bring the curse of Everybody’s Talking About It. On the other hand, little places need regular traffic to stay around. And Thai Kitchen seems to have a lot of regulars. But it’s still relatively unknown.
And it’s a little tricky to locate, despite being at the well-marked intersection of Dorsett and McKelvey Roads. It’s in a small section of stores on the northwest corner, facing away from McKelvey Road, looking at the Schnucks. We sampled it several years ago, were reminded about it by a friend we ran into at the recent Thai New Year festival. (See what we had to say about that below.)
The menu has lots of things we haven’t seen very often, if at all, around St. Louis. Curries are covered by simply listing the protein (or vegetable stand-in) options and then explaining red, green, yellow, panang and mussaman. The same goes for a section called "entree," which explains in detail 10 ways to have one’s chicken, pork, beef, tofu, or vegetables. By the time customers get to the "house specialty" section, the list fires a barrage of items, and we face a lengthy list of dishes like frog leg garlic & pepper, or spicy catfish.
To start with, we always like to see how a Thai restaurant handles papaya salad. Crunchy, cool, sour-salty-spicy, it’s a kick-start to a meal, with the added virtue of being almost fat-free except for those chopped peanuts that add so much to the fun. Thai Kitchen tosses in a couple of cabbage wedges to use up the extra dressing, or perhaps to let the heat-sensitive have something to nibble on while the rest of us fight over the last shred.
We’re not sure how authentic Thai dumplings are, but they’re full of meat and sprinkled with what looks like more peanuts—but no, that’s crisp-fried garlic bits. The serving is generous, and so is the ratio of meat to dough, and they’re very moist. In fact the sweet-ish brown sauce with them was nearly superfluous.
Ordering main courses became a major challenge. We were thisclose to choosing those frog legs with garlic and pepper, or else the spicy frog legs, which come with eggplant. The final decision was duck stew noodle soup and hoi tord, a mussel pancake, both listed in the "noodle and rice" portion of the menu.
But just as the waiter was about to take the menus, we spotted something. Roti. We’d seen them at the New Year festival, wrote about them, said we didn’t connect them with Thai food—and there they were, available as a side dish, like steamed or fried rice or fried rice. Yes, please, one of those as well. And were we glad we did. Rotis, for those of you who haven’t run into them, are flatbread, cousins of flour tortillas, out of India. They’re used in the Caribbean to make rolled sandwiches, also known as rotis, cousins to burritos. A round flatbread arrived, fresh and soft and slightly buttery, rather flaky, bearing grill marks on both sides. That probably means it was previously frozen, but, goodness, was it ever light, flavorful and addictive. We could have eaten a half-dozen. And, yes, they’re around quite a lot in Thai food, it seems, just not in restaurants locally.
And the other food? The duck soup seemed to be stewed duck rather than duck stew, but the clear broth was full of flavor, a little Thai basil and a lot of garlic, somewhat spicy, but not lethal. Some emerald-green spinach was hanging around, and a shower of cilantro topped things off. Very tasty. But it was the mussel pancake that drew us back. Larger pieces and smaller, single mussels, lay on what looked like an omelet, atop a bed of stir-fried bean sprouts and green onion. The mussels were in a batter that was probably made of egg and rice flour and deep fried. The texture was chewy-crisp, the sort of thing it’s hard to keep from continuing to nibble, until the caloric restraint of the papaya salad is lost in a storm of fat and carbohydrates. That delicious batter did sort of overwhelm the mussels, but it was irresistible. A red-orange hot sauce came with it, a slight bitterness balancing sweet and salty and hot.. The sauce is less fiery than the rooster sauce that’s always found alongside salt and pepper shakers in Thai restaurants.
Rotis are often used as a sweet in Thai street food, spread with some sweetened condensed milk. They’re available that way at Thai Kitchen, but also as a base for ice cream, like a bunuelo We asked for coconut ice cream instead of the usual vanilla, and were quite happy with the result, the slightly chewy roti, complete with a drizzle of the condensed milk, making a profiterole-like contrast with the ice cream.
We’ll be back for the frog legs, and for the amiable service.
2031 Dorsett Village, Maryland Heights
Lunch & Dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Fair