Sunday, November 1, 2009

Thai Obsession

About four months ago, my friend Brianna asked me to go get Thai food with her one afternoon.  I had eaten Thai food only a handful of times before that fateful day, and I was never particularly impressed.  This day; however, was different.  I ordered the chicken pad thai since that is the standard-bearer of any Thai restaurant.  With minimal expectations, I took my first bite.  I'm not exactly sure what happened next, but I'm pretty sure my eyes dialated and I blacked out as in the heroin scenes in Requiem for a Dream.  The next two months were a haze of deliciousness as I ate Thai food nearly every day.  I thought I was in control, that I could stop any time I wanted...I was wrong.  I spent a month in rehab, kicking the Thai habit, but every once in a while the craving comes calling.  On Friday, I answered that call at Ben's Noodles & Rice

Ben's Noodles & Rice is located 1139 W. Bryn Mawr, which is right next to the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop.  Their website is  On weekdays during lunch hours (I think 11:30-3:00), Ben's has a lunch special that includes a cup of soup (miso, tom yum, or tom kha kai) and a small side dish (egg roll, potstickers, or fish cake).  I ordered chicken pad thai with tom yum soup and potstickers.

The soup and potstickers came out first, as you would expect.  Tom yum soup always reminds me of a liquid version of pad thai since a good tom yum has an excellent balance of tartness, sweetness, spiciness, and savory seafood flavor.  The soup at Ben's certainly falls into the "good" (or probably more accurately "great") category.  My only problem is that the chicken in the soup bowl seems unnecessary.  The immense flavor of the soup completely washes out the chicken, so the chicken doesn't add anything to the soup.  I suppose this is a very minor problem since the soup is so tasty.  The potstickers are deep fried and served with a sesame sweet-sour dipping sauce.  The exterior is delightfully crunchy, the meat filling has some great flavor as does the sauce.  All said, the opening stanza at Ben's was everything a Thai lover could hope for.  I neglected to take a picture of the first courses because it still is not natural for me to take pictures of things that I eat.

As a side note, I always like restaurants where the owner is usually present.  I feel like it shows that the owner is really standing behind his or her food and service.  The owner(s) of Ben's are always there, although I'm not sure if his name is actually Ben.  I'll have to find that out.

Anyway, the immense plate of pad thai came out.  The pad thai at many Thai places has an unnatural orange color that almost invariably signals that the dish will be way too sweet.  As you can see, Ben's pad thai has no such unnatural color (the orange stuff on the right is a pile of carrots).

As with the tom yum soup, this dish has so much flavor, but it is also so well balanced that it is not overwhelming.  Another common problem that Ben's manages to avoid is overcooking the chicken in the pad thai.  I've made pad thai before, and I'll be the first to admit that it is not an easy problem to avoid since it is cooked in such a hot wok.  Besides having very well cooked chicken, the chili paste takes the dish to a whole other level.  I enjoy spicy food, so I always add some of the chili paste (served on the side) since they do not include any spicy element in the dish.   That is probably better since not everyone can handle spicy food.  Another bonus is that the dish is so big, you will usually only eat half of it, so you can eat it the next day (pad thai heats up really well).  Ben's is definitely my favorite Thai place because it has amazing food at very good prices, and that is a hard combination to beat.  You will likely never find a Thai place that has such well balanced and delicious food.  I also enjoy Yes Thai and Jim's Noodles & Rice, but for now, the star belongs to Ben's.

They even serve fortune cookies at the end of the meal.  Apparently a "new relationship is on the horizon" for me, so I have that going for me, which is nice.  Maybe I'll go heat up my leftover pad thai.  Don't worry, I can stop whenever I want...

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