Knockout Noodles: Andy's Thai Kitchen
The buzz around Andy's Thai Kitchen is hard to ignore. After early heapings of praise from several critics, the restaurant most recently garnered an Outstanding Restaurant nod in the Chicago Tribune's 2013 Dining Awards edition. As Trib writer Kevin Pang points out in his veneration of ATK, Chef Andy Aroonrasameruang left his old post at TAC Quick to launch his own spot, which opened last September, in part so he could cook the kind of (spicy, pungent, traditional) Thai food he wanted to without having anyone else to answer to. But what excited me even more than all those other writers' brow-glistening, table-pounding pronouncements about ATK's bold, spicy (and delicious) flavors was the sheer depth of the noodles menu. I mean the thing just keeps going. And each dish sounds more enticing than the other.
Diving in, let's talk ATK's boat noodle ($8.50). Menu description: beef brisket, pork skins, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, thin rice vermicelli noodle in a spicy/sweet/pungent soup. This dish fires on all cylinders. The noodles may be appear wispy, but they're actually structured and firm&dmash;great at tangling up broth like a mop. The broth itself is exactly as billed, an addictively rich potion of spices, funk, and tropical sweetness. The meats, which also included some chunks of sweet-and-sour sausage, added another level of robustness. Early last year, I touted the boat noodles at Spoon Thai, on Western Avenue, but I think they've met their match here. Spoon is a little more generous with the beef, but ATK's broth is far superior.
Next time I eat ATK, and there surely will be a next time, I will skip the garlic noodle ($10.50), though. It just didn't measure up in flavor. In fact, it was tough to even discern the presence of garlic in this dish of stir fried egg noodles, onion, bean sprouts, and bamboo shoots. Now, as shown in the picture, I subbed in tofu for the standard combination of shrimp and chicken, which presumably could have affected the dish's intended flavor profile. But garlic noodles should be more garlicky than this, no matter the protein.
But redemption came, and it was called kao soy ($8.50). This is a mesmerizing Thai curry with egg noodles, chicken, onion, sour mustard, crushed peanuts, and lime. Perched atop the curry is a nest of crispy egg noodles. This is a winner, achieving even greater heights than the boat noodle. I would drink this broth on my walk to work every morning this winter if I could, with its fortifying and invigorating balance of heat, coconut sweetness, and underlying nuttiness. I loved the fresh punch of the red onion and the tenderness of the curry-laced chicken. Oh yeah, and then there's the noodles two ways. The crispies provide that little bit of textural complexity, which changes over time as the noodles sop up liquid, that elevates the whole dish. Needless to say, I was happy.
Any other ATK noodle dishes I missed that've made you equally happy? I'd love to hear about them in the comments so I can plan my next visit!