Located in a tiny, nondescript storefront in Lincoln Square, Rainbow Cuisine is in the midst of a uniquely Chicago experience: serendipitous discovery by LTHForum and subsequent descent of everybody and their mother in the food media with even the most passing of Thai food fancies. Since the "Rainbow Cuisine Thai - A new contender" thread was created on May 7th, there have been 58 different postings breaking down the menu in picture-heavy detail. One early post screams "SAUSAGE UPDATE" to grateful minute-by-minute followers, while a few more later on bemoaning inconsistencies are early harbingers of the inevitable backlash that such ethnic restaurants always experience on the downward curve post-discovery. Though I try to avoid the fray as long as possible, the response to Rainbow Cuisine's food—especially the fried offerings—has been overwhelmingly positive, and I couldn't resist seeing what all the fuss was about for myself.
If you can imagine a plate of fried chicken juicier and flavorful than the birds on offer at Crisp, you're halfway to picturing the Kai Tod ($6.95) at Rainbow Cuisine. The contrast between the crackly, rendered skin and the improbably moist meat of the whole legs and halved thigh portions reaches broaster-levels, while the white peppercorn, garlic, and cilantro-based marinade lends the dish an intense herbal-ness. The included fish sauce and dried chili based dipping sauce is excellent, but follow my lead and complement it with a side of sticky rice and sweet chili sauce. Get to work eating everything with your fingers, and thank me later.
Much has been written of the Nam Khao Tod ($7.95) of Spoon Thai fame, and the version here indeed lives up to the hype. The broken-up rice fritters are crispy in a way Spoon's version hasn't been in a long time, and abundant slices of fresh ginger jolts even more than the dried chili and lime based sauce. Rather than being fried, the naem sausage is simply warmed through, allowing its funky sourness and rough ground texture to shine brightly. And while adding a Fried Egg ($2.00) may be gilding the lily, I saw it done repeatedly on LTH, and its inclusion adds a richness not found before in the dish.
The Pad Ped Plar Duk ($8.95) is breaded and fried catfish stir fried with green beans, bamboo shoots, ginger, purple eggplant, green and red peppers, and Thai basil. The fish is tender and mild, with a welcome fishiness that sneaks in at the last second. I'm continually surprised at how successful this cooking method is; rather than resulting in a soggy mess, the fish maintains its shape and acts as a bready sponge for the spicy stir fry sauce.
The Pad See Ewe with Beef ($6.95) is the same sweet, soy-forward sauced and American broccoli accented dish you get anywhere. But specify "crispy," and the noodles will be dropped in the deep fryer, where they will give up their moisture and contort into painful, crunchy positions. Sauce clings beautifully to these noodles, and a sprinkle of crumbled dried chilies adds a little more heat for those who require it.
The Kluay Khaek ($3.95) is a plate of battered and fried bananas—no more, no less. The batter itself is sweet, and even more so as the dish cools. I would've killed for a dish of ice cream under these beauties, but a quick dip in sweet chili sauce kept the urge (barely) at bay.
As the dust continues to settle, Rainbow Cuisine indeed lives up to its rapidly accumulated hype. I'm looking forward to working my way through the rest of the menu, fried and otherwise. On my visit, the Issan sausage everyone keeps raving about was gone for the day, and there is a beautiful red curry with my name on it. Along with what seems like everyone else, I'm looking forward to trying it all.