Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Turbulent Thai by Alex Anderson

What’s good about not having a knife at a tasty restaurant? You get to lick your fingers. I only noticed the missing utensil once my appetizer of “Angel Wings” was placed on my small orange table inside the bustling Marnee Thai restaurant. After lifting a sticky brown chicken wing to my lips and biting into the tender morsel I fell victim to Marnee Thai’s appeal.

It has an informal atmosphere of turbulent clamor, yet amidst the flurry it spits out plates of comforting sophistication.The doorway into the eatery is thin, and the walls are hidden beneath umpteen restaurant reviews commending the tiny restaurant for it friendliness and succulent cuisine.

Through a glass partition to the left, the cooks can be seen hopping from grill to grill in frantic dance. On a busy night you may be waiting in the tight doorway with a few others looking over yellow paper menus. The restaurant consists of eleven 2-seater tables lining the entirety of the right wall and a couple 4-seaters to the back right.

A thin aisle down the center separates the tables along the left wall with the kitchen, wine bar, and dish washing area on the left. A round woman, wearing a shimmery blouse of gold and brown, hobbled down the aisle violently spouting something in Thai to the frenzied chefs. When she reached me, she produced a warm smile and led me to my table.Hisses burst from clouds of steam in the kitchen, and the song of clanking plates rattled against a metal sink.

My waitress wobbled back and forth down the aisle. Out of the chaos a worried looking waiter slid a fresh cup of ice water across my table. He and a slender woman in a red kimono were the only others serving alongside my waitress.

She plopped an order of veggie spring rolls packed with crispy greens on my neighbors table. The plate was jammed between two other dishes piled high with sauce-smothered meat.“You like this,” she said frankly. Then she was gone. Back on her two-way journey back and forth.

Not as spicy as the menu cautions, the appetizer of “Spicy Angel Wings” (deep fried chicken wings) is a delight, priced at $7.50. The modestly spiced garlic sauce sticking to the delicious nuggets of meat makes for some serious mouth watering. The sauce proves its point without overpowering the taste of the tender chicken within. The garlicky goo was hot to the touch, raced straight from the grill to my mouth. The dish is sprinkled with delicate wisps of basil leaves that crumble into nothingness on your tongue.

While I sat lost in a world of decadent tastes, the waitresses still hobbled and zoomed past my table and past the cluttered bar directly across from me. On the bar stools, plates were piled atop stacks of menus. More of these towering stacks rose from the top of the bar. Behind these stacks, a row of potted plants were propped up at different levels, their price tags dangling from strings. A portable phone sitting next to the cash register rang sporadically through the rumble of dinner conversation and the random outbursts of commands from my waitress.

My Pad Thai ran a little late, and the chefs were instantly informed. My waitress bumbled up to them and yelled fervently while stabbing her pointer finger into a notepad shoved through the glass partition. The kitchen fell to near silence and diners gossiped softly.

She returned with an ecstatic smile and nodded saying, “It’s coming.”Marnee Thai’s cuisine is a tad pricey, but the sauces of sweetness, sourness, or spiciness make up for it. Serving lunch and dinner, the restaurant’s cheapest dish is $5.95 (fried rolls inside a concoction of ground meats, mushrooms, cabbages, and noodles). The more expensive choices involve prawns, like the chef-suggested Pad Phong Ka Ree (A mixture of sautéed prawns, mushrooms, curry powder, egg, bell peppers, and onions), at $11.50. Marnee’s portions are generous.

Almost every menu item is meant to be shared. The mass of noodles in my Pad Thai concealed plump shrimps and fresh vegetables. The slightly thin peanut sauce was accentuated by tiny peanut sprinkles. After taking a last crunch I ordered a doggy bag.My waitress barked at the chefs as she waddled up to my table, her head craned to the kitchen. The phone rang, a neighboring table waved for attention, she gave me a candy, the check, and a smile. She said, “Thank you,” and hoped I’d return. And I believed her.

Marnee Thai has two locations: 2225 Irving Street(415) 665-9500 and 1243 9th Avenue (415) 731-9999.

Open for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and openfor dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.. Accepts reservations.

@@-All Right


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