Saturday, September 02, 2006

Review: Wild Ginger

The Thai food explosion may be news in most parts of the country, but as far as I can tell the wave of fish sauce and lemongrass has been stopped dead at the Colorado Springs border. I've been on a quest for really good Thai food ever since we moved here some 10 years ago. The only contender for the title of Really Good Thai to date was the late, lamented Royal Thai, and the other places I've tried range from ok to inedible.

We finally got around to eating at the Thai restaurant that routinely wins the "Best Of" polls in both The Gazette and The Independent: Wild Ginger, at 3020 W. Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs (Colorado and 30th).

The decor is comfortable, both inside and out. Red vinyl booths, tables with dark wooden chairs, all in a homey setting. Clean, neat, requisite pictures of Thai royalty, but nothing polished about it.

The menu covers appear printed on an ink jet, but the large number of listings inside are legible, and the main ingredients of each dish are listed. I always appreciate that because I have an allergy/sensitivity to bell peppers, and I like to know if I need to ask for them to be omitted.

The menu is mostly Thai favorites: soups like Tom Kha Gai and Tom Yum Goong, salads like Neu Nam Tok and Yam Neu, Laarb, Sate, curries, and noodle dishes like Pad Thai and Pad See Ew. There are also a few Chinese dishes, like Hot and Sour Soup, and American favorites like Fried Calamari. It's typical for restaurants around here - trying to appeal to the widest range of palates.

We ordered the Tom Kha Gai to start, not only because it's my favorite soup, but it's also my gold standard as to whether or not a Thai restaurant is any good. Wild Ginger's version includes cabbage (another variation I've only seen at Colorado Thai restaurants) along with straw and button mushrooms, onions, chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass, bird chilies, and a decent amount of keffir lime leaves. We'd ordered the soup medium, but it was more like mild - despite the attractive amount of chili oil floating on top, it lacked a commensurate bite. Fortunately, there were large bottles of Sriracha on every table, so we adjusted the heat accordingly. The soup was quite good, but even with the addition of the Sriracha lacked the punch I've come to expect.

For dinner we selected the Neu Nam Tok (Thai beef salad), Pad Thai, and Panang Beef Curry, all ordered at medium heat. The best of these dishes was the Neu Nam Tok: the beef had that distinctive grilled flavor, the tomatoes were ripe, the cucumbers crisp, and the dressing had a nice kick to it. But the dressing seemed unbalanced, with plenty of sour and hot, but not much salty or sweet. I sensed a distinct lack of fish sauce.

The Pad Thai was boring at best. No heat, the sauce had no memorable flavors. The noodles were cooked nicely, as were the six shrimp. No peanuts on top, and a bit skimpy on the eggs, too.

The Panang Beef Curry was the clear loser - too much stock, not enough curry paste. No heat to speak of, and very little flavor at all. While Thai curries do tend to be more liquid than Indian curries, this was nearly soup. If I didn't know this was supposed to be Panang, I'd've never guessed. The best thing I can say about it was the beef was tender.

Unlike the food, the Thai iced teas did pack that wonderful burst of flavor that works so well to cut through the heat of an unexpected bite.

Service was friendly but slow. To be fair, they were unexpectedly busy on this cold, wet night, and the three servers were in continual motion, but the wait for someone to take our drink orders and for our food was significantly longer than other places. Fortunately, we were not looking for a fast meal.

I guess my bottom line on Wild Ginger is mixed. I've certainly had worse Thai food, especially at places here in Colorado Springs, but the food overall feels dumbed down from the high impact, in your face Thai dishes that I grew to adore in California. I expect we'll be back sometime, and will make sure to order the food hot, but I don't foresee making the trip down there all that often.

(Date of Visit: 9/2/2006)


Blogger Jim said...

I thought the Panang beef was pretty chewy, actually. Agreed that it was disappointing, flavorwise.


10:43 PM  

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