September 29, 1995 in Seven

Mad Mary’s, Thai Palace Bring Popular Cuisine To Cda

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Thai food has arrived in Coeur d’Alene.

Today’s hottest Asian cuisine is now being served at two very different venues in the Lake City.

Mad Mary’s is a quirky place that resides in a former burger joint. (Remember the original Topper?) While traces of its former fast-food identity remain, - the hard plastic booths, for instance - the new owners, Tim and Mary Cameron along with Bill Kolacurcio, have done a dandy job adding their own whimsical touches. They’ve painted bright flames on the outside of the building and placed fire extinguishers at each table, just in case the curry gets too hot.

The menu features a photo of the cook (Mary) wielding a cleaver. Most Thai restaurants rate the degree of heat in their dishes on a star system, with one being mild and five stars for those with cast iron palates. At Mad Mary’s, the stars are replaced with “sissy,” then mild, medium, hot or “for those who want to try authentic Thai just tell Mary to light me on fire.” And a streetside sign makes this guarantee: “No like, no pay.”

I very much liked the food at Mad Mary’s. The ingredients were all exceptionally fresh, the flavors balanced. Portions were generous. The kitchen showed care in small details such as using curry paste made from scratch with chiles the owners have grown or using fresh lemon grass and lime leaves to add a pungent kick to dishes such as the Tom Yum soup.

We started our meal with an appetizer combination plate ($6.95), which could easily feed four as first course. Standouts on that platter-sized sampler were the chicken satay - skewers of tender white meat seasoned with coconut milk and mild curry. It was served with a good savory-sweet peanut sauce. The light, sweet mustard sauce that accompanied the slices of moist barbecued pork was a treat. The wrapping on the eggrolls was nice and crispy, but the filling of ground meat and veggies lacked flavor.

The rest of the menu is divided into soups, entrees, curries and a few American meals for less adventuresome eaters including hand-cut fish and chips and spaghetti.

For something unusual, try the barbecued shrimp ($10.95). Mary developed the recipe after she immigrated from Thailand to New Orleans some 20 years ago. Don’t think of barbecue as a tomato-based concoction here. The sauce is a rich, creamy affair consisting of butter, garlic, milk (yes, milk) and ground Thai peppers. It’s served with grilled shrimp and tender-crisp carrots, broccoli and pea pods over rice. It was a great dish.

Of the more traditional Thai offerings, we tried the Tom Yum soup, one of Thailand’s most popular dishes, and the pad Thai noodles.

The Tom Yum ($6.95 or $7.95 with shrimp) had a sharp tanginess derived from shredded lemon grass and fragrant lime leaves. Its heat came from an addition of hot chili oil, which was balanced by a touch of sweetness. The soup is served with a choice of chicken, fish or shrimp and a side of rice, which can help mellow the spiciness.

Mad Mary’s pad Thai noodles ($6.95) were a delicious departure from the standard recipe. Thin rice noodles were stir-fried in the traditional fish sauce (nam pla), but the dish included some nice extras such as slightly crunchy green beans, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. (We had had the veggie version, but it can be ordered with a choice of beef, pork or chicken.)

The tart cucumber salad that accompanied the meal was a first-rate palate cleanser: diced cukes and red onions in a rice vinegar dressing spiked with ginger and jalapeno peppers. I plan to return to sample some of Mad Mary’s curries, including the matsaman, a stew-like dish that features potatoes and peanuts. It’s usually available on Fridays or whenever she has time to make it.

My companion was also impressed that the menu offered one of his favorite obscure foods - chicken livers.

On the other side of town, in a strip mall just off Appleway, the Thai Palace has the all the polish of a upscale restaurant. The spacious room sports pretty decor, including a small fountain. The service was solicitous. The menu is book-length with pictures and a dizzying number of choices. Unlike Mad Mary’s, you could order beer or wine here.

But, alas, the dishes I sampled during a recent dinner were mostly average.

Our foursome started with veggie spring rolls ($4.95), which were slightly greasy. The veggies in the filling were limp and tasteless. The tasty plum dipping sauce helped.

Other appetizer choices included a chicken satay, steamed dumplings, and boneless chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and clear noodles.

We opted to sample the Thai Palace’s version of peanut sauce on a salad. The gado gado was described on the menu as an Indonesian mainstay. It consisted of chunks of tofu, which we agreed were fried beyond recognition, atop iceberg lettuce with assorted veggies. At $5.95, we were underwhelmed.

The recipe I’ve seen for gado gado also calls for potatoes, shredded cabbage and hard-boiled egg. Some of those extras would have been nice.

The peanut sauce dressing was a hit, though - creamy and wellseasoned with a hint of red pepper.

For our main courses, we shared the basil beef ($8.50), the red curry with chicken ($7.95) and the pad Thai ($7.50).

The tender slices of flank steak in a spicy, slightly sweet sauce proved to be the most successful dish. The meat seemed to soak up the sauce and the anise flavor of the basil gave the dish an extra boost.

While the coconut milk-based curry sauce had a good flavor, the dish was loaded with bamboo shoots, which are frequently used as an inexpensive filler. How about some Japanese eggplant or some exotic mushrooms instead?

The pad Thai was made with a tamarind-based sauce rather than the fish sauce. (Tamarind is the flesh of inside pods from a tree of the same name. It produces a tart flavor that reminds me of a light tomato sauce.) While some pad Thai recipes rely on tamarind, I prefer the more savory version that emphasizes the fish sauce.

The menu at the Thai Palace also featured a sizeable number of dishes associated with Chinese restaurants including Mongolian beef, sweet and sour pork, Szechwan noodles and Eight Immortal Jal, a Cantonese stir-fry.

I always wonder when restaurants have such a broad menu, whether customers might not be better-served if the restaurant concentrated on doing fewer items well rather than spreading itself so thin.

One nice feature at the Thai Palace is a weekday buffet, which lets beginners get a taste of a number of dishes without ordering full meals. There are also a dozen combination plates available on affordable lunch specials.<

, DataTimes MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: MAD MARY’S Address: 1801 Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene; (208) 666-9407 Meals: Thai, with a few American entrees Prices: $4.95-$10.95 Days, hours: Mondays-Fridays, lunch 11-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m. (Fridays, dinner served until 10 p.m.); Saturdays noon-10 p.m. Alcohol: No Smoking: No Reservations: No Credit cards: AE, MC, V Personal checks: Yes

THAI PALACE Address: 501 W. Appleway, Coeur d’Alene; (208) 666-0618 Meals: Thai along with some Indonesian and Chinese Prices: $6.25-$12.95; lunch specials around $5 Days, hours: Mondays-Fridays, lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 1-10 p.m.; Sundays 3-10 p.m. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: No Reservations: recommended for large parties Credit cards: DC, MC, V Personal checks: local (Coeur d’Alene) only

These sidebars appeared with the story: MAD MARY’S Address: 1801 Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene; (208) 666-9407 Meals: Thai, with a few American entrees Prices: $4.95-$10.95 Days, hours: Mondays-Fridays, lunch 11-2:30 p.m., dinner 5-9 p.m. (Fridays, dinner served until 10 p.m.); Saturdays noon-10 p.m. Alcohol: No Smoking: No Reservations: No Credit cards: AE, MC, V Personal checks: Yes

THAI PALACE Address: 501 W. Appleway, Coeur d’Alene; (208) 666-0618 Meals: Thai along with some Indonesian and Chinese Prices: $6.25-$12.95; lunch specials around $5 Days, hours: Mondays-Fridays, lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; dinner 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 1-10 p.m.; Sundays 3-10 p.m. Alcohol: beer and wine Smoking: No Reservations: recommended for large parties Credit cards: DC, MC, V Personal checks: local (Coeur d’Alene) only


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