Adding coconut milk to a dish is a lot like adding Steven Seagal to a movie: They both come on subtle, but eventually take over and overwhelm the opposition. One of the hallmarks of Thai cooking is coconut milk, which is not the watery liquid found in a fresh coconut, but the fragrant, fatty cream taken from the ripe palm nuts (they’re nuts, not actually classified as fruits). It’s used for consistency and flavor, and also to tone down spicy curries by sopping up the hot.
I’ve heard many favorable reports about the food at Thai Tip; that the intoxicating blend of spicy, sour, sweet, salty and occasionally bitter from multiregional Thai cuisine is a blessed respite from everyday lunches. Even better than green chile double cheeseburgers, they say.
Thai Tip is diminutive and well-decorated with lace curtains and some lovely Thai objects d’art. All the dark wood in the room made the atmosphere warm and comfortable, which was accented further by delicate yellow lights.
I parked at a table next to the counter and did a double-take at what looked like a small painting. Actually, it was a framed picture of Steven Seagal with an autograph that read: “To John and Tip, Thank You, Love, Steven Seagal.” Hmmm.
I thumbed through the menu wondering what Steven Seagal would choose for lunch. Is he a noodle guy? Stir-fry or curry? Maybe hot basil fried rice, or green papaya salad? He’d probably eat something that would help him kick the crap outta Gary Busey, á la Under Siege.
On a previous trip, the beef eggplant curry (khang kheaw whan nua) had been a rich and meaty dinner, followed by the house specialty of sweet rice with mangos. It was a dentist’s nightmare (and a kid’s fantasy) of sticky, creamy rice with earthy-sweet ripe fruit slices. But this time I settled on the Thai Tip stir-fry with fresh ginger (pad phed) and shrimp ($10.95), thom kha (hot and sour soup with coconut milk broth and tofu, $9.95) and homemade coconut ice cream (2 scoops, $3.95) for dessert.
The ginger stir-fry was very colorful with carrots, snow peas, green bell peppers and onions that were slightly crisp and full of life. There was an ample supply of straw mushrooms for flavor and texture contrast. And I stand corrected about a previous conviction that all canned mushrooms are only fit for vermin. These little guys, with their Disney-esque brown hats, are exempt from my ire.
Much how Steven Seagal is serious about Buddhism and his tailored suits, Thai Tip is deadly earnest about spices like the ginger in my lunch. There were sizable matchsticks of ginger flanking each piece of shrimp and vegetable. I felt like I’d just improved my digestive heath for the next six months as I scooped up the last bite of jasmine rice.
The soup, which co-owner John Sherrod assured me was award-winning, was a seemingly flawless blend of all that rocks about Thai soup: tomatoes, mushrooms, fish sauce, lime leaves, lemongrass, coconut milk and those little red peppers that transport you straight to the ninth level of hell if you aren’t careful about designating your heat specification when ordering. (Some places prefer to surprise the diner, so that you’ll entertain the staff by crying like an infant and clawing at your esophagus.)
Thankfully, there are degrees of hot here. You can choose mild, hot, “New Mexican hot” or “Thai hot.” Or if you’ve got huevos of steel like Mr. Seagal, you can push the red button and order your meal “real Thai hot.” Last time I dined here I asked for my beef “Thai hot” on a dare, and ended up choking down ice cubes that I scooped out of my water glass. Like that old saying goes about the burned dog avoiding the fire; I got mild everything so that I could use my sense of taste and smell.
The tofu in my soup was lightly seared before it went in, which I didn’t care for (something to do with the laminated texture tofu gets when fried, even slightly, and moistened). But that’s my own personal preference, so no complaint necessary. I turned to the ice cream, which was off-the-charts sugary. A few bites into the huge dish and I needed water to run interference.
With my blood glucose level around the 10 to 15 mmol/l mark, I went to the counter to pay and chat with owner John. He was personable and quite funny, and offered me more sugar in the form of Thai candy from the big bowl next to him (FYI, the ones with the little rabbits on the wrapper are chewy coconut and yummy). I inquired about the Seagal picture, and he told me his wife and co-owner/chef, Tippewan Sherrod, and Steven Seagal were buddies.
“He calls her all the time,” he joked. “It’s annoying.”
He’s a very smart man, John Sherrod. If Steven Seagal wanted to be pals with my partner, I’d let him. If he wanted to smoke my cigarette or steal my car I’d let him do that, too. I’ve seen Hard to Kill. I want to live.
Thai Tip Restaurant, 1512 Wyoming NE (at Constitution), 323-7447. Hours: Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m., Sat 5-8:45 p.m. Takeout available until 9 p.m. Closed Sun. Price range: inexpensive to moderate. Credit cards accepted, no smoking, no booze, reservations and one-hour pre-orders encouraged.