The Squash of Thailand
Thai Boran’s unique menu holds some surprises
Finding out that you're basic doesn't happen in stages like you might expect. No, it tumbles down on you like an avalanche as you sit in a brand new Thai restaurant with a plate of pumpkin curry and say something like, “Pumpkin tastes good with everything.” It does, of course, but admitting it out loud is probably a crime in some states.
I had no idea that pumpkin curry was an actual thing. Pumpkin is native to North America, so I assumed it was one of those Americanized dishes (you have to say it with your nose wrinkled, like you've smelled something impolite). But after some diligent research on Wikipedia, I discovered that pumpkin—or rather squash—is actually a “traditional” choice in Thai vegetable curries.
That's because pumpkins and other squash plants—which originate from various parts of the Americas and were staples to precontact Natives—spread to the eastern hemisphere beginning around the sixteenth century, when colonialism, imperialism and the seeds of a world market were beginning to bear fruit. It was during the so-called “Columbian Exchange”—when plants and animals from the New World were brought to the Old World along European trade routes—that the pumpkin and other squash varieties were introduced to the East.
Which eventually led to the pumpkin becoming a “traditional ingredient” in Thailand (it's been hanging around there for nearly 500 years!) and making its way onto my plate at Thai Boran, where I looked at my wife with concern, surprised by the words that had just come out of my mouth. I would like to now amend what I said and offer if not an excuse, then at least an explanation.
I know pumpkin doesn't taste good with everything, but I was clearly not in my right mind. Everything slowed down like cold syrup. Like I'd been in a car wreck. “Oh hellllll,” I said, the words turning to sludge in the air. “That's … so … basic.”
Here's the thing: That shrimp pumpkin curry ($15.95) was assaulting my mouth with a completely new flavor combo that I was expecting, but not prepared for. Sweet on top and spicy on the bottom, this curry was rich and sensual, sporting bell pepper, basil, chunks of pumpkin and a choice of meat, vegetables or tofu (I chose shrimp) floating in a red curried coconut milk. Far from “traditional,” this unique fare can cause stuttering, or “the jerks,” especially in diners who have overactive taste buds. You might want to cover your face while eating, as pleasure contractions will almost certainly manifest.
Thai Boran's dining room is small—maybe 9 or 10 tables in all—and I'm sure someone was aware of the embarrassing display being performed by your faithful reporter, but I kept my eyes closed during the episode and never learned if there were any witnesses, potential or otherwise. By the second or third bite, I was back in control again.
The other entrée close behind the curry: a crispy catfish doused in a tangy ginger sauce, simply named “Ginger Fish” ($13.95) and adorned with artful and (oh, God, I'm going to say it) … cute as hell garnishes. Everything from my strict punk rock upbringing is screaming at me that sliced up apples arranged in a spiral will not make your dinner taste better, but I know they're wrong. Yes.
Then again, it might have been the tender and perfectly prepared fillet or the vibrant ginger sauce soaking sliced carrots, onions, shiitake mushrooms and bell pepper that was stirring me up. Both dishes were specials that were being advertised behind the register, but there are non-catfish ginger dishes available on the regular menu.
Another on-menu item I was getting into was the Ka Thong Tong ($6.95), a plate of pastries that had (mostly) survived the meal up until this point. I was getting full. I could feel it. But there was still one more of those little flaky phyllo cups filled with ground chicken, mint, shrimp, peas, carrots and corn. It was light, fresh and savory. It came with a sweet cucumber salad, and I liked the cups even better with some of the salad slathered on top. I prayed to whoever was still listening and popped it in my mouth.
That familiar feeling of bloated gluttony came over me as I licked the crumbs from my lips. Disgusted with myself, I glanced around the table for more tidbits. I moaned a little bit. “No more,” I said. “Too much,” I said.
Our server, sensing the shifting mass in the room, came over and asked if we wanted dessert. Of course. Of course.
Deciding to bludgeon my stomach into submission, I ordered fried ice cream and fried bananas (which also came with ice cream). Both plates showed up with patterns drawn with chocolate sauce around the rim and golden fried treats. I would have prayed again, but clearly it wasn't getting through.
I mustered up the most serious, pinched face I could pull and looked at my wife. “If we don't eat this now,” I said, “it's going to melt.”
See? There was a moral to this story after all.
3236 La Orilla NW
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-9:30pm, Fri 11am-10:30pm, Sat 12pm-10:30pm, Sun 12pm-9:30pm
Vibe: Small and chill
Alibi Recommends: Ka Thong Tong, ginger curry and fried bananas