Alibi V.27 No.39 • Sept 27-Oct 3, 2018 

Restaurant Review

Sweet Talk

Fighting the urges at Thai Spice

There's an idea floating around in the ether these days that sugar cravings can be blamed on the fungus-like organism Candida albicans. Candida is a species of yeast that lives in each of our guts. It's so prevalent that doctors apparently measure responses to Candida to test a person's immune system.

Some holistic practitioners have been telling their clients that an “overgrowth” of Candida will cause fatigue, “brain fog,” headaches and yeast infections. A common narrative will say that Candida feeds on sugar and is literally driving your body's sweet tooth.

So far there's little to no evidence of “yeast syndrome” (as it's sometimes called) found in any clinical studies, but I still like to pretend that my constant desire to kneel at the foot of my sugary master is not actually my fault—it's those little bugs crawling around in my intestines.

Fried chocolate chip bananas
Fried chocolate chip bananas
Eric Williams Photography

I was thinking about them as I eyeballed the dessert menu at Thai Spice. The chocolate chip fried bananas and ice cream ($5.95) were calling to me—or rather, to the critters in my guts. They were then projecting some sort of telepathic signal up my winding insides and into my brain, instructing me to order it before I'd even looked at the appetizers. The insidious bastards.

I pushed the menu away for a moment and looked around. Thai Spice is one of those hip, open eateries with a window for a wall and a view of the kitchen. The dining room was sedately sleek and modern in cool grays and pristine chromes. The liveliness of the space nicely counteracted the austerity of the palette choice, making it feel welcoming, but not exactly a hangout spot.

A plate of fried dumplings ($7.95) arrived at our table. My wife had secretly ordered them while I was washing my hands. I have a kind of sick relationship with plum sauce, and I was planning to avoid it. The yeasties had already seen it, though (maybe they've deployed some reserve troops to my eyeballs), and my mouth watered a bit.

We went ahead and ordered. My wife asked for a plate of pad priew wan ($10.95). I just went with an old standard. “Do you guys have drunk noodles?” I asked. “Drunken noodle ($9.95), yes,” she answered.

Every Thai restaurant that makes their plum sauce in-house will have their own unique recipe, and I haven't met a single one I didn't like. I grabbed a spoon and deftly scooped some up like soup. Was pretty sure no one had seen, but my wife's eyebrow raised. “Did you just—”

“You plug that dirty mouth with a dumpling,” I said, pushing the plate at her. The hordes of sugar addicts in my tummy were whooping it up just then. The plum sauce was like a tart candy. It fired up all the pleasure centers in my brain at once like the Fourth of July.

I grabbed one of the dumplings and nibbled at a corner without dipping it, “For journalistic integrity,” I said. It was perfectly golden and crispy, filled with a tender savory mix of chicken and vegetables. The deep fried treat was surprisingly light and airy. It was so impressive on its own that it really didn't need anything else. Nevertheless, I dunked the remainder deep into the sauce ramekin and held it there until it stopped kicking. My wife watched me over her own dumpling. We made eye contact and said nothing.

Some time near the last dumpling, I caught another spoonful of the good stuff and leaned back. My eyes traced the path of a fat goldfish swimming lazily across the length of a fish tank near the front door.

Fish fillet choo chee
Fish fillet choo chee
Eric Williams Photography

Our server quietly materialized with our dinner, which was an artfully presented series of plates packed with colorful food. My drunken noodle was a beautiful pile of lightly-oiled flat noodles and chicken accompanied by mushrooms, bell pepper, onions and topped with sweet Thai basil. The whole thing lounged over a bed of hidden lettuce. I slurped up a noodle and met a wonderfully complex flavor spectrum that was slightly imbalanced in favor of the sweet side.

Generally, I'd consider this a bad thing—a sign of what a friend of mine once called “soccer mom Thai”—but the Candida must have been driving me like a Challenger, because I was almost perfectly pleased with it. The only thing I was down about was the spiciness. I'm known far and wide as a total wimp when it comes to Thai chili, and I was prepared to become a sobbing, steaming mess by the end of dinner. But this dish had close to zero kick. Mind you, I could have specified the level of heat I was looking for, but I didn't and assumed I'd get something in the “medium” range. Maybe our server had seen a weakness in my eyes I wasn't aware of and decided to make the call for me. Lesson: Always specify chili level.

After trying a bit of every component on my plate, I traded with my wife. The pad priew wan is a common enough sweet and sour Thai dish that features pineapple, cucumber and celery. This one sat in a delicious sweet broth that went perfectly with shrimp. The vegetables were heavy with sugary potency. The mix of textures and flavors was thoroughly exciting.

At that point the fried bananas showed up. I'd ordered them while my wife was washing her hands. They were a vision. “Sue me,” I said.

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Thai Spice

7441 Paseo Del Norte NE
503-1521
Hours: Mon-Thur 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9:30pm, Sun noon-8pm
Alibi recommends: Pad priew wan with shrimp
Vibe: A quick bite for the hipster